The Class of 2020 began their MBA studies in September 2018 in the midst of a healthy economy. Everything changed as they rounded their last lap in the spring of 2020 and most of the world went into lockdown. Despite economic turmoil and public health crisis, the Stanford MBA 2020 Employment Report reflects strong results, posting a sixth consecutive record-breaking year for salaries.
“The most notable impact of the pandemic on our graduates’ career journeys was related to timing,” said Paul Oyer, senior associate dean for academic affairs at Stanford Graduate School of Business. “Our students typically start interviewing later since many small and high-growth companies tend to recruit late in the academic year. For some students still in the search process, the pandemic put a temporary pause on their efforts, but in the end their perseverance and patience paid off. Some continued to land offers after the three-month reporting cut-off period.”
By 90 days after graduation, full-time job offers remained robust with 91% of students reporting at least one offer, a slight dip from 94% in 2019. Students accepted 85% of those offers, down slightly from 88% last year. Average and median salaries hit a new high for the sixth consecutive year, peaking at $159,544 and $156,000, an increase of $7,041 and $6,000, respectively, from last year. Not included in the job-seeking pool, 18% of the class launched ventures, matching the previous high of entrepreneurs among the Class of 2013.
“The Class of 2021 felt the impact of the pandemic as summer internship interview processes suddenly braked in the early spring of 2020,” said Jamie Schein, assistant dean and director of the Career Management Center.
“If there was one constant this year, it was change,” said Jonathan Levin, the Philip H. Knight Professor and Dean, Stanford Graduate School of Business. “In times like these, you want to have a network of supporters who can be a safeguard against potential negative shocks. Thanks to our generous and close-knit community of alumni who provided that wonderful safety net, we sourced around 200 summer opportunities and some 100 full-time positions as well.”
Stanford GSB and alumni worked together to create new job opportunities through the Botha-Chan Summer 2020 Innovation Fellowship (made possible by MBA ’00 alumni Roelof Botha and Huifen Chan), which provided entrepreneurial options for students such as Caroline Ling, whose summer internship in the field of sustainable apparel was among the many suddenly canceled.
“It was like the ladder was suddenly pulled away from the wall, and I had to climb with my bare hands,” she recalled.
Ling’s usual strategy — shifting to a well-considered plan B — wouldn’t work this time.
“The whole world was being reshaped, and there was no business as usual, but that forced me to let go of the structured path I’d imposed on myself and made me realize I was set free and could explore,” she said.
Through the Botha-Chan program, Ling began an independent study project in St. Louis focused on waste management and the circular economy. She has since rallied a team of like-minded waste enthusiasts, and the team is running a pilot study on one of their concepts — a reinvention of the milkman model that delivers local beverages to your doorstep in reusable containers.
“I think 10 years from now, a lot of people will be grateful for this detour in life,” she said. “It allowed me to take on a risk without fear, and to tune in and listen to myself. It validated for me that this is something I want to devote myself to long-term. I’m writing articles about trash recycling, doing podcasts, and creating my own website. I’m going all in.”
A Relentless Effort
“Through months of ever-shifting safety rules, health guidelines, and hiring freezes, our students demonstrated resourcefulness, resilience, and patience in finding positions where they can make a difference,” said Schein. “Among the trends we saw in the Class of 2020: There was a rise in interest in health and wellness in light of the pandemic crisis; students either pivoted away from impacted fields like tourism and retail or found a tech route to those sectors; and because of the sudden shift to remote work, we saw the continued spread of tech into all sectors of commerce.”
Allegra Tepper found herself forced to adopt a new approach to her job search.
“At the start of my second year, I was thinking boldly about my next career move, and exploring ways to pitch myself to companies that might not even realize they could use someone focused on strategic storytelling,” she said. “In March, I shifted my attitude and became very pragmatic. COVID required a relentless effort to figure out how and where you could position yourself in the market.”
After hearing that hiring managers were feeling risk-averse, Tepper focused her efforts on product management roles where her previous experience was directly applicable. She limited her search to jobs that offered the role, products, collaborative team, and location she desired, despite warnings from some that her search was too narrow. After five months and multiple interviews, she accepted a job at Apple as a product manager for FaceTime.
