Category Archives: Application Tips

Work in Finance? Don’t Make These Common MBA Application Mistakes

As an MBA applicant with a background in finance, you’re no doubt wondering how to stand out from your equally impressive peers. No matter how remarkable your pedigree, the truth is that no business school …

As an MBA applicant with a background in finance, you’re no doubt wondering how to stand out from your equally impressive peers. No matter how remarkable your pedigree, the truth is that no business school wants an entire class filled with individuals of the same profile.

application mistakes finance professionals make

While this information may be sobering and have you wondering how in the world can you ever earn an acceptance letter, keep in mind that MBA programs welcome candidates with your background. In fact, every year the classes at top MBA programs are filled with former finance professionals.

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 last month when we started this Top 10 list of common MBA application mistakes, there’s a right way and a wrong way to attract the admission committee’s attention. Let’s dive deeper into what finance professionals should avoid, and what makes for a successful MBA application.

Mistake #4:   Failing to leverage your interests outside of work

While most of your peers will have similar work examples, you are the only one with your particular hobbies, interests, friends and family. What are your passions outside of the office? You’re missing out on a critical opportunity to connect with the admissions committee if you don’t tap into your personal pursuits to add another dimension to your MBA application.

When you reflect on your life, think about the differences that can help you stand out. It can be anything from education to family to activities and interests. What do you spend your free time and money on? What values have you inherited from your family? Take those differences and create a nugget of a story to include in relevant essays to reveal more about you than your GPA or work history.

Mistake #5: Overlooking work accomplishments that fall outside the norm

Everyone in the admissions committee knows what an investment banking, hedge fund or private equity analyst actually does all day. Many of your peers are also working hard to gain admission, and thousands of applications later, your work experience may start to seem similar to all the others in the pile.

As you survey your peers, think about what you do at work that is outside your typical deal or investment focused work (and theirs). Instead of talking about the analysis you conducted or the due diligence you performed, think about the time you trained the interns or organized a community service event for your colleagues.  Maybe you created a new process or led recruiting efforts. Any of these “extra-curricular” work activities can be an asset to your application and help you stand out.

Mistake #6: Not explaining the meaning behind your career goals

Whether you are staying on your current career path or switching to something completely different, it’s important not to assume that the MBA admissions committee will understand why you are pursuing your specific career goals. Your task is to explain that you have consciously selected your future career plans through research, evaluation of your own strengths and weaknesses, and other intangible factors. In short, your career goals have to have meaning to you, and you’ll need to communicate that meaning through your application materials.

Aim to demonstrate exactly how your career goals and personal history have come together into a path with real purpose. Obviously not every candidate is planning to save the world after pursuing an MBA, but even if your career goals are not inherently altruistic it’s important to show that they have deep meaning for you personally.

Mistake #7: Not showing your collaborative side

How do you demonstrate teamwork when you are sitting solo in front of a computer screen all day? What if you work largely on your own projects for your associate, and very little with other analysts? Overall, it’s sometimes tough to feel like you are part of a team when you’re always performing tasks for senior level meetings and pitches. That’s the dilemma facing many of you as you answer questions that ask for your ability to work collaboratively as part of a team.

The most successful teams take the strengths of each person to counteract any weaknesses of others. As you enter your MBA program you’ll bring specific skills that can be an asset to any project. Taking these key strengths and applying them to your business school environment can be a great way to showcase how much you will contribute to your learning team, your cluster or cohort, and any club leadership position.


We’ll be back next month with the final installment addressing the common mistakes finance applicants need to avoid. Until then, please follow SBC in social media and sign up for the SBC newsletter, where you’ll receive expert advice on all aspects of the MBA application process delivered straight in your inbox each week.

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10 Common Mistakes Made in B-School Essays 

If you’re looking to create a winning MBA application, the absolute best place to shine a spotlight on your goals and accomplishments is in the required essay questions. After all, life provides ample source material—innovations, …

If you’re looking to create a winning MBA application, the absolute best place to shine a spotlight on your goals and accomplishments is in the required essay questions. After all, life provides ample source material—innovations, successes, ethical dilemmas, workplace conflicts–that you can mine for essay inspiration.

fix a low gpa

However, all too often b-school hopefuls make mistakes, some big and some seemingly minor, that end up torpedoing their chances at admission before they’ve even had a chance to interview. Take a look at the following 10 most common blunders that we’ve seen applicants make—and make sure you steer clear of them in your own essays.

