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Hiring MBAs – what do employers really want?

Your reason for doing an MBA is most likely to get that dream job afterwards – but what is it that employers of MBA graduates are really looking for? Get the inside story, direct from the hiring managers.

Hiring MBAs

When it comes to finding your job after business school, it can often seem like a seller’s market. Your future employer may have set out a thorough job description, but when it comes to taking the step from ‘wannabe’ to ‘wannahire’, what is it that they really want?

Your first contact may well be your CV – but rather than seeing it as a starting point, think of it as the result of deep research and thinking about your target company’s needs, says recruitment and talent acquisition expert Andrew Field, whose past roles include director of resourcing and talent at Frost & Sullivan, and head of talent acquisition and talent management for the EMEA region at Acquia.

“When I’m joining an organisation, the first thing I try to do is understand what that business is trying to achieve. Is it growth? Is it moving in a different direction? Is it increasing revenue streams? When I understand what the business is trying to achieve on a macro level, I can then translate that into a people strategy and understand the talent portfolio needed to achieve that. Then, I put that into the process of how we go to market to find that skillset. You should always have a very strong link with what the business is trying to achieve.”

So what qualities should you be seeking to highlight on that CV? Against a global background of rapid technological change and adapt-or-die disruption, employers will always be looking for potential, says Field. He highlights three criteria that add up to potential: experience and background; the appetite to grow and develop; and ability. “Yes, when you’re recruiting, you’re looking for someone to do the job here and now with a specific skillset. So you’re looking for an individual who can deliver right now but who can also, in the medium and long term, have the potential to shape and grow the business and become more successful. That’s the kind of mindset I have when I recruit.”

Consider, as well, the format of your CV: it sounds obvious but it can make a huge difference. Kisha Gupta, Global Academic Relations at Infosys, which provides consulting, technology, outsourcing and next-generation services, points to the importance of a concise CV: one page, she says, is ideal, and she likes to see an executive summary at the beginning of a CV, one that concentrates on achievements rather than, future aspirations. “Otherwise that’s three lines of your CV which say precisely nothing,” she says.

Cristina Demeter, talent acquisition manager for Europe at global manufacturing and technology company Emerson, says that out of two possible approaches – the CV based on projects or the CV based on responsibilities – she prefers the former approach, as she finds it more relevant to Emerson’s competency-based recruitment strategy, which focuses on qualities such as managerial courage, problem solving, motivating people, results, ethics, trust and integrity.

When it comes to employability, mobility is key, says Gupta. It’s easy to see why: Infosys has nearly 180,000 employees and a client base in more than 50 countries. “Being too stringent about your city or country can be a problem. I’ve seen CVs where people mention they’re only looking for jobs in a specific city. We might have a job there, but we might still not want to consider that candidate. As Infoscions we need to be on the move, as per our client requirements.

Of course, mobility is more than just being willing to relocate. It’s also about showing that you have the ability to operate in vastly different locations. Emerson’s Demeter looks for evidence of study in different locations, or project-based experience in other countries. “And, of course, any foreign language skills are important,” she adds.

Then there are the twin concerns of culture and assimilation. Infosys is an Indian company and the majority of its employees are Indian. “The IT industry and Indians culturally have traditionally been great problem solvers,” points out Gupta. “We are in the middle of a major shift in the way we work, a move towards being problem finders first. We now look for people who are naturally inquisitive and whose style is to understand the issue behind the question.”

And employers want MBAs: they’re always a strength and can be essential. Emerson’s rotational European MBA programme recruits only MBA graduates, with the aim of providing the company with its next generation of leaders – its current CEO, David Farr, came up through the company’s American MBA programme. Infosys recruits MBA graduates on both a project-specific basis and also regularly through its MBA recruitment and training programme.

Gupta identifies “polished skills” as a major advantage of doing an MBA. “MBA graduates are more aware of nuances, of different cultures. And an MBA programme is strenuous – if they’re able to get through that, we have more confidence that they will be able to cope with our training and work requirements.”

The skillset encouraged on the best MBA programmes reflects that of Emerson’s culture, says Demeter. “Our leaders have a lot in common with the MBAs we recruit. They are used to seeing their role as a contact sport; they exchange opinions freely, they’re used to not always being agreed with, and they’re confident about expressing different opinions – and have the arguments to back them up. Being pro-active is another characteristic that sets them apart, as well as mobility, enthusiasm, and passion. You can see these attributes in all our leaders and they overlap with the competencies that we recruit for in leadership roles. Challenge is encouraged but it’s also a very collaborative atmosphere.”

Field advises MBA graduates to remember how valuable that collaborative experience is, particularly in the global marketplace and in the context of the “war for talent” – one of the major challenges faced by a successful, growing business. “As well as giving an individual an international slant, an MBA shows you can work as part of a team and that you have an appreciation of business from a commercial context,” he points out.

“People on MBAs come from so many different backgrounds – engineering, sales, legal. They all bring their skills together in a business and commercial context. From my experience when you step out of that MBA into business you look at things from a slightly different standpoint. You think global, you think team and you are consultative in your approach. I think an MBA gives you a rounded, international, commercial focus, regardless of what industry you go into.”