Career Transition, Job Search

Point of View: The Washington DC Area Job Market

By Lindsay Guthrie-

Having been a career coach to MBAs for the last seven years, I am often asked for my opinion on the Washington, D.C., job market. Not surprisingly, given its proximity to Charlottesville, D.C. has the greatest number of Darden alumni of any major metropolitan area. (Approximately 2,000 alumni report living in the area). We continue to receive a significant number of inquiries from alumni seeking coaching who are interested in relocating to the area, finding a new role in the area, and executive MBAs seeking their first MBA role post-graduation. Given that the MBA alumni job market in D.C. isn’t an easily google-able topic, I wanted to provide my thoughts and perspective on how the market has evolved over the last decade, as well as what trends we see heading into 2020.

What is your overall perspective on the D.C. job market for MBAs?

In general, the D.C. market is wide not deep in terms of any one industry. We have 15 Fortune 500 companies in the D.C. area that run the gamut from companies like Northrop Grumman to NVR Holdings to Danaher, Marriott and Hilton. Top MBA employers are spread across many industries, including consulting, financial services, nonprofit, government, hospitality, startups, etc.

Where are the greatest number of Darden alumni working?

Capital One, Accenture and Deloitte are currently the Top 3 employers in D.C. of Darden alumni. We also have alumni concentrated across hospitality (Marriott, Hilton, Choice Hotels); consulting (Accenture, Deloitte, BCG, McKinsey, Booz Allen Hamilton, IBM, Guidehouse); technology (Amazon Web Services); financial services (Capital One, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, Sands Capital Management); and, of course, nonprofit, associations and government.

What trends are you seeing?

The market continues to be hot for Darden alumni in D.C. We know that, historically, the average Darden graduate’s job search is six months, but we often see that shortened in D.C., especially with firms in the consulting industry and companies like Capital One. I tend to think these firms hire more quickly because they have very mature recruiting engines that have the scaffolding in place to move clients through the process expeditiously. Also, since many of the public sector consulting firms win extremely large contracts, they will at times have sudden needs to “staff up” quickly to fill their client engagements.

Are you seeing any interviewing trends?

We have seen two trends this year that aren’t specific to D.C., but are worth mentioning because they are being used in D.C. We are seeing online personality type assessments being given at the very beginning of the recruiting process. Employers seem to be using them to weed out candidates prior to launching the in-person interview cycle. Fortunately, our Darden alumni seem to be handling these assessments very successfully. In addition, more and more employers are using case interviews (traditionally used in consulting, candidates are given a mini-business scenario to analyze interactively with their interviewer) as a part of their evaluation process.

Is the job market different for alumni from Darden’s full-time MBA program versus the Executive MBA program?

In terms of the market, no. The market continues to respond well to all Darden degreed alumni. Employers seem to have witnessed and absorbed that the Darden MBA is the same regardless of the format through which it was received. In terms of approaching the job search, for many of my Executive MBA clients, it is their first job search with an MBA, and we work together to articulate their increased value in the market as well as their personal brand and positioning.  Full-time MBAs, on the other hand, generally have gone through an internship search and a full-time job search, so looking for a new position in D.C. instead requires working together to craft a story about why they are searching for a new position in D.C. and how their post-MBA work experience would add value to a new employer.

Are there any new industries or employers in D.C.?

Many new companies have established corporate headquarters in D.C. over the last few years, including the highly publicized decision of Amazon to establish a second headquarters in Crystal City. Others include Nestle, Hilton, Audi Volkswagen and Bechtel, just to name a few. Also, many don’t realize that companies like Total Wine, Mars & Co., Privia Health and Choice Hotels are already headquartered here.

We are also seeing lots of new roles in digital transformation and digital marketing across most industries in D.C. I have seen an increasing emphasis on finding candidates with data analytics experience.

In terms of new industries we are seeing more in D.C. — lots of startups, education technology, financial technology, real estate and health care employers have begun establishing presences in the area.

You haven’t mentioned government!

Correct. This is definitely one of the trends I have seen over the last seven years. While we might have had more alumni seeking traditional roles in government years ago, now I see more alumni work in government service for a shorter period of time as well as finding ways to serve the government through corporate employers or nonprofits.

What one piece of advice would you give a Darden grad looking for a new role in D.C.?

Again, this isn’t unique to D.C., but networking continues to be the key to finding new roles in the area for Darden alumni. With so many alumni in the area, you can finding a contact at most major employers who can provide excellent insider information about the employer, the opportunities available and how to navigate the process.

The D.C. job market for Darden alumni is very robust. If you are contemplating a move to the capital region, please do not hesitate to reach out to Alumni Career Services to see how we can assist you in seeking a new role.