By Aaron Toomey '14 | October, 2013, Issue 2


The last five years following the onset of the global financial crisis have been trying times for everyone. Financial firms have been hit especially hard, with cost cuts and layoffs trickling down to their favorite talent pipeline: MBA programs.

Student interest has tracked employer demand. Applications have stalled or fallen at Columbia and Wharton, two schools known for their finance programs and connections with Wall Street. At Booth, new grads entering the Finance field are down significantly from previous years (see Booth Employment Report Shows Evolving Trends, Oct. 7, 2013).

One might expect Booth to suffer a similar fate as our finance-oriented counterparts. And yet, the school and its students have demonstrated surprising reliance. Applications over the last four years are up five percent and students are gravitating to fields like marketing, technology and strategic planning. The demand for the Booth MBA and the skills it provides is higher than ever, despite a lull in a traditionally strong recruiting industry.

While many factors are at play here, Booth has clearly differentiated itself in two important ways: employer outreach and admissions. On the employer relations front, Booth works hard to ensure it maintains best in class capabilities.

"One of the things unique about Booth is the volume of resources devoted to employer relations," said Julie Morton, Associate Dean of Career Services and Corporate Relations. Booth currently employs five people specifically tasked with building new relationships with employers across the globe. These representatives sit in Hong Kong, London and the U.S., and together cover employers on six continents.

"That much employer outreach is unique in the business school world," said Ms. Morton.

Having dedicated resources in charge of building the Booth brand at home and abroad has helped Booth and its students navigate rocky economic times. As industries shift and regions grow at different rates, Booth has people on the ground forging new relationships that students and alumni can take advantage of, in addition to traditional channels.

Those resources are due in part to a change in strategy Booth adopted in 2008. While peer schools contracted their outreach following the onset of the financial crisis, Booth aimed to grow its teams in Career Services and redirect alumni outreach efforts from fundraising to job lead generation. Those efforts are paying great dividends now.

Another unique aspect of Booth that keeps the school balanced is the dedicated research and programming centers at the school. The enormous uptick in interest in social and impact investing coincided with the formation of the Social Enterprise Initiative, which supports faculty and student interest in the social sector. While SEI is a significant resource for professors and students, it also offers an important perspective to applicants, demonstrating that the school has made a long-term commitment to impact in the social sector.

The Polsky Center and The Kilts Center serve a similar role for the entrepreneurial and marketing fields respectively. As student interest and employer demand for MBAs in these arenas has risen, these centers showcase to employers and applicants what Booth has to offer.

Within admissions, Booth has benefited from its commitment to finding people who are a fit for the program and its culture, regardless of industry interest. Kurt Ahlm, Associate Dean of Student Recruitment and Admissions, emphasizes that this approach serves the school well throughout the business cycle. "We really just look for fit and people who understand the culture. If we find these people, they always represent a large range of industries."

One reason Booth students in particular have fared well despite the economic shakeup is what Admissions is looking for when it comes to that fit. Booth is well known for its flexibility and self- directed programming, and students who are attracted to that tend to thrive in dynamic environments. "It has served us well that we look for people who are resilient and adaptive to change," said Mr. Ahlm.

That success has led some peers to take a cue from the Booth program. "Wharton has changed the way they market their program, emphasizing things like flexibility," Mr. Ahlm said, "You see a lot of programs changing themselves over time, but Booth has stayed true to its values."

Those values - adaptability, self-determination, intellectual curiosity, leadership - mean that Booth students are prepared to take on the world at graduation, regardless of transient industry trends or economic cycles. And with an army of Career Services, Corporate Relations and Alumni Relations staff pounding the pavement on their behalf, Booth's success in the face of economic headwinds is less surprising then it may at first appear.