Ever since the U.S. economic crisis hit in 2008, business school insiders have speculated that increasing numbers of graduating MBAs would head overseas for jobs. This hasn’t happened. If anything, fewer graduates of top programs are heading overseas for work. At eight of Bloomberg Businessweek’s top 10 full-time programs, the percentage of graduates taking positions outside North America was down or flat in 2011, compared to 2008. The exceptions were Harvard Business School, from which 20 percent of graduates went overseas in 2011, up from 18 percent in 2008, and University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, at which 19 percent of graduates took overseas jobs in 2011, up from 12 percent in 2008.
While a greater number of MBA students from the U.S. show interest in emerging markets, they are not working overseas in larger numbers, despite double-digit growth in demand for MBA talent in India, China, Brazil, and Russia, say business school career-services directors. At University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, about 9 percent of American MBAs typically work abroad, a percentage that has remained consistent. “It’s always been just a fact of life around here that our MBAs work abroad,” says Maryellen Reilly Lamb, director of MBA career management at Wharton.
What is different, say the directors, is the desire by recruiters to hire people who are willing to go abroad in the future and who have the correct documentation such as work visas to do so—along with the willingness on the part of potential employees to do just about anything for the right job. “We encourage students to have an open mind,” says Marilyn Eckelman, director of graduate management career strategies at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management. “MBAs are really re-starting their careers. The economy and job market over the last couple of years has persuaded students to be more open to geographic flexibility and mobility.”
Opportunity Can Knock Overseas
MBA graduates will make concessions for the right opportunities. Ronald Rolph, a 2011 graduate of University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business who served in the military before attending business school, was looking forward to working stateside. Still, he turned down an offer for a position in the United States to work for the same private company in a preferred role that combines engineering, construction, and project management in the mining and metals industry in Santiago, Chile.
Rolph, who was not at liberty to identify his new employer, says his dream of working in the U.S. is far from dead. “Just because you go overseas initially does not mean you’re relegating yourself to working overseas for the rest of your career,” says Rolph.
Americans who opt to take overseas jobs after graduating from U.S. MBA programs account for only a portion of those pursuing careers on foreign soil. Many decide to pursue an international career before setting foot on campus, then choose an international program.
Passing Through London
While two-thirds of London Business School graduates launch their post-MBA careers in London, only 20 percent of them are still working there five years later, says Fiona Sandford, director of career services at LBS. Many students, she adds, come to the program for its multicultural environment, hoping to create a résumé that global companies will find appealing. While LBS grads also find work in emerging markets and others around the world, Sandford suggests that students stay abreast of immigration policies so they know exactly where they are eligible to work and are more likely to be hired.
A willingness to work overseas, while attractive to employers, will only get you so far. Having the right skills—from the ability to speak a foreign language to knowledge of a region’s economy and business practices—is equally important, says the Carroll School’s Eckelman. If the opportunity is right, she adds, graduates and employers can usually overcome those kinds of challenges.
“Explore all your options and don’t rule anything out,” Rolph advises. “Generally speaking, Americans have a U.S.-centric mindset and that’s an outdated point of view. Look globally. It’s the wave of the future.”