Employment

MBA and Nowhere to Go? - By Lorenza Alessie and Denis Dilion

HVS Executive Search and EHL Master Students discuss job search strategies in the current economic turmoil.

HVS While it may be one of the best times to enroll in a full time MBA, it maybe one of the worst times to graduate with one. HVS Executive Search led a discussion with the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) Master students graduating in August 2009 about the current economic environment. We highlighted the threats and opportunities as well as best practices in finding a job in an increasingly more competitive employment market.

Several months ago the hospitality industry was in a state of composure, as most companies seemed to survive well during the economic crisis. This fall, however, the domino effect of the global credit crunch finally reached the industry and the picture seems to be getting darker by the day. The sharp fluctuation in oil prices, the collapse of major financial corporations and the ensuing credit shortage, as well as the overall anxiety prompting people to spend less on tourism and leisure have all had their effects on the industry. In such circumstances, one can naturally expect that budgets will be trimmed and jobs cut. To make things worse, this is the time of the year when hotel companies are completing their budgets for 2009. Most Executives are, thus, forced to replace the previously optimistic growth forecasts with more modest figures or even a decline in profits. As we get close to the end of the year, an increasing number of job cuts are being announced especially by public companies that have greater shareholder pressure to reduce costs in order to survive what they forecast to be a very tough 2009. It therefore seems as if 2008 won't be the merriest of Christmases as companies try to tackle as well they can the current uncertainty and prepare for next year.

In 2009, job seekers such as EHL MBA graduates will face an employment market where demand > supply. Companies are cutting positions to consolidate their operations and in the process are letting go of talent which is now looking for work. In addition, now that some major players in the financial sector have fallen apart like card castles, and many more companies feel like they are skating on thin ice, more and more highly qualified people will migrate to other industries including hospitality. Considering the large talent pool searching for jobs and the shrinking job board, students due to graduate in the near future cannot expect employers to fight over them. However, this is not a cause for despair, but rather a reason to start working on a better job hunting strategy.

The first part of the strategy is acknowledging that the old job search strategy no longer works. Today's economic situation is unique and the search strategy needs to be more bullet proof than ever. Below are some New Year resolutions for MBA graduates to maximize the chances to land the right job in 2009:

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Market Knowledge:
Read industry news and stay informed about what is going on in the industry - market knowledge is even more important during an economic downturn. Some companies will go bankrupt as others grow rich, some hotel concepts will succeed as they better meet today's demands while others will fail, and some countries will survive the turmoil better than others. Only with this market knowledge will MBA graduates know which companies and regions they should be targeting in their search.

Flexibility & Long-Term Thinking:
Some who initially started their MBA may have been looking for a total change in industry, geography and function. Today it will be difficult to change all three. However, in the same way that students decide to invest in an MBA with a long-term view, the same approach needs to be taken when applying for a job. Graduates should be flexible, but still apply for functions and sectors they are interested in.

Master students question if they should be looking outside the hospitality industry to increase their chances of finding a job but this in part defeats the purpose of their Masters in Hospitality. Graduates should not give up on their long-term career goals because of an economic downturn. Instead, if they can't land their ideal job right after graduation, they should apply for another position in order to build the foundations on which they can apply for their dream job in the future.

At the same time, graduates should apply for functions they are passionate about but if needed consider jobs at a lower level than they had initially intended. Employers are a lot more likely to hire someone showing an earnest passion for the position they are applying for than someone desperately scavenging for any leftover vacancy an interviewer may mention. Therefore, although accepting a lower position for the same field of activity may be a necessary compromise and a judicious investment in future progress, stay focused on your area of interest. Expressing interest for a human resources job when you'd initially applied for a finance vacancy may be a dangerous move.

