By MELISSA KORN
Masters of business administration are still vying to become masters of the universe.
Financial-services industry hiring at the big Master of Business Administration programs hit a post financial-crisis high this year. Employers such as banks, hedge funds, investment managers, private equity and venture capital firms hired 39% of job-seeking 2011 graduates at Harvard Business School and the Yale School of Management, 36% at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and 51% at Columbia Business School.
Even in an age of heavy layoffs, shrinking bonus pools and noisy antibank protests, it is no mystery why M.B.A. students keep entering the revolving door that is Wall Street. It pays well and carries considerable prestige.
Feyisayo Oshinkanlu, a second-year student at Northwestern University's Kellogg School, accepted an offer from Bank of America Merrill Lynch in New York after working in its sales and trading department there over the summer. Getting a job on the Street means "there's definitely a weight taken off my shoulders, definitely a little swagger in my step," said Mr. Oshinkanlu, who is due to start after his scheduled graduation in June 2012.
But those getting jobs in finance will be entering an industry undergoing a massive belt-tightening, as investors flee banks hammered by a weak economy, tumultuous markets and tightening regulation. The crunch could dim hiring prospects for the next wave of M.B.A. graduates—and crimp promotion opportunities down the road.
"You're vulnerable if you're in that five-, seven- or nine-year range," said Alan Johnson, managing director of compensation-consulting firm Johnson Associates Inc. "You're expensive and you don't have clients."
Investment bankers with about five years of experience can command compensation of close to $400,000, Mr. Johnson said. New hires from business schools can expect about one-third as much, he said.
That math helps to explain why banks and other big firms continue to hire even as they try to squeeze costs. Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which this week reported its second quarterly loss in a dozen years, has said it may cut 1,000 jobs or more. Bank of America Corp. has said it plans 30,000 job cuts over the next few years. New York City's securities industry faces the loss of nearly 10,000 jobs by the end of 2012, New York state's comptroller has predicted, a blow to the area's economy and government budgets.
Trimming the existing work force doesn't preclude companies from hiring new talent, but some schools say they're seeing at least the beginnings of a pullback.
Jack Oakes, assistant dean for career development at University of Virginia's Darden School of Business, said companies' intentions have become much less clear in recent weeks. This fall, investment-banking hiring "is clearly not as buoyant as it was last year," Mr. Oakes said.
Yale School of Management also is seeing a shift in investment-banking firms looking to hire this fall. "There's activity, but there's a palpable sense of uncertainty," said Ivan Kerbel, director of career services at the business school. While banks aren't saying outright that they're not hiring, he said, "There's a sense of conservatism among employers."
"We continue to hire top talent in areas of our business where we have identified growth opportunities and require additional staff to support customers and clients," said a representative from Bank of America. A Goldman Sachs spokesman said the company sees "similar" M.B.A. hiring for investment banking, and an increase in investment management.
Wall Street could pull back considerably and remain a major draw for those with an M.B.A. Even at University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, where Wall Street hiring fell this year, "financial services was still our largest industry for placement," said Maryellen Lamb, the school's interim director of M.B.A. career management.
But career-services officers say students are gaining interest in a more diverse range of companies, including smaller outfits.
Jana Kierstead, managing director of M.B.A. career and professional development at Harvard Business School, said that students in the latest class, and even more so the class of 2012, have been attracted to boutique firms or start-ups and are less excited about attending presentations from large companies.
John Tough, a second-year student at University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, interned at venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers over the summer and said he plans to look for openings at other venture-capital companies. But Mr. Tough said he is seeing many of his friends aim for finance jobs in the corporate sector, rather than at Wall Street firms.
"In the finance market, you have so little control over what's going on," said Mr. Tough.
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