Mistake #1: Writing what you think the admissions committee wants to hear. If you tailor your essays in an attempt to make yourself into the so-called perfect MBA applicant, you’ve totally missed the point of the essay in the first place. The goal is to show what an introspective and interesting candidate you are.

While many applicants have similar credentials, the beauty of the MBA application process is that it allows candidates a chance for self-reflection, and to discover that they are more unique than they first imagine. So be yourself, and write in a way that allows the admissions team to genuinely get to know you.

Mistake #2: Neglecting to answer the question.  Before you start writing, make sure you really grasp the intent of the essay prompt. Otherwise, you risk going off track and neglecting the underlying theme. Applicants often become so determined to drive home a particular point, or worse, drift off into a tangent, that they fail to succinctly answer the question being asked. For instance, if the prompt asks how you’ll contribute to the culture of the school, don’t use that space to lay out your reasons for targeting that program.

In other words, don’t answer with “what” when the question asks “how?” or “why?” Business schools dedicate a lot of time to coming up with essay prompts with the goal of finding out how you fit their program, and not answering the question immediately indicates poor fit. A good strategy is to have a friend or colleague read your essay without knowing the question, and then ask them to say what they think you’re trying to answer.  Their response will let you know whether you’re on the right course.

Mistake #3: Cutting and pasting in essays you’ve written for other business schools. This one seems like a no-brainer, but according to numerous admissions officers, it happens every season and more times than they can count. At best, you’re not answering the precise question the school is asking, and at worst, you risk accidentally leaving in the name of the other school and receiving an automatic rejection. Several schools have decided to get creative with their questions in recent years in large part to avoid this situation of recycled essays.

Mistake #4: Not filling in the “White Spaces.” You are more than just your resume; you are what I like to call the “white spaces” in between. What keeps you awake at night? When you look back at your life, what will you admire and regret about your choices?  All applicants have a story to tell, an opportunity to go beyond their GMAT score and other stats.

Prospective students often shy away from sharing small but important details about themselves that can help them stand out from the crowd. They think, “Admissions committees don’t want to hear about that side of me,” or “Business schools don’t want people who are interested in that.” But you never know if those years on the college water polo team, the minor in game design, or those articles you published in the school newspaper are just the ticket to creating a standout application.

Mistake #5: Using industry jargon or pretentious language. Never assume the admissions committee member reviewing your application is intimately familiar with your particular industry. Technical language, while appropriate in a resume, can really interfere with the story you’re trying to tell. Also, unless your friends always refer to you as Mr. or Ms. Dictionary, avoid flowery or stuffy language – use familiar words instead to rephrase your accomplishments so that anyone could understand them.

Though seemingly minor, the issue of poor word choice can really distract your reader from the points you’re trying to convey. With hundreds of applications on their desks, the admissions staff has only a few minutes to review each essay, so it should be immediately digestible.

Mistake #6: Not owning up to past mistakes. Nobody likes drawing attention to their past mistakes, academic or otherwise, particularly when applying for a seat at an uber-competitive business school. But believe it or not, being up front about your foibles can go a long way toward minimizing the damage and can actually boost your chances for admissions. Failing to address obvious weaknesses, such as a low GPA or employment gaps, does more harm than good in the end.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard members of the admissions committee express dismay over applicants who don’t make use of the optional essay to explain the common red flag of low quantitative stats or proof of quantitative proficiency. This isn’t the time to cross your fingers and hope for the best, no matter how many stories you’ve heard of applicants getting into the Stanford University Graduate School of Business with a 650 GMAT score.

Mistake #7: Not thinking through your career goals. The career goals essay is probably the most important question you must answer in your MBA application. The admissions committee expects that you have given enough serious thought to your own future that you can clearly articulate your short- and long-term plans. More importantly, they want to hear about why you have those goals.

Fortunately, the AdCom doesn’t expect you to know exactly what you want to be doing decades from now, and no one’s going to hold you to what you write in your essay. However, if an applicant doesn’t appear to have given any serious thought to his or her own future, that could be a red flag.

