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Tech Employers Want Big Data-Savvy MBAs With Soft Skills – Says US MBA Careers Director

Johnson at Cornell’s careers director lists four skills MBAs need to get top jobs in tech

Mon May 22 2017

By Cynthia Saunders-Cheatham

It’s no secret that the needs of MBA employers are changing – especially in the technology industry. MBA students looking for careers in tech need to begin re-evaluating the courses and technologies that they may have previously overlooked.

Working in MBA career management, I’ve gotten an inside look from hundreds of corporate recruiters, hiring managers, and alumni of what skills and experiences various industries are targeting in their future employees.

So, how can you make sure you don't get left behind? Here are four skills MBAs need to make it in the tech industry today:

1. Telling a Story with Data

Companies are overwhelmed with data. Think about the vast breadth and depth of data that companies collect that measure our preferences and behavior - everything from purchasing data to social media engagement.

Being able to analyze the data and to weave a story to make business decisions with the data is crucial. Software skills in programs such as SQL, Tableau, and Python are in high demand. Related to this, understanding things like search engine optimization (SEO) and Google Analytics are key skills for a growing number of roles in the industry. 

2. Working in Ambiguous, Unstructured Environments

Do you want to work in an industry with fixed training modules, clearly defined career paths and scheduled job rotations? There are MBA career paths that offer this structure, but often not in high tech.

Because of the rapid pace of growth and change, career paths in high tech are often ambiguous and the roles broadly defined and frequently evolving. Tech recruiters are telling us that they seek people who would thrive in such environments and flexibility is key.

3. Utilizing Design Thinking to Drive to Solutions

At a recent tech MBA conference, several hiring managers highlighted the need for design thinking skills.  Design thinking is a technique that can help drive processes to innovative solutions.  Hiring managers value the ability to think creatively to solve complex problems. 

Being able to create a framework, “ideate” (and lead a team to “ideate”), and get to probable solutions are great skills to develop.

4. Working in Cross-Cultural and Cross-Functional Teams

Research shows that diverse teams frequently generate better financial results and more innovative ideas.  Employees in tech often work in teams that consist of people with different cultural, industry, and functional backgrounds. 

Often, team members are not located on-site, so virtual meetings are necessary.  Strong oral and written communication skills, listening skills, and cross-cultural understanding are crucial. 

How do you get these skills?

So, now that we have discussed some of the key skills that you need in tech, let’s discuss how to develop these skills. 

If you are an MBA student, carefully think about the coursework you need to take that will give you the skills you need to succeed. Many top business programs, or other programs within the broader university, offer classes in computer programming, data analytics, design thinking, and communication.  Take these classes before you start your internship or your full-time career.

At Cornell Johnson, which is now part of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, we recently added a Digital Tech Immersion program to our course selection and have received positive feedback from our MBA students who believe the data science lessons will help advance their skills.

Work on class projects and real-life consulting cases that will force you to develop these skills. Stretch yourself to work with team members who are different from you. Taking these steps will give you good experience and good stories to talk about in your interviews. As you develop these skills, make sure to add the skills and level of proficiency to your resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile. 

If you are not a current MBA student, explore taking local classes and online MOOCs. The cost for the courses can be minimal, and you can earn a certificate showing your completion of the courses, or even college credit.  At work, ask for project assignments where you get to develop these skills.

Every company is different, and high tech is a broad industry. It is important to study target companies and industry segments to find out the specific skills needed. Nevertheless, following these steps will give you a great start in developing the skills needed to perform successfully in the high-tech industry.


Cynthia Saunders-Cheatham is the executive director of the Career Management Center at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, providing students with in-depth career guidance and assistance.

The Career Management Center team works with students across Johnson’s MBA programs including its One and Two-Year Ithaca-based residential programs, the Executive MBA programs and Alumni. 

Cynthia has over 15 years of marketing management experience on consumer packaged goods and business-to-business brands, including as Director of Marketing at Valvoline (Eagle One Car Appearance Products) and Marketing Manager of a 20-person team at Carrier, a division of United Technologies Corporation.