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What skills do hiring companies look for in MBA graduates?

What skills do hiring companies want in MBA graduates?

If you had asked recruiters — say, two or three years ago — to provide a list of must-have attributes and skills in MBA candidates, you would have been handed a long grocery list: leadership, interpersonal, negotiating, supervisory, decision-making, analytical, communication, time management, and technical skills.

A quick breath, and they would have gone on: adaptability to both traditional and new approaches and to market changes, ability to understand international business, maturity and professionalism, and mental toughness. At least a few might have concluded with, “And a captivating personality won’t surely hurt.”

Today, this list looks slightly stale. However, it has not become even a little irrelevant. Indeed, some of the list items seem to have only been relabeled, and the qualities remain the same, more or less. Still, it must be said that the essentials that employers look for in their MBA hires have seen some refinement in the past couple of years.

This fine-tuning has come based on employers’ experience of hiring MBA candidates, on-the-job performance by MBAs, and identification of qualities that employers find lacking in MBAs. The refinement explains the year-to-year changes in lists of sought-after skills/traits.

What skills are companies looking for while hiring MBA graduates?

The GMAC Recruiters’ Survey list names the skills/traits that employers look for in MBA candidates. Survey respondents were asked to rank the most important from among 12 traits. A candidate’s ability to fit within an organizational culture is now ranked the most desirable trait.

The second most-important trait valued across industrial and regional categories is an ability to work as part of teams; the third most-important is an ability make an impact.

Across industries, these three traits appear among the top five. However, for companies in the energy and utilities sector, leadership potential is the top trait. It is the second most-important quality for the health care and pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, and products and services sectors.

At the bottom of the list, for a majority of industries, are curiosity, ability to work independently, and executive presence.

List of important skills valued by MBA recruiters

Priority Consulting Finance/Accounting Technology Manufacturing Products/Services
1 Fit with company culture Fit with company culture Ability to make an impact Ability to make an impact Fit with company culture
2 Ability to work in and build strong teams Ability to work in and build strong teams Fit with company culture Leadership potential Leadership potential
3 Ability to make an impact Ability to make an impact Ability to work in and build strong teams Fit with company culture Ability to make an impact
4 Adaptability Leadership potential Leadership potential Ability to work in and build strong teams Ability to work in and build strong teams
5 Strong business ethics Adaptability Ability to use data to tell a story Ability to use data to tell a story Adaptability

Source: GMAC 2016 Corporate Recruiters Survey
Across regions, fit with company culture got the most marks as the most desirable trait. The second most-important trait in the US and Asia-Pacific is the ability to work in teams, in Europe the ability to make an impact, and in Latin America leadership potential.

Small companies, more than large companies, value the ability to build external networks and worth within teams. On the other hand, large companies, more than small companies, value leadership potential and the ability to use data to tell a story.

Which MBA skills & traits will get you the highest starting salaries?

The GMAC Recruiters Survey says that while work experience within the industry (the industry sector of the recruiter) is valued most in the US and in Asia-Pacific, work experience of three or more years is valued most highly in Europe. Companies in Latin America feel language skills are the most important.

The second most-important trait in the US and Asia-Pacific is work experience of three years or more; it’s experience within the industry in Europe and Latin America.

The third most-important trait in the US is experience in the specific job (that the candidate is being recruited for), in Asia-Pacific a degree from a top business school, in Europe international experience, and in Latin America three or more years of work experience.

Degree from a top business school and specialized degree occupy the fourth and fifth priorities for US companies, specialized degree and experience in specific job for Asia-Pacific firms, experience in specific job and language skills for European companies, and experience in specific job and specialized degree for Latin American organizations.

How the skills requirement has trended

Let’s see how the assessment of attributes has changed or remained the same over just one year. According to the 2015 GMAC Corporate Recruitment Survey, proven ability to perform was rated the most important trait by a vast majority of companies, followed by strong oral communication skills, and strong technical and quantitative skills. Companies in Europe, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America more than companies in the US considered relevant language skills and oral communication skills as important.

The other top attributes were history of increased job responsibility, strong writing skills, industry where candidate had prior work experience, strong academic success, occupation in prior work experience, years of work experience, and relevant language skills. Global experience, professional certifications and licenses, and social media presence were among the attributes at the bottom of the list.

The 2015 report said work experience helped candidates, especially MBAs, differentiate themselves from others. Candidates should ideally have between two and four years of work experience. Candidates should not just have education and academic achievement but also an ability to integrate their newly acquired knowledge with prior work experience.

MBA skills that are important but in short supply

As part of preparing its Job Skills Report 2016 and ranking business programs, Bloomberg asked 1,251 recruiters at 547 companies about the skills they wanted in top MBA talent but couldn’t find, and about the b-schools that were doing the best job minting MBA graduates who met the industry’s requirements.

