THE BLOG

It's Harder Than Ever for MBA Candidates to Succeed

09/19/2014 03:25 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 01:00 EDT

It's the dream of every MBA candidate who registers to a prestigious MBA school. A coveted position in investment banking or consulting, with a salary only heard of in the movies. While this reality does occur for a small percentage of MBA candidates, the reality is far different since the overall economic and MBA dynamics have changed.

These changes include:

(1) Accreditation Creep: Merely having a degree is no longer sufficient enough to climb the economic ladder. With an increasingly global workforce and the changing nature of work, today's employees need to be more educated, adaptable and competitive.

(2) Growing Number of MBA Programs: With the success of the first MBA programs starting in the early 20th century, there has been the inevitable global growth of them. Today, nearly every post-secondary institution has a MBA program due to increased tuition revenues and gaining greater prestige.

(3) Growing MBA Supply: With the growth in the number of MBA programs, there has also been a corresponding growth in MBA graduates. This has led to a corresponding imbalance between the demand for MBA jobs and the number of MBA graduates.

It is not only the economics of the MBA that have changed but also the economics of business. These changes include:

(1) Growing Supply: As a result of the latest recession, there has been a growing supply of qualified candidates competing against freshly minted MBA graduates. Given the choice between a seasoned business candidate with practical work experience versus a newly graduated MBA candidate, businesses are more likely to prefer the seasoned business candidate.

(2) International Competition: As the economy continues to globalize, so does its labor force. With a growing number of international subsidiaries, corporations are finding that qualified MBA graduates are not found just in the top international MBA schools, but in local MBA schools as well.

(3) Changing Economic Conditions: From increasing industrial automation to an increasing emphasis on practical experience, the global economy is seeing dramatic change that is impacting the type of employment available. The vaunted professions of consulting and investment banking are increasingly changing as their existing economic models are under assault by either new business models or smaller niche competitors.

With all the economic changes occurring on a global scale, one wonders how today's MBA candidates are to succeed. The answers are not simple and are multi-layered. However, it is definitely not by focusing solely on book learning. For any MBA candidate to succeed, there are three elements that they need to keep in mind:

(1) Experience: While every MBA candidate dreams of switching their current position for their dream job, MBA candidates forget that corporations hire on need and fit. Prior experience will give a MBA candidate a competitive edge over other candidates undertaking a complete career makeover. Whether it is having an engineering degree versus a political science degree for a coveted investment banking role or prior change management experience versus prior retail sales experience, experience will count for employers inundated with hundreds if not thousands of applicants.

However, this doesn't mean that MBA candidates without the right current profile have to give up hope. Most MBA candidates need to remind themselves that getting their dream job doesn't necessarily involve a straight line but a meandering one. It is possible with some careful planning and selecting the right adjacent positions, that a MBA candidate can achieve their dream job over time.

(2) Network: Another critical component of a MBA is to build a solid and diverse network, something that can't be found in a textbook or will appear instantaneously. While business-related social networks such as LinkedIn give the appearance that a network can be formed overnight, truly useful networks are developed over time and with a "pay it forward" mentality.

Not a single MBA candidate knows where their careers will take them in 3, 5 or 10 years post-graduation. Some may end in positions of authority. Others may become entrepreneurs. Current MBA candidates need to stop looking at fellow MBA candidates as who they are at present but who they will be in the future. There are times that MBA candidates forget that one of the reasons they join a MBA is to facilitate career change. This statement can also be said of fellow MBA candidates and no one MBA candidate should forget that lesson.

It cannot be stressed enough how critical a "pay it forward" mentality is with building a MBA network. Just like a living plant, one needs to nurture and grow a MBA network into something that has long term benefits. Although it is difficult to focus on the long term, particularly post-MBA with student debt and a job search clouding the horizon, but nurturing that MBA network is critical. Whether it is helping fellow recent graduates with connections or directing them to invaluable resources, these small, selfless acts of kindness will build credibility and will be paid back with long term dividends.

(3) Education: Education is not only just about a stellar GPA but a desire for lifelong learning that will separate stellar MBA candidates from the rest of the pack. Just as science continues to make new daily discoveries, a MBA candidate should also be learning throughout their career.

It cannot be understated that today's MBA candidates have much more difficult prospects than those that attended the first MBA programs in the early 20th century. With increasing candidate and school competition as well as a changing economy, MBA candidates need to prove their value to society like never before. While a difficult challenge, it is not one that MBA candidates cannot succeed in overcoming with the right strategy, execution and time.