MBA careers: the future is bright for graduates – and here’s why…

AMBA research published in September, found that almost two thirds of MBA graduates had found their dream role within six months of completing an MBA. David Woods-Hale, Director of Marketing and Communications at AMBA, answers some questions from the press on some of the key findings of the research

Almost two thirds of MBA graduates have found themselves in their dream role within just six months, Why is that, in your opinion? 

MBA student and graduate respondents to this research have demonstrated themselves to be ambitious. Their reasons for completing the MBA may be varied but they are, for the most part, focused on self-improvement and enhancing soft skills, over harder metrics such as pay increases or promotions. The MBA participants that took part in this research, outlined that they were targeted and focused in their approach to completing the MBA, using the qualification to plug their skills gaps and ensure they were ready for the roles they wanted.

An MBA focuses on core areas such as marketing, operations and finance and specialist topics including sustainable business and innovation. But an MBA can offer much more than that: it is a transformative experience in various forms.

Completing an MBA is a solid investment for a hardworking, ambitious and motivated person who believes they are suited to senior management. It can help you advance up the career ladder, create new networks and open doors you may never have considered before.

While studying an MBA, you will develop leadership proficiency and study in-depth management strategy and analysis. These are vital skills that you can use in all areas of business and are very impressive to prospective employers.

During your MBA, you will get the opportunity to work on team projects. Through these you will develop skills in people management, as well as teamwork and negotiation. You may also be required to complete modules that require public speaking; all good leaders have developed their communication skills to ensure they are perceived as confident, knowledgeable and calm.

During your MBA you will meet and build relationships with some of the best business minds in the world. Your tutors and lecturers will share their knowledge and experience with you, and there will be regular talks and guest lectures from industry leaders.

The people who will study alongside you also make great networking contacts. During your course they can help as a soundboard as they will be experiencing the same things as you. Afterwards, they will be likely to be successful in their field, so will be great contacts to have throughout your career. 

You will have the opportunity to learn about all aspects of business; not just the areas in which you work. You will develop an understanding of the roles of other people, which is paramount when leading in business.

These qualities combined are impressive for employers when seeking leaders and managers.

In addition Business Schools are equipped with strategic careers teams to work with MBA students throughout their course, introduce them to employers, help them enhance their employability qualities and generally offer guidance and support. This makes a massive difference.

The survey proceeded to ask more than 700 MBA students if they were engaging with careers services available at their Business School in order to help them achieve their career goals, following the completion of their MBA – and just under half respondents said they were already working with the careers professionals while studying.

The survey sought to find out how effective Business School careers services are in supporting students to achieve their goals, among those who said they are using these services. Advice received in relation to applications, CVs and interview preparation, was rated as either excellent, very good or fairly good by 80% of respondents. Meanwhile, School networking events with employers were rated as excellent, very good or fairly good by 65% of participants.

Are you surprised about the result in the survey. They seem quite positive?

The recruitment and employment situation is complex and uncertain in all economies at the moment. But the feedback we receive from employers, resoundingly suggests that MBAs stand out in the talent pool, so I think that while the results are encouraging, they are not surprising necessarily.

We polled more than 1,000 international employers this year and they were overwhelmingly positive about the value of an MBA from a reputable Business School when looking for senior managers.

In terms of the quality of MBAs recruited, 16% of employers rated MBAs in general as ‘excellent’ and 52% rated their performance as ‘good’.

When asked if MBAs had the relevant skills to thrive within survey participants’ organisations, 30% ‘strongly agreed’ and 50% ‘tended to agree’ with the statement. In addition, 31% ‘strongly agreed’ and 49% ‘tended to agree’ that MBAs had the relevant skills to make a significant contribution to the wider economy in their respective countries.

Employers polled were also confident that Business Schools are producing MBAs with mindsets focused on maximising profit (42% thought Schools are producing ‘ a great deal’ of MBAs focused on this); and 49% thought Business Schools were producing ‘a great deal’ of MBAs with an international outlook.

There was consensus, too, among employers that MBAs have the skills and qualities their organisations need in order to continue to grow and thrive, albeit with much more difference in their opinions regarding the ethical approaches of MBAs in terms of issues such as diversity, empathy and sustainability.

In spite of these encouraging findings, and in light of continuing global uncertainty and volatility, employers that participated in this study also revealed their worries about the recruitment landscape of tomorrow. There was an overwhelming lack of confidence in the future of both global and local economies, with most survey participants taking a conservative – and in some cases pessimistic – view on their upcoming recruitment plans.

With the volume of senior management opportunities predicted to decline in the near future, competition for these leadership roles is likely to grow fiercer as a result – and 28% of employers that participated in this survey said that there were currently too many candidates for too few jobs. Again, this is where the skills and qualities of MBA graduates make them stand out, in terms of being recruited for these desirable roles in a competitive marketplace.

In the same time, the graduated students are satisfied with the MBA. Almost three quarters (74%) believe they have been able to develop all the business-related skills they wanted as a result of completing the qualification and 71% of graduates were either ‘very satisfied’ or ‘fairly satisfied’ with the impact their MBA has had on their careers to date. 

