By Karen Burns

Chris Curtis entered Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis just as the economy was tanking in 2008. Even though campus recruiting was way off, he nabbed offers for four summer internships and was in the running for three jobs upon graduation last May.

"It's turned out better than I expected," says Curtis, who chose a marketing position at Anheuser-Busch with total compensation "in the low six figures."

The boom times have not come roaring back. But hiring in 2010 was less anemic than in 2009; about 90 percent of M.B.A.s left school with a job, compared to 84 percent the year before, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council, a research organization that tracks hiring. Median starting pay was up, too, from $75,000 to almost $79,000.

"It's still a buyer's market relative to when, in the good old days, an M.B.A. could post a CV and get four or five offers," says Dave Wilson, president and CEO of the council.

But "as the economy gains steam, companies are hiring more highly trained finance and accounting staff, consulting firms are bringing on people with training and experience in managing strategy and innovation, and the products and services sector is adding M.B.A.s with marketing and product development expertise. Even the public sector -- including the federal government -- is attracting M.B.A.s, because of the need to manage government with the efficiency of our best-run private enterprises."

What about financial services? Nicole Hall, president of the MBA Career Services Council, an association of recruiters and career services professionals, notes a significant increase in hiring in government, technology, petroleum, and healthcare services but says finance has been "recovering a little bit slower."

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, supervisory employment in financial activities fell some 6 percent in 2009 and was up fractionally in 2010. In New York, the number of finance jobs dropped 8 percent in 2009, according to EMSI, a Moscow, Idaho, labor market specialist; the decline continued in 2010, but at a much slower rate.

"Things changed, finally, after a slow year and a half," says O. James Sterling, managing director of Aleutian Capital Group, a boutique investment banking firm in Manhattan. Aleutian laid off two employees in 2009 but added three last year, including one M.B.A.

Consulting firms are also reporting an uptick.

"We are on track this year to expand by 25 percent, with most of the expansion coming from the M.B.A. ranks," says Jennifer Mosser, director of talent sourcing and East Coast recruiting for Gallup Consulting.

For now, many grads will find the competition stiff.

"Employers enjoy the fact of multiple candidates for every job," says Ann Nowak, director of recruiting for professional programs at Liberty Mutual, the Boston-based global insurance giant, where M.B.A. hiring for its corporate development program was down 20 percent in 2009 and 2010 but should return to pre-recession levels in 2011.

Kelsey Calhoun, a recent Harvard Business School grad, knew she had to really "focus on the academics" to get hired at Liberty Mutual, which she'd heard was targeting people at or near the top of their classes. She did, and nabbed one of 16 slots last year from a field of 1,400 applicants -- twice the number of the year before.


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