MBA students spend much of their program accumulating experience, knowledge, and skills to improve their job prospects and stand out to the top employers.
But what are employers really looking for?
We spoke to recruiters from top tech and consulting firms, who reveal the top attributes they are looking for in their MBA hires.
1. Ability to solve problems
Employers and business schools have identified five key skills that are in high demand yet hardest to recruit for. At the top of these—an ability to solve complex problems.
This isn’t just everyday problems that pop up in the workplace. Rather, these are multi-dimensional problems that can really change the way businesses run.
“We’re looking for people who can solve problems across functional lines,” explains Ming Ling Teo, director of strategy and product planning at Dell in Singapore.
MBA students are well placed to solve complex problems. NUS Business School, in Singapore, places students at the center of real life problems that occur in businesses during their MBA Consulting Project, which is a part of the MBA’s experiential core.
“This takes everything they’ve learned, and apply it to real business issues,” explains Nicole Tee, director of graduate studies at NUS Business School.
Students work at local or regional companies, like Microsoft and Goldman Sachs, where they address real problems that the company is facing. Under supervision from faculty, they have to deliver actionable solutions in a matter of weeks.
“It teaches students how to work with a group of people with diverse backgrounds, and come to a common outcome for a business project,” Ming insists.
Consulting firm BTS admires this too. Their employees must be prepared to work on any number of projects in a diverse range of industries, and they’re looking for experience that shows that their applicants can do this.
“Projects come from many directions. One day they could be working on technology, one day it might be oil and gas, so I think that ability to work across different sectors, and managing different projects at the same time, is important,” insists Cheryl Lau, marketing specialist at BTS Singapore.
2. People skills and communication
Employers place a great emphasis on soft skills, or people skills. These are the skills that will set them apart as industry and the workplace changes and evolves with technology.
For consulting firms like BTS, interacting with people is part of the everyday job. They’re looking for graduates who are personable and confident with communication.
“Our focus is on people, so we look at behaviors like whether they are genuinely curious when it comes to business, whether they know the landscape they are working in,” Cheryl insists.
NUS MBA students have opportunities to build their people skills during the MBA Survival Kit, mastering skills like tackling complex problems, pitching value propositions, and creating and delivering convincing presentations.
This is suited to fit the different needs of students, depending on their strengths and weaknesses. “No one has all the same problems, we take students from such diverse backgrounds, so they may have some skills that come naturally, but this won't apply to everyone,” Nicole from NUS Business School explains.
3. Data-driven insight
Digitalization is threatening a lot of jobs and roles that can easily be automated by artificial intelligence or machine learning.
What makes MBAs stand out, therefore, are skills that machines can’t replicate. Insight is a big part of this—being able to look at data and information and interpret it in a way that’s going to strengthen decision making.
“We’re looking for a strong rational faculty and logical faculty that has a capacity to drive insights and discussions with data,” Ming explains.
4. Ambitious and influential
Ambition is what sets MBA hires apart from jobs that might be under threat from technology. This is, Ming believes, part of the very nature of an MBA.
“You can assume that the MBA graduate has a degree of ambition. When you are talking about bringing in people with ambition, you are bringing in someone not just to do a job, but that we provide a platform for them to, over time, become leaders in the business.”
MBAs, who can convince employers that the job they are applying for is something that they are committed to, and ambitious about, will stand out.
A big part of this is demonstrating they can use their skills to influence those around them. On the NUS MBA’s Launch Your Transformation, communication and leading by influence is central.
Employers want more than just purely academic candidates. They want students who can show that they are well-rounded, both inside and outside of the classroom.
“It’s about showing passion in terms of hobbies and interests, things they’ve accomplished, apart from just academic results,” Cheryl explains.
Experiences outside of the classroom are as important as those inside the classroom on the NUS. The Lean Launchpad is a great example, where students with an entrepreneurial inclination can try launching a product or business with their peers.
Being well-rounded, for Cheryl, comes down to something very simple that you are able to tell about a candidate.
“One of our values is fun and adventure. We want people to have fun and passion while they are doing the work,” she reveals.
All of these skills benefit greatly from an experiential approach, like the curriculum at NUS. And given that employment for their MBA students is at 94% after graduation, it’s clearly paying off.
Experiential Learning Is Transforming MBA Student Opportunities