By Brian Burnsed

Before M.B.A. student Ryan Utsumi received his diploma from the University of California -- San Diego this month, he already had a job offer in hand. He was relaxed when he graduated, but the process of landing that job had tested his nerves. Utsumi spent the better part of 2010 searching for work at finance firms and startups. He had little luck, sending numerous applications and getting just a smattering of interviews. He'd heard the job search horror stories from 2009 M.B.A. graduates, Utsumi says, and, like many of his classmates, began to sweat when the calendar turned to March and he was still jobless.

Fortunately, Utsumi got a call from Charles Schwab -- the firm he'd interned with during the previous summer and stayed in touch with intermittently through the academic year -- and was offered a management position in the firm's strategy group. He starts at the end of the month, and he says that he's glad that, though they had to sweat, he and his classmates had better luck finding a job in the ravaged economy than their predecessors. "The job market is a little bit better [for me] than my classmates who graduated in 2009, but it still seemed to be very competitive and it was very difficult to get my foot in the door," he says. "Ideally, I would've had something wrapped up earlier on."

While Utsumi's job search was anything but brief, his reward was a full-time position. That, experts say, is something 2010 M.B.A. graduates should expect as they wade into the employment pool. While graduates may not find their ideal job or find a position as quickly as they'd hoped, there are more jobs to be had than in 2009, which was a dismal year for M.B.A. hiring. "This time last year, I had to check to see if my phone was still plugged into the wall," says Lynne Sarikas, director of the M.B.A. career center at Northeastern University . "It didn't ring. People weren't looking to hire. This year, my phone is ringing."

The phones are ringing in career centers nationwide and new M.B.A. graduates still looking for work should take advantage of such a valuable resource. University officials report that while the hiring outlook is rosier for M.B.A. student this year, it still requires a great deal more effort to land a position than in flush times. That's why some schools are giving personalized career advice to their students, even in the months beyond graduation. Cornell University's S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management , for instance, assigns career advisers to each student, which helped 95 percent of the 2009 M.B.A. class get hired by year's end. The school plans to do the same this year, but in a quicker time frame, thanks to the improving market. "Everything is trending up, but we still have work to do," says Joe Thomas, dean of the Johnson School. "We're going to do it this year, but I just don't think it will take as long."

The most accurate insights into the current hiring market are likely anecdotal. While the Graduate Management Admission Council's 2010 Global Management Hiring Survey indicates that hiring of full-time M.B.A.s is down 10 percent from last year, GMAC chief executive Dave Wilson notes that the 2009 data was based on hiring decisions made in 2008, before the economy reached bottom. Despite the survey results, he expects 2010 to be better than 2009. Career center officials agree.

As Wall Street deals with its self-inflicted tumult, hiring of finance students at investment firms continues to lag while other sectors slowly improve, M.B.A career center officials say. Experts note that finance students should turn to corporate finance positions, which are more readily available in this climate. Marketing, consulting, and supply chain management are other fields where students will have more luck finding a job this year, according to business school experts. Wilson notes that one of the most promising indicators of a recovery in the M.B.A. job market is that 60 percent of firms surveyed by GMAC claim they plan to offer signing bonuses to new hires. "[Companies] are signaling already that they're ready to hire," he says. "If I were coming out right now, I'd be optimistic."

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