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Schools, Recruiters Try to Define Traits Of Future Students

By Ronald Alsop

February 14, 2006

The Wall Street Journal

HERE COME THE millennials — the next big wave of M.B.A. students.

Born between 1980 and 2001, and just starting to reach the prime age for a master-of-business-administration degree, the millennial generation is of keen interest to both business schools and corporate recruiters because of differences in its expectations, skills and attitudes about work.

"The millennials are fascinating people and represent a new challenge for both business schools and companies," says Daphne Atkinson, a vice president at the Graduate Management Admission Council. "What happens when a group that has always felt sought after, needed and indispensable arrives in the workplace with higher expectations than any generation before it?"

Time will tell, but Ms. Atkinson is already making presentations to business schools about the defining characteristics of the millennials. For example, she says, millennials like structure and will want schools and companies to give them clear rules to follow. "This generation grew up with play dates and other organized activities," she says. "So they will prefer well-defined policies and responsibilities. They may not like dealing with the ambiguity they will inevitably face as managers."

Doted on by their parents since birth, millennials will likely expect more than the usual attention from admission officials, career counselors, professors and alumni mentors. "Some career-service centers may have to expand their staffs to give the millennials more individual counseling," predicts Allyson Moore, director of full-time M.B.A. career services at New York University. As she starts seeing "the leading edge of the millennial cohort," Ms. Moore believes they will be more "transparent" about sharing compensation information with each other. "Employers may need to offer more consistent salary packages" to M.B.A. hires, she says, "or be prepared to defend any disparities."

Schools are starting to become more technology savvy to attract this digital generation. Some b-school Web sites feature blogs and online chats and allow applicants to check their acceptance status online 24/7. But M.B.A. programs may have to go further, creating promotional podcasts for prospective students to download to their iPods, for example, and making admission officials available for instant messaging.

Business schools should prepare to see more parents at admission events and interviews. These are the children of the hovering "helicopter parents," and many still rely on mom and dad for advice and money. Jeffrey Rice, head of M.B.A. career services at Ohio State University, was taken aback when an applicant showed up for an interview — with his mother. Mr. Rice invited the mother to sit in on the interview, but was relieved when she declined. "The applicant told me his mother was helping him decide which school to attend," Mr. Rice says.

Some business-school officials worry that such vigilant parents could make their presence felt even beyond the admission process. "The thought of parents getting involved in negotiations with recruiters makes career-service directors' hair stand on end," says Ms. Atkinson. "We've heard of that happening at the undergraduate level, but not with M.B.A.s yet, thank goodness."

Recruiters certainly don't plan to start negotiating salaries with parents. Based on their experience in hiring millennial undergraduates, they do believe these M.B.A. students will be a demanding bunch. These confident young people tend to be very opinionated and expect to be heard; they also crave feedback and praise for their accomplishments.

Recruiters say achievement-oriented millennials want detailed descriptions of their work duties upfront, as well as a timetable for promotions. "The recruiting experience with this generation is going to be more intensive," says Kermit King, a recruiting executive at Boston Consulting Group. "They are more sophisticated consumers who want to know what it's really like to work for a company. There's more dialogue and introspection with these young people."

Millennials also need to clearly see the value of their jobs. "They want their work to be relevant, have impact and offer them a diversity of experiences," says Richard Baird, global managing partner for human capital at PricewaterhouseCoopers. He notes millennials are interested in international companies such as PricewaterhouseCoopers partly because they want an overseas assignment earlier in their careers than previous generations.

Millennials tend to demonstrate a strong commitment to social responsibility and will be drawn to companies with similar values. In addition, "both men and women from this generation are extraordinarily focused on work-life balance," says Barry Salzberg, the managing partner of the auditing and consulting firm Deloitte &Touche USA.

Recruiters find millennials' technology expertise appealing. These M.B.A. students should be so well versed in software tools for financial analysis and business modeling that they can concentrate on other skills, such as learning to manage client relationships.

Accustomed to working in groups, millennial M.B.A. students will probably fit well in a team-oriented culture. But they may be so collaborative that they fall short on independent thinking and leadership. "They could be challenged when told to be creative and figure out a problem on their own," says Brian Niles, chief executive of TargetX, a college marketing company.