Russian tobacco giants with murky backgrounds watch out – top-tier management graduates are becoming ever more picky about where they will or will not work, with corporate reputation, sector and even where a company is located in the world now playing a much bigger part in the decision process.
A study of more than 500 MBA students by consultancy Hill & Knowlton has concluded that, for three quarters of them, a company's corporate reputation would play a critical role in helping them to decide whether or not to take up a job offer.
Similarly, nearly six out of 10 said they were not interested in working in Russia, more than half were adamant they would spurn job opportunities in Eastern Europe, with a similar percentage dismissing the thought of working in the Middle East.
When it came to sector, the graduates, who came from business schools in Europe, the US and Asia, said they much preferred industries such as banking, finance, IT, technology and energy over more traditional (yet still multi-million dollar) sectors such alcohol, chemicals and tobacco.
What this showed, argued Hill & Knowlton, was that, for some industries and locations, their tainted reputations would make them losers in the global war for the talent.
One of the most intriguing findings from the poll was graduates' reluctance to consider jobs in some of the world's key emerging markets, despite the fact that these were all locations where there were potentially huge opportunities for career advancement.
Western Europe, North America, North Asia, Australia and New Zealand were the most popular locations, with South Asia, Russia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Africa the least popular.
More than two thirds of the students said they would not be interested in working for a tobacco company, with just 13 per cent saying they would consider it.
Nearly half spurned the alcohol and chemicals sectors, against just a fifth who said they would be willing to work there.
The study concluded that there were three key tiers that governed most career choices.
The top tier was normally all about the position, so things such as opportunities, culture and working environment, compensation and benefits and job satisfaction.
The second tier was about company performance, with the third tier closely linked to a company's values.
The study also found that MBA candidates were, by and large, more attracted to publicly listed companies or venture-funded institutions than to family or government-owned entities.
Paul Taaffe, Hill & Knowlton chairman and chief executive, said: "The best talent, like the most attractive real estate, will always be in scarce supply.
"The future winners in the corporate world will be the ones who are the quickest to recognise this and take action to enhance and protect reputation," he added.
Whether it was the location of a job, type of industry or the ownership structure of the company, the one thing that was clear about the current crop of elite MBA candidates was that they wanted to work for organisations where reputation played a huge role, he stressed.