Every day, prospective clients call, email or ask us what they can do to most improve their candidacy. Most times, these MBA applicants are solely focused on ways to address their GPA (see our essay on “Building an alternative transcript) or taking the GMAT for a second, third, or fourth time. Curiously to us, there is often no mention of excelling in their job execution nor realization of the importance of being a leader in various communities in which these MBA prospects interact. Our general response (tailored based on each particular MBA applicant’s position) is to stress the importance of doing well in one’s job and one’s community as the most important asset to help a candidate achieve success in the rigorous MBA application process.
The significance of excelling in work to garner success in the MBA application process cannot be overstated. Unlike graduate school programs of law, medicine, and Ph.D. pursuits, MBA applicants typically differ in having worked for three to five or six years. For these other schools, candidates usually attend immediately upon undergraduate graduation (minus a summer of travel, fun in the sun, or if were a bit dorkish like me, doing summer research on fantasy soccer and football teams). This difference in years worked is huge as it offers an additional, more relevant data point for MBA applicants. As opposed to being evaluated solely on grades, a standardized exam, essays, recommendations, and interviews, MBA applicants have work, ultimately the competitive arena in which they will participate after school. Thus, this factor is at least as important to any of the other areas of evaluation including:
We have seen many MBA candidates who come to us with stellar grades and strong GMAT scores, but who possess weak work experience and related resulting recommendations. We denote “weak” candidate work experience to not being amongst the top 15% of their workplace, no record of promotion, no marked new responsibility, and limited growth in their company (if they are an entrepreneur). The influence of your work experience in an MBA application should be viewed warily. While, it is an opportunity to minimize weak board scores and demonstrate that your grades and GMAT may not be indicative of your true talent in the workforce, there is a clear downside. If you lack a history of strong work performance, it may also throw into doubt the value of your academic and testing success. Thus, for all candidates, this work history must be managed and expressed on your MBA applications with great care.
Doing well in your community is a critical asset for your MBA admission essays. Most of the top-tier programs tout their ability to develop leaders as opposed to JUST capitalists. Alumni span across governments, nonprofits, military, education, and other related areas as opposed to just finance, marketing, and consulting. Thus, schools are deliberately seeking candidates who have demonstrated this leadership and involvement in their communities (work, city, neighborhood, etc…). In the early 2000s when I was applying and attending Wharton, schools began adding ethics to the curriculum and often making it required for students. The Enron debacle and Dick Grasso NYSE situation compelled schools for reasons of morals and political cover to add this focus. The dubious situation today, on the heels of the financial market meltdown of 2008 in which MBAs have been accused of bringing the country down (a bit unfairly, in my opinion), is similar. Perhaps, it’s not coincidental that a few years ago Harvard Business School appointed a Dean (http://www.hbs.edu/dean/) who is well known for his focus on ethics:
Thus, being able to demonstrate a commitment to strong moral character is critical and volunteering is the purest way to both participate and showcase this aspect of your persona. Moreover, for most applicants who are young, it also will be one of the sole ways in which you can obtain leadership experience since most of you are too junior in your jobs.
The message is clear and unmistakable (perhaps, it should have been stated earlier): If you want to succeed in your business school pursuit, dominate in your career and your community.
Thanks for reading and reach out if Admit Advantage can help,