Recruiters' M.B.A. picks: a trio of familiar names

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These rankings measure how appealing the schools are to recruiters -- the buyers of M.B.A talent. The three top-rated schools this year all offer relatively small M.B.A. programs and produce graduates that companies find attractive both for their technical aptitude and their agreeable attitudes. Recruiters like students from Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business for their collegiality and teamwork. Purdue graduates are considered impressive because of their humble attitudes and strong work ethic. And IMD receives praise for its students' unusual maturity and depth.

Dartmouth was the top school in 2001 and 2002, when the Journal produced a single global ranking of the top 50 M.B.A. programs. Last year, the Journal and Harris decided to split the schools into three separate rankings to reflect differences in M.B.A. recruiting patterns.

The 19 North American schools in this year's National ranking share many of the same recruiters, primarily large companies that hire students from a broad range of the most prominent business schools. The 47 Regional schools in North America tend to be smaller and attract recruiters primarily from their local areas. And the 20 International schools, a combination of European, North American and Latin American M.B.A. programs, include only those that attract a global mix of recruiters.

Wanted: more candidates

While smaller schools tend to produce the collegial graduates that many companies love, recruiters fear that some M.B.A. programs may be getting a little too intimate. This year, survey respondents complained about the shrinking pool of job candidates as applications to full-time programs continue to drop and some schools cut the size of their entering class to maintain quality. At the same time, the resurgent job market and increased on-campus recruiting are exacerbating the talent shortage at the smaller schools.

Bill Eldredge, a consultant at management-consulting firm DiamondCluster International Inc., is an avid recruiter at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh because it produces M.B.A.s with the "critical combination" of business and technology skills, as well as unpretentious and practical students who fit his firm's culture. But he's concerned about his chances of landing top students at the school, which ranked third in both the National and International rankings.

"The principal challenge to recruiting at Carnegie Mellon is frankly the small size of the graduating class," Mr. Eldredge says, "resulting in a smaller pool of good fits from which we can draw." The M.B.A. program at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon has shrunk to about 315 students from nearly 500 two years ago. The school says it received fewer applications at the same time that it wanted to reduce class size to achieve a better student-faculty ratio and lessen the strain on its facilities.

Quality of graduates, not just quantity, also emerged as a bigger issue in this year's survey. Some schools, particularly in the Regional group, dropped in rank partly because of the uneven quality of their graduates. Recruiters complained that some schools are accepting students with lackluster academic credentials and too little work experience.

For example, recruiters said they were disappointed by the mixed quality of graduates at Texas Christian University, which fell to 18th place in the Regional ranking from sixth last year. Kevin Jeffries, a finance executive at SBC Communications Inc., recently interviewed students at the Fort Worth school and believes "the top end of the class can compete with any students I meet at other schools." But he wasn't as pleased with the students in the middle and bottom tiers. Texas Christian's "screen needs to be a little tougher," he says. "Their middle to lower ends are not as high quality as those I see at larger or more highly rated programs."

Starting over

Recruiters' priorities in hiring M.B.A.s remain quite consistent from year to year. Overwhelmingly, they still say they care most about interpersonal and communication skills, teamwork orientation, personal ethics and integrity, and analytical and problem-solving abilities. Companies also are in pursuit of students who have accumulated plenty of work experience, especially involving leadership and teamwork. And recruiters repeatedly say how weary they are of prima donnas with inflated opinions of their worth in the marketplace.

"Some M.B.A.s haven't caught on that a very competitive and cost-conscious corporate America does not believe in an M.B.A. entitlement system," says Rolando Larino, a finance and procurement director at pharmaceuticals maker GlaxoSmithKline PLC. "Once an M.B.A. is in the door at a major company, the past is forgotten and they will be judged by their future achievements, period, and not by perceived potential -- sort of like being a freshman again. A few never really adjust and become frustrated and leave companies in search of Neverland."

Harris Interactive conducted the online survey of 3,267 recruiters from Dec. 6, 2004, to March 9, 2005, with respondents rating only schools where they said they had recent recruiting experience. To qualify for any of the three rankings, a school had to receive at least 20 recruiter ratings.

The M.B.A. rankings are based partly on recruiters' perceptions of the schools and their graduates on 20 key attributes, including students' leadership potential and communication skills, the quality of the faculty and curriculum, and the responsiveness of the career-services office. They also reflect "supportive behavior," defined as the recruiters' intention to return to a particular school and the likelihood of making job offers to its graduates in the next two years.

