When planning for graduate school, you’ll need to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of any programs you’re considering to come to an accurate assessment of the value of your degree. As a prospective Master of Business Administration (MBA) student, it’s a task that makes the question of whether an MBA will have a direct impact on your future salary and job opportunities an especially critical one.
Of all master’s degree programs, an MBA is one that’s well-known for offering business school graduates the near-guarantee that they’ll see a growth in their paychecks. A 2019 report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers predicts that MBA grads in the class of 2019 will pull in an average starting salary of $84,580—more than $25,000 higher than the average starting salary projection for graduates with a bachelor’s degree in business alone.
Considering the popularity of an MBA degree for graduate students in the U.S., it’s common for MBA holders to want to stand out in a pool of job applicants. Aside from degree concentrations, knowing which skills employers are looking for is key. According to recent studies, though your MBA program will provide ample opportunities for you to develop your financial acumen, business savvy, and a knack for strategic direction, it won’t necessarily help you produce strength in all of the skills you’ll need to be successful.
Reports from the Financial Times and Bloomberg indicate that out of all skills, certain soft skills are the traits many employers want most but have trouble finding. By taking the time to develop these skills yourself, you’ll be able to balance strong technical skills with human skills—and present yourself as a vital candidate to top-paying companies in an increasingly competitive business world.
A 2018 Skills Gap survey polled from the Financial Times asked more than 70 leading employers about the professional skills they want but can’t find in MBA graduates. Of all both hard and soft skills, the ability to work with a wide variety of people came in as the most coveted, with 64 percent of employers categorizing it as their top priority in hiring.
As basic as it sounds, this interpersonal skill is crucial to effectively participate as a member—and even leader—of a business team, satisfy customer and client expectations, negotiate, and make decisions and solve problems with professionals in your field. Not to mention, you’ll be able to build a strong rapport with colleagues and clients, leading to a more productive work environment for everyone and a positive career outlook for you.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers predicted an average starting salary for 2019 MBA graduates of $84,580—provided those graduates found jobs in computer science, engineering, science, or business. (
Students considering an MBA or graduate business degree can choose from varied career paths, including those focused on financial management, data analytics, market research, healthcare management, and operations management. The analytical skills and problem-solving techniques gained from graduate level business degrees are in high demand across business sectors. ( )
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Of all the soft skills sought by employers, the Financial Times survey reported time management and the ability to prioritize as another crucial skill for MBA graduates—and one of the most difficult to find.
As MBA students know, even the most carefully laid plans can fail to predict the extent and difficulty of tasks. While a good plan is usually worth sticking by, successful professionals know when the time they allocated to a project becomes skewed. Rather than standing by their original plan and devoting less time to a task than truly required, they’ll recalibrate their time and effort to ensure their work is given the attention it deserves.
In many cases, time management skills allow you to understand your capability to produce work in an allotted time so you don’t overextend yourself, burn yourself out, or overcommit and underdeliver. It could also mean being more efficient during work hours to get more done in less time or with less effort. Since many business professionals work in collaborative environments, delegating among colleagues is also a crucial feature of effective time management.
The ability to build, sustain and expand a network is another one of the most important skills cited in the Financial Times’ survey, particularly when combined with technical skills gleaned from an MBA program. While many MBA students will find that business school offers plenty of chances to rub shoulders with future business leaders, even the best business minds need to practice their learning in the field—which means forming and fostering authentic connections outside of their program.
As a candidate, employers will see your networking skills as a means of standing out to clients and customers for your business expertise and the services you offer. It’s also a skill that often comes with the power to influence or sway opinions and grow partnerships. Once in a job, you may even be called on to recruit employees or promote your organization’s work based on your impressive track record of strategic communications and collaboration.
While your business school coursework will play a significant role in developing your strategic thinking skills, you must continue to nurture this skill once you begin your job search as an MBA holder. The ability to solve complex problems is another skill rated most important by employers in the Financial Time’s Skills Gap survey—surprisingly, one that was among what recruiters said were the most elusive skills in MBA graduates.
Every business deals with change, from the emergence of competitive threats and changes in the economy affecting customers’ spending habits, to an unexpected rise in the price of materials and new markets. No matter your business specialization or the change at hand, it will be your responsibility to anticipate problems by taking a critical look at where your organization can improve in terms of product, service, or even messaging in the marketplace. In the event of a problem, you’ll need to be able to think outside the box and see a situation from every angle once to provide an innovative solution—and in many cases, help your company avoid a costly mistake.
Soft skills also rose to the top in 2015, when Bloomberg surveyed 1,320 job recruiters at more than 600 companies to find out which skills employers want but can’t find. The findings overlap significantly with the Financial Times’ report, with some of the most desired skills being strategic thinking skills and the ability to work collaboratively. According to Bloomberg, another leading trait in MBA graduates is communication skills, which 68 percent of recruiters seek out in candidates.
Throughout your career, you’ll find that communication—from verbal conversation and writing to reading and the essential act of listening—is the driving force of any company. Whether you’re sorting out a tricky situation with a subordinate, briefing your team on customer feedback after a product launch, or getting your employees to buy into your company’s vision as a CEO, communication is the crux of any business, from fledgling startups to global corporations.
Bloomberg’s survey lists motivation and drive as a particularly important skill for MBA graduates seeking work in the financial sector. There are many benefits to having highly motivated employees in any occupation but for businesses, in particular, this trait boils down to net profit. According to Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace survey, 77 percent of employees lack engagement or are dissatisfied with their work. It’s a trend that’s estimated to cost the U.S. a hefty $483 billion to $605 billion each year in lost productivity each year.
So, how do you define workplace motivation? Simply put, it’s when a business professional can link their passions, expertise, and inspirations to their career. With those in line, they look beyond the bare minimum of what’s required, know what their goals are, and strive to find more efficient ways of getting things done. They don’t require constant handholding or reminders about what tasks need to be completed. Thanks to motivation and drive, employers can expect higher employee retention, productivity, sales, and growth potential.
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