The Top 10 Traits Employers Want in Business School Graduates

Posted By Terri Williams on August 17, 2016 at 1:53 pm
The Top 10 Traits Employers Want in Business School Graduates

The response to the headline question depends on the employer being asked. Consulting, finance and accounting, and healthcare/pharma companies want, above all, candidates who fit the company culture; technology, manufacturing and nonprofit/government employers want new business school graduates who’ll make an impact right away. Industries might not have a formal checklist for candidates, but make no mistake they’ve tagged qualities they’re seeking.

Of course, students weighing the decision to attend graduate school would do well to know the qualities employers desire before they spend the time and money to continue their education. A business school degree appears to have a pretty good return on investment. According to a recent survey, 88% of recruiters worldwide—and 91% of U.S. recruiters–plan to hire graduates with an MBA. Starting salaries for an MBA exceed $100,000 a year. Graduate degrees in accounting, finance, and management are also high on the recruiting list.

According to the Graduate Management Admission Council Corporate Recruiters Survey Report, these are the 10 performance traits and abilities (ranked in order of importance for each industry) employers want in business school grads.

Consulting Energy/ Utilities Finance/ Accounting HealthCare/ Pharma Technology Manufacturing Nonprofit/ Government
1 Fit company culture Leadership potential Fit company culture Fit company culture Make impact Make an impact Make impact
2 Work in and build strong teams Work in and build strong teams Work in an build strong teams Leadership potential Leadership potential Leadership potential Fit company culture
3 Make an impact Fit company culture Make an impact Work in and build strong teams Fit company culture Fit company culture Work in and build strong teams
4 Adaptable Business ethics Leadership potential Make an impact Work in and build strong teams Work in and build strong teams Adaptable
5 Business ethics Make an impact Adaptable Business ethics Use data to tell a story Use data to tell a story Business ethics
6 Leadership potential Adaptable Use data to tell a story Use data to tell a story Adaptable Adaptable Work independent
7 Use data to tell a story Use data to tell a story Business ethics Adaptable Business ethics Business ethics Build external networks
8 Insightful Insightful Insightful Insightful Insightful Insightful Leadership potential
9 Work independent Curiosity Work independent Executive presence Curiosity Curiosity Insightful
10 Curiosity Executive presence Curiosity Curiosity Executive presence Executive presence Use data to tell a story

Preferences for business school graduates vary by industry

Why are the rankings so different in the various industries? GoodCall assembled a team of experts to explain why some traits are more important than others, depending on the employment sector.

Sean W. Hansen, PhD, MBA program director and associate professor of management information systems at Saunders College of Business at the Rochester Institute of Technology, is not surprised to see variations in desired performance traits or skills. “Certainly, these marketplaces differ with respect to a wide range of factors, such as market maturity, volatility, technology adoption patterns, and competitive intensity, so it’s natural that hiring managers in each field would have distinct points of emphasis,” Hansen says.

According to Gregg Schoenfeld, director of management education research at the Graduate Management Admission Council, the rankings differ because various industries seek specific performance traits and abilities to meet specific goals. “For instance, leadership potential is the top trait energy/utility companies seek, and the most common reason for hiring MBA graduates is to build a leadership pipeline and succession planning,” Schoenfeld says. It should be noted that this is the only industry in which leadership potential ranked first.

Looking at the technology and manufacturing industries, Schoenfeld explains, “The most common reason for hiring MBAs in IT is innovative thinking, which coincides with their top trait sought — the ability to make an impact; similarly, two-thirds of manufacturing companies seek MBAs for their innovative thinking and an ability to make an impact is the top trait sought.”

What about the rest of the industries?

Carolyn Davis, associate professor of management in the Department of Business Administration at Morehouse College, says company culture differs by organization, but it’s very important in the consulting industry. “Consulting has been around for decades and is known for branding, so if you don’t fit the ‘brand,’ it’s not going to work—they already have their way of solving problems, dealing with customers, etc.” Fitting the company culture, as noted above, also is the most desirable trait of business school graduates in the finance/accounting industry. Many of the most successful companies, such as PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte, definitely have a brand reinforced by each company’s culture.

As for the ability of business school graduates to make an impact, Schoenfeld addressed the connection between being innovative and making an impact in the IT industry. Davis adds that in some industries, such as manufacturing, nonprofits and government, leadership potential takes a backseat to demonstrating leadership quality to make an impact. “Making an impact shows that you are already a leader,” Davis says.

It’s a sentiment shared by Maria Lampley, MBA, executive director of Pathways Inc., a nonprofit in Birmingham, AL. She tells GoodCall, “Nonprofits are only as good as their ability to demonstrate why they’re relevant, why they should exist; NPO’s are established on a cause, a call to action, a solution to a significant societal problem.” As a result, Lampley says these organizations want business school grads who can significantly impact their communities.

The experts also noted consistency across industries. “Despite some variation in positions or rankings of certain skills, employers are consistently looking for business professionals with strong collaboration skills, the sensibilities for effective leadership, and the desire and ability to make a difference from day one,” says Hansen.

For example, team building is a top four trait in each industry for business school graduates. “When it comes to making business decisions, team decision-making is more effective than individual decisions—according to organizational research and also experiments I conducted with teams and individuals,” Davis says.

Lampley agrees, adding, “The adage, ‘teamwork makes the dream work’ is fundamental in any effective organization, and business school graduates must be able to work in and build strong teams—since the absence of teamwork can be an organization’s undoing.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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