MBA Guide 2015: What recruiters really want in a grad

Four corporate recruiters—local, national and international—dish on what they’re looking for in today’s MBA grad

Teletype machines and Rolodexes may be long gone from the business world, but the core skills employers are looking for in MBA graduates—professionalism, customer service and solid communication skills—haven’t changed since the days when fax machines were considered cutting-edge.

Still, getting recruiters to notice these skills in an era of fierce competition and limited well- paying gigs means mastering a very modern concept. “Students need to focus on their personal brand,” says Lisa Kramer, director of global campus recruiting for RBC. “What do they stand for?”

As more recruiters opt to connect with students multiple times through the course of their study—through campus visits, class presentations and online courting via social media sites like LinkedIn—Kramer says students need to promote their personality, interests and values right from the beginning. “How do they want employers to view them as a potential candidate at the end of the program that’s going to differentiate them from their peers?”

Indeed, personality and values can—and often do—trump prestigious qualifications at Vancity, says John Allen, vice-president of people solutions. With a focus on the triple bottom line and creating health and wealth in whole communities, Allen says Vancity looks for candidates who have done their research on the company’s cooperative model and are philosophically aligned with its mission and vision.

“Ten years ago Vancity would have hired the best-educated person; nowadays it’s a combination of education, experience and that values alignment,” he says. “There are times when we have people that are top of their class from a school who don’t make the short list.”

Even in a multinational corporation, showing your colours is the best way to get your foot in the door, says Brian Rolfes, partner and global lead of recruiting for McKinsey and Co. “Be yourself and show us who you are,” he says. “We want you to bring your talented, interesting, authentic self to work and to clients.”

Idealism is also an asset as more organizations adopt a more global perspective on their impact. “Solving a client problem isn’t enough anymore,” adds Rolfes. “People want to solve communities’ problems, social problems, human problems.”

But then, having the hard skills to help reach that end is a definite advantage, points out Barbara Grantham, president and CEO of the VGH and UBC Hospital Foundation.

“Niche areas of specialization can bring more value to an organization and the public good,” she says. With non-profits exploding in Canada—the sector accounts for more than seven per cent of the country’s GDP, according to Statistics Canada, a contribution that nearly doubled between 1997 and 2007—people with sophisticated knowledge of finance and funding systems, partnerships, mergers and human resources are in high demand. “We need that specialized lens,” she says.

No matter which direction students think that they may be headed, all would do well to keep in mind that in the end, a business education is just the beginning.