Here Come the Recession Babies

by: Sharon Belden Castonguay, EdD
Director, Graduate Career Management Center
Baruch College, Zicklin School of Business
New York, NY

I am on the admissions committee for the full time MBA program at my school, and I’ve noticed a definite trend this season. Some of these applicants are young. Really young. Granted, the older I get the younger they seem, and I only interview about 40 or so of them a year. But lately my office has seen a steady stream of what I’ve started to think of as Recession Babies*: young professionals who graduated from college between 2008 and 2011 who are now looking to start their MBAs.

This is part of the natural progression of things, as we like to accept people with three to seven years of experience, and our average tends to hover around five. And we’ve always had interest from eager new college graduates. What worries me is the thinly veiled desperation in their eyes, particularly among those who graduated within the last two years, who know they are at a disadvantage in the admission process.

My concern stems from my doctoral research into the career progression of businesspeople who graduated from college during the economic downturn of the early to mid-1990s. In 2007—before the current crisis hit—I interviewed mid-career business people working in finance, consulting, human resources, and general management to find out how they had navigated their careers. Despite the disadvantage of having begun their careers in a down economy and a difficult job market, these men and women all managed to achieve upward mobility and financial success in their chosen professions. However, not all of them had truly found their niche; some never discovered the career path that could provide them with personal satisfaction as well as financial remuneration.

The difference seemed to lie in how mindful these businesspeople were about change. Most of them were forced to take positions that did not make active use of their degrees at first, and many had also at some point found themselves in jobs they didn’t really like. But happily over half managed to eventually clarify their career interests and find their professional fit. However, some men and women never seemed to move off the path of least resistance. They lacked clarity about what a positive change might look like, and seemed less optimistic about their futures. While each had experiences where they tried to explore their options, they appeared to lack any intrinsic direction that would lead them to choices that would prove personally fulfilling. At times this state of affairs resulted in ill‐thought‐out moves between careers or employers.

I don’t want business school to be that kind of move. And I have heartily endorsed admission for a few young candidates whom I feel really know what they want out of business school and are truly ready for the MBA job market. For the rest, those who seem to be applying out of desperation to do something—anything—other than what they’re doing now, I feel I am doing them a favor by saying no.

*A term I thought up, but apparently I wasn’t the first.

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