Corporate Recruiters: What Are Employers Looking for in an MBA Hire?

by on August 17th, 2012

A glance at the boards of most Fortune 500 or S&P 500 companies will reveal plenty of MBAs working behind the scenes. Earning a management degree is a US corporate rite of passage and the MBA is, for many firms, a stepping stone to executive-level positions.

Companies in other parts of the world are following suit, witness the CEO of Japanese online retailer Rakuten (Harvard Business School), the chairman of Indian IT services giant Infosys (IIM-Ahmadabad) and the executive VP for Innovation at L’Oreal (INSEAD), to name a few with advanced business degrees.

Typically MBAs, with their broad management training combined with several years of work experience, are placed in generalist, analyst and strategy positions in large firms. Some companies have customized recruiting schemes to attract business school grads with an annual intake of MBAs who are placed on a rotational program to experience different commercial aspects of the business.

Examples include pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline’s MBA Esprit program or banking group HSBC’s MBA Associate Program. In other cases, an MBA will enter in a specific role at mid-management level, often in business development, marketing, strategy, finance, or operations.

According to the GMAC 2012 Corporate Recruiters Survey (with responses from 1,096 global companies), 66% expect to hire MBAs for mid-level positions. And, these companies will employ new MBA hires in a range of positions, which varies among employers by region.

Source: GMAC (2012) Corporate Recruiters Survey Report.

What Are Employers Looking For? Work Experience Counts

But what do employers look for when they hire an MBA out of business school? The ability to read a balance sheet? Implement the marketing mix? Construct a GAANT chart? Value an asset? No doubt, all of these skills are helpful, along with the professional network, international outlook, and soft skills developed through an MBA.

The recruiters that GMAC surveyed earlier this year indicated the top factors they consider most important when choosing MBA candidates to interview all have one element in common: work experience. Corporate recruiters specifically look for:

  • Prior experience in job function (66%),
  • Industry experience (51%), and
  • Years of work experience (44%).

Nearly three-quarters of these survey respondents reported they seek to hire MBAs with more than three years of work experience, whether earned before they enrolled in their program or in combination with internships during their program. The top quality they seek in MBA hires is leadership (51%). They also want candidates who are goal-oriented, ethical, and motivated, who can work under pressure, take initiative, and who can manage tasks as well as people.

Source: GMAC (2012), Corporate Recruiters Survey Report

Below, senior recruiters at some of the world’s best-known multinational companies tell us what they look for in their MBA hires.


Recruiter: Lorenza Salerno

Types of roles for MBAs: marketing, market intelligence, and finance at various levels

Lorenza says: “Just because we’re a technology company doesn’t mean we only hire scientists. We definitely need people with MBAs. When Samsung looks for MBAs, it’s usually for candidates who have experience at leading global companies like Unilever, IBM or Procter & Gamble. Samsung is looking for people who not only have a solid academic background but also good business experience which they can share with the company.”


Recruiter: Margaret Buj

Types of roles for MBAs: marketing and merchandising roles at director and senior manager level

Margaret says: “Ideally when we hire MBAs, we want someone who has great analytical skills and a broad education. We look for people with at least four to five years’ experience; we rarely hire an MBA graduate who’s got less than three years’ experience. Having an MBA and the right skills gives you an edge on the other candidates. Someone with over five years’ experience in consulting or e-commerce and an MBA from a respectable business school would be a very attractive candidate.”


Recruiter: Trish Sorrell

Types of roles for MBAs: The WPP MBA Fellowship Program

Trish says: “There is a misconception that one needs to write copy or art direct or they are not suited for our businesses, but WPP is fortunate to have a wide array of businesses that serve many skills and talents. The one common factor must be that people have a commitment to serving clients and a passion for creative work. The industry isn’t one that discriminates against background; if an MBA can demonstrate creative or analytical talent in their work then they’ll get noticed.”


Recruiter: Adam Walker

Types of roles for MBAs: investment banking, corporate finance, research, strategy, and operations at associate level and above

Adam says: “MBAs working at Citigroup tend to have particularly strong accounting knowledge coupled with great communication skills. Candidates must be able to handle the pressure that comes with banking, whilst being able to communicate effectively with clients and colleagues. We like to hear MBA referrals from our current Citi employees, as these candidates tend to be of high quality and are often a close fit for our needs.”

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