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To Employers, A Perfect MBA Looks Like This

You don't have to be the Six Million Dollar Man to shine as an MBA - Wikimedia Commons photo

You don’t have to be the Six Million Dollar Man to shine as an MBA – Wikimedia Commons photo

What does the perfect MBA look like? It’s not the Six Million Dollar Man, or the Bionic Woman. Super-human strength is not required – but superlative communication skills are essential.

Here’s the pinnacle of MBA perfection: a strong communicator, the MBA has powerful analytical thinking abilities, and excellent teamwork skills. The MBA is a strategic thinker, and a creative problem solver, as well as a leader, and can adapt effectively to changing situations.

This picture emerges from Bloomberg Businessweek‘s analysis of its September poll of MBA recruiters, conducted for its 2014 business school rankings, and from other employer surveys. Businessweek questioned recruiters from two dozen industries, asking them to pick up to five skills from a list of 14 that they believed were most important for applicants to possess.

Among the surveyed employers, strong communication skills were the most frequently mentioned attribute for an MBA. This finding is backed up by the Graduate Management Admission Council’s 2014 Corporate Recruiters Survey, which determined that employers seek business school graduates “highly proficient” in communication, with oral communication the most important, followed by writing and listening skills.

COMMUNICATION SKILLS VALUED MORE THAN MANAGERIAL SKILLS

Employers from eight industries, about half in the U.S. and half elsewhere, told GMAC that communication skills were twice as important as managerial skills. In ranking five skills, employers put teamwork second to communication, followed by technical expertise, leadership, and managerial skills. Manufacturing was revealed to be an outlier among employer sectors in the GMAC survey, with employers from that sector putting leadership at No. 1. GMAC also noted that employers in the finance and accounting sector prioritized technical skills that included quantitative and qualitative analysis.

Haas School of Business lecturer Gregory LaBlanc

Haas School of Business lecturer Gregory LaBlanc

At the U.C. Berkeley Haas School of Business, communication-skills development is built into virtually every course, says lecturer Gregory LaBlanc. “We put a huge emphasis on the ability to communicate things and not simply to know things,” LaBlanc says. Quants may come into a statistics course, for instance, thinking they’ll crush it, then are tasked not only with understanding statistical misinterpretations, but explaining them to others. Haas also hires teachers with backgrounds in theater, and game design, and improvisation, to prepare students to communicate spontaneously, as well as when they have prepared. However, comprehensive knowledge remains important, LaBlanc adds. “It’s also about being comfortable enough about what they know that they’re concerned more about communicating that,” LaBlanc says.

Similarly, strategic thinking and problem solving are key requirements across the course list, LaBlanc says. “Microeconomics is really a course in decision-making,” LaBlanc says. A class on statistics is called “Data and Decisions,” and students learn techniques for using stats to persuade people.

A GOOD LEADER IS HARD TO FIND

Businessweek also surveys employers, adding a dimension beyond sought-after skills – employers rank the skills they have the hardest time finding in the applicant pool. While communication skills, analytical thinking abilities, and the capacity for effective collaboration topped the list of valued skills, the attributes most difficult to find among applicants were, in order, strategic thinking, creative problem-solving, and leadership.

Of course there’s the other side of the coin: the skills employers mentioned the least, suggesting they’re lower priorities than the skills employers said they prized. Only 9% of employers put entrepreneurship on their list. Only 12% included having a global mindset. And only 15% prioritized industry-related work experience.