Goal-oriented, driven and well trained – this is who we are as MBAs. In a sense, we are like Everest climbers – we take risks,
work hard and rely on our capabilities to make it. But how do we leverage these incredible attributes to build our careers? More than fifty MBAs gathered together to listen to speakers from Colligo Networks (Barry Jinks), McKinsey (Ben Goodier) and TeamFit (Steven Forth) to discuss what skills MBAs are valued for and how MBAs can use their skills to differentiate themselves in the market place.

Hierarchy of skills  

We asked MBAs to put their top five skills up on the meeting room’s walls. The hierarchy of more than 60 skills claimed by MBAs evolved as it is shown on this pyramid with most frequent skills mentioned on the top and least mentioned on the bottom:

MBA Skills pyramid

Predictably, MBAs mentioned generic skills most and foremost. Therefore, these skills appear on the top and across all the
layers of the pyramid. Fewer MBAs picked more specific skills, which you can see here on the bottom. MBAs were fast and confident in claiming their skills communicate, lead, perform some analysis and solve business problems. Is that good enough for effective differentiation? What we could do better?

Strengths

Looking at how MBAs were compiling their individual skills lists, we can say that there are three things MBAs are strong at in framing their skills profiles:

  • MBAs effectively mix “hard” and “soft” skills. Thus, almost all participants had a combination of soft and business skills;
  • MBAs are creative in mixing two or more skills to come up with a “new” higher-level skill such as “cross-functional collaboration”; and
  • MBAs are confident in emphasizing their leadership potential and problem-solving abilities (these are the two top skills after communication skills claimed by MBAs).

Areas for improvement

However, there are a few areas, MBAs could improve in to demonstrate the true value of their skills:

  • It seems that the strikingly often “disconnect” between leadership skills and teamwork skills might be a potential alienating factor for an MBA. Thus, more MBAs emphasize on leadership skills while neglecting to highlight their abilities to succeed in teams. According to the CEO of Colligo Networks Barry Jinks, even though it is important to position yourself as a (potential) leader, it is even more critical throughout the entire hiring process to demonstrate an ability to become a good team player.
  • MBAs could also become better in differentiating between skills, values and personal traits. It might be absolutely relevant and useful to mention that you are “futuristic” on description of yourself as a person. However, when asked about skills we are better to come up with clear and robust definitions and names for our true skills. DISCO – The European Dictionary of Skills and Competences and this blogpost on skills clustering by Steven Forth may help you refine your understanding and vocabulary for this.
  • MBAs could focus more on specific or concrete skills. It appeared during that skills inventory exercise (which we recognize was simplistic), that MBAs primarily focus on general categories such as “communication skills” or “planning”. Such skills are table stakes in the real world MBAs will compete in, and the opportunity cost of not using more specific and higher level business or technical skills results in MBAs’ losing the skills advantage they work so hard to acquire. Thus, such skills as strategic scenario planning, sensitivity analysis, Bayesian statistics, or cost analysis would have added more differentiating granularity to our top five skills.

How b-schools shape our skills positioning

The data was not complete to infer well-grounded differences between the b-schools, but there are at least three observations interesting to highlight. MBAs from one of the three universities differentiated themselves as very much value-driven candidates (empathy was one of the dominating word used in their skills listings). The other b-school’s MBAs were the most buzzing group about teamwork and collaboration. The third b-school’s participants allocated their skills across all skills categories and in a relatively balanced way. Thus, there is some connection between your school and how you position yourself. Knowing that should help us to see what are the potential benefits and limitations of such priming effect.

As an MBA student, I find it a useful practice to analyze my skills. Skills are important differentiators one can put forward to stand out from the crowd (and the crowds are becoming increasingly educated and sophisticated). In order to utilize your skills, you need to refine your understanding of skills, keep records of how we apply them on various projects and, if you try TeamFit, get feedback from peers or colleagues on these skills. Such a process of mental accounting of your skills should become consistent and regular if you want to climb your Everest…