Category Archives: Application Tips
December 2, 2016
While other business school applicants have to work hard to demonstrate that they can handle classes such as finance, accounting and statistics, if you hail from finance, the admissions committee already knows you can excel …
While other business school applicants have to work hard to demonstrate that they can handle classes such as finance, accounting and statistics, if you hail from finance, the admissions committee already knows you can excel in the core classes, and that gives you one less thing to worry about as you craft your killer MBA application. But don’t rest on your laurels!
Because applicants from finance are overrepresented in the admissions pool, your goal is to stand out as much as possible from peers with similar backgrounds. As we pointed out in our previous posts (part 1 and part 2) highlighting the Top 10 list of common MBA application mistakes, there’s a right way and a wrong way to attract the admission committee’s attention. We’ll wrap up today with the final things to avoid to make yours a successful MBA application.
Mistake #8: Not thinking through the “Why an MBA?” question
Many firms expect analysts or other junior bankers to leave for an MBA at approximately the two-year mark. Other possible options for you are to join a PE firm or hedge fund, or find a job in industry. If you’re at this crossroads in your career and now is the expected time to apply to MBA programs, you will need to actively counteract any impression that your MBA is simply to “check a box” before the next level in your career.
It’s time to step back from your practical brain and access your creative side to come up with your ideal career vision statement. You have amazing skills –there is no doubt an MBA will add to your overall skill set. The hope is that you will arrive on your MBA campus with a burning desire to make the world a better place. Passion and vision are critical to MBA admissions committee evaluation because they are both essential elements of effective leadership.
Mistake #9: Thinking you’re too busy for extracurricular activities
The reality for finance professionals is that a demanding work schedule rarely allows time for meaningful extracurriculars. What can you do if your work really is your life? If your 80-hour work week didn’t allow time for community involvement, realize that not every extracurricular has to be literally outside of work. Take some time to look inside your office building for those leadership opportunities that may have nothing to do with your day-to-day responsibilities.
And remember, not all volunteering requires a time commitment every week. With your schedule you’ll need to be creative to find flexible opportunities to contribute. Look for activities that are not face-time based, but that focus on impact or a small amount of time on weekends. A track record of volunteering and community service—no matter how big or small—adds a lot of strength to your candidacy.
Mistake #10: Not letting your personality shine through
An MBA application is a hybrid between a business communication and a personal essay. While it’s important to keep the focus and precision of a business writing exercise, you don’t need to sacrifice the color of a personal essay. Don’t be afraid to be yourself, even if that means injecting humor, fear or humility. You are not expected to be a perfect robot; that is not an appealing quality for an MBA student. Using your emotions effectively will help your essays come alive and show that you are more than a list of your accomplishments.
You already knew that your work experience is impressive and a key selling point for your candidacy. But now you also know it’s very important to highlight those extra-curricular activities, hobbies, or interesting personal stories in your application, and demonstrate you’ve made a deep personal connection to the programs on your list. Avoid these 10 mistakes commonly made by finance applicants, and you’ll offer the admissions committee a truly holistic picture of your candidacy. Best of luck!
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November 28, 2016
These days, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who stays with one company or even one industry throughout his or her entire professional life. If you’re looking for the fast track to gain the skills and network to launch your career in a new direction, a popular way to do so is through an MBA program. In fact, by some estimates, two-thirds or more of graduating MBAs use the degree as a means of switching careers.
While students often set their sights on a job in finance or consulting, the skills typically strengthened during business school—leadership, intellectual creativity, analysis and critical thinking, cross-cultural awareness, communication, even greater IT mastery—will serve you well as you find your way toward your ultimate career goal.
So-called career switchers look upon the degree as a way to expand international job opportunities, develop the right connections for future employment, and establish the potential for long-term income and financial stability. I personally went to business school because I wanted to transition from finance to marketing. While I did achieve this, I also found that the MBA experience in and of itself opened up my mind to an array of new possibilities. I ended up in a career with a marketing focus, but it unfolded in a way I never would have considered pre-MBA.
