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Employers are becoming more confident about hiring, according to GMAC Corporate Recruiters Survey

The job market for new business school graduates remains difficult, but there are clear signs that employers are becoming increasingly confident about the economy and more eager to hire, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).

The percentage of employers in European Union planning to hire newly-minted MBAs is up this year compared with 2009, although the number of new hires per company is expected to decline slightly,

Of respondents to the GMAC Corporate Recruiters Survey whose firms are based in the EU,

44% said they plan to hire new MBA graduates in 2010, reversing a sharp drop in 2009, when the comparable figure fell to 36% from 44% the year before. Graduates of other types of Master's-level business programmes also should see their prospects improve in 2010, the survey data suggest.

The top industries in terms of predicted job opportunities for new MBA graduates in 2010 are consulting and healthcare. Worldwide, positions in marketing and sales are likely to be most plentiful, followed by finance-related slots in areas other than investment banking. Employers in the E.U, meanwhile, are most likely to recruit recent MBAs to work in business development roles, according to the survey.

Employers plan to pay a significant premium for MBA talent, particularly in Europe. The average starting salary recruiters in the EU plan to offer new MBAs this year is €65,419, about 80% more than the €36,405 average salary people with only a Bachelor's degree can expect to receive. Worldwide, new MBAs can expect to receive a salary that averages €61,769.

In a particularly positive development for jobseekers, the survey indicates that employers are shifting away from an emphasis on cost-cutting and retrenchment and paying more attention to growing their businesses. Overall, 60% of respondents said they planned to expand their customer bases in 2010, up from just 49 percent a year ago. Meanwhile, the proportion of respondents concentrating on cost-cutting as a key organisational goal dropped from 66% in 2009 to 57% in 2010. Improving performance remained the top priority for survey participants.

The findings of a separate GMAC survey indicate that employer optimism may take a while to translate into actual job openings. The percentage of graduates from full-time two-year MBA programmes worldwide who had an offer of employment prior to finishing school dropped to 40% in 2010 from 50% the previous year, according to the latest GMAC Graduate Management Education Graduate Survey. The number of job offers reported by survey participants in these MBA programmes who did land positions declined about 13%. Still, students graduating in 2010 were slightly more optimistic about the economy than people in the class of 2009.

Dave Wilson, president and CEO of GMAC, said: "Employers have spoken clearly. The intrinsic value they place on the skills people develop in business school does not rise and fall just because the economy does. Management talent is always critical to the wellbeing of any organisation, and as conditions improve, employers will find ways to acquire more of that talent."

The GMAC Corporate Recruiters Survey, conducted in cooperation with the MBA Career Services Council and EFMD (European Foundation for Management Development), reflects responses from 2,367 employers representing 1,960 companies in 57 countries. The GMAC Graduate Management Education Graduate Survey collected data from 5,274 graduating students at 147 business schools around the world.