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What Are The Skills Employers Look For? New Survey Reveals The Skills MBAs Need For Next Decade

Employers generally rate business graduates highly in a new survey. But find out which skills will help you stand out to recruiters

By  Steve McCormack

Thu Mar 28 2024

Have you got what it takes to land the job, or the promotion, in the business field you’ve set your sights on?

Does your skillset match what MBA employers are looking for? And, more important maybe, can you convince recruiters that your MBA skills include what’s needed to help businesses thrive in the future?

These were the questions at the heart of a new survey, jointly conducted by the Association of MBAs (AMBA) and the Business Graduates Association (BGA). The online questionnaire was sent to a total of 76,600 student and graduate members of the two bodies, located in more than 150 countries.

The good news is that in general, employers rate business graduates highly, with 81% believing that MBA alums can thrive in their organisations, and 83% confident that they have senior leadership potential. But scratch that surface and there’s plenty of important detail. 

Let's dig into the skills and attributes that business grad employers are looking for.

What employers think of business graduates

Of the 1,120 responses the survey received, 354 came from individuals who defined themselves as ‘employers’ or ‘decision makers in the recruitment of business graduates.’  It is the answers from these key, influential people that produce the findings.

The most common business sectors these respondents recruit to were: consultancy, IT, banking/financial services and engineering. Marketing, manufacturing and software also featured prominently. Of interest perhaps is that the male:female split in the respondents’ group was around 70:30. They represented 94 different countries, with the UK by far the largest contingent, at 22%, followed by South Africa (6%), USA (4%) and Germany (3%).

In three broad areas, the employers gave the skills of business graduates high marks. Top came problem-solving skills, where 77% strongly agreed or tended to agree that grads possessed this attribute. Similar scores were also recorded for technology skills (64%) and soft skills (60%)

Digging deeper into levels of proficiency enjoyed by business graduates in various specific areas of tech—particularly those in the early and rapid stages of development—the findings were understandably more cautious.

Current tech skills gaps among MBA grads

Asking for views on how well business graduates were at utilizing four key tech areas, only 8% responded ‘very well’ for AI, 12% for Big Data, 6% for Augmented Reality and 5% for The Metaverse. The options ‘fairly well,’ ‘not very well’ and ‘not at all well’ were much more popular here.

So, if you want to stand out from the crowd in applying for roles, or preparing for an interview panel, it would help to be upskill in these areas, and to be able to talk convincingly in one or all of these technology fields. Alternatively, you could choose an MBA with a tech concentration or a STEM MBA when applying to b-school.

Where do employers see skills gaps emerging in the next decade?

If you're in the early stages of your career path, though, the questions with the potential for most traction are probably those looking into the future. Employers were asked to predict areas where skills gaps are likely to emerge in the next decade.

Responses here might raise a few eyebrows among hard-working MBAs, but it’s nevertheless worth noting that current recruiters, when looking into their crystal balls, see gaps in the adaptability, resilience and innovation skills of new entrants to the labor market. These three areas came top out of 14 options offered as possible areas of future applicant weakness. Red flags on the skills front were less commonly seen in the areas of Negotiating, Commercial Awareness and Organisation.

What else do employers look for when recruiting MBAs?

In the final questions of the survey, respondents ranked the factors they found important in making recruitment decisions from a field of business graduates. Options to chose from included ranking and prestige of university, and accreditation of the business school and specific program. Country of program and learning format (online or classroom-based) were also mentioned.

While the university raking and prestige were important, a total of 63% of respondents thought that the type of programme completed (such as Executive MBA, Global MBA,etc) was the most important factor in recruiting graduates.

Overall, the survey findings have been viewed as reassuring by Ellen Buchan, insight, content and PR manager for AMBA and BGA.

“In the interplay between business education and industry demands, employers have generally expressed a positive outlook on the skills and capabilities of business graduates.

“The survey shows their strengths include problem solving, time management and leadership traits—proof of business schools’ ability to instil these crucial traits in their students."

But she also recognised that the horizon is not wholly cloud free, acknowledging the future skills gaps identified by significant numbers of those in recruitment positions.

“Perhaps a solution to this could be in more dialogue and alignment between business schools and industry to bridge these skills gaps, thereby ensuring that business graduates not only meet but exceed the expectations of today’s dynamic and competitive work landscape.”  

So, business school graduates clearly already have plenty in their locker that’s attractive to employers. But this survey suggests several areas where enhancements to a skillset might pay dividends—especially as we approach the next decade.