Last September, with completion of his MBA still months away, Joseph Hokayem received job offers from three banks on the same day.
Now a graduate of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, he accepted an offer from Credit Suisse Group to join the bank in Geneva, Switzerland, this July.
"If you want to do wealth management, you work for the Swiss," says Mr. Hokayem, 30. A former Montrealer, he speaks English, French and Arabic, and worked for a private bank in the Middle East before returning to Canada for his MBA.
His starting salary is about $150,000 with a $37,000 signing bonus – a classic definition of a hot job for MBA graduates.
Finance, consulting and consumer products remain the three most popular industries for business school graduates, with six-figure starting salaries typical for prime candidates. But the definition of a hot job is evolving, say school officials, with pay and prestige only part of the equation.
"Where person A's top job is about pay and prestige, another person's top job might be [about having] impact and autonomy," says Leigh Gauthier, director of careers for Rotman's full-time MBA program.
A growing interest in entrepreneurship means some graduates will forego a high salary now for potentially-high remuneration later if a startup hits the jackpot.
Meanwhile, employers increasingly look to connect with MBA students earlier in the recruitment cycle to identify prospective hires long before graduation day. More companies are choosing to come on campus, with real estate and mining companies now jostling with the big-three MBA recruiters.
"The [recruitment] game is moving up earlier and earlier in the academic year," Ms. Gauthier says. "It's testimony to the fact the MBA is truly a selection engine for talent."
Also reshaping the landscape is an economy-wide demand for graduates versed in Big Data and able to communicate their significance to senior management.
"Big Data is sexy," says Rob Hines, executive director of the Career Development Centre at York University's Schulich School of Business in Toronto. "It is so in demand that this year's graduates [from Schulich's master of science in business analytics] were placed before they finished first year [of the two-year program]."
Some MBA graduates are flocking to a fast-growing tech sector. Its starting salaries don't compete with banks and consulting companies but there is a promise of rapid upward mobility in less hierarchical organizations.
"There's a war for talent going on in Vancouver," says Ian Christie, director of graduate career programs at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business in Vancouver, citing the growth of Hootsuite and other home-grown startups and the arrival of U.S. giants, such as Amazon, on Canada's West Coast.
In 2013, 18 per cent of Sauder's 110-member MBA class found jobs in the tech sector, up from 13 per cent four years earlier.
Drawn to Vancouver's flourishing startup scene, Mike Rudzki moved from Ontario to pursue his MBA at Sauder in 2012 and, hopefully, land a job in the sector. He capitalized on the school's networking connections with the industry to secure a summer internship with a data consulting company in their Toronto office.
After graduating in November, he moved back to Toronto to have an interview with a tech company. But six weeks later, he moved back to Vancouver to work as a business development executive with Mobify, a Vancouver startup that helps companies optimize websites for mobile devices. The entry position typically carries a salary of $60,000-plus.
"I didn't come out of the MBA thinking I can go work for a startup tech company and think that will give me a six-figure salary," says Mr. Rudzki. "That's a pipe dream."
But he is where he hoped to be after graduation. "They can't promise, but they say if all goes well, there is no reason in a year or two that you might be managing people as well."
With increased competition for talented graduates, major companies are stepping up efforts (see sidebar) to recruit talented employees.
"The big difference is that more companies are seeing the value in having a campus recruitment program," says Lisa Kramer, director of campus recruitment for Royal Bank of Canada, with a long-established presence at top business schools in Canada. "It is more competitive going to campus."
She says her bank uses social media to "start a conversation earlier with candidates and get to know them and then follow that up with meeting them on campus at various events." Much like a date, prospective employer and employee measure each other for fit.
Often, the process has less to do with pay and academic credentials than intangible factors.
"Risk-taking is increasingly something you hear firms talking about," says Sharon Irwin-Foulon, director of career management at Ivey Business School at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont. "[Employers say], 'I want to know if you have taken a risk and failed … and what is your comfort with ambiguity?'" she says. "These are grey-area skills."
Increasingly, employers rely on summer internships to give them – and the candidate – a close-up look before the offer of a full-time job, says Herbert Blum, a partner and MBA recruitment leader in the Toronto office of Bain & Co., a global management consulting firm.
"It gives a tremendous opportunity for Bain & Co. and the intern to get to know one another," says Mr. Blum, with the intern working on real cases in a large team. "There is no stronger ambassador for our value proposition than if these individuals go back to campus and tell their peers, 'Here is what I did in the summer.'"
In the end, the definition of what constitutes a hot job is about more than salary considerations, says Mr. Hokayem, 30, who urges MBA students to "keep your options open" while in school.
In his case, he came to Rotman planning to work for a Canadian bank in wealth management. But in 2013, he secured a summer internship at Credit Suisse's Zurich headquarters that led to a full-time position as a wealth management associate.
"On paper, you know [the MBA] is going to give you all these possibilities," he says. "But I did not expect this much possibility and this much change."