Finally, the rankings include "mass appeal," or the number of recruiters that the National and Regional schools attract and the number of countries from which International schools draw recruiters

The national ranking

Which factors distinguish the National ranking from the Regional? National recruiters tend to hire from a broader number of schools, and those schools often are private, located in the Eastern U.S., and larger in enrollment. All six of the Ivy League universities with business schools are part of the National ranking.

Recruiters rating the National schools also hire primarily M.B.A. students and offer the highest compensation -- 25% of National-school recruiters said they paid $100,000 or more in starting salary, compared with only 8% of Regional-school recruiters.

Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, which handily outscores all the other National schools on perception and supportive behavior, doesn't fare as well on mass appeal. But more recruiters are starting to discover the highly regarded New England school. Waste Management Inc., for instance, began recruiting recently at Tuck after participating in the school's annual business and sustainability conference, because its students showed such a passion for environmental issues. Paul Ligon, upstream business manager at Waste Management, says Tuck graduates also fit the company's goal of hiring "self-motivated generalists with analytical, communication and strategic skills, along with a strong teamwork ethic."

The University of Michigan's Ross School of Business lost the National crown to Tuck, but it still enjoys a superb reputation. "The Ross students seem more apt to get their hands dirty and do what is necessary to help the organization succeed," says Andrew Lear, a recruiter for Weyerhaeuser Co.

Best in the West this year is the University of California at Berkeley, which showed the biggest rankings jump of all the National schools, up eight spots to No. 7. Berkeley's Haas School of Business received its highest ratings for students' ability to work well in teams, analytical and problem-solving skills, and personal ethics and integrity.

"My impression of the Berkeley M.B.A. candidates is that they are more seasoned -- with more real-life experience -- than past classes," says recruiter John Pollard, who works in corporate finance at computer-networking equipment maker Cisco Systems Inc. "There were also more people from different parts of the world than I have seen in the past. It's not a regional or even a national school anymore. They've gone world-wide."

A perennial favorite in the Journal surveys, the University of Chicago fell the most this year in the National ranking -- down eight spots to No. 13. Chicago received lower scores this year on many attributes, including students' ability to work well in teams and their fit with the corporate culture.

Some recruiters criticize Chicago students as too "geeky" and quantitative. "I've often found that Chicago grads are good within functions but seem to lack the skills and/or experience to drive toward a general management position," says Hal Nelson, a director of strategic planning and analysis at Corning Inc., a maker of optical fiber and glass products.

Commenting on Chicago, another survey respondent says, "The attitude of students seems to have become more like my experiences at Harvard and Wharton. The students have tremendous academic abilities but sink in an interpersonal and team-oriented culture."

Some of the most elite schools -- like Harvard University and Stanford University, which ranked 14th and 15th, respectively -- do indeed suffer in the ranking from students who project the wrong attitude to recruiters. In the survey, recruiters repeatedly use words like "sense of entitlement," "ego problems" and "arrogant" to describe the chief shortcoming of Harvard M.B.A.s.

Stanford's Graduate School of Business also received low scores, particularly for students' willingness to relocate for a job, value for the money invested in the recruiting effort, and the career-services office. "Stanford has a great name, so the people there feel they can be arrogant to recruiters," says one survey respondent.

The most elite schools also suffer from the fact that many recruiters come away empty-handed because the students are in such high demand. While that sense of entitlement may lower the schools' ratings, there clearly is some truth behind it.

The Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California is the only new National school in the latest ranking, in 10th place. It moved from the Regional list, where it ranked 23rd last year, because the recruiters rating USC in 2005 were more likely to also recruit at such National schools as the University of California at Los Angeles, Berkeley and Stanford.

The regional ranking

The Regional schools are smaller than the National schools for the most part, with a fairly even mix of private and public universities represented and a broad geographic spread across the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Regional recruiters are more apt to visit a single business school, pay lower salaries and recruit more non-M.B.A. graduates than National recruiters.

Recruiters classify many of the Regional schools as team-focused and give their students high scores for personal ethics and integrity and for being down-to-earth and well rounded. Those are particularly strong characteristics of the top three Regional schools, all of which are public universities in the Midwest.

