Today’s MBA students will graduate to a fast-changing job market. In comparison to other degrees, an MBA still opens doors to opportunities broader than degrees in specialized fields, as MBA students acquire marketable, transferrable skills suited to positions in just about any industry.
However, the competition for jobs amongst MBAs itself continues to remain fierce, with the school awarding the degree continuing to be more important than the degree specifics.
After all, research shows more than 1/3rd of top managerial positions are held by MBAs from Ivy League schools.
However, the degree by itself is no guarantee of a successful career.
While getting into a prestigious MBA program may mean that you have successfully demonstrated requisite skills, it may, at times also imply that a handful of specific, well-developed skills are helping you stand out from the crowd. Assuming that you can bank on the same set of skills to progress ahead in the professional arena would amount to being a tad complacent. It also places greater significance on the value of your MBA- how do you plan to demonstrate the practical value of the investment that is your MBA, if you used the same level of skills to acquire an MBA?
An essential part of your resume, beyond the brand of a top tier school, is the demonstration of key competencies and skills acquired from your learning experience during your course. An MBA should be more than a degree; it offers numerous opportunities to develop skills and provide application-based learning.
Here are some skills that are timeless, as far as the job market is concerned:
The Bloomberg Job Skills Report 2015 reported that over 70% of recruiters felt that communication skills are the most desired attribute in potential managers, but well-developed interpersonal skills were relatively rare. The importance of communication skills cannot be emphasized enough; a management role at any level is an exercise in team work.
While the ability to work collaboratively is mastered through work experience and mandatory group projects at university, these basic skills do not set you apart. Upgraded and evolved interpersonal skills demand an ability to negotiate and successfully execute projects with the most difficult people possessing razor-sharp intelligence. If you are intimidated or possess inability to communicate on equal terms with the best in the business, work harder. An ease in exuding charisma and confidence is acquired through an inner commitment to excellence. So what tasks can you include as part of your regular routine to consciously hone this aspect of your personality? Not only read Proust, know how to correctly pronounce Proust and set yourself apart in the next leadership debate. Expose yourself to situations that scare you, and learn correct dining etiquette for a number of countries. A free online course in the art of negotiating can also help level up. Networking is no longer about the quality of relationships; quality and quantity of people you know matters and let no one tell you otherwise. Remember, the most effective leaders in history are those with exemplary oratorical skills.
Any group activity or participation in a project yields opportunities to distinguish yourself as a leader. However, even professionals recognized as ‘leaders’ in these small groups are more often than not unable to demonstrate consistent, repeated high-impact leadership beyond controlled situations. It is not enough to be the best in a specific subject or to be on good terms with all the people involved or being able to execute personal goals for yourself in a team setting but also as a leader- to be able to lead. It is not about a level of competence that is simply better, it is about upping your leadership game to a level that inspires awe and provides inspiration to others. Focus on your personal brand positioning; develop a reputation of excellence that forces people to step up their game.
Management requires detailed forethought; the technological advancements in only the last couple of years have brought the world closer to efficient forecasting. The number of new degree programs in the last couple of years, created for strategic marketing, strategic management and strategic business studies testify to the growing demand for strategic thinking in the real world. According to the Bloomberg Job Skills Report, strategic thinking is a skill that is most valued and most in-demand in the job market. The world is becoming less about knowing about specific elements in a mix, as the elements change and are steadily evolving at an unprecedented rate; it is actually about having the evergreen skill of quickly adapting to change and knowing how to create an effective mix and putting things that work together. It is about analyzing the journeys of historical products with the backdrop of today. Rather than being intimidated by the idea of a 5-year career plan for yourself, put together a 20-year plan with a detailed breakdown of goals and paths with an execution-based mindset. A lack of strategic thinking is a serious setback in management positions where you are required to drive a product through a dynamic lifecycle.
Creative Problem Solving
Quantitative skills and statistical analysis, and to a certain extent, even analytical thinking can be taught well through formal studies. However, only well-practiced critical thinking skills can truly provide creative solutions in uncertain situations and to unforeseen problems. Creative problem solving is a culmination of many skill sets; lateral thinking, knowledge of different fields, and a high level of confidence in your own expertise. Going by the book is not an option, but theoretical knowledge is essential to avoid having to reinvent the wheel. How can critical thinking be practiced?
Start small; identify a consumer pain and create a business plan worthy of disrupting existing players in the industry. Working on this regularly can equip you with interesting talking points for your correspondence with potential employers of your interest. Taking something apart and turning it up on its head is necessary to building fresh perspective and a mind free of preconceived notions. A number of tenets of life that we take for granted are simply waiting to be challenged and improved.
This broad term is far more than the ability to start-up on your own or to be motivated by dreams of owning your own business at some point. It is about being a self-starter in every situation, being resourceful enough to successfully execute tasks on your own, and in being committed to the job at hand with complete ownership of results. It is about taking charge and being personally vested; managerial positions regularly require complex decision-making which, in turn, overspills working hours and requires sustained mental presence. With the rise of the gig-economy (the age of micro-entrepreneurs and contracted work), it is important to adapt your work style to the changing rules of the workplace.
An academic program is an excellent way to ease yourself into this lifestyle. Signing up and showing up for networking events, inter-university sports competitions, career fairs, business plan competitions along with an internship in management consulting – and sustaining these parallel streams of work may seem daunting, but, eventually it will instil a discipline towards your professional goals –and that is no mean feat. As a wise person once said, 80% of life is showing up.
While several other skills are key to a successful career as an MBA, the above mentioned strongly support a motivated, driven and adaptable leader- ready to take on the business world and knows the importance of being nothing but fully prepared.1