Beyond technical skills: what MBA employers value the most

William Woods Business

As MBA students flock to develop technical skills in hopes of advancing their careers, employer surveys reveal a pressing need for candidates who possess both the hard and soft skills.

According to a 2016 Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) survey on prospective MBA students, a decision to pursue an MBA degree is often triggered by a job-related event or circumstance. In most cases, it’s a job search “that reveals a candidate lacks the knowledge, skills, or abilities to be competitive for the desired job.”

Therefore, it’s no surprise that the majority of prospective MBA students focus their interest on a single industry or a single job function. And while honing their technical skills in hopes of landing their dream job may be a sound, strategic approach, it’s important to not lose sight of other skills that employers value.

For example, according to the GMAC Corporate Recruiters Survey, among the critical factors employers consider when selecting a candidate for an interview are strong oral communication skills. The ability to convey information effectively helps facilitate exchange of ideas, collaboration and ultimately dictates efficient progression of work, bringing value to a business or an organization.

Similarly, a 2015 Bloomberg study surveyed more than 1300 recruiters from over 600 companies and identified a gap between the skills MBA graduates most often have and the skills employers are looking for. Skills that are less common among graduates but desired by employers include strategic thinking, creative problem solving, leadership skills and once again, communication skills.

It’s important to note that this skill gap varies somewhat by industry. For example, in the pharmaceutical industry, while employers still identify strong communication skills as more desired, the current talent pool generally satisfies that need. Meanwhile, the other three skills previously mentioned remain less common among candidates.

At William Woods University, the MBA in Entrepreneurial Leadership program is centered on building student’s decision-making, entrepreneurial and emotional/social intelligence. Throughout their coursework, students are required to participate in various communication exercises including class discussions, working in teams and presenting to their peers and external audiences. For example, the BMT590 Applied Case Project course requires each student to complete a written business plan as a culminating project and defend it in an oral presentation to an outside panel of business experts.

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