Rick Rosler, a financial analyst at Ford Motor Co., believes the caliber of students has risen in recent years at Purdue's Krannert School of Management as the school has steadily improved the quality of its faculty and opened a new building "with the high-tech facilities that top-quality students demand."

Wake Forest University rose the most in the Regional ranking, up 10 places to No. 7. Keith Harman, a managing director at Banc of America Securities, says recent recruits from the Winston-Salem, N.C., university "brought broad work experience, an outstanding work ethic, and a well-rounded understanding of finance and business fundamentals to the table. They stood out in their ability and willingness to dive into projects and take a leadership role in their assignments."

Another strong gainer was Emory University's Goizueta Business School, which advanced seven places to No. 12. Goldman Sachs Group Inc.'s investment-management division believes the Atlanta school's higher ranking is justified. "We have definitely seen an uptick at Emory's business school," says Craig Savage, a vice president, who cites Emory students' "intellect, tenacity, sophistication, and most importantly, team orientation" as skills that fit Goldman's culture. He adds that the firm considers its first summer associate from Emory this year to be one of its top performers.

Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tenn., and the University of Pittsburgh suffered the biggest ranking declines. Both received low scores for faculty expertise and students' international knowledge and experience. Recruiters also commented on the uneven quality of graduates. One respondent, for example, said Vanderbilt's chief shortcoming is its lack of "a deep talent pool."

Indeed, recruiters frequently cited the weak bottom half of the class as a major shortcoming of some of the lower-ranked Regional programs, including the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas, which was criticized for the "inconsistent caliber of students." As one recruiter put it, "Not all are stars; a lot fall through the cracks."

Texas switched this year to the Regional from the National ranking, reflecting the fact that it was rated by many survey respondents who also recruited at other schools in Texas. Some recruiters say they have noticed a decline in quality, and their ratings placed Texas in the bottom third of the Regional schools. An investment manager at Goldman Sachs says that although "résumés looked good, when you spoke with the students they just were not as energetic, not as polished, and not as informed as previous classes we have interviewed." Last year, Texas placed 16th in the National ranking.

The international ranking

The International list ranks schools that have a global reach in job placement. Respondents from at least four countries must say they have recruited from a school in order for it to qualify for this ranking.

The International list includes 10 schools from the two North American rankings, along with nine European M.B.A. programs and one Central American school.

IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland, ESADE in Barcelona, Spain, and the London Business School scored highest among the European schools, with recruiters especially praising their students' international knowledge and experience. ESADE moved up one notch, replacing the London Business School, or LBS, in second place.

"ESADE is particularly good at providing students with the combination of analytical skills that any M.B.A. should have and a creative, out-of-the-box approach to problems," says Juan Jose Rodriguez, chief executive of the Duplex Marketing agency in Barcelona.

Although LBS slipped to fifth place, it still garners recruiters' praise. "The international student body and faculty are the key attractions of LBS," says Hedde Draper, who works in investment banking at Credit Suisse First Boston in London. "And in terms of faculty, research and relationships with the main financial institutions, it should be regarded as one of the very best finance schools."

The London Business School and ninth-ranked Insead in Fontainebleau, France, attracted the broadest mix of recruiters, from 20 countries each, while IMD drew recruiters from 15 countries.

Recruiters give IMD especially high ratings for students' leadership abilities, strategic thinking, and personal ethics and integrity. Roberto Mauro, a global strategist at Samsung Electronics Co., finds that IMD graduates "provide a continuous stream of fresh perspectives to everyday business problems because of their global mind-set."

Showing the biggest rankings gain was the Instituto de Empresa in Madrid, which rose eight places to No. 12 and received its highest scores for the career-services office and value for the money invested in the recruiting effort. EmergingCom, a communications and consulting firm, recruits at Instituto because the school pays as much attention to smaller companies as it does to multinationals. "I sometimes get the feeling with other top schools that our needs are secondary to their objectives of attracting big names that look good on their list of recruiters," says Sandrine Belloc, a director and partner at EmergingCom in Paris. "Instituto de Empresa serves the business community in general, recognizing the key role that small and medium-size enterprises play in the mainstream economy."

The HEC School of Management in Paris and Stanford declined the most in the latest International ranking, with both receiving low ratings for perception and supportive behavior.

Unlike some European schools that are considered extremely international in their culture and focus, HEC and Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, which placed last in the ranking, are criticized by some recruiters as too provincial. "HEC Paris is too French," says one survey respondent.

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