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Wall Street's new problem: A shrinking talent pool

Jenny Tolan isn't taking the conventional route with her new master's in business administration degree.

The 31-year-old Columbia Business School graduate isn't going to work on Wall Street or at a consulting firm. In fact, Tolan didn't even apply.

She sought a role in the technology sector and nailed down a position at one of the world's most well-known companies in Silicon Valley. She starts later this summer.

Tolan, who holds a bachelor's degree in international relations from Stanford University in addition to her MBA, didn't have a background in technology. She was heavily involved in the social services sector for seven years, working for organizations such as Teach for America and the Peace Corps.

"Everything I care about seems to be moving fastest in tech. So, I started applying to tech companies. Then I got a summer internship and got the job," Tolan said. "I am thrilled with it. I feel like I will be able to get a huge amount of interesting business and corporate experience, but with a lifestyle that far exceeds life on Wall Street."

Financial firms have gotten a bad rap from allegedly requiring interns and entry-level employees to work around the clock. It's a situation a number of banks like Bank of America have addressed by designing new measures to support work-life balance.

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But the damage may already be done. Tolan isn't the only new MBA graduate passing up traditional financial sector jobs for alternatives.

More and more companies are starting to recognize the worth of an MBA and are making a more organized effort to lure new graduates away from Wall Street, according to Brad Aspel, director of career education and advising at Columbia Business School. This could soon create a bigger challenge for financial and consulting firms to recruit star candidates.

He said a wider variety of sectors are accepting business school graduates for permanent jobs and have added summer internship recruiters to their payrolls. Aspel names Tesla, Zynga and Amazon as examples.

"Google five or six years ago understood the reason to hire an engineer, but didn't know what the value of an MBA would add. But, they took a couple of students who were very aggressive in showing interest," Aspel said. "Now that company has moved to where they have a very structured summer internship experience."

Graduates from the Harvard Business School MBA program wave flags at commencement in Cambridge, Mass.
Neal Hamberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Graduates from the Harvard Business School MBA program wave flags at commencement in Cambridge, Mass.

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The Graduate Management Admission Council is watching the job opportunities very closely.

A global student exit survey taken by the nonprofit educational organization finds job seekers in fields such as technology, manufacturing and health care were more likely to have an early job offer this year than those searching in the finance, accounting and consulting areas.

"Regardless of the industry, all of them are looking for skills in various job functions like marketing, sales, finance and accounting," said Gregg Schoenfeld, who spearheaded the GMAC survey.

In nontraditional areas such as health care and pharmaceuticals, he said 90 percent are expecting to hire this year versus 81 percent last year, which is considered a big jump.

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The movement to lure B-school graduates away from the financial sector is starting to grip small biotech companies, too, said Robin Toft, president and CEO of Sanford Rose Associates-Toft Group, an executive search firm focusing on companies in the health-care arena.

"Baby boomers are retiring and there's not enough talent to go around. It is a candidate-driven market again," Toft said. "Executive search is very busy right now because there are not enough good candidates for every opening. It is a brilliant time to be seeking employment."

Toft recommends new B-school graduates look into industries which are highly progressive and rapidly changing. She adds that a lot of employers have an open mind when it comes to filling positions now due to the shortage of talent in pharmaceuticals and biotech.

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"Many companies have to lower their bar. A lot ask for 10 to 15 years of experience, and then they have to cut that," she said.

Greg Konstans, partner in the Dallas office of worldwide executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, is also urging new B-school graduates to look for jobs off the beaten path—particularly in the areas of big data and analytics. He refers to this as the "holy grail."

"What we would tell you, if you're a recent MBA grad, you will probably have the most luck in energy and health care. But we would also indicate you would want to look at strategy firms," he said.

—By CNBC's Stephanie Landsman.

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