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Top Skills Employers Want and How to Develop Them

Posted September 04, 2018 by Hannah DeBevoise - Coordinator, Social Media - AACSB International

You’re beginning or about to begin another semester of business school, courses have been chosen, and you’re ready to get serious in your studies. It’s easy to know what your professors expect you to learn throughout your coursework—it’s listed in your syllabus— but what skills and lessons do potential employers want you to acquire before hiring you?

In their 2018 Corporate Recruiters Survey, the Graduate Management Admission Council® (GMAC®), administrator of the Graduate Management Admission Test® (GMAT®), surveyed more than 1,000 employers in 42 countries about the knowledge, skills, and abilities most frequently sought in new business school hires—as well as the skills that are most difficult to find in talent pools of recent graduates.

So, what are they eager to find in their new hires, and what skills can you start to sharpen to gain an advantage while still in business school?

General Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities

Employers were asked to indicate the level of need for 10 general knowledge, skills, and abilities. Among the 10, the top five skills recognized as “required” are the following, as defined by GMAC:

  • Working with others—The ability to work with others to achieve a common goal
  • Managing self—Behaving ethically and exerting the necessary effort and persistence to achieve goals and manage setbacks
  • Problem solving—The ability to find solutions to difficult or complex problems
  • Listening—The ability to extract key points and evaluate and analyze the logic of spoken arguments
  • Comprehension and logic—The ability to apply critical and logical reasoning skills to evaluate arguments and draw conclusions


Company Needs Infographic


Specific Skills and Attributes

Beyond the general skill sets and abilities, GMAC asked employers about their company’s need for specific skills from recent business school graduates. The top five required skills, among the 15 mentioned, are:

  • Adaptability/flexibility
  • Organizational/time management
  • Relationship management
  • Excel/spreadsheets
  • Ability to put theory into practice


Company Needs Infographic - Specifics


Enhancing These Skills

With this set list of skills and abilities that recruiters deem required, you can take a step back and look at what you’re learning in your courses and what other opportunities you have throughout your education to develop these skills and make yourself not only a stronger professional but an attractive candidate for potential employers.

    1. Join a student-run organization or club
    There are a multitude of student-run organizations on college campuses, and you don’t necessarily have to live on campus to participate. Working with a student-run organization, like Beta Gamma Sigma, allows members to develop leadership and teamwork experience. These organizations often operate like mini-businesses, letting you apply principles you’ve learned in your coursework to real-life situations. Leadership positions in clubs and organizations add value to your resume and are great examples to refer to when explaining your abilities to potential employers.

    2. Volunteer in the community
    If you don’t have the time to commit to a club or organization, volunteering is another opportunity to gain experience and improve skills that will benefit you as you begin your job search. Using your time to volunteer in the community gives you the chance to network and interact with a variety of people with diverse experiences, similar to what you may experience in a professional environment. There may also be possibilities to take on leadership roles in your volunteering activities, adding a bonus opportunity to grow professionally.

    3. Seek out mentors
    The great thing about being in graduate school is that you’re naturally surrounded by viable, experienced mentors. If you’re particularly inspired by a professor, ask if they are willing to take some time to talk with you about your aspirations. Whether that’s during their official office hours or another scheduled meeting, taking the opportunity to openly ask questions, discuss goals, and make a valuable connection can help you develop employer-desired skills like relationship management, listening, and working with others.

    4. Be a mentor
    As a graduate student, you have the advantage of already having completed an undergraduate degree. Whether or not it was a business degree, the opportunity to mentor undergraduate students still exists. Taking up a teaching assistant position or offering to tutor students in classes they’re finding challenging is an advantageous way to sharpen leadership skills. You’ll also be able to test out your comprehension and logic skills by taking the concepts you’ve previously learned and assisting others in comprehending them.

Employers know what they want to see in upcoming business school graduates. Taking the time to enhance your skills to match their wish list can give you the advantage, not only in your current academic journey, but in your future professional endeavors.