Why does this education gives this high level of satisfaction, in your opinion? 

MBAs are very discerning in terms of what they’re seeking from their MBA programme. The MBA represents a significant investment in time, finance and resource. So both Business Schools and student will be keen to ensure that the students that join MBA courses are the right fit, and that the targets they both aspire to will be met.

Transparency is important, as the student will need to know what they can expect, and that these expectations are exceeded in terms of satisfaction.

As I mentioned earlier, the main factors for completing an MBA are to gain specialist and general business knowledge, enhance their career prospects, expand their networks of influencers, and be better leaders and managers.

Specifically, graduate participants were first asked to share their reasons for completing an MBA. The top answers were ‘To acquire more skills and knowledge about the business world’ (cited by 70% of graduate survey respondents); ‘To expand my area of expertise’ (67%); and ‘To get a broader understanding of how business should be managed’ (50%).

With diverse cohorts, allowing for extensive networking and collaboration, focused synchronous and asynchronous learning, and impressive access to employers, and opinion formers, AMBA-accredited Business Schools are focused strategically on meeting these needs and requirements and we’re pleased this this has been recognised by the MBA graduates that participated in our survey.

This survey also shows that the students of an MBA are more confident. The education therefore have an impact on their personal skills, and not only affects their work relations. Isn’t it rare that an education can give this level of confidence? Which factors affects that a MBA can heighten your self-esteem?

The MBA is about the transformative experience as much as the final qualification.

Several students that I have spoken to – anecdotally – have told me that they were ‘thrown in at the deep end’ from day one of their MBA programme. Students are encouraged to lead debates, present suggestions, form arguments, find solutions, have their say, and discuss complex and challenging business ideas throughout their course. They are encouraged to negotiate, accept other peoples opinions and pivot their own ideas to accommodate the best possible outcomes.

MBAs are encouraged to be responsible leaders and consider the ethics of their decisions, and the effects their actions have on others. And this builds in sustainable modes of management, taking into consideration the needs and emotions of colleagues to nurture more empathetic ways of working with teams.

The MBA cohort provides an empowering environment, and students in many cases realise they have a voice and feel much more able to put forward their opinions and ideas in the business world and have them listened to and respected.

Many students have admitted that, while this new way of thinking and working seems daunting to begin with, the support they receive from their fellow students and Schools was a powerful motivator for them to rise to the challenge.

MBAs are encouraged – and enabled – to build strong networks of people with influence in business and these networks, which often stay with graduates throughout their careers and lives, increase confidence.

This coupled, with the vast array of knowledge that student will learn about business strategy in all aspects, means they can return to the workforce armed with information, contacts, and confidence – so they can immediately make a difference.

Again, our surveys of students, graduates and employers all provide hard evidence that this is playing out in practice.

Are there any obstacles or downsides by taking an MBA? Did the survey show anything on that part? 

The MBA won’t be for everyone and that’s important to note. It requires investment of time, money and resource and involves high volumes of work, and commitment. Students have to be able to balance their studies with their personal lives and, in many cases, a full time job, so an MBA is only for the most dedicated and ambitious leaders.

It is important to note that this survey was infield between March and May 2020, so this was at the height of global lockdowns across the world, so several students commented on their desire to be able to network with more employers in a face to face capacity, but also understood that this was not possible, due to the current circumstances.

In saying that, the findings reveal that, for the most part, the class of 2020 was riding the chaos of the current global uncertainty and making the most of their unique MBA experience.

A quarter (25%) rated their teaching as excellent; 43% said it was very good and 24% said it was fairly good.

Considering the advice they receive in terms of job applications, CVs and interview preparation, 80% rated the services provided by their School’s careers team as excellent, very good, or fairly good. Two thirds of the participants (65%) rated their School’s networking with employers as excellent, very good, or fairly good.

Just under a third (32%) said the MBA had provided excellent value for money for them; and 48% said it had provided fairly good value for money.

As I mentioned earlier, MBAs are a very discerning group of people, who have been developed to offer feedback and suggestions for improvement, so while they were overwhelmingly positive in their assessments of their MBA experience and its impact on their careers, a significant proportion of respondents were keen to put forward suggestions for improvements their Schools may want to consider.

Suggestions from survey participants on enhancements to MBA programmes included more networking, more partnerships with other Business Schools and corporates, and more teaching on AI and big data.

Participants also recognise the work being done by their Schools to mitigate the challenges caused by social distancing and remote learning, with several remarking that the continuity arrangements were impressive, allowing them to still enjoy their experience, despite the effects of Covid-19 lockdowns, that were out of the hands of their Schools.

Overall, more than half (51%) said that the MBA experience was exceeding their expectations. In fact, a sizeable 84% said the MBA experience either met or exceeded their expectations so far – and considering the ambitious and discerning nature of the participant pool overall, the results mean that Business Schools within the AMBA network should consider themselves to be succeeding in their delivery and their mission, in spite of global volatility.

Read the full report here.

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