3 essential factors employers say make business school graduates highly competitive


According to more than 1,000 corporate recruiters and staffing firms worldwide, business schools are on the right track with the skills they are developing among their students—with some exceptions.

For more than two decades, the Corporate Recruiters Survey from the Graduate Management Admission Council™(GMAC™) has provided the world’s graduate business schools and employers with data and insights to understand current trends in hiring, compensation, skill demand, and perceptions of MBA and business master’s graduates.

The Corporate Recruiters Survey – 2023 Summary Report explores which skills employers think will characterise the future workplace—and how prepared they view graduate management education (GME) candidates to be. The report also examines how macroeconomic conditions are influencing hiring and salary decisions across industries and around the globe.

GMAC, together with survey partners European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD) and the MBA Career Services and Employer Alliance (MBA CSEA), conducted the survey from January to March of 2023 in association with the career services offices at participating graduate business schools worldwide.

Despite reported macroeconomic headwinds, employers remain confident in graduate business school’s capabilities to prepare future business leaders. Here are three key takeaways from employers to ensure graduate business schools are equipping their graduates with the skills for the workplace of tomorrow.

  1. Employers say communication, data analysis, and strategy are currently among the most important skills for GME graduates—and most say their importance will continue to grow.

In the next five years, employers think their organisations will look increasingly global, hybrid, and dependent on different mediums of effective communication skills across cultures. To help GME graduates succeed, employers don’t think business schools need to start teaching a completely different set of skills. Instead, most say currently, valuable skills like communication, data analysis, and strategy will grow in importance for GME graduates in the next five years.

Given the current and future importance of communications and its wide range of associated skills, the survey digs deeper into what specifically recruiters are looking for. If a respondent indicated communication is an important skill for current GME graduates, they were asked to evaluate the current and future importance of more specific communication skills ranging from active listening to negotiating to writing.

Eighty-one per cent of these employers cited cross-cultural competence as becoming much or slightly more important in the next five years; 77% cited multilingualism; and 75% cited active listening.

The growing importance of communication skills like these indicates that employers consider the future workplace to be more intercultural and dependent on different mediums of effective communication.

To gain more insights into the specific technology skills valued by employers, the survey asked the global employers who indicated technology, software, and programming are currently important about more specific tech capabilities.

Eighty per cent of these employers cited Web3, blockchain, and virtual reality (VR) as becoming much or slightly more important; 75% cited cloud-based technology; and 74% selected artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

There was a small difference in how tech-concerned employers view the future importance of these specific skills, meaning there is an opportunity for business schools to cultivate a wide range of technological talents among GME graduates.

  1. Finance and tech employers have some concerns about GME graduates’ preparedness to thrive in the future intercultural workplace, but consulting employers feel more confident.

According to GMAC’s Prospective Students Survey, consulting, technology, and finance/accounting are the most desired industries to work in after graduation. After the Corporate Recruiter Survey respondents indicated which specific communication skills are currently important to GME graduates, they were asked about the future importance of the selected skill and GME graduates’ preparedness to use the skill in the workforce.

Less than half of communication-concerned finance and accounting employers believe GME graduates are currently prepared to leverage skills they say are growing in importance to the future intercultural and hybrid workplace, such as cross-cultural competence, multilingualism, and active listening.

Employers in the technology and consulting sectors similarly cited the growing importance of cross-cultural competence and multilingualism; fortunately, they were a bit more optimistic than their finance and accounting counterparts on GME graduates’ preparedness.

More than half of communication-concerned tech sector employers believe candidates are adequately or very well prepared with multilingual skills, though slightly fewer than half say their cross-cultural competence is sufficient.

Seventy-eight per cent of these consulting employers say GME graduates are very well or adequately prepared with their multilingual skills, and 66% say their cross-cultural competence is up to par.

Regionally, some Western European employers questioned GME graduates’ cross-cultural competence. US recruiters were the most likely to say GME graduates could be better prepared across a range of skills to meet specific communication or technological needs within their organisations.

  1. Employers continue to value talent from in-person programmes over those with online degrees or micro-credentials only, though perceptions vary by region.

About half of employers globally view online and in-person degrees equally, though most tend to believe employees from in-person programmes have stronger leadership, communication, and technical skills.

This indicates that some employers value online and in-person degrees equally but think in-person degrees equip graduates with stronger skills. This inconsistency between the overall perception of online degrees and the skills they impart is observed at the regional level, too.

Employers from Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and Western Europe generally do not statistically deviate from the global trend—though Western European employers are more likely to be ambivalent about whether a candidate’s communication or leadership skills are developed in online or in-person programs.

The standing of online degrees remains lowest in the US—only 27% of American recruiters say their organisation views in-person and online degrees equally.

But while US employers are less likely to say they value in-person and online degrees equally, they tend to be ambivalent about the source of talent’s technical skills.

In Asia, the opposite is trueemployers say they value online and in-person degrees equally.

Still, they also believe in-person programmes equip their graduates with better leadership, communication, and technical skills. This is an opportunity for graduates of online degrees to talk about their credentials differently depending on the employer—employers in Asia are more likely to value the degree itself. In contrast, US employers would rather hear about specific skills candidates attained.

Likewise, employers worldwide believe talent with a GME degree are more likely to be successful in their organisation than employees with micro-credentials only. This means micro-credentials in and of themselves are less likely to impress employers compared to GME degrees. However, similar to online degrees, some employers may appreciate the skills that can be developed when pursuing micro-credentials.

In summary, the overall picture for candidate preparedness for the future intercultural and hybrid workplace is positive.

At a global level, most employers think GME graduates are prepared to deliver the most important communication and technology skills of the future. As they predict growth in communication and technology needs, business schools can deepen their students’ capacity to understand and communicate within the changing conditions of the future workplace—even if many of the skills they need to wield are tried and true.

Read the full report for more employer perspectives, actionable insights for programme and recruitment consideration, and regional and degree snapshots of hiring and salary trends.

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