Why Top HR Executives Want MBAs
Chances are you have spent countless hours debating the ROI of an MBA. You still have outstanding loans from your last foray into higher education and while you want to continue to gain more momentum in the business world by developing leadership and interpersonal skills, you question whether the degree you earn will give you an advantage.

There is demand for MBAs: 84% of employers surveyed by the administrator of the GMAT, the Graduate Management Admission Council, have plans to hire MBAs in 2015, with 59% expecting to increase the number of MBA jobs on offer and 51% projecting an increase in salaries at the same rate of inflation or higher. The survey, with accounts from 748 employers across 47 countries, offers a snapshot of the 2015 MBA jobs market, and the potential ROI for MBAs.

Theoretical knowledge becomes practical knowledge in MBA jobs

So why do companies value MBAs? Is it their credibility, confidence, or their ability to solve complex problems? MBA@UNC, UNC Kenan-Flagler’s online MBA degree, found out by asking 24 HR executives representing top companies across a variety of industries: “Why does an MBA give candidates an advantage?” Their answers varied, but there were some common trends: An MBA thinks like a CEO, is able to take theoretical knowledge and apply that to real-world situations with data analysis, and uses fine-tuned critical thinking to solve the business problems that arise without notice in MBA jobs.

Given that over a quarter of all master’s degrees awarded in the US each year are in business, identifying the ROI of an MBA is not only important for prospective students, but also for employers, as they’re the ones hiring all these graduates. Employers need assurance that hiring MBAs or even footing the bill for the degree will lead to further profitability for their business. MBA@UNC’s survey aims to show the value to both sides of this relationship.

Data analysis makes sense of real world problems

Among the responses received by MBA@UNC was one from HubSpot director of talent and culture, Katie Burke. Hiring for a company responsible for developing an inbound marketing and sales platform to attract visitors, convert leads, and close customers is no easy task, but Burke has had great experiences with MBAs.

“At HubSpot we give employees significant autonomy to create solutions for our customers and our company,” said Burke. “MBAs are incredibly valuable to our team because they drive data-driven decisions to impact change and lead cross-functional projects all while thinking like founders, and that's a hybrid skill set we need in spades as we grow and scale globally.”

HubSpot is not the only company eagerly searching for candidates with theoretical knowledge who specialize in data analysis – they are in particularly high demand. LinkedIn analyzed the skills and experience data in over 330 million LinkedIn member profiles to determine ‘The 25 Hottest Skills That Got People Hired in 2014' and found that statistics and data analysis are not only among the top most highly-coveted skills in the US, but also across the world. We live in an increasingly data driven world, and businesses want to hire experts who can help their businesses remain competitive in their respective industries – they are looking for MBAs who can deliver a more feasible ROI.

Critical thinking drives companies forward

For companies like Opower, an understanding of how to use an MBA education to impact actual business decisions is attractive. An MBA is much more than a few additional years of education. The curriculum provides MBAs with a broad perspective of the business world and how the economy works combined with the critical thinking to make sense of it all.

“Candidates with MBAs stand out because they are able to take theoretical knowledge and apply it to real business situations, enabling them to get up to speed and deliver results more rapidly, which is what top companies need to compete globally,” said Sandy Hynes, senior vice president of people at Opower. As case studies tend to reflect current issues, MBAs are trained to think strategically about how their coursework can be used outside of class, too.

A candidate with the ability to take theoretical knowledge, combine it with data analysis, and apply it to real business situations often has also mastered the skill of complex problem solving, which was named one of the 10 most in-demand skills of 2013 by Forbes. Found in nine out of the 10 top jobs of 2013, as defined by CareerBuilder, complex problem solving is a skill highly coveted by employers who want a candidate capable of identifying larger issues and developing and implementing strategic solutions. MBA curricula tend to center around cultivating this particular skill.

Another integral part of any MBA program is critical thinking, which Travis Kessel, senior vice president of recruitment at Edelman, has noticed in his own employees with MBAs. He sees value in hires who can provide the 50,000-foot view from above – strategic thinkers who hone in on problems with an analytical approach. Given that 90% of the in-demand jobs created since 2010 require critical thinking skills, Kessel’s praise of MBAs makes sense.

“Candidates with MBAs often have the best understanding of the business behind the business,” Kessel said. “That behind-the-curtain perspective makes them more effective consultants for our clients as well as uniquely useful internally as our organization evolves. As the needs of our clients diversify, a holistic perspective on not only how to best amplify their work, but how to approach the work itself, is becoming more and more valuable.”

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