Where MBAs Most Want To Work


Elon Musk's work continues to captivate MBAs

Elon Musk’s work continues to captivate MBAs

Perhaps more fascinating than popularity of employers, Universum Global essentially asked MBAs to map out their most important career aspirations. Participants were asked to choose their top career goals immediately after finishing their MBAs, within 10 years of earning their MBA, and before they retire. They were given 12 goals to choose from and allowed to pick a maximum of three.

Some 93% of MBAs said they wanted to be “competitively or intellectually challenged” in their first job — a significant insight into how MBA recruiters should be portraying and messaging their companies. After that, 71% said they wanted to have a “secure and stable job”; more than half (58%) said they wanted to “lead or manage a team” in their first role. And 52% said they wanted to feel their work is “serving the greater good.”

Interestingly, just 13% said they wanted to “become wealthy” in their first job. At the bottom were starting a company (5%), being in a C-suite position (3%), and holding elected office (2%).

Within 10 years of finishing an MBA, though, a lot changes. Becoming wealthy jumps from 13% to 57% and ranks as the most important career goal. The second-most popular goal, at 51%, is being “seen as a technical or functional expert” in a field. Remarkably, being “competitively and intellectually challenged” drops from 93% to 5%. Meanwhile, having a secure and stable job drops from 71% to 18%, and starting a company zooms from 5% to 29%.

Not surprisingly, by career’s end, holding a C-suite position is the most popular important goal, with 48% of MBAs indicating they want to do so. Serving on a company or nonprofit board becomes the second-most important goal at 36%. Some intriguing, albeit obvious, trends surface across all three time frames. Achieving a healthy work-life balance drops from 48% at the beginning of a career to 41% within 10 years, then to 6% in the “before I retire” prompt. Being competitively and intellectually challenged plunges from 93% to 5% to 1% across a career; similarly, feeling that one’s work is serving a greater good drops from 52% at the beginning of a career to 26%, and then to 14%.


Universum Global further broke down the data into two subsets: MBAs coming from a business background and those with an engineering background. While 93% of the total population marked as desirable being competitively and intellectually stimulated in their first job after an MBA, for example, more students with a business background (94%) viewed the prompt as important than students with an engineering background (88%). Another substantial difference came in the importance of leading or managing a team right out of the gate: Some 64% of former engineers said managing a team was important, while just 58% of those with business degrees marked the same. As Clinard points out, this speaks to the trend of engineers snagging MBAs to learn management and leadership skills. According to the report, one-third of respondents noted they are using an MBA to switch industries or roles within an industry.

As for the growing interest of entrepreneurship in MBA programs, both the data and Clinard say not so fast. “There is a feeling of entrepreneurialism that continues to grow,” Clinard says, “but I think that is different from going out and starting a venture on my own right away.”

Instead, he says, many larger companies are doing things to create an entrepreneurial environment within their organization. Some have acquired small companies to run from within like a startup, Clinard notes; others are creating smaller teams. “We see that entrepreneurial desire being fulfilled by larger companies,” he says, something he thinks will continue to increase.

And then there’s the question of debt: The amount of it many MBA programs throw on their graduates, Clinard says, can dampen even the most robust entrepreneurial dreams.

“When you have a lot of debt, startups might look attractive in five years when that debt is paid off,” he says.

See the next page for breakdowns of career goals for MBAs with engineering and business backgrounds.

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