The world of MBAs is dynamic, adaptive, and ever-changing. Justin Sheehan, Executive Coach at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU), shares his insights into the latest trends shaping MBA careers.

1. The top skills employers look for today are communication, resilience, and flexibilityWhile in-demand skills are continuously changing, there is one basic, fundamental skill that remains at the top of employers’ lists. “The main thing that employers are looking for are strong communication skills,” Justin reveals. “If you’re a really strong communicator verbally [and] if you can communicate strongly via email, then you’re going to be an asset to most companies and they’re going to be interested in you.”

According to the GMAC Corporate Recruiters Survey, 81 percent of recruiters identify interpersonal skills as more important than any other skill. Furthermore, 69 percent of recruiters report that they are confident in hiring business school graduates because of their strong communication skills. Besides communication, businesses today require flexibility and resilience from employees, as the environments in which they operate become more complex and uncertain.

Justin notes, “Well-being is a strong factor, and you need to be this resilient person who’s able to handle the demands of modern life and maintain yourself in the right way because there seems to be a lot of chaos going on at the minute and most of the people I’ve worked with who handle it the best are basically just staying pretty calm and stable.”

2. Healthcare and e-commerce are becoming more popular industries for MBA gradsConsulting, finance, and technology continue to be the most popular industries for MBA graduates. Justin explains, “[Consulting] is always going to be very interesting for MBAs because it offers so many benefits. It feels often like a continuation of their studies – to get to experiment and be exposed to lots of different industries [and] so many different stakeholders, so there’s rapid development in consulting.”

While this trend will most likely continue as all three industries plan to increase MBA hiring, there are other up-and-coming industries that are becoming more and more attractive to MBA graduates. One example is e-commerce. A study by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) found that more than 71 percent of business school students preferred the e-commerce industry to other sectors, including financial services and consulting.

One of the biggest players in the industry is Amazon, which plans to increase MBA hiring in 2022. Another example is the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry. Accounting for 10 percent of global GDP, the healthcare sector is in dire need of business-savvy professional managers and leaders. “More and more MBAs that I’m working with are becoming conscious of the global health challenges that are going on,” Justin says. “They’re becoming more holistically and broad-minded in their thinking.”

3. Positive impact remains on-trend – but what does impact mean?A wide range of research shows that the younger generations today want to use their skills to drive positive social change. According to one survey, 63 percent of millennials believe that the primary purpose of businesses should be improving society instead of generating profit. As Justin puts it, “It’s hard not to be impacted [by] the pressing needs and challenges of the time. I think a lot of people are looking at it and they feel that they need to contribute in some way. They can’t be just bystanders or get involved in something that has no meaning for them.”

However, Justin also emphasises the importance of defining what it means to have a positive impact. “I think the word ‘impact’ has to be unpacked for each of the individuals to really understand what impact means for them because it’ll mean different things to different people,” Justin says.

4. Most MBA graduates stay local, but it depends on the right opportunities at the right timeIn his work with MBA students in the Netherlands, Justin finds that most of them stay in the country post-graduation. With the best non-native English speakers and a variety of multinational companies like Unilever, Philips, Shell, and ASML, it’s no wonder the Netherlands continues to attract a large number of international students.

In 2020 alone, more than 100.000 international students were enrolled in a university in the Netherlands. However, Justin adds, “What I’ve seen is when the right opportunity comes along, people are willing to move.”

“Many [internationals] gravitate back home actually – not all of them obviously – but a lot of people garner all the professional experience they were hoping for, and they go through all this development and they achieve a lot of goals,” he continues. “A lot of them long for home and long to be around family again and long to bring their knowledge and experience back home to make some impact back there.”

While some international MBA students might return to their home countries or move to a completely new country, this desire typically reduces over time. Justin explains, “What I’ve seen is a lot of people [who] are getting older and more settled and have family and things like that typically want to stay in the one place. They don’t want to put their family through that disruption. That need to go and search out for new experiences in relation to living in a new country diminishes over time, and then they’re looking for more stability in their home lives. As long as there are enough opportunities from a career perspective around them, then they will basically stay put.”

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