It's the mental change you undergo on an MBA that employers find so valuable

The latest figures from the Graduate Management Admissions Council (Gmac) show that employment prospects for business Masters graduates are holding steady, despite challenging economic conditions. So what value do employers attach to an MBA, and can it still help you get a job?

Many students seem to think so. Some 79 per cent of 2011 full-time MBA graduates said the qualification was "essential" to securing their first role after graduation, according to the Gmac Alumni Perspectives survey, while 62 per cent had job offers in place upon leaving the course. "There are definitely skills people are coming away with that make them attractive hires," says Michelle Sparkman-Renz, Gmac's director of research communications. This year's Corporate Recruiters survey projects that 67 per cent of employers are looking to recruit MBA graduates, compared with 68 per cent in 2011, which she sees as a strong performance in the current climate.

Motivation (57 per cent) and initiative (52 per cent) are the top two qualities employers cited as "likely to get students hired". With European companies increasingly looking to surmount economic challenges and cut costs, Sparkman-Renz believes mobile MBA graduates are ideally placed to assist. "Companies need people who are leaner, more strategic and can help them do more with less," she says.

An Association of MBAs (Amba) employer survey in 2010/11 found that 74 per cent believed an employee with an MBA offered more than those without one, valuing them for their strategic thinking and analytical abilities. "When the job market is highly competitive, it is important to have a strong differentiator. The MBA qualification gives you that," says Carol Turner, Amba's communications manager.

While business knowledge, job prospects and salary potential are at the top of the wish list for European MBA students, their breadth and depth of knowledge will be a vital selling point to recruiters. Marieke Steffens, director of career and personal development at Nyenrode Business University, explains, "A professional with an engineering background who is able to complement those skills with the in-depth insights into the academic and practical aspects of leadership gained through the MBA, presents an extremely interesting value proposition for employers."

Employers see a need for business management skills in some areas not traditionally associated with them. Heather Baker, managing director of a PR consultancy, has just finished an executive MBA at London Business School. "Our sector tends to attract creatives who are simply not commercial thinkers," she says, which means she has had to train staff to understand the pressures on CEOs of the firms they do business with. "Creative sectors need more MBAs," she concludes.

However, recruiters caution that despite some positive statistics, a business management qualification is certainly not a magic bullet. "Not all companies see them as a valuable qualification," says Michael Gentle, head of consumer marketing for Monster UK and Ireland. "MBAs can be costly and the qualification doesn't necessarily mean you will automatically get a job, so it's important to consider if it is the right option for you."

On its own, an MBA won't transform a CV into a golden ticket, says Terence Perrin, chairman of the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR); experience gained outside the classroom will also make a difference. "Recruiters are likely to value knowledge of rapidly changing global markets, perhaps gained during an international secondment, and the ability to work as part of a multicultural team. They'll also be looking for MBAs who have experience of both academic research and practical work and are comfortable working flexibly."

Graeme Read, MD of recruiter Antal International, adds, "Employers will still look first at experience and what candidates have previously done in their work and who with. Essentially the MBA is seen as the icing on the cake, rather than the cake itself."

An MBA might not be enough to guarantee success, but those who put their all into it will see more than a simple return on their investment, says Sparkman-Renz. "People tell us they feel better prepared for their career, that they have improved job satisfaction and better professional networks."

Adela Papac, an MBA at Westminster, suggests the ongoing appeal to students and employers alike is even harder to quantify: it creates fresh thinking. "The MBA shifts your mind to think differently. It gives you a lot of new insights, challenges your old beliefs and offers a new perspective on things."