In any business school worth its name, one of the core features of a management course, would be to provide students with skills that are highly valued by employers. While a large part of this is core management skills like finance, marketing, strategy, and leadership, which are the essential pillars of business education, one must also remember the growing importance of “soft” skills to ensure employability and success. A Study by QS, conducted in 2008, clearly shows that these soft skills have been taking on increasing importance with recruiters and employers. In this Recruiter Survey, 489 of the world’s largest international MBA recruiters – companies including Boeing, Goldman Sachs, and Motorola – have ranked communication and people skills above traditional business skill sets in importance.
And yet, such a key area is also one which business school students tend to ignore – as it is often not available in their preferred institution or included as a non-core and therefore non scoring part of the curriculum. More and more MBAs and business school pass-outs are falling short in the measure with regards to this extremely important skillset. Most students believe that training in these is a waste of time, and a significant percentage of past MBAs had the attitude that they could not see the value in spending time on communication or people-management skills. They feel they would rather spend a little extra time on complicated core subjects.
Recruiters disagree. Particularly in a world that is still dealing with global recession, increased manifold by the year of the pandemic, and for the perceivable future, soft skills are and will remain essential. Employers tend to focus less on academic or technical skills and place far more emphasis on communication, interpersonal skills, leadership traits, and so on. Poor economic development has affected employment opportunities along with outsourcing, downsizing, plant closures, mergers, acquisitions and other global cost-cutting measures. The situation is unlikely to improve dramatically in the next couple of years, and even after that, the new shape of the business world is likely to emerge as something quite different from what we have been used to. Consequently, possessing only traditional technical and business skills is no longer adequate to get hired and to get ahead in the new global marketplace. More and more studies confirm that possessing soft skills are crucial for high-performing individuals to retain a competitive edge within their organizations. They also define entry-level success.
According to most recruiters though, sadly too many business school graduates are arriving on the job market without these essential skills. Soft skills, like a winning attitude, teamwork, effective communication, confidence, creativity, accepting criticism gracefully, motivation, leadership, multitasking, prioritizing, time management, the ability to see the big picture, etc. are as essential as technical qualifications. These are necessary not just to get hired in the first place but to have a good career growth path. Honing their soft skills is a must for business school graduates to differentiate themselves within the recruitment and advancement process.
Some of the most important soft skills employers and recruiters are looking for are:
Leadership: employers want people they hire to have the potential to step up into leadership roles in future. They want to hire people who have a positive attitude, are self-motivated, and have self-awareness, able to lead by example.
Communication: whatever the role, client-facing or technical, the reality is that one has to work with people, and so one must be able to interact effectively.
Interpersonal skills: likeability, the simple skill of being able to get along with people, is especially important is a global working world. Being able to build positive relationships – not just with colleagues but also with other contacts – helps to strengthen internal, as well as external, networks. It also brings in greater inter-team collaboration.
Presentation Skills: the ability to effectively present your case, share your efforts, and provide viable solutions – all in a concise, professional, and persuasive manner is important in the business world. People are increasingly less likely to take the time, and make the effort, to read long documents. Sharp presentation skills and spoken communication are the way to get information across.
Effective Communication Skills: to land a new client, finalise a deal, or initiate a project, motivate your team, or showcase your achievements, communication skills decide the success of most of the business processes. MBA graduates and business diploma holders need to refine interpersonal as well as group communication skills to work well with others.
Strategic Thinking: strategic thinking skills decide your ability for problem solving and for thinking on your feet.
It makes sense to keep in mind that employers increasingly place a very high premium on these soft skills. Solid grades and good work results will only take you so far if you lack these. People who don’t learn and practice these soft skills are increasingly at risk of finding themselves sidelined and pushed into niche roles, rather than getting highly sought after profiles. Their career progression is also likely to be slower and more limited, which is also likely to lead to eventual redundancy.