A new year’s career: How an MBA can boost your CV

Annabel Denham
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Despite a struggling economy, business schools are continuing to see a high number of applicants for their MBA programmes, as candidates seek career change and acceleration. This month will see a flurry of applications as either the January blues or a New Year’s resolution – or both – give candidates the final nudge they need to take the plunge.

The Centre for Economics and Business Research has estimated that the number of City jobs is likely to drop to 237,000 in 2013 and 236,000 in 2014 – down from 354,000 in 2007. It’s no wonder, therefore, that those seeking a career in the City might have cause for concern.

But an MBA is no longer a certain route into a career in financial services. A recent London Business School report showed that, in fact, management consultancy has become the favoured career option for most graduates. Fewer are seeking pure investment banking roles and there has been a rise in interest in other sectors – including “professional services, industry, or entrepreneurial activities”, says Sarah Juillet of Cass Business School. Indeed, Association of MBA (AMBA) surveys on the careers of MBA graduates, undertaken since the 1970s, have consistently shown great diversity in of career path. MBAs are a “good platform to see if a switch will be right – especially for those considering the entrepreneurial route”, says Steve Cousins at Cass.

In addition, two-thirds of all MBA students now study part-time, says George Murgatroyd of AMBA. With MBA degrees becoming increasingly flexible due to the growth of online educational capabilities, students are getting the best of both worlds. So 2013 could be the ideal year to sign up.

But an MBA, if it’s just letters on a CV, may not necessarily be a differentiating factor between one candidate and the next. It’s the communication and leadership skills students acquire during the course that can make the real difference.

Indeed, the GMAC 2012 Corporate Recruiters Survey, quoting a study from the online job website TheLadders, says that leadership is the quality more than half – 51 per cent – of employers said they look for. “Not all managers working within the financial sector would seek an MBA degree, but it does show an understanding of the business environment and evidence of key analytical skills”, says Brian Buckley at GSM London, formerly known as the Greenwich School of Management. Be aware, however, that more and more businesses are seeking more technically-minded employees with, for example, a masters in quantitive finance or a PhD over MBAs.

At a time when the main focus in banks and major financial institutions is on cost, MBAs can be more high maintenance than other hires, which can deter recruiters. But MBA students are still seeing a positive return on investment. The average Executive MBA salary for an HEC Paris graduate three years after graduation is $307,992 (£192,000); at Esade Business School in Barcelona the figure is $247,110.

So don’t let a decline in the number of jobs available – especially those opportunities in major financial institutions – discourage you. The GMAC survey found that MBA hiring is on the rise, with more companies planning to hire recent MBAs in 2012 (79 per cent) than in the year before (72 per cent).

An MBA alone is not a guaranteed route to a career in the City. The study by TheLadders found that experience was the top factor respondents consider when choosing applicants to interview. It concluded that employers seek business graduates with more than just a generalised MBA – they want experience and expertise in that line of work.

Nonetheless, a combination of the toolkit acquired in the classroom, and the networking opportunities it can provide, as well as the risk that the candidate has been willing to take, can be a “compelling starting point for an employer”, says Derek Walker of Saïd Business School. A compelling thought, surely, for those still needing that final nudge.