World’s Most Sought-After Employers & Employment Trends In 2021

Universum hosted its 13th annual virtual event this month to reveal the world’s most attractive employers and employment trends, and there was much to interest MBA students and others in graduate business education.

The globally recognized, data-driven employer branding specialist surveyed 221,807 business, engineering, and IT students across 10 of the world’s largest economies, including the United States, Canada, Brazil, India, China, and France, asking them which employer characteristics are most important when considering their future and which employer brands they most admire.

They found “historic changes in attitudes among young people about what they want from their future employers and careers,” says Richard Mosley, Universum’s global vice president of strategy. “The post-Covid era will be one of delicate negotiations between employers and employees as both sides set new expectations for flexibility, work-life balance, and career development.”


Presented by Mosley, Claes Peyron, Mats Röjdmark, and Elin Ballsten, this event revealed how the pandemic has affected the job market, four key employment trends, five predominant career profiles, and rankings for the world’s most attractive employers as voted by business, engineering, and IT students. Here, Poets&Quants shares a recap of the event to help students and employers alike understand the rapidly-changing career landscape.

According to Universum, a study by McKinsey found that two in three people say that Covid-19 has caused them to reflect on their purpose in life, one in two people say that it’s caused them to reevaluate the kind of work they perform, and millennials are three times more likely than others to report reevaluating what they do for work.

The findings suggest that careers known for their long hours and hard working environments are beginning to change, such as investment banking, consulting, and law. For example, Thomson Reuters research — as quoted by Universum — shows that fewer than one in 10 lawyers want to resume working their regular in-office hours five days a week.

Universum data also shows an overall decrease of students interested in working in the high-risk, startup world. Although there’s been a spike in new business ventures since the onset of covid, students are more interested in prioritizing more traditional career markers, such as high earnings, security, and pathways for career advancement.

These changing times have revealed four key trends amongst students seeking employment. Universum reveals that students are most interested in employers that help them to secure their future, celebrate diversity, find their “new normal,” and stay home.


For business and IT students in particular, securing the future is in their top five attributes that drive them to certain employers. “This is no surprise, given the uncertain environment we’re in,” says Mosley.

While security is rising in importance, Mosley brings up the fact that, according to research done by McKinsey, 40% of people are considering quitting their jobs within the next three to six months. “Obviously, there’s a big period of reflection that’s been going on and there’s a lot of movement in the market,” Mosley continues. “When McKinsley looked at why people are moving on, it’s because they’re looking for better development, more purpose and meaningful forward movement, and securing the future — not just in terms of sticking with their current employer, but actually in finding something that’s going to last going forward.”

According to Universum’s data, the key factor that makes students feel secure when seeking employment is the opportunity for professional development; they want to know that they’re going to continue to learn and get support in further developing their careers. The data also shows that these security-minded students want to work for a company with strong, people-focused values. “There’s been a lot of discussion during the covid crisis about how different organizations have been caring and respecting their people. The ones that have really shown that have stood out,” adds Mosley.


According to Mosley, when Universum did their survey amongst the world’s most attractive employers, 98% said diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts were a high priority. Universum data shows that like employers, students are also placing a high importance on a company’s values and commitment to DEI; it’s now considered a non-negotiable human right by students. “Students expect it,” he says.

Like DEI, students also expect their jobs to have a high level of flexibility. However, we’re now seeing many students worry about how being away from the office may threaten their career advancement. Universum’s research shows that while 70% of students are open to remote working, they fear missing out on socialization.

Mosley says that along with the fear of missing out on in-person socialization, students fear that remote work will result in being paid less. “You can feel remote work emerging in students’ minds as a second class type of job,” he adds.

Mosley believes that employers should ‘handle remote working opportunities with care,’ and should address and offer solutions to this fear of missing out during the recruitment process. It’s important that employers don’t adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to remote working, and that they maintain a human touch despite a virtual working environment.


