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Your future career

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By Margaret Adolphus

What can I do with a management degree?

Business and management subjects are popular choices for study in higher education, at all levels. Diplomas and undergraduate degrees have multiplied over the past decade, attracting ever-larger numbers of school leavers and returners seeking career change or re-training for a job market in which their previous skills have become redundant. And simultaneously, postgraduate programmes have grown in both number and complexity, from the original MBA courses of the 1970s and 1980s, into a plethora of specialist taught master's awards, DBA programmes, etc.

Students generally hope for improved job offers, enhanced career development and better remuneration packages. But what job opportunities are available to individuals graduating from management courses – do these courses really offer an advantage over studies of other disciplines?

It's not what you know

For employers, the choice of subject a candidate studied is sometimes less significant than the grade (or classification) that is obtained at the culmination of the course; or even, than the school or university where the course was taken. A higher grade or degree classification is seen as evidence of dedication, hard work and commitment, no matter what the subject matter studied.

In 2002, researchers at the University of Alberta asked employers what were the five most important general traits or competences they looked for in potential employees, and they found that the most frequently occurring responses were related to communication and interpersonal skills.

List of some of the most important general traits or competences they looked for in potential employees
Communication Teamwork Customer service Initiative
Interpersonal skills Positive attitude Writing skills Flexibility, adaptability
Enthusiasm, dedication Analytical skills Outgoing personality Innovation, creativity
Computer skills Multitasking Willingness to learn Attention to detail
Ability to work in a dynamic environment Common sense, reasoning Fit with the company Organizational skills
Sales skills Second language Potential Decision-making
Ability to work independently Willingness to be challenged Integrity Supervisory experience
Career direction and growth Grasp of current events Personality Leadership
Ability to handle stress Conflict management Ability to meet deadlines Intelligence
Diligence General knowledge Public relations Work ethic
Resourcefulness Good record of achievement Ambition Passion for growth and change
Clear-speaking voice Research skills Responsibility Professional self-presentation
Motivation Good judgement Confidence Ability to explain concepts clearly
Telephone manner Professionalism Humble attitude Mental aptitude

This is echoed in research conducted by the London Business School, which found that senior executives are not looking for functional or technical expertise, but for thoughtful, sensitive, flexible individuals with an ability to learn from their environments (Andrews and Tyson, 2004).

Prospects and opportunities are good

In the UK, the picture of graduate recruitment for students of business and related studies remains positive, in spite of an "unprecedented fall" in graduate vacancies of 24.9 per cent in 2009 (Association of Graduate Recruiters, 2009). According to the Association of Graduate Recruiters' (AGR) 2009 report, in terms of the number of vacancies by career area at the employers surveyed, "general management" had moved into second place, just below accounting, making up almost one in 10 (9.4 per cent) of all vacancies (see Prospects Net, "Graduate recruitment (Spring 2009)" accessed November 2009).

An earlier AGR graduate recruitment survey (2004) reported the findings of a Fox Hanover International survey indicating that graduates from business, management and accountancy courses at that time were over 9 per cent more likely to be employed than graduates generally, at the time of the survey.

As might be expected, many of the graduates with business-relevant degrees go into the commercial and financial sectors when they take work after graduation, but these are far from being the only avenues open to such graduates. The AGR survey (2004) found graduates of business and management in 2001 had taken advantage of a wide range of opportunities (see Figure 1):

Figure 1. AGR survey (2004) of employment of graduates in business and management in 2001.

Figure 1. AGR survey (2004) of employment of graduates in business and management in 2001

The best advice for all students of business and management subjects appears to be: build up transferable skills that will carry you into whichever part of the employment marketplace you wish to enter. Even if your course seems to be pushing you onto a particular professional or vocational path, you are not forced to follow that direction and the skills and disciplines you learn as part of your degree will undoubtedly serve you as well in your job searching as any specialist knowledge you may have about the role or the business.

References

Andrews, N. and Tyson, L.D. (2004), "The Upwardly Global MBA", Strategy & Business, Fall 2004.

Association of Graduate Recruiters (2004), "Graduate Prospects", available at: www.prospects.ac.uk.

Association of Graduate Recruiters (2009), The AGR Graduate Recruitment Survey 2009 (Summer Review), available at: www.agr.org.uk.