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Graduate recruitment: We ask the questions here

Banks are so desperate to hire high-calibre staff that in recent rounds of recruiting it was MBA students who were asking the questions before they decided on an employer. But the most fluid job market in more than a decade carries its own pitfalls for graduates - it's easier to land up in the wrong job and the wrong firm. Charles Piggott advises on how to stay on track

At the reception held for MBA students at the London headquarters of a prestigious US investment bank, bankers mingled with a crowd of 30 aspirants. "Have you accepted our offer?" was their hosts' opening gambit. If they answered yes, the bankers gave a nod and rapidly moved on to the next recruit. Out of the 30, 15 had already accepted the bank's offer. No-one missed the fact that the hosts hovered around the undecided MBAs in the hope of persuading them to accept.

"It's the best job market in over a decade," says Geoff Grout, UK managing director of recruitment consultant Robert Half International. European banks expanding into global franchises and US banks taking advantage of privatization, pension fund and corporate restructuring and M&A across Europe are hiring to keep pace with markets. In Europe Merrill Lynch has grown to 4,700 employees, from 2,000 four years ago.

It's a similar story in New York where competition between banks and management consultancies has driven up the premium paid for top MBA graduates to over $100,000. When consultant McKinsey, among others, raised MBA packages to $115,000, banks, which had been offering around $90,000, followed suit. MBAs now expect starting packages of between $100,000 and $125,000 ($75,000 starting salary, between $20,000 and $25,000 signing bonus and a guaranteed year-end bonus of $20,000 to $25,000).

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