In the process of choosing the best business degree available, you will find out that although different programmes cater to different needs, some MBA skills are taught universally. Surely, these should be relevant to your specific goals and career aspirations. However, it is also important to be aware of the current job market fluctuations and to keep in mind that employers will value some skills over others.
Soft skills highly sought by employers
Every year The Financial Times (FT) summarises and groups the qualities that are highly regarded by international companies which recruit MBA graduates. Their latest survey results published in September 2018 shows that the so-called soft skills – the interpersonal qualities which are also more difficult to measure and teach – are those most appreciated by employers. Examples include the ability to work within a team and with people from different backgrounds and cultures. Regardless of the industry and job role you end up in, excellent teamwork will be central to the company’s success. The ability to solve complex problems is another soft skill that was rated by the surveyed employers as a highly important one to master during MBA studies.
Annual research conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) also reveals that international organisations seek out MBA recruits with well-developed soft skills. In their 2016 report, an employee’s ability to fit into a specific organisational culture was ranked as the most desirable trait. Similar to the findings of the FT, teamwork and the ability to make an impact round off the top three preferred MBA skills. Results from the following year are similar, with soft skills prevailing over the more technical, hard skills.
Hard skills also appreciated
Without a doubt, teamwork, decision-making, and problem-solving are traits that all business professionals and leaders should nurture. Nevertheless, this does not mean that possessing technical skills will be useless in your job search and throughout your career. According to the 2018 FT report, specific hard skills such as programming and working with data are also highly sought by some employers. “At KPMG, applicants for roles in cyber security or data analytics consultancy teams are expected to be well-versed in programming languages such as Python and R, and data visualisation tools such as Tableau,” highlights FT editor Patricia Nilsson.
Similarly, Maastricht School of Management (MSM) (the Netherlands) reports that there has been increasing interest from employers in MBA and Master’s students who have knowledge of data science and analytics. While featuring those in your CV/resume may be an advantage, it is all about presenting the right blend of technical mastery in combination with soft skills. One will not work without the other, points out Hermina Kooyman, Manager of Enrolment and Career Services at MSM.
No matter how useful they can be in determining what employers find valuable, it is important to take studies on the topic with a pinch of salt. Why? Because the perception of your skills and competencies will always depend on the context. A particular quality may be more highly sought by recruiters in some regions of the world than others. That same quality may also be needed much more in one industry, while other sectors may be in need of completely different skills.
This is where the Bloomberg Job Skills Report comes in handy. In 2016, Bloomberg asked recruiters to pick up to five skills they considered “most important” and five that were “hardest to find” and then compared their answers across industries. For instance, while quantitative skills were ranked with very low importance from companies in the consumer and healthcare sectors, they were considered more important within the energy and finance industries.
Take another example – creative problem solving was seen as an important quality to possess by more than 50% of surveyed companies within the consulting and technology sectors. In comparison, less than 30% of organisations operating in energy and transportation rated creative problem solving as an essential skill that they look for in MBA graduates.
Another context-specific factor is company size. The aforementioned 2016 GMAC report established that “small companies, more than large companies, value the ability to build external networks and worth within teams” while large companies place more value on “leadership potential and the ability to use data to tell a story.”
Last but not least, employers located in different countries and regions may exhibit different preferences for the skills they seek in the MBA graduate pool. According to the GMAC report, companies in the US and in Asia-Pacific put more weight on work experience within the industry (the recruiter's industry sector) while European employers consider the length of work experience (three or more years) as more important when hiring. Companies located in South America point out language skills as the most important attribute upon recruitment.
It would be wise to keep these industry and regional preferences in mind when researching and selecting potential MBA programmes to apply for. The skills and competencies they teach will ultimately determine how you are going to develop in your post-MBA career.