Employers are planning to recruit significantly more people with MBAs this year, quashing fears that the popularity of the qualification has diluted its "gold standard" reputation.
Figures from the Graduate Management Admission Council have shown that recruiters feel better about the economy now than at any other point since 2002, when global economic conditions were in a slump.
A survey by the council found that corporate recruiters plan to hire 18 per cent more MBAs this year than in 2005 on average, with finance and marketing expertise in particularly high demand.
Recruiters that believe the economy is generally positive expect to visit an average of 10 business schools in 2006, up from nine last year.
The study is a sign that a MBA can still provide a valuable leg-up in career terms for the ambitious middle manager.
There have been grumbles in recent years by business schools and employers alike that the proliferation of MBA courses has dented the exclusivity, and hence the value, of the qualification among job-seekers and recruiters alike.
"The polish is back on the stone," said David A. Wilson, president and chief executive of GMAC.
"Every way you look at it, the market for MBA talent has come back strong," he added.
The study of 1,270 recruiters also found employers were particularly eager to find MBAs whose "soft" skills, such as leadership potential and communication expertise, were strong.
Nearly 40 per cent of recruiters said they place significant weight on soft skills when judging people they interview.
A majority of the respondents said MBA students are receiving sufficient training in these areas in business school.
Most of the recruiters also said MBA graduates were generally well grounded in traditional business skills such as problem-solving and analytical thinking.
But GMAC surveys of MBA alumni indicate people tend to rely more on softer skills as they advance in their careers, suggesting that business schools and their students could benefit from placing additional emphasis on developing these types of abilities.
MBA graduates this year can expect to earn an average starting base salary of $80,809, with total compensation hitting an estimated $99,737 when fringe benefits, bonuses and other factors are taken into account.
In 2005, base salaries averaged $78,040, up from $77,066 in 2004.