WSJ Ranks HBS #8

In its third annual ranking of the top graduate business schools, the Wall Street Journal/Harris Interactive placed Harvard Business School at #8 based on the opinions of 2,191 M.B.A. recruiters who rated the schools and students on 26 attributes. While HBS received top marks for its faculty and for its academic excellence, specifically in areas of general management, strategy, entrepreneurship, and international business, recruiters pointedly described HBS students as “poor team players” and faulted graduates for a “lack of fundamental analytical skills.”

Certainly membership within the group of the top ten business schools internationally is an honor regardless of pecking order, but for a school (and a student body) used to being #1, the survey results were disconcerting, particularly the less-than-flattering descriptives recruiters applied to students.

HBS received the low marks from corporate recruiters in the following areas: “the past acceptance rate of job offers, the retention of past hires, the career-services office, students’ ability to work well within a team, and their awareness of corporate-citizenship issues.” Moreover, while other top business schools were praised for the considerate treatment recruiters received from graduates and career-services offices, the WSJ reported that “recruiters have a big problem with Harvard that can be summed up in one word: arrogance.”

Is this criticism warranted? Lars Nielsen, Career Services Representative (OF), counters that “Career Services has done a great job over the past year.” However, he holds students accountable for improving their own reputation. “Changing attitudes is the job of the students, not Career Services. Let’s start by treating the companies with respect and not walk in late or walk out in the middle of company presentations.”

Perhaps a better question is: do the rankings matter? Arrogant or not, recent HBS graduates have been successful in the recruiting process. Of the Class of 2002, 89% of students had accepted a job prior to or within 3 months of graduation. Not bad for a year of economic downturn. Steve Nelsen, Executive Director of the MBA Program, further offers that “for the Class of 2003, indications are that the number is even higher. These outcomes are the result not only of the exceptional talents of our students, but also of the strengthened efforts of our Career Services group to help students in their career search.”

Additionally, rankings have not impacted the volume of applications flooding the Admissions Office each year. Incoming HBS students tend to look at these surveys as just one of many tools that can be used to evaluate business schools, and several first year students reported that rankings did not have a great deal of influence over their decisions to apply to and attend HBS. Rather, “I looked where most CEOs of Fortune 500 companies or most VC/PE investors went [to business school],” says Slavko Andrejevic (NA). “The market is clearly sending a different signal than the WSJ.”

Lastly, a number of students questioned the methodology that placed other well recognized business schools out of the top ten. This sentiment was widely shared outside of the HBS community. Postings on the WSJ’s Career Journal discussion board included comments such as “I don’t know how you can think these ratings are accurate with Stanford ranked No.

30″, “How many employers would rather hire a Carnegie Mellon University
M.B.A. than one from Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or Columbia?” and “Are you guys insane?”

But before dismissing the WSJ rankings as subjective and therefore inconsequential, HBS students might be well served by taking a closer look at how their attitudes and behaviors impact recruiters’ impressions.

Perceived or otherwise, the shortcomings that corporate recruiters described in the WSJ may be too serious to simply brush aside, especially in a tough job market. Steve Nelsen acknowledges that “the WSJ ranking is one of a growing number of media rankings that give us an idea of how we’re being perceived by our various constituencies, and we take this information seriously.” As the recruiting season begins this fall, students owe it to themselves, to their peers, and to the reputation of the Harvard Business School to do the same.

September 29, 2003
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