There was a time when if you wanted to move up the corporate ladder—and the pay scale, of course—you had to get an MBA. It was the proven method for moving ahead and remains a key reason for going to business school.
Lately, job mobility has stalled for all U.S. workers, and even MBAs are facing greater challenges than in past eras. These three suggestions can help you sidestep career traps and move forward:
Make leading people a learning priority. A recent study from the Center for Creative Leadership identified 10 skills valued by current leaders. There was a significant spread between the top skill—leading people (73 percent)—and other skills such as strategic planning (64 percent), resourcefulness (64 percent), “doing whatever it takes” (64 percent), and composure (57 percent).
Managers who put skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, and accountability into practice with consistency are more successful over their careers—and so are their organizations. These individuals are serious about improving their leadership chops and continuously try to develop habits that reinforce this behavior such as organizing meetings that produce results because they prioritize team goals and tasks.
Work on projects tailored to existing employers. Many in top MBA programs see it as a time to explore a number of industries and roles, as they should. But for those who are employed, MBA consulting projects and other classroom tasks let them bring skills and experience back to the office. Students who address finance, marketing, operations, and management challenges prove themselves and become stronger candidates for promotion.
Think return on investment. Where are the jobs, or at least the areas that offer the best chance of moving up quickly? In two words: big data. MBAs should gear their coursework to developing analytic and data-proficiency skills. It’s clear that employers are hungry for managers who have these talents. Since the U.S. is expected to face a shortage of up to 1.5 million managers with big data skills by 2018, it’s also an insurance policy on career longevity.
Despite job clinging among managers, the labor market is starting to improve. It is only a matter of time before job churn starts to accelerate, offering career mobility for the lower ranks. MBAs who prepare now will be ready when the jobs open up.