Since application season is in full swing, I have a few words of advice for those applying to an MBA program now or in the near future. Business school demands a huge investment of your time, energy and finances, so make an airtight case to the admissions committee for why you want to go into this new field. Show that you know what the industry requires, the challenges you expect to face, and convey all previous experiences that demonstrate you have the transferable skills to make this switch.
One former SBC client, Sheila, worked as a real estate attorney focused on commercial transactions when she decided that she found working with the financial details more interesting than the legal intricacies. She passed the first level of the Certified Financial Analyst exam, but had a very limited understanding of other areas of business management. Though the CFA program is a tremendous resource, she had enough experience to know that she needed to develop the skills best provided by earning an MBA. Going to business school became the next logical step toward Sheila’s objective of working in real estate banking at a Wall Street firm.
If your undergraduate degree or work experience falls into the non-traditional category, make sure you clearly convey your long-term career goals within your application and essays, and explain in detail how you arrived at the conclusion that an MBA would help you further your professional aspirations. Know that the elite business schools welcome applicants from the humanities, but, unlike their business major peers, these candidates will need to prove to the admissions committee that their relatively minimal academic experience in quantitative subjects won’t be a hindrance once they hit those core courses.
Your GMAT or GRE score is the first and most obvious piece of the puzzle that indicates your ability to handle MBA-level course work, so allow yourself plenty of time to study for the exam. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the GMAT, the average amount of study needed to achieve a score between 600 and 690 is 92 hours, and getting above that brass ring score of 700 is 102 hours. If you find your score has settled at the lower end of the spectrum, find other ways to demonstrate your quantitative competence, such as taking a college-level calculus class with a score of a B-plus or better.
Once you’re in b-school, opportunities abound to try out that new industry through coursework, student groups, internships, or networking with alumni. Self-reflection and exploration are key components of the MBA experience, giving students a chance to sample various fields and functions without making any firm commitments.
Embarking on a new career path with a freshly-minted MBA tucked under your arm isn’t just about new knowledge acquired in the classroom. It’s about leveraging your existing experience with enhanced skills, and even more so, it’s about making the most of personal relationships. All of the people, classes, activities, etc. in an MBA program catapult you into a whole new sphere, and you may come out with completely new ideas which help facilitate career change in ways you would not have thought of before. For me, this is the best part and the real opportunity business school provides.
The article originally appeared as a guest post for our partners at MBA Insight.
November 23, 2016
Whether you’ve already received an interview invitation or are hoping to get an invite over the next few weeks, you want to make sure you’re prepared to do your best when the big day arrives. As you might suspect, the admissions interview is the place to convey your talent, drive and personality in a way no written application can match.
By knowing what to expect, you’ll be able to relax and focus your energies on dazzling the interviewer with your professional skills and strengths. But remember, he or she also wants to get a feel for you as a person, to find out how you’d fit in with the school’s unique culture, and how you would contribute as a student if admitted.
Applicants should begin their interview prep by learning their application and resume backward and forward in order to crystallize those professional goals and motivations. Ask yourself these key questions:
- Can I clearly articulate my career plan and future goals?
- What is my motivation to obtain an MBA?
- How do I plan to use my MBA in my career?
- What do I really want from my MBA experience?
- Why is X business school the right place for me?
- What can I bring to this MBA community?
- Where do I see myself in 5, 10 or 15 years?
Here are three common questions that come up during the one-on-one MBA interview, with some advice on how to respond succinctly and with substance:
1. Tell me about yourself.
My first piece of advice: don’t go on and on. Quickly summarize the highlights of your college years and then move on to your professional career. Explain why you took the roles you did, what your main responsibilities were, and what you enjoyed or took away from each position. If you’ve stayed at the same company for several years, you could talk about how your responsibilities have increased over time.
2. Why do you want to go School X?
If you haven’t discussed your short- and long-term career goals yet, you could begin your response by briefly explaining what you’re hoping to do after graduation. Then you can state the specific skills and knowledge you’ll need to be successful in the future—and how School X can help you fill those gaps.
3. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
The worst thing you could say in response to this question is “No.” Even if you’ve had an hour-long discussion that covered everything under the sun and you’re feeling confident about how things have gone, you still should take this opportunity to reiterate why you’re excited about the program and why you’d be an asset to the incoming class. And, of course, if there’s something specific about your candidacy that you feel could improve your odds and you haven’t been able to discuss it up to this point, now’s the time to do so.
Do You Play Nice with Others? The Group or Team-Based Interview
Business schools want to see how candidates interact with peers before anyone’s even admitted, which can be very telling. It’s not actually an interview, per se, because no questions will be asked of participants. Through observation of each member’s discussions and communication with the group, the admissions team hopes to glean deeper insight into each applicant’s teamwork and interpersonal skills.
Here’s what you don’t want to do during a group interview:
- Dominate the conversation
- Cut others off or dismiss someone’s idea entirely
- Raise your voice
- Roll your eyes, cross your arms, or display any other kind of negative body language
- Take out your phone or any other electronic device
- Here’s what you should try to accomplish:
- Demonstrate you’ve done your research (if given a topic in advance)
- Listen—truly listen—to the others in your group when they speak
- Seize any opportunities to either build upon or refer to someone else’s point
- Put the group’s goal ahead of trying to get airtime
- Offer to summarize if the conversation has reached a point where the group would benefit from a quick recap
As many MBA applicants are born leaders who are used to taking charge, you’ll need to be conscious of the fact that you might be surrounded by lots of Type A personalities and adjust your style accordingly. However, if you tend to be on the shy side, don’t let others intimidate you. If no one’s given you the chance to get a word in, you’re going to have to find an appropriate way to join the conversation before it’s too late.
Ready for Your Close-Up? Prepping for the Video Interview
In an era where MBA applicants often come across as overly packaged and polished, an increasing number of MBA programs have started using online video-interview platforms in order to get a better sense of your personality. They’ve seen what you have going for you on paper; a video interview can help them judge whether or not the “real you” matches the impression you’ve built through your other materials. Here are some video-interview tips:
- Prepare (and practice) succinct responses for all of the typical MBA-related questions: Why Program X, Why an MBA overall, Why now, What are your career goals, Summarize your career to date, and so on.
- Then add some “fun” questions and responses into the mix: Review the last book you read/movie you saw/TV show you watched; What’s your favorite song and why; Where’s the best place you’ve gone on vacation, et cetera
- Record yourself answering these questions. Have a trusted friend review your responses and tell you how you’re coming off. Tweak your style accordingly.
When the big moment arrives and it’s time for the real thing, remember that no one is trying to trick you into embarrassing yourself. It’s just another opportunity for you to show what an asset you’ll be to an MBA program. So if you experience technical glitches such as a frozen feed or dropped audio, remember that maintaining your poise and keeping your frustration in check will further help you make a positive impression on your interviewer. Also, dress in appropriate business attire from head to toe. If you need to stand up for any reason during the interview and have nothing but boxers on, rest assured that is an impression the interviewer won’t soon forget.
Mind Your Manners
Finally, don’t forget to send your interviewer a thank-you note or email no later than the following day. Some admission committees need to make accept and denial decisions very quickly, so you shouldn’t let more than 24 hours go by before you send your message. If you interviewed in the morning, send it before the business day is over. If your talk was in the late afternoon or evening, get your email out first thing the next morning.
A word of caution: a thank-you note is not the place to try and sell yourself any further or write another mini-essay. The point is to show that you’re excited about and thankful for the opportunity to be considered for a spot in Program X.
It may sound cliché, but remember to just be yourself, and pay attention to first impressions. The evaluation process of your fit with the program actually starts before you sit down with your interviewer, so you want to make sure that every interaction you have, including with the office staff, is courteous and further adds to a positive impression of your candidacy. If you can show you’re prepared to work well with a team, know exactly how an MBA will benefit your career, and why X school is the best fit for you, you may soon find yourself on the positive side of the highly competitive MBA interview and application process.
This article, written by SBC consultant Sherry Holland, originally appeared on Poets & Quants.
Image by Flickr user: CNJ’s photostream (CC BY-NC 2.0)