How to Stand out From the Crowd
"It’s the soft skills that make the difference."
This was the key message to MBA students at the MBA Career Forum celebrated yesterday on IESE’s Barcelona campus. A total of 14 leading companies from the banking, consultancy and industry sectors met MBAs to discuss their recruitment needs. Experts from the likes of American Express, Deloitte, Indra, Accenture, Mango and Gas Natural Fenosa shared their view of the skills and qualities that make one candidate stand out from the rest.
Academic excellence and business experience remain high on recruiters’ lists of priorities. But in terms of skills, most businesses are looking for something extra.
"It’s not the technical skills, which at this level are taken for granted," says Nico van den Brink, director of career services at IESE, "it’s the soft skills that make the difference."
Getting Down to the Basics
Having a solid academic track record, business school credentials and experience are essential to many employers. Potential employees may be called to demonstrate expertise in their target industry, either through internships or in a professional capacity. This is particularly true in the banking and consultancy sectors, where a candidate is typically expected to have worked for at least three to five years in their chosen field.
However, while an exceptional education and professional experience may get you the interview, it is the soft skills that will get you the job, say recruiters.
Companies put a high premium on the analytic and problem-solving capacities. These so-called "soft-skills" combined with time-management and multi-tasking capacities are increasingly seen as basic competencies by employers.
Experts from all three sectors pointed to candidates’ ability to work in a team as another key competency, with the strongest candidates displaying excellent interpersonal skills, and a capacity for liaising effectively at all levels including senior management.
Being able to get a message across efficiently and compellingly is also highly sought after, as the vast majority of employers demand excellent written and oral communication skills.
In today’s globalized business environment, languages and willingness to travel are key differentiators. And digital savviness is seen as crucial in many industries, particularly for roles in e-commerce and hi-tech; sectors which are increasingly attractive to MBAs.
"Creativity, enthusiasm and having initiative are the kinds of soft skills recruiters are looking for in most sectors," says van den Brink. "And in banking and consultancy, attributes like self-motivation and the ability to deliver on time really make your candidacy stand out."
Building a Unique Value Proposition
"A potential irony of studying at a top business school is that individual who up to now likely stood out from their peers can suddenly find themselves commoditized," says van den Brink. "Everyone around them is just as impressive as they are."
On a level playing field, where technical competencies, knowledge or experience are largely uniform, he says, the "stellar candidate" is the person who can build key differentiating skills that demonstrate their competitive advantage.
"Self-awareness, the knowledge of one’s own strengths and blind-spots, coupled with the ability to clearly articulate how these fit with one’s goals, are what set stellar candidates apart for any role."
He urges MBAs to make full use of the resources available. "Get the most from your classmates, your library, professors, school activities. Continuous education programs can build your knowledge of any industry of management topic that interests you. At a good business school, the opportunities will always exceed the time you have available. So choose well and set your priorities without losing sight of your personal career strategy."
The extracurricular experiences and choices students make, he says, contribute to a differentiated "value proposition" from an employment perspective. "No two students ever have the same experience."