Online MBA Graduates Find Career Success Amid Economic Uncertainty

With concerns emerging that the MBA job market may be slowing down for graduates of full-time residential programs, the picture is nuanced for Online MBA candidates.

Despite economic uncertainty, there are signs that Online MBA programs continue to provide solid career outcomes for graduates, while some alumni of full-time residential courses are finding it harder to land jobs.

“Our latest employment report for our Global Online MBA cohorts graduating early 2023 indicates 45 percent of students changed companies, 21 percent changed sectors, and 15 percent changed their locations from before their MBA to after their studies. These statistics are consistent with previous years which is pleasing to see,” says Lisa Umenyiora, Executive Director of Careers and Student Life at Imperial College Business School, London.

However, she adds that in the current jobs market the business school is seeing cautious hiring. The flipside is that companies are increasingly focusing on employee development and retention given the resilience of the labor market – sometimes paying for their top performers to get an Online MBA.

“This is an opportune time for those interested in or open to internal promotion and a change in roles or location within their current company to gain support both for a part-time MBA program and for their career progression,” says Umenyiora. “Almost two thirds (63 percent) of our recent graduating cohort gained a promotion pre-to post-MBA, with an average 30 percent salary increase.”

There are notable differences in the recruitment and career outcomes between graduates of Online MBA programs and those from full-time, in-person MBA programs. While many full-time MBA students use a summer internship to gain a significant career change (often a key motivator), a large number of Online MBA candidates have different motivations.

“The majority of our Global Online MBA graduates, who average 12 years’ work experience, either gain promotion within their companies or move companies via experienced hire direct entry roles,” says Umenyiora. “It is widely agreed that about 70% of experienced hire roles are not filled by advertising on job sites – these opportunities are known as the hidden job market.  A significant benefit for students undertaking an MBA is gaining access to a broad network, hence widening their access to this hidden market.”

Challenges amidst opportunities 

However, others point to limitations for career-switchers in the current economic environment. “Given the tighter job market of the last year, employers are in an advantageous position to hold out for candidates with specific skills or levels of experience, which can make it more challenging for career changers,” says Steve Rakas, Executive Director of Careers at Tepper School of Business in Pittsburgh, USA.

The business school has not observed any notable shifts in the demand for specific skills that employers seek from Online MBA graduates. “I think employers continue to expect very specific skills from Online MBA graduates: strong communication, the ability to work well in teams, to make data-driven decisions, and to lead with emotional intelligence,” says Meg Lukus, the Director of Online MBA Programs at Tepper School of Business.

But she underlines one point of difference between Online and other MBA candidates: “I would argue that our Online MBA students are some of the most well-prepared and well-balanced MBA graduates out there because they can immediately apply their learning to their daily professional lives.”

Skills expectations are changing

Gavin Symonds, the Senior Online Program Manager at Imperial College Business School, says that employers are increasingly seeking skills such as analytical and creative thinking, which continue to top the list of priority skills in several reports including The Future of Jobs 2023 from the World Economic Forum (WEF) and Indeed’s Future Skills for the Workplace.

“Meanwhile AI and digital literacy, and use of big data are growing in importance – these underpin the plans for e-commerce and digital trade to be adopted by large numbers of businesses,” adds Symonds. “And alongside these, communications skills, especially cross-cultural competence, multilingualism, and active listening, will continue to be key skills for the foreseeable future, while expected leadership skills are increasingly including an interest in or action towards positive impact.”

And with employer preferences shifting, business schools are making changes to their Online MBA programs ensure the ongoing relevance and adaptability of their curricula.

“It is vital that business schools adapt to help students and alumni to meet the demands of an evolving and highly competitive job market,” says Sarah Jackson, Alumni and MBA Careers Manager at Warwick Business School, in the UK.

Warwick has started a Future of Work group, including partners from a number of external organizations, to gather information and update its leadership and careers provision for candidates on its Online MBA program.

Indeed, many business schools enable Online MBA students to customize the curriculum to meet their needs. “Many students choose elective courses that align with their career pursuits, including the business of healthcare in recent years,” says Matt Hente, Director of the Online MBA program at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School in the US.

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