Monday, September 17, 2007

A Whole New World – Recruiting MBA’s In a Changing Climate

I had breakfast this morning at Harvard Business School with my friend – let’s call him “Jonas.” Jonas is a graduate of one of our nation’s service academies. He spent this summer between the two years of his MBA program working as an intern in New York City for an investment banking firm. This firm, recognizing Jonas’s leadership skills, analytical acumen and operational experience, has extended him an offer to join the firm upon his graduation. While he has not yet made a final decision, at this point he is inclined not to accept the offer. The primary reason is that Jonas has concluded that working the typical 80-90 hour weeks that are typical in the world of investment banking is not conducive to maintain a healthy balance between work and family life.

My conversation with Jonas is typical of the kind of conversation I have been having for the past several years with the best and the brightest of our emerging generation of young business leaders. More and more, these brilliant and well-trained women and men are not willing to leave the “frying pan” of business school just to jump into the “pressure cooker” of the investment banking lifestyle or the road warrior ethos of the major strategic consulting firms. Unlike recent generations of young Turk MBA’s, they are not willing to sacrifice family, health or relationships on the altar of rapid career advancement and lucrative sign-on bonuses.

When I returned to my office after my meeting with Jonas, I found that I had received an e-mail from my friend, Bob Allard, CEO of Extension Engine, and a keen student of emerging business trends. Bob had sent me a link to a very timely article that appears in today’s Wall Street Journal. The Journal’s Ronald Alsop has written a compelling article that describes the phenomenon that I had experienced in microcosm this morning in my conversation with Jonas. Alsop chronicles the fact that many companies are finding it much more difficult to recruit on business school campuses than had been the case in the past.

"The heat is on for corporate recruiters.

With demand growing for M.B.A. graduates, it is a seller's market out there, making it tough for many companies to meet hiring quotas using old tried-and-true recruiting methods. At a time when career opportunities are so plentiful that students can afford to turn down even six-figure offers from investment banks, it is especially difficult for traditional manufacturers to make an impression.

So to improve their odds, recruiters are visiting business schools earlier and more often, raising starting salaries and touting their company's dedication to work-family balance."

The article, which is linked at the end of this posting, goes on to describe the changing recruiting environment and the steps that companies are taking to try to address the new reality.

Let me return to this morning’s conversation with Jonas. After he made me aware that he would probably be turning down the offer from the investment bank that is aggressively trying to hire him before the traditional recruitment season on the HBS campus gets into high gear, our talk turned to the next steps in his job search. I listened to him describe the kind of industries he would consider, the functional roles that would be the best fit for him and the kind of corporate culture where he would be able to feel most at home and be most productive. Then I said, in essence, “We should be talking to my friend, P., who runs a think tank in Washington. That may be a good use for your skills. I will also talk to my contacts at XYZ Partners, a private equity group that specializes in acquiring companies in the industry where you have deep experience. I will also forward your resume to my friend, E., in New York. He has been CEO of several companies in your industry, and he will brainstorm with us about where we might find the best fit for your skills and your lifestyle.”

What I have just described in a nutshell is the emergence of a whole new approach to recruiting on the business school campus that has evolved almost by happenstance. For the past several years, I have developed a role as an informal advisor and mentor to the members of the Armed Forces Alumni Association at Harvard Business School. I am privileged to count among my closest friends current students at HBS and the Kennedy School of Government, as well as many graduates of these two Harvard graduate programs. These men and women are the best of the best – bright young leaders who are committed to using their considerable leadership skills –often sharpened in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan – in helping to build businesses and non-profit organizations that make a positive difference in the world and in the world of their employees and their families. They often eschew overtures from the traditional companies that have grown accustomed to recruiting the superstars from each graduating class at HBS and similar top-tier programs.

As the landscape of recruiting the best and the brightest continues to evolve, I sense that my recruiting practice will also need to evolve and grow. In addition to my primary practice of helping client companies to recruit and hire senior executives that are outstanding leaders, I will need to devote more time and focus in helping client companies to recruit the next generation of leaders - young men and women who are looking closely and critically at the best place to deploy their new tool chest of analytical tools they have acquired in business school.

I am excited about these changes, for I see them as an enlightened trend towards a new generation of business leaders making well-considered career choices. A growing number of these young leaders are committed to working hard, to playing hard, and to investing hard in having a healthy family life and friendships - as well as a successful career.

I am excited about the ramifications of these changes for the recruiting and hiring process. Rather than focusing exclusively on “hard skills,” the most forward-looking companies will have to do a better job of addressing “soft skills” and other intangibles in finding the right fit for the most promising candidates. It is the ability to focus on these intangibles that lies at the heart of my recruiting practice. I find success in taking the time to learn the corporate culture of my client companies so that I might offer my best advice to client company and candidate alike in suggesting the best fit. The best hiring decisions – and the best decision by a candidate to join a particular company – come down to the best blend of matching hard skills and intangibles.

If you have read this far into this article, you must find these issues and these trends to be of interest. If this is the case, I would ask you to consider taking the following steps:

1) Read the full WSJ article linked below.

2) Think of companies where you have some influence, and consider whether one or more of these companies might benefit from my helping them to adjust their recruiting practices to match the emerging reality discussed in the WSJ article and in this article.

3) Contact me and give me the opportunity to explore whether I may be in a position to help a company that is looking to do a better job in attracting the best of the new generation of leaders.



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