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Employer expectations – and fears

Since most people take the course in order to advance their careers, either within their own organisation or by changing jobs, the perception of the value of an MBA is crucial.

The good news is that attitudes have become much more positive over the last couple of years. Several factors have contributed to this:

  • The environment of tumultuous change in which organisations of all kinds now operate – deregulation, mergers and acquisitions, searches for core competencies, the impact of IT, to name just a few factors – calls for a need to stand back and take a more strategic view of the future. The MBA is a qualification with a strong strategy content.
  • Global competition has sharpened the need for professionalism in management, in contrast to the cult of the talented amateur which prevailed in the organisations until the 1980s.
  • As the number of MBA graduates has increased, they have moved in growing numbers into senior jobs in organisations where they are in a position to influence hiring decisions.
  • The debate about the MBA itself, although not always conducted in favourable terms, has heightened general awareness of the qualification and often stimulated interest in what it has to offer.
  • There has been an increased demand by managers for meaningful training and development, and preferably of a kind that confers portable qualifications. Over the past few years it has become noticeable in many job advertisements that possession of an MBA has become a desirable attribute.
  • The realisation, by organisations as well as individuals, that narrow professional qualifications or functional skills are ultimately not enough in a business environment where there is a need to take an integrated and increasingly global view of how a decision in one sphere impacts on others – precisely what an MBA teaches.
  • Sea changes in the attitude of business schools themselves, as they have competed to provide programmes which reflect the needs and realities of business and industry; for instance in giving a multinational dimension to team and group work and relating the dissertation or project (a key part of almost all programmes) to the real world. Thus part-time and distance-learning students often undertake projects for and within their own organisation, while full-timers do a piece of ‘live’ consultancy for a client who is prepared to pay for their services. In both cases the exercise is overseen by a faculty member, so in effect the client is getting the services of a consultant at a discount rate.

But what about the fears and prejudices of opponents?
There have been ill-informed criticisms of the MBAs as aggressive, egotistical, job-hopping, know-it-alls with unrealistic expectations of their immediate prospects. The generation gap and fears of job security from older, less well-trained people may play a part in shaping this rather prejudiced picture, but human resources departments acknowledge that graduates who have invested so much time and energy in an MBA are going to want to benefit from the experience. As Sheila Cameron puts it: “Their own self-esteem depends on valuing experience more highly than the qualifications they do not have.” The MBA is the business equivalent of a Commando course, and there is a temptation, natural among people who have gone through an experience of this kind, to be ‘cocky’ towards those who have not had it.

The business schools are aware of this problem, which is why interpersonal skills now form an important part of many courses. But what is it that the more forward-looking employers expect to gain from hiring MBAs? And, by the same token, what qualities should an MBA expect to come away with, having taken the course? Each sector and company will have its own requirements, but the following checklist is likely to be common to all:

  • A breadth of business understanding of management principles.
  • Specific tools for analysing strategic issues and options.
  • The ability to identify priorities in courses of action.
  • Presentation and communication skills.

Many employers appear to see the MBA qualification as something which adds value to in-company training. However, the fact that an increasing number now see the MBA as a management development tool indicates that there can be a congruence between the MBA qualification and employer expectations.

What about the charge of job-hopping, however?
The notion that at any level, training is something provided for the benefit of the next employer, is often the underlying, if unstated, reason for not supplying it or for regarding it as something employees must provide in their own time and at their own cost. The evidence from a recent Association of MBAs survey points clearly to the fact that this fear is largely groundless, at least as far as those who were supported by their employers are concerned. Only 13% of those surveyed reported that they had changed employer within a year of graduating, though over a longer period of time over half the sample group had changed employment sector. Employers must recognise that to some extent whether, and for how long, MBAs stay with them depends on their providing settings and opportunities that will encourage longer-term commitment.

Getting it together
In the absence of direct company involvement in course design, the aims of prospective MBAs and organisations are most likely to meet if each has a clear understanding of the other’s views and motives. That means that MBAs must be realistic about the ways in which they could add value to an employer as well as to their personal career aims.

From the employer’s point if view, it is important to buy into the notion of lifelong learning and to see its benefits from a corporate point of view. Central to that is using the qualities that MBA graduates can bring to bear. Some companies have found that using new MBA graduates initially as internal consultants in such roles as strategic planning is the best way of tapping into what they have learned.

Source: The Official MBA Handbook, www.mbaworld.com

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