What Employers Want From Their MBAs

When corporate recruiters interview MBA students, what exactly are they looking for? And what do they ultimately expect when they hire an MBA?

From a list of desired traits, knowledge, skills and abilities, you’d think they were looking for Superman and Wonder Woman, according to a new study of employer expectations released yesterday (May 10) by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC). The report is based on the opinions of 1,509 corporate recruiters who hire MBAs at 905 companies in 51 countries. Each survey respondent was asked to check off the five most desired traits or skills he or she wants to see in an MBA.

The top five traits employers are seeking in 2011 MBA hires are initiative, professionalism, motivation, integrity, and the ability to deal effectively with pressure and unexpected obstacles. The top five skills and abilities? Communication skills, strategic skills, the proven ability to perform, core business knowledge, and the ability to manage change.

And when it comes to work experience, the largest single number of recruiters, slightly more than four in every ten companies, want their new MBA hires to have between three to four years of experience on their resumes.

Yet, it was an MBA’s ability to communicate with others–something that most B-schools have been working hard at for more than a decade–that trumped every other sought after trait or skill. Some 86% of employers who responded to GMAC’s survey said strong comunication skills are the single most important ability they seek in an MBA. “Communication skills has definitely gone up in importance,” says Michelle Sparkman Renz, director of research communications for GMAC. “Core business knowledge is always high but some of these other traits appear to be increasingly desired by recruiters.”

And what do students want? Adds Renz: “It’s always been that students wanted challenging and interesting work. Today, grads want room for growth. They want advancement opportunities. They want that proving ground or test turf for their business knowledge. For the first time ever, that is above challenging work.” The survey of MBA employers found that three-quarters of them seek initiative (77%), professionalism (77%), motivation (76%), integrity (76%), ability to deal effectively with pressure (75%), and an achievement goal orientation (74%) in their new MBA hires.

Desired Traits Employers Seek in New 2011 MBA Hires

Desired Trait in 2011 MBA HIres Percentage
Initiative 77%
Professionalism 77%
Motivation 76%
Integrity 76%
Ability to deal effectively with pressure/obstacles 75%
Achievement/goal orientation 74%
Innovation/creativity 68%
Adaptability 68%
Collaboration 65%
Efficiency 49%
Listening ability 48%
Discipline 45%
Persuasiveness 39%
Cross-cultural sensitivity 39%
Diplomacy/tact 33%
Capacity and willingness to follow a leader 30%
Empathy 25%
Delegation skills 21%

Source: GMAC 2011 Corporate Recruiters Report

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