Unrealistic salary or job role expectations, weak communication and interpersonal skills, no proven ability to perform and a poor cultural fit between a candidate and company are critical “deal breakers ” that cost the most MBA graduates jobs. No matter what school the candidate comes from, or how high their grades may be, some 1,300 recruiters surveyed by the Graduate Management Admission Council reported that making any of these mistakes in interviews is unforgivable.

According to employers, the biggest problem is with MBA graduates’ interpersonal skills. Recruiters are always wanting better written and oral communication skills, plus more strategic and analytic thinking. Business schools aren’t teaching people how to make a Powerpoint presentation, but maybe they should,” said Rachel Edgington, Manager of Applied Research at the Graduate Management Admission Council’s headquarters in Virginia.

Asking for the moon

Recruiters also complain many students are “asking for too much, too soon.” Most often, this translates into astronomical sixfigure starting salary demands. Part of the problem arises because the most frequently published salary figures are from Top 10 schools or from specific regions where the cost of living is significantly higher. In the southern United States, the cost of living is about one-third that of NewYork City, and salary expectations should be adjusted accordingly, Edgington said.

Students get frustrated because they see these high salaries in newspapers and think they are entitled to the same. Basically, they need to do more research to determine what is right to ask for,” she said.

In addition, recent graduates have been known to believe they would report directly to the CEO, as well as holding various other movie-star fantasies about their role in corporate life.

Some recruiters say new MBAs don’t understand the employer’s point of view: ‘You gotta learn about the company, there’s a big learning curve ahead and we've got to see how you work out.’ Candidates need to be willing to accept a $55,000 starting salary and lower their expectations of advancement. But once they do that, in a couple of years, it comes out in their favor,” she said.

Career changer or career enhancer?

MBA students use their degree either to enhance opportunities in their current industry, known as career enhancers, or they are career changers who want to move into a different occupation or industry altogether. Because employers seek to reduce risk in a weak economy, they want candidates with a proven ability to perform… meaning they tend to prefer career enhancers as new hires. Students in fulltime MBA programs generally are all regarded as career changers, according to Edgington. Most have limited professional experience, which can hamper their efforts when interviewing for jobs. Since employers often are looking for specific work experience,graduates from fulltime programs must demonstrate relevant volunteer work or internships in their particular field, preferably before before even applying to business school. “Ten years ago , students could get into school and they didn’t have to know what they wanted to do when they graduated. Nowadays, recruiters are going on campus a lot earlier. Students have to figure out what they want before they start.

Campus life

Once accepted, Edgington says to seize any opportunity to prove leadership or team-player ability through involvement in student groups. Get at least one more internship. And volunteer for any special assignments. Select your classes skillfully. Take the courses your targeted employer will want, such as a specialization in finance, early on. This strategy attracts recruiters,according to Edgington. Perhaps most importantly, start your job search early. Six to eight months in advance of graduation is the recommended timeframe.

The one thing I don’t understand is how 15 percent of the graduating students we survey say they are so burned out and tired from school that they don’t bother to look for a job. They say they want to take a vacation first... “But three months after they graduate, they’re alumni —they have totally different services than those of a student,” she said. “There is no more campus, there are no more recruiters. These people run a risk of not getting the job they want , or any job at all.

Skill Gap Analysis 

The Graduate Management Admission Council provided recruiters with a list of skills and abilities and asked them to choose those that make MBA graduates most attractive to their companies. From the same list, recruiters noted the characteristics they found lacking in MBA candidates. The resulting "Skill Gap Analysis," supplied to 79 graduate business schools who participated in the Corporate Recruiters Survey, provides plenty of insight into what goes through the minds of recruiters when searching for new hires.

Recruiters find the follwing skills highly attractive and well- developed:

  • Ability to think analytically
  • Quantitative skills
  • Ability to integrate info rm ation from a wide variety of sources
  • Information-gathering skills

Recruiters find the following skills highly attractive and believe there is a need to further develop them:

  • Ability to think strategically
  • Leadership skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Written communication skills
  • Oral communication skills
  • Ability to ch a n ge and adapt to new situations

Although recruiters do not find the following skills highly attractive, they believe there is a need to strengthen them:

  • Ability to make decisions with imperfect infomation
  • Initiative and risk-taking ability
  • Implementation skills+
  • Cultural sensitivity and awareness

This last list of skills are not highly attractive to recruiters, nor do they need further development:

  • Ability to delegate
  • Skills in corporate ethical conduct
  • Technology skills
  • Work ethic