In the last three years, Mosley says that he’s seen the trend change from students wanting to travel the world to wanting to stay home. Universum data shows that this may be due to pandemic travel restrictions and socio-political pressure. “What’s also interesting is the major economies like China and the US are the ones seeing the biggest drop off in international employment,” explains Mosley. “This could be due to the political background. These countries are now the most likely of all the leading economies in terms of the student population to want to work for a home-based employer.”

On the employers’ end, hiring international talent is becoming more tedious and expensive due to the current state of the world. However, researchers expect that this is temporary as there’s still a significant portion of students who want to travel with their careers.


For the first time this year, Universum also analyzed the student data to identify five key career profiles: go-getters, globe-trotters, ground-breakers, change-makers, and balance-seekers. These five personas were created to be used as a tool for employers to optimize their employer branding activities and ensure they’re attracting the right profiles to fit their roles. “We identified where we have groups who have similar attribute preferences, backgrounds, and orientation towards work,” says Mosley. “This is another way to look at the career population.”

The group that makes up 27% of the student population is the go-getters. “Go-getters are performance-oriented people. These are the ambitious, over-achievers who are happy to take on a lot of responsibility, explains Elin Ballsten, brand marketing executive at Totaljobs Group.

Ballsten says that go-getters are mainly found in investment banks, and the companies with the highest proportion of go-getters (nearly 50%) are UBS and Morgan Stanley.

Next is the groundbreakers, accounting for a quarter of the population. Most predominant in engineering, Ballsten says that many ground-breakers work for startups or large companies. “Ground-breakers are the ones with a strong entrepreneurial streak. They look for dynamic, innovative companies with a strong focus on teamwork,” she explains.

Slightly smaller in size is the globe-trotter group; representing about 20% of the surveyed population, this group is currently shrinking in size. “Globe-trotters are the ones who are looking for international opportunities to travel and are happy working with a diverse, international set of colleagues,” says Mosley. “These people are very cosmopolitan and open-minded, but this group is getting smaller.”

A growing group is the balance-seekers, making up 16% of the population. These are people who are interested in working locally and are looking for more of a work-life balance. “I wouldn’t write this group off just because they want to do something different on the weekend and want a bit more flexibility,” says Mosley.

Change-makers make up the smallest group, accounting for only 12%. However, this group is quickly growing, since purpose is currently a front and center attribute for many organizations. Ballsten says that the greatest proportion of change makers work for businesses like Danone, IKEA, and Mondalez. “Change-makers are the people who are purpose-driven and want to serve the greater good,” she explains. “Ideally, they’d work for public service or social enterprise.”


This year, business students — which make up 50% of the study — gave preference to pharmaceutical companies, banks, and companies in which change-makers make up a large proportion of the population. However, the most attractive employers of 2021 according to business students are tech companies; in first place is Google, followed by Microsoft in second and Apple in third.

“Previously we saw more banks, consultants, and other professional service companies appear at the top of the list. I’m curious to see what they’re going to do in order to claw their way back into the top three,” says Röjdmark.

“It’s interesting to see how tech giants are being more and more perceived as super innovative, and how they then start to attract business students,” adds Claes Peyron, Universum managing director.

Google also scored as the number one most attractive employer in the world by engineering students — who make up 38% of the surveyed student population. Like the business rankings, Microsoft also came in second place, and BMW Group in third. Ballston says that since we’ve seen so many changes in the automotive industry, such as changing over to electric cars, it’s not surprising that the automotive industry is on the rise.

“I’m thrilled to see BMW Group has made it to the top,” adds Röjdmark. “The automotive industry has been under immense pressure in terms of changes in innovation and sustainability.”

For the IT category — the most in-demand category of employees, making up 12% of the surveyed population — Google and Microsoft come in first and second place, mirroring business and engineering results. In third place was IBM.


It’s inevitable that the global pandemic has — and will continue — to change the priorities of students seeking employment. In order to stay relevant, employers will have to consider the four key trends of what students are looking for in their careers. Plus, it’s important for brands to understand who they’re targeting in their recruitment process; understanding the five career profiles will help them to cater their efforts more intentionally.

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