MBAs Finally Meeting Employer Expectations for Leadership Skills |

MBAs Finally Meeting Employer Expectations for Leadership Skills

By Tim Dhoul

Updated August 13, 2014 Updated August 13, 2014

As well as looking at remuneration and demand, the annual QS Jobs & Salary Trends Report looks at qualities that employers look for when it comes to MBA recruitment. This includes their satisfaction with key skills attained by students during their degrees.

Leadership skills have been earmarked as below the ideal expected from employers ever since QS research began in 1990. However, this year’s report shows that MBA graduates are meeting these expectations for the first time. Many business schools have been seeking to instill a stronger focus on leadership skills in their MBA programs; clearly it is paying dividends.

Leadership skills meeting employer expectationsHowever, other soft skills – such as communication, interpersonal and strategic thinking – could still be improved upon according to this year’s survey. A majority of employers, the survey reveals, place a greater value on these skills than on traditional hard MBA skills, so this presents a distinct challenge. Candidates have an awareness of this it seems, however, with the lead held by ‘leadership’ and ‘strategy’ as respondents’ preferred MBA specializations growing this year. 

Another quality that employers feel may be lacking is entrepreneurial skills, as companies across the world increasingly recognize the value of innovation to business.    

In terms of the MBA job roles on offer, strategic planning and non-advisory finance positions have both risen substantially in 2013/13 to become the most popular MBA functions alongside general management.

Value of international experience upheld

As was the case last year, international experience is highly sought-after by MBA employers, with two-thirds of respondents again looking for international study experience in their hires.  

Many companies continued to report finding that candidates with international experience out-perform those without, stressing the importance of intercultural communication skills to businesses with designs on global expansion. 

Value of international experience in academic background

Qualities that employers look for in terms of experience 

For the sixth year in succession, there has been a drop in employer demand for MBAs with under three years’ experience, and especially for MBAs with less than one year of work experience.

This is especially true of Western Europe and Latin America, but is not quite so pronounced in Asia-Pacific, where less emphasis is placed on experience.

Globally, employers are mostly targeting those with three to five years’ experience. Add to this the percentage looking for candidates with five to eight years’ experience, and 65% of MBA employer demand worldwide is accounted for.

When citing reasons for this emphasis on a higher level of experience, employers frequently emphasize the need for ‘hands-on experience’ and harbor concerns about the maturity of lesser experienced MBAs.

Increasingly international MBA recruitment policies

Another general trend among employers worldwide in 2013 is that they are increasingly adopting a more international MBA recruitment policy in order to secure the right talent. This sees a higher proportion of respondents recruiting on a pan-regional or even global basis, rather than on a purely domestic basis.

This is particularly pronounced in the US & Canada, where 32% of employers are now looking internationally for their hires as opposed to 23% this time last year. Although Western European companies are decidedly less global (the figures stands at 22% this year), a greater proportion are widening their scope across the entirety of Europe – 29% as compared to 19% last year.

Of course, a vast majority of employers will still hire domestically in addition to any international MBA hiring policies in place. In this respect, Latin America holds the most locally focused employers, with 99% targeting domestic and local MBAs, while 90% Asian employers do so.

In summary, while it is certainly positive to see that leadership skills are finally meeting employer expectations, in terms of the qualities employers look for, further improvements in other soft skills as well as greater levels of entrepreneurial ability are being sought, as well as international experience and more years spent in the workforce. Whether these improvements in soft skills will come from changes in MBA curricula or from the candidates themselves remains to be seen.

This article was originally published in October 2013 . It was last updated in August 2014

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