Where Are the MBA Grads in Staffing?

ThinkstockPhotos-480665545It happened to me again. It’s my own personal, executive search Groundhog Day. A client asked the question I can’t escape: “Where do I find the brightest MBAs? The top graduates who work in staffing?” It’s an inquiry I am getting almost weekly as businesses look to hire C-level talent with outstanding business educational backgrounds along with extensive staffing world experience.

A Gap in the Path
It wasn’t very long ago that I was writing about this issue, and I understand what they are seeking. Many staffing industry executives follow a similar path. They start out in a branch and are soon managing it. They move to managing a region and eventually their geographic responsibilities expand into a national role and a substantial P&L. Despite the increasing responsibility, that path does not lead many staffing executives into the Boardroom where they are expected to model out return on equity for a group of highly analytical business leaders. They haven’t had to present a balance sheet to investors and field questions from the press.

Where the Top Grads are Headed
Those who ask me about MBAs and top graduates are sensing a gap in senior executive management skills, and they are disappointed to learn that few top business school graduates are going into the staffing industry. Although gaining mainstream momentum, the staffing industry has its work cut out in order to compete for elite talent with sectors that dominate the media spotlight. The technology, management consulting and finance industries are talent magnets with global leaders Google, Apple, Goldman Sachs, McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group attracting the most MBAs and top grads.

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More MBAs or More MBA Skills?
Recruiting more MBAs and top graduates into the staffing industry and getting them to the very top of its echelons is something that will take time and, I think, a coordinated industry effort in order to succeed. However, closing that senior executive skill gap is something staffing companies can start on right away. Here’s how:

Identify and Train – Build a mini-MBA program within your walls. Set up a program for identifying rising stars and provide them with executive leadership training early and often. Find mentors from the executive team and the Boardroom that can introduce talented go-getters to the work and challenges of leadership. Make balance sheet and financial reporting competence essential learning for those who want to lead.

Eliminate Comfort Zones – It’s easy to get comfortable as a manager or senior manager. You learn your role and your team, and you know how to deliver. But this is an age of unprecedented change and getting comfortable is how you fall behind. The staffing industry needs to push managers to be innovators, to seek out technology solutions, to track competitors, to collaborate and to apply lessons from other industries. Make innovation contributions a KPI for your management team.

Promote the Value of Staffing – Staffing is a people and relationships industry, and that’s attractive. When I ask those looking to hire top business grads and MBAs why they themselves choose to work in the staffing industry, they often focus on the satisfaction they get from helping put people to work. They are glad to do work that makes a difference in people’s lives. That’s good news when it comes to recruiting millennial talent. A recent study by the Intelligence Group found that 64% of millennials “want to make the world a better place.”

But I think it’s also a great message for recruiting executive and MBA talent. While it takes high ambitions to graduate near the top of your class, or to pursue an MBA and the CEOs chair, it also takes someone who wants to lead. And here’s something important I can tell you about leaders (the best ones): They like people; they want their teams to do well and to be inspired. The fact that the staffing industry is a people industry is one of its most attractive qualities, and it is something to promote boldly in the recruitment and executive search process—even as a way to contrast staffing with other industries.

Promote the Future of Staffing – Staffing is a growth industry. As the world of work continues to evolve and the contingent workforce continues to grow, the work staffing, MSPs, VMSs, outsourcers and other human capital management companies perform will grow in importance. As the bridge between businesses and the swelling global pool of freelancers, contractors, consultants and temps continues, the staffing industry gets to play a role in most every industry and workplace. To me, the universal and growing demand for staffing support is another important advantage the industry can and should promote in order to recruit top talent from other sectors, other companies and from leading business schools.

The profile of the staffing industry is on a rapid rise as the world of work continues to change. I see it every day as more businesses seek to hire executives with deep staffing industry knowledge and experience to help them better leverage the growing contingent workforce. The more staffing leaders can do today to encourage ambitious thinking and risk taking among its rising stars, the more MBA grads and students will take notice of the work and innovations across the industry. It’s a simple fact that the more you do to cultivate the top talent you have, the more top talent you will have knocking on your door.

MORE: How to recruit high-quality employees

Lisa Maxwell

Lisa Maxwell
Lisa Maxwell is managing partner at Gerard Stewart, a global executive search firm.

Lisa Maxwell

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