In the report, the companies list leadership, strategic thinking, communication skills, and creative problem-solving as less common but more desired skills. More common, more desired skills include analytical thinking and the ability to collaborate.

More common, less desired skills include motivation/drive, risk-taking, decision-making, quantitative skills, global mindset, and entrepreneurship. Less common and less desired skills? Adaptability and work experience.

What the skills involve

Let’s try to define the more desired skills. Leadership is the ability to provide guidance and direction to an organization, motivate colleagues, and implement plans. Strategic thinking enables MBAs to stick to a strategy and apply it to all decision-making. Communication skills help them to interact with colleagues in the interest of achieving a common goal. Creative problem-solving allows MBAs to approach a problem in an innovative or imaginative way.

The first three are generally considered “soft skills” and the last, “creative problem-solving” a “hard skill.” Other hard skills that recruiters mention include IT/computer skills; knowledge of marketing, e-business, and languages; and CSR (corporate social responsibility) skills. Of course, it goes without saying that employers also look for a good academic background and track record.

Interestingly, the skills mentioned in Bloomberg’s 2016 report were slotted in the same four categories (“more desired, less common” to “less common, less desired skills”) in the 2015 report, too.

Best schools for imparting these skills

The graduates of programs were rated by various sectors on how well they had acquired the “more desired, less common” skills of leadership, strategic thinking, communication skills, and creative problem-solving.

The Bloomberg report gives recruiters’ evaluation of MBA programs based on how well graduates acquired the skills. According to the 2016 report, the consulting sector rates USC (Marshall) graduates the best MBAs for communication skills, UT Austin (McCombs) graduates for strategic thinking, and UC Berkeley (Haas) graduates for creative problem-solving. The financial services sector adjudges UNC (Kenan-Flagler) graduates the best for both communication skills and strategic thinking.

Manufacturing awards the top prize to Northwestern (Kellogg) MBAs for leadership and Harvard for strategic thinking. Technology selects Stanford graduates as the best for creative problem-solving, strategic thinking, and communication skills. Consumer products domain rates Cornell Johnson students the best for leadership skills and Harvard students for strategic thinking. Energy feels UT Austin (McCombs) MBAs are the best for communication skills, Michigan (Ross) graduates for leadership skills, and Duke (Fuqua) graduates for strategic thinking.

Are you a good fit?

To conclude with a tip for new MBAs who have only a couple of years or so of work experience: the 2016 GMAC survey finds that “organizational fit” is the most sought-after trait in MBAs. But what exactly is it?

Organizational fit is an evaluation of how well a candidate’s work style and values align with the organization’s work culture.

But few companies have their organizational values or culture written down in their corporate vade mecum, so how does a candidate find out about the values?

Quite simply, by speaking to current and former employees, from the interview with a recruiter of the company, through on-campus events that an organization uses to publicize its values, and from the career services team at college.
Also read
Impact of GMAT on getting a job interview
Are MBAs really arrogant, worthless, and overpaid?
Resources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

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Sameer Kamat
About Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Follow me on: Instagram | Linkedin | Youtube

5 thoughts on “What skills do hiring companies look for in MBA graduates?”

  1. I have completed my Mechanical Engineering this year and want to do MBA should I go for MBA directly or instead I should go for job, I am thinking of
    going right a way to do MBA in (operation research ) will it be correct option?

  2. Hi Sameer,

    Am having 3 yrs exp in IT industry having 3 months onsite work exp.
    Want to do Mba for a career growth. So shud I go for GMAT or only IELTS will do to get into good college?

    Thanks in advance.

  3. Hi, I am soon to be a BMS in 2018 and would get done with an advance diploma in foreign trade along. I have started a start up dealing in corporate gifting a month back and doing a part time job too, for extra earnings. Also, I have been teaching in a NGO since 2 years.
    Do you think I should be applying for the top 20 MBA colleges for specialisation is International Business as soon as I get done with my bachelors?
    Also, I am thinking for applying in HBS 2+2, Yale and Stanford, just to try my luck. You think there’s as possibility that I can get through?!

  4. Hi I am an MBA in human resource from India with an overall experience of 6 years. Since my husband works in US I need to move in with him on h4 and hence will not be able to work here. Please suggest a career path. Is doing an MS in business analytics a good option?

  5. @Rahul: International MBA programs expect a few years of work experience before you can apply. Don’t rush into it now.

    @Dhananjay: All good bschools will insist on a GRE or GMAT score along with TOEFL/ IELTS. The former two are more important than the latter.

    @SR: Trying ‘just for luck’ is a very bad strategy. Wait till you are ready for it and then apply. See the earlier response to Rahul.

    @Sini: Sure, you could. But with the new US work permit policies being considered, that won’t guarantee you a job either. This article should help:


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