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By Dominic Basulto

A quick look at the glossy brochures and slick websites available for prospective MBA applicants may seem to indicate that a 1- or 2-year tour of duty at a leading Western business school is a necessary and sufficient condition for a significant boost in one's career. Each business school, whether in the Top 20 or the Top 100, entices candidates with promises of international careers, cutting edge job opportunities, and the unstated assumption that graduates will soon be managing entire phalanxes of workers. Indeed, B-schools spend an inordinate amount of time arranging a full array of corporate presentations, coaching students on interviewing techniques, and assuring that each student has full access to alumni databases and proprietary information in order to make such promises realizable. However, there needs to be a rational consideration of what different career paths are available after earning an MBA degree, especially for Russian candidates who are not completely aware of what a business school education entails.

What follows is some sobering advice on assessing post-MBA career opportunities. Is earning the much-vaunted MBA degree all about $100,000 job offers, General Manager titles and "corner office" perks? In a word, no. First, Russian MBAs may not enjoy as many job opportunities as nationals of Western Europe or the USA, given the reduced need for staffing in Eastern Europe and Russia. Second, the top strategy consultancies (McKinsey, BCG, Bain) and leading investment banks (CSFB, Goldman Sachs) establish pre-determined hiring needs for MBA graduates on a worldwide basis- and it is only these jobs that make the $100,000 offers. Third, the notion of graduating from business school and being hired as a "General Manager" of a major company is ill founded. With a few exceptions, the major multinationals, investment banks and consulting companies hire all candidates at the same level, albeit with some salary considerations.


In establishing career goals, it is important to determine whether to focus on returning to Russia, working in a mature, developed market (i.e. USA or Europe), or working in an emerging market. For most Russian candidates, the "return to Russia" option is a non-starter, meaning that the choice essentially becomes either USA or Europe, since the world's emerging markets are currently at a nadir and even growth opportunities in core-Asia (Japan, Hong Kong, etc.) are limited by the extent of Asian economic weakness. Keep in mind that U.S. schools are best at placing candidates with American firms, while European B-schools are best at placing candidates in Europe. One can even extrapolate that rapidly-emerging Russian business schools, such as AIBEc or IBE, are best at placing students within Russia. In truth, there are only a handful of Western countries that actively recruit MBAs: United States, U.K., France, Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. Working in other nations may be easier by attending a more "regional" school such as IESE in Spain or SDA Bocconi in Italy.

Also bear in mind that Russian MBA candidates most likely will be recruited to work in the Eastern European/Russian marketplace rather than in "core Europe." Finding other job opportunities not leveraging first-hand knowledge of the Russian marketplace is more problematic. It takes additional perseverance to leverage additional skills (clients in non-emerging markets, language fluency, etc.) in order to avoid being pegged as a "future manager in Eastern Europe or Russia." After all, even jobs not based in, say, Prague, will involve consulting projects in the home country, doing market/strategy analysis for "emerging Europe," or considering product launches or manufacturing options in the Russian marketplace.


The inflated salaries currently paid to graduates of the leading business school programs can largely be attributed to the overwhelming number of the top grads who opt for careers in finance and consulting. Obviously, business schools can provide an important change in one's career or provide a smooth transition to an emerging career sector, such as high-tech venture capital. More probably, though, business schools provide the conduit to the cash-rich job opportunities in finance and consulting. Take a quick look at the placement statistics of any top business school, and the truth becomes apparent: approximately 55-70% of all students select jobs in finance and consulting, meaning that only 3 in 10 students choose jobs in the "real sector." In fact, 48% of INSEAD's 1997 graduating class accepted offers in management consulting and another 27% in finance. Furthermore, just in the past five years, the number of INSEAD grads entering "industry" has fallen from 50% to the current level of 25%. Once one sets foot on campus, the reason for this becomes apparent: it is the old maxim "follow the money." Consulting firms have upped the ante in the recruiting wars, offering $100, 000 base salaries and a number of bonus or tuition forgiveness options. However, the hiring frenzy for consultants may have reached a peak. With the current Internet and "dot com" mania gripping America and Western Europe, a new hot area of career development has become the high-technology sector and leading newspapers have already been discussing the evolution of the "techno MBA."

Secondly, the hiring needs of companies may vary widely depending on the economic environment. There is no guarantee that the boom times can continue, especially if the unprecedented growth of the US economy abates or the EU integration process stalls. Investment banks burned by the emerging markets crises have already reduced hiring needs after absorbing big hits to their capital base. Investing in MBAs is an expensive option that leads to uncertain payoffs for many companies. The perception that consulting companies and banks have priced most MBAs out of reasonable range has meant that some multinationals and manufacturing companies have chosen the route of developing their talent base "in house." Those that choose to hire MBAs pay more in the range of $55,000-$65,000 per annum rather than the oft-cited $100,000 figure.


While an MBA is oftentimes a necessary precondition for being accepted into the upper ranks of management, it is not true that MBA grads are hired immediately into these positions. Instead, companies provide generous training and career development opportunities that provide a sufficient base for making a later "lateral" move into senior positions in industry or the services sector. The usual path from business school requires 4-8 years to make the move to "partner" or "managing director." The promotion path may be more rapid for an older, highly experienced candidate, but in general, the 25-year-old whiz kid and the savvy 35 year-old will both inherit the same title after B-school.

Also, the peculiarities of the Russian market may have distorted realistic assumptions of young corporate professionals in Moscow. Keep in mind that large American corporations and banks dwarf their Russian counterparts, meaning that a freshly-minted graduate is hired as a "future" leading manager, not as a current general manager. The notion of rosy-cheeked 28-year olds running banks and offices in Western Europe and America is, well, laughable. There are simply many more layers of management between entry-level MBA positions and the proverbial "top" in well-known Western firms. For instance, the offices of the most prestigious investment banks staff thousands of professionals worldwide; even with such mass, though, these leading firms may only look to hire 30-50 MBAs on a global basis (i.e. New York, London, Hong Kong).

In conclusion, it is worth reiterating that a careful consideration of post-MBA career options is important. First, it allows one to choose the appropriate school with proven placing power in certain countries, regions, sectors, or industries. Second, it helps candidates define their career plans and why exactly they are spending up to $80,000 on what is essentially a two-year job search. Third, it may dispel some MBA myths and lead to a rationalization of many young professionals' desires to attend business school. After all, in a classic case of "cognitive dissonance," Russian professionals focus on the magic salary number $100,000 and do not take into consideration that business school often means long 12-hour days 7 days a week, relocation, visa & work permit headaches, possible separation from family or spouses, and the acceptance of a rigorous post-MBA career path that may include 100-hour weeks at dog-eat-dog investment banks and rigid, "up-or-out" consulting companies. For those still skeptical of these facts, additional insights into post-MBA careers can also be found at some websites such as,, and

Dominic Basulto is a 1998 graduate of Yale School of Management and currently works as a consultant for Pericles ABLE (American Business and Legal Education) in Moscow. Pericles offers a full MBA advising program.

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