Additionally, MBA graduates also need to realize that employers are most often looking to hire people with experience, and that there is a large talent pool of experienced people in the market place. When marketing themselves to potential employers, graduates need to find ways to better position themselves next to the more experienced job seekers. MBA graduates often don't come with a price tag and can market themselves as a 'cheaper option' and a unique opportunity for companies to hire talent while keeping costs low. If graduates can afford to do so, they may want to consider going for an internship or part-time job to demonstrate their capabilities and earn the trust for when times get better and a vacancy opens up. This is a more effective and proactive way to bank on your experience when applying for jobs rather than merely waiting for an opening to pop up.

Creativity:
Graduates should not only look into the big corporate companies for opportunities, but be creative and make sure to look into all hospitality related industries where their skills can be applied. For example, they should also look into smaller entrepreneurial companies such as hotel funds that will be set up to buy distressed assets or look into select service hotels since these will excel during the turmoil. An interesting idea given by one of the Master students in response to this issue is that EHL students might want to consider alternatives to traditional hospitality. Christina Norton, the Director of the Master of Hospitality Administration program at EHL, mentioned that some of the school's graduates have successfully applied their knowledge and attitude of service excellence acquired through a hospitality education to the health care sectors, which today remains a growing industry. According to Mrs. Norton, some EHL alumni currently hold key positions in a number of private health clinics.

Networking:
Above all, students should take advantage of any chance to meet professionals in the field. On-campus recruitment sessions and guest speakers are the most abundant resources available to many university students. Making use of the alumni network and professors' connections are equally good ideas. EHL in particular provides an eloquent example of a strong and influential alumni network. An even better way of establishing a relationship conducive to employment is to interview relevant experts for surveys and studies. This way, students not only gain access to key decision makers whose say usually bears more weight in the recruitment process than the HR department, but they also get a chance to demonstrate their understanding of relevant issues and express their ideas. As a matter of fact, some ingenious students come up with new research ideas or projects specifically in order to use them as an 'excuse' to get in touch with the people they are interested in.

Curiosity:
Make sure to ask as many questions as possible to industry leaders about their business. When you are aware of the latest developments in the industry, you are always equipped with some ideas for a discussion with a professional in the field, be it during a cocktail party, an official reception, or an interview. Not only will you have a guaranteed topic for discussion, but also some interesting business ideas articulated to a company official are more likely to get you a job offer or at least elicit more interest toward you as a potential applicant than a kill-time discussion about the weather. Besides, some executives are so enthusiastic and proud of their business that, once you push their button, they are capable of going on and on for hours, and will sometimes give you more valuable information than a semester-long university course.

Diligence:
Enough has been said and written about motivation letters and CV's. Graduates should simply put themselves in the shoes of employers and think what would catch their attention. Especially at the graduate level, employers buy into a student's attitude. How the graduate goes about their job application will say a lot about how they will perform in the job.

From an employer's perspective, EHL Master students will be graduating in August 2009 when industry experts hope the hospitality industry will start recovering from the economic turmoil. MBA graduates in general are more open than ever to thinking out of the box and looking into other companies other than the traditional corporate recruiters who came to universities to fish for MBA talent. In the hospitality industry, this is the opportunity for budget hotels, smaller entrepreneurial companies, healthcare sector or other industries that are benefiting from the turmoil to snap up talent. Master graduates can also be a cheaper option than the experienced candidate to meet targets while keeping costs low. Our discussions with the EHL Master graduates this month shows that they have realistic expectations and are flexible in terms of position and salary as long as they can see the long-term return on their investment.


This article was written by Lorenza Alessie of HVS Executive Search and Denis Dilion.

Lorenza Alessie is Associate Director of HVS Executive Search in London. Lorenza joined HVS Executive Search from an international recruitment company where she held the position of Director focusing on appointments in the hospitality sector. A graduate in Hospitality Management from the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, Switzerland, Lorenza is Dutch and Italian by nationality and fluent in Italian, Spanish and French.

Denis Dilion is a Master student at Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL). The 13-month Master in Hospitality Administration program at EHL provides broad-based business education typical of regular MBA programs as well as a thorough grounding in hospitality. Every year, the university selects a group of over 20 students of various geographical origins and professional backgrounds.



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