David McElhaney is an experienced US executive recruiter and managing partner at Global Recruiters of Huntsville (GRN). David's company mainly places candidates in the engineering, IT, HR, marketing and financial services industries in the USA. He gives us some insight into what differences having an MBA makes to a candidate's career prospects.
For all of these sectors David has to source extremely high quality candidates. Of those candidates a significant proportion of them are MBAs, “Roughly speaking 30% of our candidates are people with MBAs.” He says that “MBAs can definitely find a niche in some but not all of these job markets.”
When we asked him how highly he ranked MBAs, he gave us a frank and honest answer, “Well we generally only pick candidates that we consider 'A grade' players. MBAs generally tend to fall into that category, however I do also meet some MBAs that I would consider 'B grade' players.”
When we asked him to elaborate on what separates a first grade candidate from a mediocre one, he said, “Honestly there are several factors to consider. Firstly we look at where you did your MBA. We also don't forget to look at the rest of your qualifications. Having an MBA isn't applicable to all jobs and MBA graduates have to accept that reality.” However, he did say that MBAs were great candidates for roles in the financial, marketing and sales industries.
David mentioned that “Having an MBA is not a substitute for having expertise.” There are some fields where an MBA has to ask themselves, 'are my skills sets applicable to this area?' According to David a common mistake that MBA graduates make is that “They apply for jobs where they don't have the right underlying skills. For example sometimes I see MBAs applying for engineering jobs that they simply don't have the skills for.”
However, having an MBA is still a bonus in most sectors. David tells us that, “placing MBAs is easier in some ways but worse in others.” He elaborated by saying that in his experience a good MBA almost always gets their foot in the door.
However, he's noticed that even though MBAs get as far as the interview stage once they are there they don't always do as well as other candidates. His explanation for this is that “MBAs sometimes have this flawed assumption that because they have an MBA they don't need to prove their worth as much at the interview stage.”
David talked about how a less academically qualified but more experienced specialist might get a job over an MBA graduate. David advises MBAs to “think about your undergraduate studies and then think about the job opportunities that it could lead to, now think about how your MBA can help enhance your prospects in that sector.”
When we asked David if he's noticed any common trends with MBAs he mentions that “Over the last seven years remarkably there hasn't been any sort of strong patterns for MBA placements. In some ways this is a blessing as an MBA could end up anywhere.”
He's also very optimistic about the future for MBAs, stating that, “Employers are now starting to hire again. Over the last seven months we've noticed that there's been a noticeable increase in hiring executives.” He told us that in spite of the economic situation, companies have accepted the riskier environment as a permanent feature, and have started to become much bolder and braver when it comes to taking calculated risks.
He also states that, “Companies have reached a saturation point when it comes to minimizing their expenses. They've now got big holes and they need to be filled and they've accepted the reality of the situation.”
He's noticed that the manufacturing sector is particularly aggressive at the moment, regarding expanding their hiring practises. He says that, “If you're an engineer with an MBA now is probably a good time to get into the manufacturing sector.”
However, he does make the point that there is never a disadvantage to having an MBA, “You just have to remember it's a bonus and helps distinguish you but you have to bring everything else you have to the table as well.” He predicts that with the general market improving it will of course positively impact MBAs as well. So they should aggressively but thoughtfully start looking for jobs right now.