MBA students think business school has made them brilliant. Employers don’t agree

Image: Reuters/Jason Reed
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Students studying for their MBAs at elite business schools, eager to take the reins of management in the corporate world, often believe leadership is one of the most important skills they’re learning.

Employers? Not so much.

A recent survey of business students and corporate recruiters shows a sharp divergence in the value of leadership as a teachable skill. Employers rank it near the bottom of eight skills taught in business school, ahead only of career management. They place much higher weight on professionalism, critical thinking, and the ability to work in teams.

Jeff Kavanaugh, a consultant at Infosys and an adjunct business professor at the University of Texas, Dallas, also asked what skills the students had mastered. Perhaps not surprisingly, students had a much healthier view of their abilities than their prospective employers. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most competent, the students ranked themselves at 7 or above in all skills; employers ranked them above 7 in just one: their IT skills.

The biggest mismatch was in how they viewed leadership skills—students scored themselves above 8, while employers scored them at 5.5, the lowest score of any of the eight skills.

The survey of 3,000 business students and 10,000 recruiters was conducted by Kavanaugh and reported by Poets & Quants, a website for MBA students.

While students may think they’re ready to assume command, their prospective employers are looking for solid workers who will show up on time and get the job done.