Maximizing your post-MBA employability

Richard Macauley looks at ways that you might improve your post-MBA employability before graduation.
Marcel Kalis, head of career services at ESMT European School of Management and Technology, is realistic with prospective students about graduation prospects. “One of the biggest misconceptions might be the famous silver-plate job,” he says. “That does not exist.”


Job figures and routes to employment have been scrutinized to an incredible degree in recent years, due to ongoing financial woes, and the MBA has not escaped the spotlight. There is still little doubt that an MBA itself improves employability, but while studying and even after graduating, there are still plenty of ways for students to branch out and increase their own attractiveness to employers.

Make the most of networking opportunities

Business schools regularly stress the importance of building a network through which one can then learn about, apply for, and secure jobs. “85% of our graduates find jobs via [their] network,” says Kalis. “It is important to start early, build a strong network and get active.”

This strategy applies to all industries. Employers in most sectors will feel more comfortable hiring someone who is not only qualified, but also familiar to them, or recommended by someone they trust.

Business schools often offer network-building opportunities. “At Durham Business School we give students the opportunity to undertake a business project with a company,” says Ieva Eksts, the school’s career development manager. “This sometimes leads to future career opportunities.” Being proactive throughout the academic year and not treating the search for employment as a year-end activity will also increase the likelihood of an MBA student finding employment, Eksts adds.

The resources offered by the universities themselves, asserts Kalis, together with preparedness on the part of the student, can prove invaluable if put to good use. “We advise students to start thinking about a personal development plan early in the year. This means spending time on exploring ideas, having conversations with a personal career coach and following the suggestions of peers and career advisors. Experience shows that people who are prepared find jobs more easily, [and] designing a career strategy at an early stage is crucial.”

Alumni networks can be invaluable in terms of building a network, acting as a ready-made set of connections. A well-managed network will allow current MBA students to track down graduates currently working in the companies they themselves hope to join after graduation.

Building a relationship with recruiters

In addition to utilizing alumni networks, becoming familiar with recruiters and headhunters is also important. “MBA graduates should build key relationships with recruiters so the latter understand the graduate’s needs and future ambitions,” says Fiona Ward, career consultant at Durham Business School. Without a personal connection, recruiters will be able to learn only hard facts about a graduate from their CV, and while this may be enough to secure employment, it could limit your options.

Social media can be a powerful tool in this regard, says Ward. “A well-written profile on LinkedIn which clearly states the graduate is interested in employment opportunities is very useful. LinkedIn and Social Hire are regularly used by recruiters and headhunters to source candidates, [so] it is vital that the graduate’s profile is professional and up to date.”

Realistic expectations

This must be coupled, however, with an accurate picture of the employment market. “The most common issue in placing some graduates is their expectations after graduation, particularly in the current market,” says Ward. A large number of MBA students make plans not only to switch industries and try something new once they have completed their MBA, but also try to combine this switch with moving to a new country.

This ambition needs to be matched with slightly more realistic goals, Ward suggests. “A student who was previously employed as a marketing executive in the food industry in Egypt, for example, may express a desire for a career change to an investment banker in the City of London.”

There are a range of reasons why this may not be achievable, at least in the short term, chiefly a lack of experience in the chosen sector or role.  “Employers are still largely cautious about employing individuals who cannot demonstrate previous experience, even though they possess an MBA and transferable skills,” Ward adds.

That is not to say though that over the long-term, such a transition can’t be achieved.

If you wish to work overseas, remaining in an industry in which you’re experienced will smooth the transition. Alternatively, performing the same role in a new industry could eventually open up the chance to switch to the desired career path.

Appealing to MBA employers

If switching industries is the end-goal, then gradually shifting careers, as Ward suggests, can be an effective method of highlighting transferable skills.

The ability to work in or with a range of cultures is also an increasingly powerful selling point. Most fast-growing markets are not in the West, meaning a global perspective is important to work at any major international operation. “At ESMT we ‘check’ the global mindset,” says Kalis. “We are looking for diversity; speaking different languages is certainly an asset, and in some positions a must. The same goes for traveling.”

Ward, too, says that Durham University considers this to be of rising value. “Once an individual has reached a certain professional level, the ability to travel is to an extent expected,” she says, adding that, “although a large proportion of our full-time MBA students are from overseas, the MBA is taught in English and they are [still] expected to learn another language.” Understanding how various countries do business is also key to building professional relationships, Ward adds.

On which note, she concludes by returning to an old theme to give one final piece of advice: “Network, network, network!”


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