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Welcome to the Financial Times Ask the Experts Jobs Clinic 2011. Are you an MBA graduate still looking for a job? Or are you a corporate recruiter, hoping to recruit MBAs this year? What skills can an MBA bring to your company?

Bruce Lane, vice-president of MBA Focus, the US-based recruitment organisation that specialises in MBA recruitment, answered your questions on Wednesday 29th June 2011, between 14.00 and 15.00 BST.

I am an Indian moving to the US in October on a dependent visa. I finished my MBA this April from the Indian School of Business. I want to understand how well is ISB recognised in the international market, especially in the US. Is it recognised by recruiters as being a good b-school? Will my MBA be recognised (in terms of position and pay) or will I need to depend heavily on just my past work experience?

Jinu Peyeti, India

Bruce: The Indian School of Business is highly ranked by several publications so recruiters recognise it as being a good business school. That said, you will be competing for your next role in the US against other newly minted MBAs and MBAs who have a few year’s experience.

It really depends on the position for which you are searching. If you are a career changer then your MBA will be more heavily weighted. If you are staying in the same field or close to it, your past work experience will be key to the position and salary. How you stack up against the competition is really what will make a difference. Good luck!

As a recruiter, do you expect MBA students to have experience in sustainability issues and if yes, which in particular?

Cristina, France

Bruce: Most MBA programmes now have a class or track in sustainability. Some schools have even built programmes around sustainability. This is a hot issue to many and will probably continue to be important to recruiters. Most companies have taken an interest in sustainability to develop innovative solutions that better the environment, improve public health and increase profits. I have yet to see recruiters require sustainability unless it is a major portion of the job.

However, there are many “green” jobs and initiatives going on at major companies in product design, supply chain, operations, marketing and even social responsible investing. So having a class or experience in sustainability will certainly make you more competitive during the job search.

How can I make my job application stand out from all the MBA students currently graduating?

Amy Wong, UK

Bruce: The best way to make your application or CV stand out is to concentrate on achievements and not merely responsibilities. Your achievements during school and past work experience are what recruiters are most interested in. Companies are looking for MBA graduates who can improve performance and productivity, expand customer base, launch new products or services, reduce costs, etc. Your ability to show how you can make an impact in these and other areas is what will set you apart from other MBA graduates.

Is there a trend in the types of skills preferred by certain countries, such as China, India and US?

James, UK

Bruce: Most global companies assume that MBA graduates will have the technical skills required for the job. They are looking for candidates that show initiative, professionalism, motivation and integrity. They are also looking for candidates who have strong “soft” skills – communication, leadership, teamwork, creativity and emotional intelligence. This seems to be a trend across the US, EMEA and APAC countries.

What makes a graduate qualify for a job aside from necessary academic qualifications and good results?

Bruce: Recruiters look for a number of attributes other than the necessary academic qualifications and good results. They look at past work experience and achievements. They are trying to determine how the graduate can make a difference in their organisation – improve performance, reduce costs, expand customer base, etc. They are also trying to determine how the graduate will fit with the company culture and the graduate’s potential for leadership roles and advancement.

I will start my Executive Master of Management this coming September. The programme of study is a collaboration between the BI Handelshøyskolen in Oslo and the Petroleum Institute (IFP School) in Paris and takes nine months. I am more interested in the financial aspect of energy markets. Do you think I should attend conventional career fairs where banks are present or is there some sort of specialist fair where people with a specialised background in energy can speak to potential employers?

Thordur Gunnarsson

Bruce: Since energy markets and financial services are closely tied together, going to conventional career fairs would not hurt you. However, the hiring managers who would be looking at your skillset are probably not going to be working the booth. I would use those career fairs as networking opportunities to learn more about the companies and find the right contact to reach out to.

Also, I am sure there are specific energy job fairs and events where you could network. Finally, I would work the career services office at both BI Handelshøyskolen and IFP School to see what opportunities or contacts they have and how they can help put you in touch with potential employers.

I want to be an economist and I am not sure whether to study a specialist masters in economics or an MBA with a concentration in economics. Also, where are the best places to study this subject? Should I go for the big cities such as London and New York as there is probably a better chance of me getting a job there?

Bruce: Since most top MBA programmes do not have an economics major, I would suggest applying to a masters programme that specialises in economics. Here is a list of top US graduate economics programmes from US News.

