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Despite continued economic uncertainty, recent graduates, especially MBA holders, can look forward to an improved job market in 2013, according to an employer survey published by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).

According to the report, 76 per cent of employers planned to hire new master of business administration graduates in 2013, up from 69 per cent in 2012. Employers also expected to seek an increasing number of other business-related graduate-level candidates.

The projections are based on a year-end survey of 201 employers from 182 countries, including 45 Fortune 500 companies, that asked employers about their hiring plans for this year.

Surveyed employers planned to hire masters of management, accounting and finance graduates in significantly greater numbers than last year.

Opportunities for bachelor-degree holders remained steady, with 78 per cent of employers reporting plans to hire new graduates.

GMAC's estimates appear to reflect trends in Canada, according to Denise Baker, an assistant dean at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia. "While employers are still cautious about the economy, we continue to grow the number of both MBA internship and permanent job opportunities," she said, noting that Sauder has recently formed new relationships with Amazon and Shanghai-based Forsun and that the mining sector has increased its hiring plans.

However, the growth in hiring plans may not be universal. "Two industries that have curbed their hiring somewhat this year compared to last year are finance and strategy consulting," Ms. Baker said.

While prospects appear to be improving, U.S.-based GMAC cautioned that the job market would continue to be competitive and work experience, including co-ops and internships, was a crucial qualification.

"There is a high level of competition in the job market for graduates," said Rebecca Estrada, author of the survey, "even if the experienced specialists and managers are in higher demand."

Michelle Chevalier, director of the Graduate Business Career Center at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, elaborated on competition among MBA students at U.S. companies. "We're seeing more and more students from top-10 ranked schools going up against our students for positions at Twin Cities-based companies like Target, General Mills, Medtronic, and others," she wrote in an e-mail. "The competition is tough, and students need to be better prepared than ever."

Employers reported that they sought applicants with the ability to integrate information from various sources and use that information to solve problems, according to Ms. Estrada.

A European manufacturing employer elaborated in comments submitted with the survey, saying that the competencies needed include leadership skills, being action-oriented, dealing with ambiguity and having strategic agility.

Ms. Baker emphasized the "ability to read and analyze big data to support better management decisions" as a key skill. "Employers are always looking for excellent communication skills," she added. "Another skill set our employers are looking for is creativity and innovation – the ability to think about a problem in a holistic and fresh way."

The survey also indicated that companies planned to offer more internships to undergraduate and MBA students in 2013. Overall, 85 per cent of employers surveyed planned to hire interns, and 20 per cent planned to offer more internships than in 2012.

"The MBA internship is beneficial both for the students and the organizations," Ms. Baker said. "For some companies, an internship is an important part of their permanent recruitment cycle, for others, it is a long interview, and for others the benefit is some expert help on a short-term project."

Most employers who planned to hire new talent in 2012, as reported in last year's GMAC survey, did so, Ms. Estrada said. When GMAC compared 2012 projections to actual hiring data, its researchers found that 93 per cent of employers who planned to hire recent graduates in 2012 followed through.