“Too theoretical”, “old-fashioned”, “almost hostile towards business”. These are the associations one of Norway’s leading headhunters Per-André Marum came up with when we interviewed him concerning NHH’s reputation and perception in the business world. With many years of industry experience his statement surely shouldn’t be taken too lightly. Yet it stands in stark contrast with NHH self-conception to be the leading business school of the country. So, what’s really going on here?
To untangle this issue and get a more neutral perspective on the topic, it makes sense to have a look at the Financial Times (FT) ranking of best Master in Management-programs around the globe, which is considered to be the most influential ranking of its kind.
And indeed, NHH made its path into this elite club of business schools, currently being ranked as a global number 72 thereby placing higher than its all-time rival BI Oslo. Nevertheless, the aspiration exists to climb the ranks even higher. To do so, NHH made the FT-Ranking part of the overall strategy 2018-2021, aimed atcreating a “FT-Awareness” as rector Øystein puts it,” implying that we always take FT effects into account when we develop our study-programs, research strategy and organization in general”. Through these measures, NHH hopes to boost its visibility outside of Norway, and “attract strong and enthusiastic students and faculty from all parts of the world”.
Yet, the question remains as to how reliable business school rankings really are, what factors the FT takes into consideration for computing the scores, and how important it really is for employers when skimming through CVs of their applicants.
The ranking mechanism unveiled
First, let’s have a look at the rating methodology in greater detail: The ranking itself is built upon 17 criteria which can be grouped into alumni career progress, international experience & research as well as diversity (e.g. share of faculty staff and students being female and/or having an international background). The strongest weight is being placed upon salary of graduates: current average salary accounts for 20%, salary increase since graduation makes up 10% of overall ranking’s weight.
Part of the NHH strategy is to focus on ranking elements that can be actively influenced. Rector Thøgersen points i.e. to the recruitment of more international students and faculty, improving gender equality amongst those two groups, or boosting the number of students that take on international careers after their graduation. Yet, according to Thøgersen there are also factors that are outside of the control of the university such as the general wage level in Norway.
But does it matter?
Let’s cut to the chase: Despite all the media attention that rankings such as the one published by the FT might receive – does it really matter for future employees if applicants studied for instance at a Top10 business school?
We approached QVARTZ – one of the leading strategy consultancies in Europe and popular employer for NHH students- to get to know their opinion: Whilst confirming that they esteem the reputation of business schools to be relevant, they stated that it would represent only a small part of their overall evaluation of applications. Rankings would generally only play a role for applications from universities which are rather unknown to them. QVARTZ however maintains a list of target universities where they seek to get in touch with potential candidates through i.e. hosting of recruitment events or collaborations with student groups. These activities and the students which they meet through them then also serve as a proxy for a university’s quality.
NHH – too theoretical?
To add a more diversified angle to our research, we got in touch with Per-André Marum, one of Norway’s best-known headhunters.
He draws a slightly differing picture: Whilst pointing out that reputation of universities is not equally important for all his clients, he stresses that for the consulting bulge bracket (McKinsey, BCG, Bain) as well as the Private Equity and Corporate Finance sector it is indeed “really important”. Rankings – according to him – do affect the evaluation of a university “a great deal”. Nevertheless, there are other factors coming into play as well, i.e. a “hiring tradition”, meaning that companies take pride in recruiting their graduates only from specific business schools, or through the network that alumni maintain with their alma mater.
For NHH itself he observes that attitudes among Norwegian employers seems slowly to shift away from regarding it as a “certain first choice when hiring business students” towards broadening their scope and considering other universities such as BI, NTNU or CBS. As reason he points to perceptions that see NHH as “too theoretical”, weak education of students in fundamental tools such as Microsoft Excel, and a curriculum that is overly focused on “old industries” as shipping or oil, paying too little attention to topics such as entrepreneurship and digitization.
At the end of the day it is however the responsibility of the student him-/herself to improve his/her employability and associated chances of successfully entering the labor market. Studying at a prestigious business school is certainly a step in the right direction, yet it would be wrong to regard this alone as a surefire entry ticket to secure oneself his/her dream job. Collecting relevant work experience through internships, working on Microsoft Office skills, or finding oneself a mentor with in-depth labor market experience are listed by Per-André as examples for how students could gain competitive advantage in their job-hunt.