B-school rankings outrank academic quality for job recruiters

May 12, 2011: 2:28 PM ET

Forget about quality teachers or strong curricula, corporate recruiters are all about the rankings, according to a new survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council.

By John A. Byrne, contributor

(poetsandquants.com) -- MBA rankings, the bane of every B-school dean, are more important to corporate recruiters than the quality of a school's MBA curriculum and especially the quality of a school's faculty, according to new research from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).

The news will hardly delight B-school administrators or faculty members who often view business school rankings with great disdain. But the new study, released this week by GMAC, shows that school rankings are now the fourth most important criteria MBA employers use when deciding which campuses to recruit from. And when you add other specific criteria that are directly related to rankings, such as the "global recognition of the business school" and the "local reputation" of a school, rankings exert even more of an influence.

The quality of students remains the single most important criteria, cited by 72% of the recruiters, followed by past experience at a given school (48%) and existing relationships at a school (39%).

Student quality has been the number one criterion since GMAC conducted its first corporate recruiters survey in 2001-2002 and it is the most important consideration regardless of a company's location, industry, or size, according to the study.

Nearly four of every 10 recruiters surveyed -- some 37% -- said that school rankings were critical. Only one in 10 said the quality of the faculty was important and only 9% thought school accreditation was crucial. Some 25% of the recruiters -- a full 17 percentage points behind school rankings -- believed that the quality of the curriculum was an important factor in their decision to recruit at a campus.

The new data comes from GMAC's 2011 corporate recruiters survey. It reflects the opinions of 1,509 responding participants representing 905 companies in 51 countries. Each survey respondent was asked to check off the five most important reasons why he or she would recruit MBA students on a school's campus.

So why are the rankings so important to recruiters? One explanation is that more companies are recruiting MBAs and they are often recruiting at more schools than they had in the past.

"If companies are increasing the number of campuses where they recruit, they use rankings to help identify schools they're less familiar with," says Michele Sparkman Renz, director of research communications for GMAC. "The Financial Times ranking in particular has a much greater non-U.S. mix with two Indian schools in the top 25. Companies hiring employees for their operations in India may use that ranking and others to decide which schools in India would provide them with the best Indian talent."

It's not possible, says Sparkman Renz, to compare these findings with earlier recruiter reports by GMAC because of changes in methodology and reporting. However, it does appear that rankings have become far more important to recruiters in recent years. In 2007, for example, business school rankings were not among the top eight criteria and ranked below the quality of the curriculum, accreditation, and the quality of the faculty -- all of which were ranked fourth or fifth in importance. Today, the quality of the curriculum is ranked eighth in importance, the quality of the faculty is 16th, and school accreditation is 17th.

U.S.recruiters are the least likely to use the quality of the faculty as an important criteria in helping them decide where they recruit MBA students. Only 5% ofU.S.responding recruiters from theU.S.said that business school faculty quality was important, compared to 19% in the Asia Pacific region and 33% in Europe. American recruiters ranked their relationships with individual business schools as far more important than these other performance measures.

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