MBA Grads Struggling To Find Work

For decades, the Master's in Business Administration was the key to a lucrative career. But the collapse of the banking and finance industries means fewer jobs and less pay right out of school. We speak with MBA students about the difficulties they're facing.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX COHEN, host:

And I'm Alex Cohen. American International Group, or AIG, owes Wall Street firms about $10 billion for speculative deals that didn't work out too well. AIG has posted losses of $42.5 billion over the past four quarters.

BRAND: And it cannot expect Washington to give it any more cash, and so the company is looking to outside investors - yet another obstacle AIG faces because of big bets on mortgage debt before the housing market collapsed.

COHEN: AIG's story is just one bit of grim financial news. Corporate America doesn't exactly seem like a good place to get a job these days. Even if you have an MBA, layoffs are everywhere. But business students and the companies recruiting them are not discouraged. Reporter Diantha Parker has the story.

DIANTHA PARKER: Being in a study room at New York University's Stern School of Business definitely feels more school than business. The color scheme is brown. There's an abandoned coat on a chair, and people come in lugging giant book bags. The conversation is all about how to present yourself to the outside world.

Ms. EMILY KRAMER (Student, Stern School of Business, New York University): If you're going into a luxury retailer, you really have to be passionate about luxury. If you're going into pharma, you have to care about pharma.

PARKER: Emily Kramer(ph) has a passion - marketing strategy. This is what you have to show recruiters, she says, company representatives who come to both woo and size up new talent, especially now. Businesses are reluctant to share details of how many people they want to hire and when. But companies from CitiGroup to Dunkin' Donuts came to Stern this fall to hear what students had to say.

Ms. KRAMER: And they're open to ideas of how you can better the company because they're like, OK, something's broke. We're happy to listen to any and every idea of how to fix it.

Hey, you. Come on in.

PARKER: As a second-year student, or MBA-2, corporations recruited Kramer last year. She's accepted a job already at a major credit card company she interned at this summer. So she's counseling first-year-student Janet Rutledge(ph) about the process. Rutledge says the schedule's been relentless.

Ms. JANET RUTLEDGE (Student, Stern School of Business, New York University): Back to back. Sometimes we had corporate presentations at lunch, another one right after class, another one at night. There was transition to breakfast events, dinner events. I feel like we're all still very busy. And if we weren't, I think then we'd have a problem.

PARKER: The problem would be not just for students, but for companies as well. If they stop hiring for a year, they'll have a management gap when the people they hired earlier start moving up the ladder. Top brass at Stern and other business schools say that was the problem back in 2001 during the tech bust, recession and the 9/11 attacks.

Ms. KRAMER: Say, this sounds fascinating, especially this component of what you're doing.

PARKER: So now, second-year-student Kramer is working with Rutledge on her story - a personal brand. That will give recruiters a sense in informational interviews, called informationals, of her narrative, which goes from publishing to digital marketing.

Ms. RUTLEDGE: It is collaborative, and people help each other, and it doesn't feel cutthroat. I've even seen - I actually just came up from the coffee lounge downstairs, and there were actually MBA-1s doing informationals with each other from their prior companies - which has been really helpful, too, because just because someone's leaving a company, doesn't mean that someone else might want to go almost fill their spot and move into that industry.

PARKER: This kind of teamwork is sort of Stern's brand. Listening to Kramer and Rutledge and nodding is Al Giles(ph), a second-year MBA student in investment banking. He's also got a job already at an international bank and says sharp elbows are not what anyone wants in his industry right now. Giles is also an Iraq veteran and has a good sense of how far individual success can really take you, as he tells MBA-1s.

Mr. AL GILES (Student, Stern School of Business, New York University): Rather than focusing on the external environment, and when I've been working with people, I've worked with them on their story, I've worked with them on the things that they can control rather than focusing on the things that they shouldn't worry about because there's nothing they can do about them.

PARKER: This seems like almost a Zen approach to business, light-years away from the stories of huge first-year bonuses and strivers and suspenders and French-cuffed shirts. Getting a job for yourself is only the first step, say these MBA students, who can't wait to bring more people in the door. For NPR News, I'm Diantha Parker in New York.

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