There are also many other top programmes in Europe. I would be less concerned with location and more concerned with school reputation and area of study – micro/macro economics, international economics, labour economics, public finance, etc. You may also want to consider going on and getting your PhD in economics.

How important is fluency in another language in business? Considering the rise of the Bric countries, is it worth studying languages such as Mandarin? Will this improve my job prospects?

Bruce: Having fluency in another language is essential if you are looking for a global opportunity and will certainly improve your job prospects. Companies with global opportunities are looking for candidates to be fluent or native in English and a second language. Studying Mandarin is worthwhile as long as you can be fluent in it as quickly as possible. It must be more than conversational in a business setting.

I had the notion that transferable skills and experiences are what employers are looking for, especially with fresh MBAs who are switching sectors. However, here in the UK we have been repeatedly told that your pre-MBA work experience is instrumental in determining which sector you can be employed in post-MBA. Is this due to the recession or simply because employers have more applicants to choose from? How can one change sectors in 2011?

Madhur, UK

Bruce: Switching careers is challenging. Getting an MBA is a way to help make the change easier. Recruiters are looking at both pre-MBA work experience and transferable skills and experiences to find the appropriate hire. They are also looking at fit and leadership potential. That said, when companies have two equal candidates to choose from they generally pick the candidate whose work experience and background most closely match the requirements for which they are searching.

As the economy and outlook for MBA recruiting improves – as it has in 2011 – more opportunities will be available for those MBAs who wish to switch careers. Work with your career services office to help determine which companies have no issues with hiring a career switcher.

If you cannot find a specific job opportunity or sector, you may need to take a half step forward. Find a role related to your current job or sector where you can gain valuable experience for your next move within that company or industry. For example, if your pre-MBA experience is in IT and you want to be in corporate finance when you graduate, your half-step might be a move to a business analyst role where you can use both your IT skills and finance education.

I am 40 years old, and I have a degree in economics and an MSc in finance (from Oporto University, one of the best schools in Portugal). I have 20 years of work experience in the financial markets industry (mainly in trading - spot and derivatives). I want to change my qualifications and skills. My question is:

Does it make sense to change my career? For example, should I switch my focus to a technological area, like computer science or maths? I know this takes time, but do you think this is a good bet?

Ricardo Pignatelli, Portugal

Bruce: Changing careers is hard – even harder once you have a great deal of experience and are seen as an expert in a particular field. Not sure if it makes sense. What is the reason you are looking to change your qualifications and skills? Why technological areas over finance and economics? Is it to find a better opportunity? Make more money? Are you looking to go back to get your MBA full-time or part-time? What would the ideal job look like? Is that job available? What are you willing to sacrifice to get that job?

You should have answers to these questions prior to making a move. You may also want to network with some folks who are currently in the technological areas and do some informational interviews prior to making a change. Unless you just hate what you are doing, I would try to move to a more technological role within your current company and make sure that is truly what you aspire to.

I have an MBA. Corporate recruiters shun anything that does not fit the powerpoint model and creative industries sneer at the business school polish. What should I do?

Sergey Gorbatov, Spain

Bruce: Not sure I agree with your comments above. Perhaps there are companies who feel this way but I have not talked with them. Companies are looking for a balance of technical skills and soft skills. They are looking for overall fit. What does the candidate bring to the organisation, how do they fit in and can they grow. Can the “high-potentials” turn into “high-performers?”

If I were you, I would highlight what you bring to the organisation from your past work experience and achievements and also what you can do for them going forward. Companies are looking for candidates with creative, refreshing personalities as long as they have the technical skills too.

I graduated with an MBA from a school, in Bolivia, which has an alliance with the Kennedy School of Harvard. I would like to know what competences do I need to have in order to apply for a job in the US, being a Latin American citizen. I have five years experience as a manager, I am 30 years old and I would like to take on some bigger challenges.

Fabrizio Zelada

Bruce: It depends what kind of opportunity you are searching for in the US. Your past work experience is important However, you also need to have the technical competencies to do the job or at least transferable skills if you are switching careers. You also need to be able to show leadership, initiative, motivation, professionalism, integrity, etc. Your technical skills and soft skills will set you apart from other candidates.

The most thought-provoking contributions may be published in the Financial Times newspaper, so please supply your full name and location.

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