The MBA: A top choice for 2012?

Students pursuing Master in Business Administration degrees face better job prospects and higher wages in 2012, according to findings released in a report by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC).

The GMAC's 2011 Year-End Poll of Employers queried 216 of the nation's largest employers, as well as many companies based in Europe and elsewhere around the globe. The findings revealed that more companies are optimistic about the recovering economy. Additionally, companies seem to be interested in expanding their customer base and are hoping to hire more employees as a result, says Michelle Sparkman-Renz, director of research communications for the Graduate Management Admissions Council.

The results

The GMAC has conducted the year-end poll of employers for the past three years. It not only takes a look ahead, Sparkman-Renz says, but it also takes a look back at hiring trends and salary expectations for the past year. Over the last two years, Sparkman-Renz explains that more companies have indicated that they are optimistic about hiring.

Three key findings of the survey for 2012:

  1. Hiring projections are up: More companies have plans to hire newly graduated management talent this year, and companies also plan to hire a larger number of MBA grads.
  2. Salary projections remain strong: Nearly one-third of companies planning to hire individuals with MBAs this year say they expect to increase salaries. More than a quarter of companies that plan to hire people with master's in management degrees or specialized master's in business degrees intend to increase base-level salaries.
  3. Internships are on the rise: Sixty-nine percent of employers expect to offer paid internships to MBA students this year, and more than 50 percent of the companies polled plan to provide paid internship opportunities to students with specialized master's degrees in business or management.

Looking back, Sparkman-Renz says that 58 percent of the survey's participants hired employees with MBA degrees in 2011. However, 74 percent of survey respondents expect to add employees with MBA degrees to company payrolls in 2012.

"That is in line with an uptick in hiring across the board," she says. "That was the very first optimistic aspect that people with MBA degrees graduating in 2012 would be able to take advantage of."

Hiring trends for students with MBA degrees

Following up on an increase in hiring for students with MBA degrees, the GMAC poll queried companies about their hiring patterns. The poll doesn't seek exact head counts, but instead helps GMAC researchers conclude if companies expect to hire one or more MBA degree holders.

For 2012, 41 percent of companies expect to hire the same number of MBA degrees holders as they did in 2011, while 22 percent said they plan on increasing their employment of MBA degree holders.

"That's the highest for all business talent and notable across all other job candidates," Sparkman-Renz says. "The thing I connect this to is the goal of many companies to launch new products and expand geographically in 2012. There may be opportunities for MBA degree holders in many companies to really drive that agenda."

Job seekers with the most education face the best prospects for securing a position, the BLS reports. Roy Cohen, a New York-based career coach and author of "The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide," says job seekers with MBA degrees typically can separate themselves from a crowded pool of candidates.

"In a highly competitive market like the one we're in, where there are many more candidates than open positions, it gives you a real advantage against those with fewer credentials and less-attractive qualifications. It will also demonstrate your commitment to your career and professional development," Cohen says.

Salary expectations for MBA graduates in 2012

Almost a third of companies pooled, or 32 percent, expect to increase salaries this year. Sixty-five percent of companies say salaries are expected to remain flat throughout the year.

However, people with Master in Business Administration degrees typically earn higher wages than many other employees, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, and hiring for management and technical consultants is expected to increase 83 percent from 2008 through 2018. General and operations managers earned median annual salaries approaching $100,000 in 2010, the BLS reports.

Importance of internships

Two-thirds of the companies polled expect to provide internship opportunities to MBA students in 2012, and of that number, 22 percent plan to increase the number of internships available to MBA students. Sparkman-Renz says that work experience provided through internships sets candidates on a higher level in the eyes of employers.

"Our research shows that MBA grads who have gotten an internship are more likely to land a job and get more money than peers who don't do an internship," she says. "It is especially key for younger MBA degree holders who might not have a lengthy history of work experience."

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