For MBA students, it's never too early to apply for jobs – or gain work experience

By many accounts, its harder than ever for MBA graduates to find the careers in finance that they enrolled in search of – whether they're looking for executive positions or lower-level finance careers, such as accounting jobs. In fact, The Globe and Mail recently reported that this is having a distinct effect on the application practices of many MBA students. Citing sluggish economic growth, selective employers and an increase in the worldwide number of MBA graduates, the news outlet reported that the stakes are higher than ever for MBA grads on the hunt for an admirable job title.

However, industry experts also told the news outlet that students need to focus on applying to the jobs they want before they even graduate. Brian Marchant, director of the Business Career Centre at Queen's School of Business in Kingston, told The Globe and Mail that sending off applications is now an essential part of the pre-graduation process for MBA students – as opposed to the past, when many had waited until after graduation to begin searching for their desired career.

"They [students] have to put time, energy, passion and enthusiasm into this thing called a job search," Marchant told the news outlet. "Students need to be on their A game absolutely as they go through this."

That's because MBA students face a more competitive job market than ever before. An oft-cited 2011 study, conducted by The Economist, indicated that the degree was now a far lesser "investment" than it had been in previous years, in terms of financial return. 

As a result, many business schools have completely revamped their MBA programs, according to the news outlet. These schools are aiming to add increased career support services to their facilities, with some even working with individual employers to better guarantee post-graduation careers for their students. Queen's, for example, has recently redesigned its one-year program to better create post-program opportunities for work experience. For example, the program now begins in May rather than January, so that students graduate into a season where employers are hiring at greater rates. Additionally, the change now allows students five months of post-class time to gain paid internships before they officially graduate.

This change is even having an effect on the way employers search for MBA graduates. Lisa Kramer, director of campus recruitment for the Royal Bank of Canada, told The Globe and Mail that it is now much more likely than ever for an employer – whether they're hiring for technology jobs, finance careers or other positions – to maintain a year-round presence on campus. Previously, many had restricted their involvement with students to job fairs and other such occasions.

"Many years ago, an employer would go to campus, conduct a career fair, post jobs and cross fingers and hope for the best for applicants to come," Kramer told the news outlet. "Now there is a much stronger focus on building a strong brand on campus as an employer and interacting with candidates."

MBA students in one program work to gain valuable experience
The increased extent to which schools and employers are working together is helping to create many new, exciting opportunities for MBA students. The William & Mary school at the Mason School of Business, for example, recently reported that its students were able to work together with regional civic and business leaders to develop creative ways to solve local problems – as well as to gain priceless on-the-job work experience. Paul Stacharczyk, chief executive at TFC Recycling, spoke about the benefits offered by programs that allow MBA students and local businesses to work together. 

"We are very impressed with the quality of the program and the depth of knowledge the students bring to our project," said Stacharczyk. "Our goal is to identify the economic value our Recycling Perks program brings to communities, and we have a high degree of confidence the W&M program will provide us the outstanding results we seek at a tremendous value to both the students and our company."

Craig Connors, vice president of the PACE Program with Riverside Health System, also spoke about the benefits offered to MBA students who begin working to attain on-the-job experience as soon as possible. 

"For companies, it offers quality, insightful, open-minded evaluations of business challenges. The [student] teams' recommendations are actionable and practical," he said. "Companies also get the added benefit of seeing top job prospects perform in real-life situations. It has been an excellent recruiting conduit for us through the years."

The program also allowed students to interact with a collection of advisors known as Executive Partners. The advisors on this council hail from more than 20 different industries – fully illustrating the wide range of educational value offered to individuals who study in MBA programs. For these students, the job hunt is starting earlier than ever – but on-the-job experiences are often readily available.