"Top" Business Schools…You decide what "top" means

An AIRS e-mail newsletter I received today included a link to CareerJournal's listings of  "top business schools". When people talk, or blog, about the "top" this or that, I always question the authority (aww, come on, questioning authority is good, right? Especially the self imposed authority afforded by blogs). This is how it sounds in my head:  "according to whom?", "according to you? Anyone else?" and sometimes (if I disagree) "sez you!" and occasionally "mmm, okay, whatever!"

Often, folks in the recruiting industry tout the "best" at this or that, without qualifying that it's really just the best they have seen, and according to their own opinion and standards. And they may or may not have done an exhaustive search for the "best". Frankly, I think "top", "best" and "evil" (don't even get me started on that one) are just eye attracting blog fluff. People use them but you can't take it seriously. At best, what they describe are "acclaimed" or "preferred"  and at worst they mean "my personal favorite" or "the one I have a vested interest in". Sometimes it's accidental grammatical malfeasance, sometimes there's some ego involved ("I say it's the best so you should think so too because I'm me and you love me").

Oops, getting off topic...about b-schools now. Careerbuilder's list (and AIRS' description in their newsletter) takes into account what qualified as school as a "top" b-school, according to their descriptions, which demystify the terminology a bit. For me, the "best" b-school might not be the #1 rated academically. It might be the #3 rated academically where they have the most diverse talent. Or the #7 rated academically, where we have seen trends of their grads hired into Microsoft performing exceptionally well. Anyway, I like the fact that careerbuilder provides more detail than just throwing out "top" and leaving it at that. So kudos to them.

Aside from pointing to the listings for your own use, guess I am just recommending that you take anything called "top" with a little hunk of fleur de sel.

Comments (6)

  1. DennisK says:

    I’ve always found the myriad of b-school rankings to be a bit of rigged game that changes with each publication.   When 39% of recruiters play in the ‘nationals’ and 50% in the regional’s with only a 10% overlap, I also have to wonder if there isn’t a bit of bias in the data.   I don’t mean to imply that bias is negative, but it depends on the position you’re trying to fill and how you read the results.  

    The attributes table is especially telling with non-curriculum based attributes like communication, teamwork, and integrity ranked very high while willingness to relocate, star potential, and work experience stake out the middle ground.   I suppose I find it a bit ironic that the curriculum and faculty fall in the lower half of “very important attributes.”  

    I can’t believe that students en masse at the lower ranked schools don’t have the ability to work in teams, communicate effectively, or lack ethics.   Instead I read in the results that there is a bias in some recruiters for schools they either know well or have had good experience with in the past (to one of your points).   That’s a very human trait and not something I’d assign to malice, just comfort and convenience.    So take it with a grain of salt, indeed!

  2. ConsideringMBA says:

    I was wondering what you personally think are the top Business Schools?

    Since you work for Microsoft and are based in Washington. What do you think of University of Washington (and the quality of the grads coming out of there and into MS)?

    Are there any other competing/quality Business schools in Washington?

    The reason I ask is because I am coming to MS soon and am interested in an MBA (part-time).

  3. HeatherLeigh says:

    DennisK-well said. You have to consider the fact that if you get solid folks locally, that would definitely push tht local uni up in the rankings for you. Even think about balancing out the cost to recruit (like relocation) folks from farther away schools. We are fortunate that we do have the opportunity to recruit from schools across the country; allows us to concentrate on some of the other aspects.

    ConsiderngMBA-good question. I need to qualify my answer a bit. First, keep in mind that I don’t personally recruit folks that are just coming out of MBA programs. By the time I recruit them, they have been out at least a couple years (or they didn’t pursue an MBA and have lots of industry experience). The other thing that impacts my answer is that the Seattle market doesn’t have al ot of larger technology companies. And since we (in my space) are looking mostly in other locations for talent, UW isn’t as big of a factor as you would assume given that it’s local. When I go recruit out of the Bay Area, there’s a good % of folks that went to Stanford or Haas and also lots of folks that went to Wharton or Carnegie Mellon, other schools, or don’t have MBAs.

    So for me, which of the "top" schools  person went to isn’t as important. Though if they graduated from a top 20-25 school, I like to see that (especially if they are working at a competitive tech company in marketing). I’d say that right now, about 30-40% of the folks getting hired into marketing positions here have and MBA (maybe more?). That’s just a rough estimate.

    So, I’d say that if you are working at Microsoft and want to pursue an MBA at the same time, UW is the best place to go but it’s really the combo of your MS experience plus a solid MBA that will get people to take notice.

    I might answer the broader question about which are my favorite (see, Iused the word favorite?) MBA programs a little later. I like different schools for different things. I’d want to think that one through a bit more before I post anything on it ; )

    But yes…I think you should go for it if you want to get your MBA at UW. I just wouldn’t bother buying tickets to their football games (ooh, that smarts).

  4. Confused MBA says:


    Another question regarding MBA schools…I am currently attending a small, regional MBA school.  While it lacks some of the opportunity and choices of larger, more well known schools, this school’s quality of instruction is just as good.  I am currently attending it on scholarship and the entire two years are free.   However,  I have been frustrated by the number of corporations that recruit or accept resumes only from applicants from the "top" schools.  I have been accepted at a school that is ranked in the "top 30" and I am considering finishing my MBA (or rather doing a one year program) there  and I wonder if it would be worth ($70,000 worth) transferring to get a chance at these opportunities.   From your perspective, is there a bias towards these schools even 5 years after graduation, or does work experience level the playing field by then?


  5. HeatherLeigh says:

    Confused MBA-The work experience *helps* level the field by then but a "top" 30 MBA does get attention. I personally feel that the companies a person works for has a bigger impact on their marketability as a candidate. However, as I think you are noticing, a "top" MBA program on your resume will help get you in front of great companies. Only you can make the decision if the $70K is an investment you are willing to make in order to get in front of the companies you are interested in. I don’t have an MBA (but I do have a bachelors in business from a top 30 program) and it took me 8 years to get to the point where I felt I was marketable to Microsoft. I was very mindful of each career move getting me closer to my ultimate employment experience (though in the beginning, I didn’t know it was going to eventually be Microsoft, I just wanted to see progress toward bigger and better, as I defined it). Without knowing you and interviewing you, it would be hard for me to offer advice on what I think you should do (you might get a great offer from a great comnpany in your local area that recruits out of your program) but I think that if you do a gut-check on the likelihood of being hired by a strong company out of your current program and/or the time investment in building your resume post-graduation, you might come to some conclusion. Many people would feel fortunate to be in your position with choices ahead of you and the fact that you are asking these kinds of questions is definitely to your credit. Good luck with your decision making process!

  6. One Louder says:

    There was a segment on the Today Show this morning about the controversy (that may be a strong word….fluff?

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