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With more students heading back to school to escape the recession, the challenge for MBA schools is to help them find employers after the students graduate.

Joseph Palumbo, executive director of York University's Schulich School of Business Career Development Centre, got his MBA from the same school several years ago. But as he tells Elizabeth Howell, students have to think differently these days to land a job after they leave university.

Elizabeth Howell: What does the hiring landscape for MBAs look like now?

Joseph Palumbo: It's a strong recovery from 2009. We're seeing a healthy recovery in pretty well all sectors in 2010, and hopefully into 2011.

About the only difficulty MBAs will have are those that are trying to transition if they have experience in a limited area and want to go to a different area. They will have trouble because companies want them to hit the ground running.

But as long as they are bringing some competencies or experience, they should be fine. I think that's because of the sound business environment we are having here in Canada.

The profits announced in the financial sector this week are no surprise to those employers who are on the MBA side, and most schools are saying the big five [banks]are [among]the top 10 recruiters.

Howell: What are the sectors doing the most hiring right now?

Palumbo: It remains financial services. The only difference is the mix of financial services changes, so it's the move away from capital markets, investment banking - more towards retail, commercial and corporate, and also more towards risk management.

Canadian banks have an amazing opportunity in a global environment to plant their flag and say [we]are ethical and sound, and we are going to excel. So they are acquiring share in the retail and market share globally - not just here, but globally. That's where we see the job growth.

The other sectors we see are health care, biotech and pharma.

Also ... infrastructure is big. That's where government is spending, and that's the economic recovery plan by the government, supported by the municipal and provincial governments as well.

Howell: Are you seeing an increase in job postings and on-campus recruiting?

Palumbo: Slightly. What's changed are the bigger companies are bringing fewer positions. The MBA school is not isolated from the whole world - we have to see growth from small and medium enterprises. When I see growth of companies, it's in SMEs and these more one-off, two-off kind of jobs rather than a bank coming in and hiring 50.

A leading indicator of what the economy might be in 2010 and 2011 is the level of internship jobs, and that's quite strong. Internship jobs come to campus between September and December. Some schools do internships; some do jobs. We just do internships, but that is looking strong. Robust, actually.

Howell: How do business schools help students?

Palumbo: We want to do more [because]... we had a slight decrease in [company]attendance in career fairs. We have two in the fall. We have a big general one at the beginning of September and another in November. The number at both were down - and this was true of all attendance at all MBA career fairs..

We have been doing more activities: more industry focused events, more breakfasts, more panels. [At an industry event]we had 22 corporate members and 55 students: that's 2.5 students per corporate person.

That's an amazing opportunity. Every student had an opportunity to talk to the corporate person.

The other thing we're doing to help students is to help them think of opportunities they may not think of, like sales, like entrepreneurship, like how to get more opportunities from government, infrastructure jobs. Different options that students aren't thinking of because they're used to being bombarded by the big banks and big consultancies. We want to make sure they know what their options are, especially in this economy.

Howell: What are students' expectations in a tight market concerning starting salary, length of job search and the like?

Palumbo: It's a lot more realistic these days. Our average salary is down, our placement was down, but it's published information - even available in the student newspaper - and all MBA schools are hurting a little bit.

That makes for more realistic expectations, and that brings people out to the employers who wouldn't have as big of an audience [before]

I think unfortunately, some students may have bought into getting an MBA, going halfway around the world with immigrant status, and then going back and using it. There was this perception of immediate feedback. But it may take longer to find the higher salary.

Still, an MBA is a long-term investment and a long-term career plan. It's a strong signal to your manager that you want to be in senior positions. I think it's still a good thing for an undergrad or professional who wants to be on the management side of things.