“I ended up with exactly the job I wanted, but I had to hold very fast to the belief that I knew what to look for and that I was being realistic about what to aspire to. It was important to stay grounded in that, especially when a lot of people in my life were asking whether I might need to lower my expectations. The Career Management Center was a godsend in those moments, when I could go in and get a reality check — to ask whether my determination was my superpower or my Achilles’ heel.”
Katia Teran had planned to take her time looking for a job, but the uncertainty of the pandemic sent her into motion. Like Tepper, Teran had a set of constraints: She wanted a job in product management at a software-based, tech-forward company in New York. She was determined to find a great manager who could act as a mentor. Having worked as a product manager at two different companies in New York prior to grad school, she had a few contacts and a good sense of the tech landscape, and quickly began networking.
“I applied to companies that were thriving despite the COVID moment or because of it, which gave me a second layer of understanding as to how a company was doing, or at least how it was navigating COVID,” she said.
Months later — after exploring options at more than 10 different companies — Teran accepted a position as a senior product manager at The Knot Worldwide, a global tech company focused largely on wedding planning, an industry she’d never before considered.
“There were going to be many learning and mentorship opportunities, and that was exciting to me,” she said. “I decided it felt like the right next move, and aligned with a lot of the things I knew I wanted for this next step to hopefully set me up for success later on in some of my larger goals and ambitions.”
Entrepreneurship on the Rise
Eighteen percent of graduates opted to launch their own ventures in 2020, an increase of three percent from last year, and equal to the previous all-time high rate of entrepreneurship among the Class of 2013.
One such entrepreneur was Aaron Kappe, who joined three other Stanford grads in starting Prairie Health, a subscription tele-psychiatry service that uses genetic testing and deep learning to provide customized medication to those suffering anxiety and depression. Kappe, who also has a master’s degree in neurobiology, originally planned to work for an early-stage company after graduation, but a 2019 internship convinced him he could succeed with his own startup. In addition to taking advantage of the expanding intersection of health and technology, the company was able to address 2020’s sudden increase in the need for mental health services, and benefited from an increased willingness of advisors and investors to support pandemic-related health ventures.
“There are a lot of new opportunities,” he said. “The world is changing. Historically, some of the most successful companies have been founded after economic crises, which is something that’s discussed a lot at Stanford. There’s some comfort in knowing that you have a bit of a safety net, that you can always work in big tech as a Stanford GSB grad. But you can’t always begin a startup at a time that may be better suited for starting a company than any time in history.”
Startups in 2020 also come with a unique set of challenges, he added. Kappe and his cofounders had only two months together in person before they were forced to begin working virtually.
“There’s a loss of communication you have to make up for, while recognizing that everyone on the team is handling the pandemic differently,” he said. “We’re making sure to be empathetic and put people before the problem; that’s something Stanford has helped me put front and center.”
While there appears to be a salary gap between U.S. work-authorized (citizens and permanent residents) and non-U.S. work-authorized graduates (those on student visas and annual work permits), compensation for international students stayed essentially flat compared to last year.
“When controlled for international location and industry sector, the gap gets smaller,” said Schein. “Also, non-U.S work-authorized graduates had higher bonuses than U.S. work-authorized graduates and that helped close the gap.”
As an international student from the U.K., Jack Armstrong faced visa concerns in addition to a job search. He landed as chief of staff at Amplity Health, an Altamont Capital Partners portfolio company.
“I still don’t feel secure in my ability to get a visa,” Armstrong said. “It got harder after I joined in August, as Trump changed the laws. Luckily, my company has an immigration lawyer we’re working with, and it looks like some recent rulings in the Bay Area plus the change of administration should roll back some of those requirements. But one of the deciding factors that I liked about this organization is that they have a U.K. office, providing me with a safety net that I feel very grateful for.”
“Finding a job that will sponsor you for a visa is important,” he said. “Finding that job during a pandemic — I feel very lucky.”
The Class of 2020 did not compromise on the opportunities that align with their values and interests.
“Our graduates remained focused and determined, finding careers that allowed them to make a difference in the world around them, despite the turmoil in the economy and global health crisis,” said Schein. “The strong outcomes in this employment report are a testament to their value in the marketplace.”