Soft skills help MBAs stand out from the crowd

Apr 06 2006 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Business schools are increasingly offering "soft skills" training in leadership, management and communication to MBA graduates to give them something to differentiate themselves from the competing pack, a leading academic has said.

Schools that emphasise their leadership, communication and general management training Ė alongside the traditional hard financial skills Ė are able to position themselves to attract higher quality candidates, Les Graham, director of the full-time MBA at Durham Business School told Management-Issues.

"What we are hearing is that, both among employers and students, soft skills are becoming a much bigger issue," he said.

With the quality of much of the core training offered by business schools often hard to tell apart, schools are increasing promoting "unique selling points", such as Durham's boardroom simulation activity, where students get to experience and work within a "real" boardroom environment, he added.

Graham's call follows research last week that suggested employers were planning to recruit significantly more MBA graduates this year, in the process quashing fears that the popularity of the qualification had diluted its "gold standard" reputation.

But more MBAs coming on to the jobs' market means MBA graduates are inevitably going to have to work harder to land the most coveted jobs.

The survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council also found that employers are particularly eager to find MBAs who have been exposed to a wide range of soft skills training.

"There is a growing recognition of the importance of leadership and teamwork. Soft skills is one of the biggest issue in terms of employment," added Graham.

Another element within this debate has been complaints from some students that MBA programmes can be too macho and male-orientated, thriving on a bullying, aggressive culture that deters women candidates.

Encouraging candidates to look at how they behave and operate within certain environments not only instills skills and an outlook that can be beneficial for many years to come but helps improve diversity and the generation of different points of view, business schools have argued.