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5 Things That Can Help MBAs Get Hired

More companies are hiring business school graduates in 2011 than in previous years, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) reports. According to GMAC's Corporate Recruiters Survey, 67 percent of employers expect to hire MBAs in 2011, up from 62 percent in 2010 and 50 percent in 2009. Sectors such as finance, accounting, consulting and technology are among those stepping up their hiring of MBA grads.

But in a still struggling economy and a competitive job market, companies are becoming more comprehensive in their requirements for new hires, MBA recruiters say.

"In today's environment, candidates need to have it all," said executive recruiter Tony Palmer, director at Stanton Chase International. Prior to the economic crisis, Palmer added, the MBA job market was "more forgiving".

So what are MBA recruiters looking for these days, and what can MBAs do to increase their chances of getting hired?

5 Things That Can Help MBAs Get Hired

1. Connections, connections, connections

In a tight job market, applicants need to nurture connections with a wide range of people. MBAs students should network with alumni who have contacts in companies and keep their LinkedIn profiles updated.

"Use every contact, every resource to get access to opportunities," Stanton Chase International Director Carolyn Cason advised, noting that some companies prefer to hire from MBA programs where they have hired in the past.

In addition, Cason says MBAs should interact with other professionals through online groups, including LinkedIn, to increase their visibility.

2. Sharp interviewing abilities

Interviews are an important element of the MBA hiring process, and case interviews, which require students to develop answers to business problems on the spot, are one kind of interview students should be prepared to ace.

"There is no right or wrong answer," said case interview expert Marc Cosentino, who trained Harvard students to tackle interviews for 18 years. "We want to see how quickly you think on your feet and defend your answer."

3. Geographical flexibility

Although employers are hiring more MBAs at local business schools to keep costs down, MBAs who are getting hired need to be willing to relocate.

"It's always best to be as flexible as possible," Palmer said, because relocating to areas with a larger number of employers, such as big cities can lead to increased job security. When deciding whether to relocate, keep in mind that companies may not cover the moving costs.

4. Work experience

MBAs who are successful in today's job market tend to have more years of related work experience. Prior to the economic crisis, Cason said companies looked for two years of experience when hiring MBAs. Today they are generally seeking people with five or six years of experience.

It is particularly important for MBA students changing careers or fields to dive in and get pertinent experience as quickly as possible. According to Cason, MBAs can gain relevant experience by pursuing a concentration in their field of interest and getting involved in internships and externships while in school.

5. Leadership skills

Because companies are hiring fewer people to do jobs, Cosentino said MBAs must be capable of handling more responsibilities and making strategic decisions.

Recruiters have increased the use of online assessments to determine, among other things, whether a person has the leadership skills to get things done under a variety of circumstances, Cason said. For instance, candidates must sometimes work independently and at other times collaborate in teams. They also need to be able to socialize with clients and coworkers and have the skills to manage crises.

Despite having to meet rigorous hiring criteria, "When [companies] do hire, the MBA is still the dominant and preferred degree," Cosentino said.