Tech Companies That Won the Pandemic Are Snapping Up MBA’s

Tech companies whose businesses have surged during the pandemic—like Amazon. com Inc. and Zoom Video Communications Inc. —are snagging more of the M.B.A. talent entering the workforce, helping to offset pullbacks by industries harder hit by the Covid-19 economy.

Openings for tech positions rose at 57% of full-time Masters of Business Administration programs this past fall, according to a survey of nearly 100 schools by industry group MBA Career Services & Employer Alliance. Overall, though, it has been a lackluster recruiting season at business schools, the survey found, as nearly half reported an overall decline in opportunities for students.

Sectors hit hardest by the pandemic, such as retail and energy, have pulled back their M.B.A. recruiting, according to the report. That is especially the case for companies in the hospitality industry, which 61% of business schools said have cut back job opportunities.

Nearly half the schools also reported a decline in recruiting from consulting firms—traditionally some of the biggest hirers of M.B.A. graduates every year. Several of those firms, including PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and Bain & Co., said last year that they planned to make fewer hires among second-year M.B.A. candidates, beyond those who interned in the summer.

Some of the biggest recruiters have been tech companies whose business have boomed during the coronavirus crisis, including Amazon, Zoom and Netflix Inc., said Megan Hendricks, executive director of the MBA Career Services & Employer Alliance. Amazon plans to recruit more than 1,000 M.B.A. students for full-time jobs and internships this year, a company spokeswoman said, while Zoom said it intends to hire more M.B.A. graduates as part of a new, global emerging-talent program. Netflix had no comment.

Akintayo Abiodun, a 38-year-old Nigerian in the second year of his M.B.A. studies at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business in Houston, had originally planned to pursue a career in the oil-and-gas industry. But he said he reconsidered after discovering many companies outside the tech industry weren’t sponsoring international students this year. Indeed, 65% of the schools in the MBA survey reported a decline in job opportunities for students from abroad.

After a summer internship with a regional bank didn’t lead to a job offer, Mr. Abiodun accepted a role with Amazon’s finance leadership-development program in Seattle once he graduates this spring.

“Being international, your options are already restricted,” he said, adding that finding a job “would have been more difficult without Amazon.”

Business school graduates have increasingly gravitated to careers in technology in recent years, often starting and moving up in product-management roles that combine elements of marketing, design and problem solving. Business schools, in turn, have responded by fashioning more graduate degrees with training in tech skills such as data analytics and artificial intelligence.

Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice’s business school, said some of its M.B.A. graduates typically used to go to major energy companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp. Now, though, more of its students take jobs in tech than in energy, he said. This year, he added, will be the first he can remember in which the school won’t send any M.B.A.s to Exxon. An Exxon spokesman declined to comment on its M.B.A. recruiting but said the company hires for positions according to its business needs.

At Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business in Dallas, Senior Assistant Dean Jason Rife said a similar trend is under way. In 2018, the top three industries recruiting its graduates were financial services, consulting and real estate, and about 5% of its graduates went into tech, he said. That is changing as more tech companies move to Texas, including Oracle Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Enterprises Co., or expand there, such as Tesla Inc. and Apple Inc. Last year, 17% of Cox students accepted roles with tech companies.

This year, Mr. Rife added, employers in tech, venture capital, private equity and green energy have continued their hiring sprees as others, such as airlines, have pulled back internships and job offers.

“Flexibility is the name of the game,” he said of business students’ willingness to shift their career sights from one industry to another.

Julie Pollok, a 25-year-old first-year M.B.A. student at SMU, said she came into the program looking for a role in brand management at a consumer packaged-goods company but is now looking at marketing jobs in tech. She plans on interning with Samsung Electronics Co. this coming summer.

“The recruiting in tech was just more optimistic,” she said.

Some companies that cut back M.B.A. recruiting in fields such as hospitality or consulting could still pick up their hiring later this spring as the U.S. economy improves, said John Helmers, associate director of graduate career management at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Leeds School of Business and MBA Career Services & Employer Alliance president.

A fall survey of corporate recruiters from the Graduate Management Admission Council found that most companies expect M.B.A. hiring to return close to pre-pandemic levels in 2021.

Write to Patrick Thomas at Patrick.Thomas@wsj.com

By Sheila Lillis
Sheila Lillis Associate Director Sheila Lillis