Dear MBA Hopefuls, Give Up Your Wall Street Dreams

That’s what a recent Forbes article suggests. The story, titled “It’s a Good Time To Go To A B-Level B-School,” reports that students at top tier B-schools aren’t getting Wall Street job offers.

Not surprising. I could feel that tension at the Wharton Conference last month, where it seemed like the ratio of MBA students to PE pros was about 10 to one, and every student’s eyes were darting from nametag to nametag in a desperate frenzy for a potential employer to stalk.

What surprised me from the article, though, is the fact that job acceptances at regional business schools like Northeastern and University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business are actually up over last year’s rates. With Wall Street jobs evaporating, students at less prestigious schools than Wharton, Harvard, or Stanford, are the ones finding jobs.

From the article:

“(Students at less prestigious schools) tend to head to regional businesses, and fewer of them go into financial services. Their specialties are such areas as energy, brand management, supply-chain management, human resources and market research. The industries they rely on may have been hurt during this downturn, but they haven’t been devastated.”

That’s not to say those brand-name MBA grads are moving back in with their parents. But they do need to adjust their expectations and look at smaller, less glamorous employers. Says an MD of career services at Harvard, “”Our students are more likely to consider going in-house in finance roles this year than in years past.” It’s been evidenced even in private equity, which runs a very lean operation, people-wise, but has seen the top tier firms make personnel cuts at the junior level.

Then we have Linda Craib, a Health Care Executive MBA who contributes to BusinessWeek’s blogs. This week she writes, “Despite the economy, I continue to feel confident about the Yale brand and hope that employers will be seeking out the graduates of my program.”

True, the “Yale brand” hasn’t changed and it won’t disappear. I think this situation closely parallels the buyer/seller price disagreements in today’s M&A market. Two years ago, strong companies sold themselves at high premiums in heated auctions. Now those same sellers are lucky to find takers, and buyers are struggling to adjust the sellers’ pricing expectations. The companies’ brands haven’t deteriorated, and perhaps their business is even weathering the economic storm. But the buyers (ahem, employers) simply cannot afford boom-time multiples. Naturally, most sellers have pulled their companies from the market. Unfortunately, MBA students don’t have that luxury-they’ve got to take whatever they can get.

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UPDATE: A co-chair of the Wharton conference has informed me that, according to the attendee list,  the ratio of professionals to students at the conference was 60/40, which is consistent with prior years.