What you make of your MBA qualification and how you add value to it is what makes the difference HONG KONG'S economy is on the mend, while China's continues to boom. The improving environment is generating plenty of career opportunities, especially for those with advanced or specialised training in general management. While the job prospects for MBA graduates have never been better, they are especially promising for those with a world view. 'Our company is globalising through mergers and acquisitions and joint venturing with global players in Europe and North America,' said the director of the human resources department at TCL, a mainland-based consumer electronics firm with a US$3.5 billion turnover last year. 'It is therefore of high interest to us to hire management candidates who have expertise in doing business globally and have a good sense of western business culture and practices.' The demand for MBA graduates is felt across the board. 'We see a variety of industry sectors hiring MBA [graduates] - it really depends on their needs at the time,' said Kwong Mei, director of MBA Career Services at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's School of Business and Management. 'Usually the hiring is not en masse but for selected positions. Our students go into consulting, financial services, marketing, retail, logistics, operations, general management, even non-profit, to name a few.' A demonstrable ability to take on leadership responsibilities within an organisation is crucial. 'Besides a sharp commercial sense and strong analytical power, employers look for a combination of interpersonal skills and leadership attributes that would make the difference in their effectiveness in the organisation,' Ms Kwong said. 'High on employers' lists are interpersonal and communication skills. Being able to articulate one's position, then work with and motivate others in the organisation are critical skills as organisations get flatter and more efficient in terms of leveraging resources.' Employers also value initiative, resourcefulness and new ways of thinking. 'After all, why should the company pay a premium if you are not adding more value?' she said. 'It is often more important to have the right process than the right answers. The process is the intangibles. How they think, how they apply what they know, how they get things done. These are some of the leadership qualities that - based on my experience - employers generally look for in MBA graduates.' How much value do the three letters 'MBA' add to your CV? Helen Law, executive division manager of Gemini Recruitment, said an MBA may not automatically bring candidates more money but in most cases it makes them more employable. 'People without a proper degree would benefit the most from an MBA,' Ms Law said. 'It would also be a plus for someone with a technical background. Someone in engineering would definitely benefit [if they wanted to move into management].' HKUST's Ms Kwong said the qualification was a help while stressing the value of experience. 'The value is not in the MBA degree itself but what one learns from the MBA experience - and what one does with the experience,' she said. 'As such, its value is a very personal measure. Whether the degree is coupled with previous relevant work experience is a big factor in its perceived value.' Trevor Sunderland, permanent and executive selection services manager, Manpower Services (Hong Kong), said there was a vast difference between a new graduate with an MBA and someone with years of work experience and an MBA. 'A new graduate with an MBA has an advantage over new graduates without MBAs, but what they don't have is the business acumen of someone with years of experience.' It is important to keep in mind that a degree is a means to an end and not an end in itself. 'Some employers value an MBA and some don't, depending on their own experience with MBAs,' Ms Kwong said. 'Of course, the quality of the MBA programme is a big differentiator too. It's important to put [it] in perspective. Getting the degree is the beginning, not the end. 'At the time of graduation, the real value is yet to be determined.' Does it make sense to take time off work to pursue an MBA? 'Many business people are taking sabbaticals from work to complete MBAs, which adds significant value to their already solid foundation of business understanding,' Mr Sunderland said. 'They learn best practice and next practice, which allows them to take their business to the next level. How much value this adds in dollar value is difficult to gauge.' Language skills are another key issue. 'Expatriates with MBAs may still find it difficult to compete with candidates who not only have the experience and MBA behind them, but also the ability to speak the local language,' Mr Sunderland said. 'These people will have greater opportunities on a global level with the MBA on their resume.' Cynthia Gu Xinyi, director of China Business Development, the Richard Ivey School of Business Career Management Office, said employers were looking for an all-round candidate, not just someone with management expertise. Leading United States PC-maker Dell has hired more than 10 Ivey MBA graduates over the past two years, and has been looking for candidates who can deal with ambiguity, pursue an intellectual challenge, and who possess excellent business acumen, she said. 'They [Dell] found that MBA graduates from top B-schools overseas, like Ivey, tended to excel in these areas,' she said. If you are enrolling in an MBA in order to find a better job or switch careers, consider how much support the school offers its graduates in finding employment. Look for programmes that offer career counselling and placement services. 'Career and placement services are very important in the success of MBA programmes,' said Vincent Lai, associate dean and MBA director, Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). 'At CUHK, we are putting in a lot of resources to support placement. This is being done in Hong Kong and also in China. Our full-time MBA programme is attracting many students from China, which makes it essential that we help them look for jobs in China.'