Leadership and Communication in Your MBA – What Employers Really Want

man pondering what employers really want

Take a look at these results from a recent study:

MBAs see as much as a 50% increase in salary compared to their earnings prior to graduation. And, within the past five years, MBAs comprised 24% of the advanced degree population in the United States. But success is not all in the numbers, as any seasoned mentor will tell you.

It’s no great secret that a powerful motivation behind the pursuit of an MBA is the hope of greater opportunity in the workplace, both in the realm of skills development and that of earning potential.  However, a big picture view is necessary upon the outset of the application process. It’s important to ask, “What will my future employer be looking for?”

What Employers Really Want

Recent research has shown that recruiters seek candidates who not only possess high performance in such ‘classical’ business skills as strategic decision making, analytical prowess and overall acumen, but those who are also strong leaders with the ability to drive long range results. These talents are often difficult to quantify but they’re no less vital.

Fortunately, there is a wide array of MBA programs that have begun to address this phenomenon.

Kingston Business School in London recently compiled data gathered from a survey of recruiters, employers who directly hired MBAs in dozens of industries, and Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) poll results.

The number one skill that these respondents sought was strength in interpersonal skills, a defining mark of influential leaders.

According to a summary of the survey, “Without communication there is no business. This soft skill set stands high above the rest of employers’ wants. To quote one high-tech recruiter, ‘Communication is key’… Employers from eight industries, about half in the US and half elsewhere, told GMAC that communication skills were twice as important as managerial skills.”

MBAs are fortunate in that leadership development and ‘interpersonal skills’ training are prevalent in most programs. A former business professor at Rollins College, Dr. Ronald Yeaple is now a researcher whose interest resides in the changing post-graduation environment faced by today’s MBAs.

He recently noted:

 “We have been working the last three years on an innovative program with Carnegie Mellon… Students go through a comprehensive four-hour leadership simulation, and are … evaluated on a range of leadership skills. They [then] have the option to participate in a series of leadership courses that augment their standard MBA curriculum and focus on the people-skills areas… Carnegie Mellon is banking on producing more well-rounded business leaders, the kind our organizations will need in the future.”

Upon deciding which school to attend, MBAs can benefit by taking into account the various programs that stress leadership skills across the curricula. It’s important for a candidate who may have a minimal amount of real world work experience to realize the necessity of communicating through their application their desire to strengthen their potential to lead their future teams to success.

Also important to note, however, is the advantage of pointing out ways in which experiences, aside from those earned within the workplace, have influenced a candidate’s potential for future leadership. Undergraduate projects and extracurricular activities, as well as any pertinent life experiences, are appealing to admissions officers, and they present a unique telling of an individual’s talents.

Beth Tidmarsh is the director of MBA admissions at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. In a recent interview, she remarked, “We look for those who have taken up new responsibilities and opportunities in whatever way they can, however their career path has allowed… Your roles [should be] indicative of your drive.”

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About the Author

Maggie Boccella

Maggie Boccella, a lifelong resident of Philadelphia, is a freelance writer, artist and photographer. She has consulted on various film and multimedia projects, and she also serves as a juror for the city's annual LGBTQIA Film Festival.

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