Many people pursue an MBA to advance their careers and increase their earning potential, and rightfully so. The generalized business degree is often balanced with a customizable curriculum, meaning you can tailor your experience to gain the skills you desire.
In a 2021 Corporate Recruiters Survey from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), corporate recruiters agreed that business school graduates tend to have a fast track to upper-level positions in their organizations. And the desire to hire MBA graduates into those roles is only growing: A higher proportion of recruiters in 2021 (37%) expect the demand for business school graduates to increase, compared to the previous year (30%).
But what will you learn when you get an MBA? We asked two recent Daniels College of Business MBA graduates to get the inside scoop.
What hard skills do you learn in an MBA program?
Hard skills are job-specific skills you’ll need to perform your day-to-day role. Many of them can be gained through coursework and certifications.
The generalized nature of an MBA program means you will learn a baseline of business skills, from accounting and finance to marketing and business data. Within each of those courses, graduates will gain important skills to apply to their job.
Alex Frey (MBA 2022) entered her part-time MBA program at Daniels with little technical experience in business. Five years earlier, she had graduated from the University of Denver with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. Her primary goal in returning to DU was to grow the business skills she felt she was lacking.
“It was about bridging the gap between my engineering skillset and figuring out how to better communicate to leadership,” she said. And while lacking a business foundation may seem like a challenge when entering an MBA program, Frey said the transition was smooth.
“I think there is an intimidation factor not having that background, but it was seamless joining the program,” she said.
Over the course of her degree program, Frey said she gained invaluable business skills that she’s applied in her professional career. As a result, she feels she is a more complete employee.
“The breadth of classes we had the opportunity to take was nice and very well-rounded,” she said.
Darby Steinberger (MBA 2022) had an undergraduate degree in finance, but she was still thankful she was exposed to new business technologies while earning her full-time MBA at Daniels—specifically, analytics software like PowerBI.
“That was valuable hard-skill building, to work with different software,” she said. Steinberger added that Daniels prepared her to take the Chartered Financial Analyst exam, and gave her a scholarship so she could afford to do so.
In many programs, students can also choose a concentration that focuses their degree program on a specific area of business. So, if you’re looking to grow your marketing skills, for example, you can take additional coursework in that area. Daniels also offers a custom concentration that gives students the ability to craft their own specialization, with the help of program leaders and advising staff.
What soft skills do you learn in an MBA program?
In addition to the hard skills students learn, MBA programs also teach many soft skills, like problem-solving, interpersonal skills and time management. While many of these abilities can’t be taught through certifications, like hard skills can, the structure and project-based learning from MBA programs can boost your aptitude in these areas.
At Daniels, MBA coursework also includes a leadership and global business component to help create balanced, prepared business professionals. Students in some programs at Daniels also take part in a cohort model, progressing with their classmates toward graduation and building interpersonal skills in a group setting.
Recruiters value these skills highly, according to the 2021 survey from GMAC. Nine in 10 recruiters from the consulting industry identified interpersonal skills, learning, motivation and leadership as the most important qualities for MBA graduates to possess, the report said.
At Daniels, MBA students utilize the Insights Discovery System as a tool for improving business communication and emotional intelligence. This tool helps students understand how they like to be communicated to and how they should be communicating with others.
Steinberger said this was one of her biggest takeaways from the program and has helped form her as a leader.
“The ability to work with people with different skillsets, while understanding your own leadership style, was a big eye opener for me,” she said.
GMAC’s report found that the most important things you’ll gain from an MBA program are interpersonal skills, learning, motivation and leadership skills, strategy and innovation, technological skills, decision-making skills, and networking skills.
Interpersonal skills have become a priority for recruiters; the report found that these skills are rated highly in hiring because they’re needed to drive organizational growth and innovation.
Whether you’re a manager on a team or just part of one, being able to interact with your colleagues is a crucial skill in business. Creating a strong relationship with your team extends beyond asking them about their weekend.
For students looking to upskill in this area, an MBA can provide important lessons in interpersonal skills with your classmates, professors and advisors.
Learning, motivation and leadership skills
Learning to become a leader can be a challenging task if you aren’t already managing a team. Within an MBA program, project-based learning will allow you to lead a team of your classmates in a lower-stakes environment than at your job. In that experience, you’ll gain crucial insights on where you excel as a leader and where you may be lacking.
At Daniels, we take it a step further. Many of our MBA programs take students through an introductory leadership course to teach them the key tenets of strong leadership.
Frey said this coursework helped her better understand how to work in teams and how students with diverse backgrounds can effectively work together.
“A lot of what you learn is how to work with different people, especially people that have very different experiences and formal education from you,” she said.
For students looking to advance within in their current role or qualify for a promotion, technological skills are vital to their advancement. In an MBA program, students will learn the programs and technology in a variety of different business focus areas, graduating as a well-rounded business professional.
Networking is one of the key selling points of an MBA, with students often exposed to major employers in the area, professors that work in that industry and their like-minded classmates.
Given the real-world coursework included in many MBA programs, students will likely work with local companies to provide potential solutions to their issues. These connections could lead to internships or even post-graduation jobs with the companies they work with in the classroom.
Daniels has an extensive list of about 65 highly engaged and committed corporate partners, including Deloitte, Breakthru Beverage Group, Transamerica and many more. Last year, the College engaged more than 1,100 different companies and organizations in a variety of ways, including class projects, guest speaking, board memberships, industry events and more. These are crucial networking connections and can lead to job and internship opportunities for our students.
Steinberger said networking was the most important takeaway from her MBA program at Daniels.
“Easily the biggest benefit of grad school is the network it created,” she said.
Develop your skills at Daniels
Daniels offers a variety of MBA programs to fit the education, career and personal goals of every student. We offer four MBA programs that serve students, whether they are looking to attend full-time or part-time, either online or in person.
Additionally, we offer concentrations in our MBA programs that allow students to choose a specific focus within a program and gain a richer education in that desired topic. By choosing an MBA concentration, you’ll take elective classes that make you a specialist in that topic and set you up for additional opportunities post-graduation.