The Management Skills Employers Seek

management skills

Management skills are a clear focus of any MBA program. Acquiring the skillset needed to further your professional development and join the ranks of C-level executives is, in many ways, what postgraduate business education is all about. So, it’s about time to clarify exactly what the most-desired management skills among employers are, as well as to look at what these employers mean when they assert the importance of such skills in their organization.

The importance of key management skills to international MBA recruiters, along with their satisfaction with the standard of these skills displayed by new hires, has been a regular feature of the annual QS Jobs & Salary Trends Reports. In its latest edition, over 4,300 MBA employers gave their opinions in 15 sub strains of management skills, divided into the categories of soft skills and hard skills. The employers’ five favorites are listed here, but below is an in-depth look at the entire gamut.

Soft skills defined: from people skills to leadership traits

It’s OK if you haven’t heard the term ‘soft skills’ before – it’s highly likely you’ll already be familiar with many of the management skills this term seeks to bracket together . The term brings together qualities that emanate from a person’s personality and their interaction with people around them, rather than those which reflect specific knowledge on a given topic. These are management skills, combining a person’s leadership traits and people skills, which work to complement more definable hard skills.

Interpersonal Skills: These are a measure of your people skills with specific regard to your ability to work well with others. C-level executives can no longer hide behind the sanctuary of a closed-door-policy and be considered an effective manager. Working collegially, building and developing a team, along with making sure that everyone in the team is happy in their endeavors on behalf of the company and feels appreciated, are all aspects of necessary interpersonal skills. These are the people skills employers now demand from their senior management. In some instances, use of the terms ‘interpersonal skills’ and ‘people skills’ are broadened to encompass all soft skills, as they all involve human interaction, but here the management skills listed below are described as separate entities so that the distinct features contained within soft skills can be better described.

Leadership Skills: This was the first year since 1990 in which employers included in QS’ annual survey were satisfied with the leadership traits displayed by MBA graduates, and is a reward for the efforts of leading business schools in striving to accommodate increasing expectations in this area. Organizations need leaders to provide guidance and direction, to implement plans as well as to motivate staff. Leadership skills fall under the domain of soft skills because leadership traits differ widely between individuals, being based on a person’s philosophy, personality, and experience both in and outside of professional life. However, generally speaking, a few common leadership styles can be found, including ‘inspirational’, ‘ethical’ and ‘action’ leaders. Employers will often cite leadership traits and styles they are most in need of. For example, a company going through a period of transition may have a ‘visionary’ leader high on its agenda. Indeed, being able to drive forward the change needed to transform or develop an organization has begun to emerge into the separate category of ‘change-management’ skills.

Strategic Thinking: This is the ability to think along a clear path of action, and to be able to apply this path, or strategy, at every stage in your work and decision-making. At C-level, strategic thinking often entails setting a company’s direction and making sure it doesn’t get knocked off the intended course. Its place on the soft skills agenda for business schools has been secure since the turn of the century as programs seek to help students progress from just functional expertise and on to ‘seeing the bigger picture’ and getting a sense of where the future of an organization as a whole lies.

Communications Skills: This soft skill relates to interpersonal skills in your ability to communicate with others and to get on well with your team in the interests of working towards common goals. Miscommunication within a company is much more widespread than it should be, and can lead to wasted resources if people are not all on the same page. However, communication skills also extend to your presentation ability, both on paper and through speech. Much of the art of persuasion rests in the way you come across when presenting to stakeholders and the importance of the manner in which you represent your company will only increase along with the scrutiny to which your businesses is subjected to as you grow, by the media and general public for example.

Hard skills now amount to the minimum requirement

The fascination with soft skills looks set to continue, but this doesn’t detract from the importance of technical skills, also known as ‘hard skills’ – your abilities and expertise in particular areas, based on knowledge acquired through academia and professional experience.  

What has changed is that the hard skills listed below are starting to seem like a minimum requirement. In a Harvard Business Review blog, HBS professor Boris Groysberg detailed his findings from a survey of global executive search firm consultants, writing that, “Many consultants said that technical skills – once the prime goal of executive searches – are still important but have become merely a baseline requirement.”

As these management skills are quantifiable by nature, they are also easier to define, but there’s no harm in ensuring that you have taken them all into account.

Academic Achievement: Your track record in formal education. This is a measure of your success in attaining good grades both in your MBA or related degree and prior to this during an undergraduate degree or other professional qualification.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): At heart, CSR represents a business’ internal attempts to monitor its practices and ensure that they comply with ethical standards, international convention as well as the spirit of the law. Companies also utilize CSR for the ‘giving something back’ part of their feeling of responsibility towards society through implementing practices and initiatives designed to yield a positive social or environmental impact. The inclusion of CSR in MBA programs has been rapidly evolving in recent years due to the economic difficulties caused by the global recession the end of the last decade, which has led many to demand greater levels of accountability among large companies. In fact, integrity or having an ethical reputation, which for its basis on personality belongs to the soft skills, is becoming a valuable asset in itself to be increasingly sought by employers.

E-Business: Coined by IBM in 1996, this term denotes knowledge of business practices through electronic methods. It is far wider in its scope than the term ‘e-commerce’ with which it is often confused. Instead, ‘e-commerce’ refers specifically to the buying and selling of goods via computer networks, such as the internet.

Entrepreneurship: In its inclusion among hard skills, this is a person’s ability to spot a business opportunity and be able to make it a reality. As well as sourcing resources and financial backing, new ventures also need people to make the call on whether an idea is worth pursuing and to shoulder responsibility for any eventual outcome. An entrepreneur that performs this type of role within a large organization is known as an intrapreneur. 

Finance Skills: These are an embedded feature in all postgraduate business programs and should require no explanation. It’s essential for effective managers to have a good head for figures regardless of whether or not they ever intend to enter the finance industry. Financial aspects underpin businesses in any industry. 

International Awareness:  That employers now increasingly want their staff to have a global outlook in business is one the biggest company trends since the turn of the century. Given the importance of global markets, organizations know all-too-well how an understanding of those markets, as well as the cultural practices pertaining to each, is closely tied to a company’s success overseas. Someone already boasting substantial international awareness and work experience will therefore be attractive to a lot of major recruiters.

IT / Computer Skills: There was once a time when senior managers could leave much of the details involved in working with computer systems and data to others, and instead concentrate on a supervisory role. However, the growth of technology has been so rapid and wide in its influence that this is no longer the case. Any manager working with technology will be constrained in their role if they do not fully understand the systems or products at a company’s disposal, making IT skills essential.

Marketing: Understanding the key concepts of marketing is integral to running a successful business – ensuring it stays ahead of the competition and seizes upon opportunities for expansion. Branding, understanding consumer behavior and retaining client loyalty all fall under the remit of marketing skills. 

Multi-lingual: Similar to international awareness – if you can speak another language then this will undoubtedly help you in forming a global business outlook and in your appeal to employers – especially if you happen to speak a language of particular use to the company in question! 

Relevant Experience: Related past or present employment to the industry or area in which you wish to apply is also a big consideration for employers, and where you can prove your wide selection of management skills as an MBA graduate.

Risk Management: Every element of risk represents a potential loss to a company. Hard skills in identifying, analyzing and prioritizing risk are therefore important to any C-level executive, but of particular relevance in industries where uncertainties play a central role. These could be uncertainties in financial markets, threats from competitors or legal liabilities to name but a few. In short, senior managers will often have to make difficult decisions and the understanding and preparation for elements of risk are vital to do this effectively. 

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Written by Tim Dhoul

Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).

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