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What Have We Learned from the MBA Jobs & Salary Trends Report 2015/16?

2015/16 MBA Jobs & Salary Trends Report - overview

Above all, the MBA is a vocational degree. Sure, you’ll have some fun, learn new things, and widen your network exponentially; but at the end of the day it is all about the MBA jobs into which students go on after graduating. And let’s not forget – the MBA salary levels they will command.  So if you’re thinking about an MBA, we’d wager that you’ll be placing a fair amount of focus on these two outcomes.

In order to map out the latest trends in MBA jobs and MBA salary levels, we conduct an annual survey of employers around the world who actively hire MBAs to ask them how many graduates of the degree they have recruited over the past 12-month period, and how many they plan to hire over the year to come. We also ask them what they are looking for in their MBA hires and how satisfied they are that MBAs are in possession of these skills and qualities. Oh, and you’ll like this one: we also ask how much they pay!

This data on MBA jobs and salaries is then broken down into regional and industry findings which are lovingly compiled into the QS TopMBA.com Jobs & Salary Trends Report. So, what have we learned from this year’s edition..?

MBA jobs recovery in mature markets!

The Great Recession did not treat the MBA jobs markets in the US & Canada and Western Europe very well. The past few years can fairly be described as a period of stagnation in both regions. This year, however, the story has been very different. In the US & Canada, the world’s most mature MBA market, we have seen an astounding level of growth, with a 26% rise in new opportunities, driven by strident technology and consulting sectors; the pharmaceuticals sector has also seen a big rise after a markedly slower period.

While Western Europe cannot match this, the reported figure of 9% can be read as extremely positive in a region that has endured no shortage of complications on its road to (uneven) recovery. It is in the industry & non-professional services space in which we see the greatest growth. Indeed, this is the story globally, a clear indication of the long-term diversification of MBA jobs, as employers in more and more industries come to see the benefits of hiring MBAs.

MBA salary levels in both regions have remained stable and are comfortably in six-figure territory (in US dollars) when bonuses are also taken into account.

Emerging regions: Slower Year for MBA jobs, with one big exception…

Rapid growth in MBA jobs across Asia-Pacific has been the standout positive story over the past few years. We anticipated, based on figures provided to us by employers, that this year’s report would show us a steadier and perhaps more sustainable growth level. Instead, we have been pleasantly surprised – it seems that the region’s employers continue to have an insatiable appetite for MBAs, reporting an 18% rise in MBA jobs over 2014/15. India and China drive this growth, with the job market in the latter in particular now coming to resemble its more mature Western counterparts. MBA salary levels across the region as a whole are largely improved this year, though there is of course a lot of variation.

The story elsewhere is not quite as positive. Eastern Europe (in which we include Central Asia) has seen a modest 4% growth in MBA jobs; a slower year in Russia has contributed to this, though Kazakhstan has had a better year. However, we do anticipate 2015/16 to be a much stronger year for the region.

We can say much the same of Latin America, with a contraction of new opportunities in Brazil meaning that the region as a whole only posts 1% growth. Mexico and Peru – Latin America’s other strongholds – have had a better year. Again, next year should be better, so the picture is certainly not all negative.

The world’s youngest MBA market in the Middle East & Africa grew by a solid 8%, though this is less than was predicted last year. We do see good growth in terms of salary levels though.

What do employers look for when filling MBA jobs? From soft skills to prior experience  

As we have found in previous years, the biggest shortcomings found in candidates hired into MBA jobs are soft skills. It seems both MBA candidates and schools have some questions to ask themselves in this area; but, we might also need to consider whether employers are expecting too much in this regard. Are soft skills something that can be taught in school, or do they have to be learned on the job? In terms of technical skills, there is a closer match between expectations and reality, and pleasingly, employers are satisfied with the levels of corporate social responsibility (CSR) shown by MBAs.

Perhaps relatable to the question of soft skills being learned on the job rather than at school, we are seeing a trend towards employers looking for hires in possession of more experience. In 2011, 27% of employers were looking for five years’ experience or more. This figure now stands at 33%. The proportion of employers targeting candidates with three years’ experience or less has fallen from 35% to 27% over the same time period.

While the picture is mixed, it seems fair to say that our research this year demonstrates the resilience of the MBA degree in an era of global change. It can still comfortably be considered the high watermark of graduate business education.

To find out more – including growth and salary levels by industry, long-term trends and an analysis of the functions into which MBAs are hired, download the full report for free!

Written by Mansoor Iqbal

Mansoor is a contributor to and former editor of TopMBA.com. He is a higher and business education specialist, who has been published in media outlets around the world. He studied English literature at BA and MA level and has a background in consumer journalism.

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