Mistake #8: Not proofreading your essays. Don’t forget to proofread, spell-check, and proofread some more. Some admissions officers liken submitting an essay riddled with grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes to wearing pajamas to your admissions interview! Errors like these reflect poorly on your candidacy and can overshadow other impressive qualities like your high GMAT score or interesting work experience.

Have a fresh pair of eyes read through your essay to catch any of those pesky punctuation errors or grammatical mistakes that we often miss ourselves after re-reading and editing along the way.

Mistake #9: Failing to make the case for why X program is right for you. Although many top schools seem similar on the surface, each prides themselves on the characteristics that make them different from their peers. Whatever your own personal reasons for seeking an MBA may be, make sure you can point out specific aspects of the skill set required for your future career that will be augmented by attending that school.

The admissions committee wants to know why your particular aspirations will be uniquely satisfied by their program, so use the essays (and later, the interview) to show you have done your research.

Mistake #10: Disregarding the school’s explicit instructions. If the MBA program you’re targeting has listed a specific word count for the required essays, or a preference in font or font size, please follow their requests. The last thing you want to do is annoy your reader by using an eye-straining font, or disregarding the stipulated word count limits.

My advice on word count is to forget about it while you’re writing the essay. Focus on getting your content together and making sure that it’s very strong. Once your content is there, you’d be surprised at how easy it is to cut words. The general rule of thumb is to stay within 10%. Don’t worry if you go a bit over, but much more than that and you are simply not following directions.

The MBA essays are your platform to show what makes you a dynamic, multidimensional person that any program would want to have. As you pull all of your materials together, really scrutinize each aspect to see if there’s anything there that can weaken your message.

Write concisely, and show the admissions team that you’ve done your research and know exactly how they can help you. If you can avoid inadvertently committing these 10 common essay mistakes, the odds of creating a positive impression on the admissions committee are strongly in your favor.

This article originally appeared as a guest post for our test prep friends at examPAL.

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Why U.S. Applicants Should Consider MBA Programs Abroad

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, tomorrow’s business professionals will need to develop an adaptive mindset that allows them to successfully navigate a …

international MBA programs

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, tomorrow’s business professionals will need to develop an adaptive mindset that allows them to successfully navigate a variety of markets, languages and cultures.

We’ve seen a lot of growth lately in the range of international full-time, part-time and executive MBA courses aimed at U.S. students looking for a global business school experience, and there’s no better way to expand your horizons than by studying in another country.

While top U.S. business schools continue to dominate many rankings, programs at global universities hold their own when it comes to prestige and quality. Of the top MBA programs in the world, there are typically high-ranking programs outside of the U.S., including the University of Navarra’s IESE Business School in Spain, the Hautes Etudes Commerciales (HEC) Paris and the University of Queensland Business School in Australia.

But what sets apart an international MBA? Student body diversity is one.

European business schools, for example, boast a roughly 80 percent non-national ratio, compared to 30 percent at their U.S. counterparts. Whether these programs include class trips to work in emerging economies or offer a cohort with students from numerous different countries, they compete on equal footing with the best North American schools.

Another attractive characteristic for U.S. students is that many of the highly ranked business programs in Europe are just one year. Though the shorter MBA program means a more grueling schedule, many feel it’s worth the trade-off because it translates into just one year of foregone salary and the possibility of students getting their educational investment back in less than three years.

You’ll always have the highest exposure to jobs in your geographic area, so keep that top of mind as you think about your career goals and fields of interest. If you already know that you want to work in Asia, Europe, the Middle East or Latin America, you’d be better off choosing a local school where you can network directly with employers.

Many international MBA programs are offered in English, though fluency in the local language greatly enhances your candidacy when applying. English-language MBA programs at IESE Business School and HEC Paris, for example, offer students a chance to strengthen their Spanish or French while learning how commerce works in the host countries.

In general, though, overseas MBA programs prefer applicants who can point to previous professional or study abroad experience, since this demonstrates that you already know how to work with different cultures and are more likely to enrich the experience of others in the cohort.

INSEAD Business School in France opened a second campus in Singapore in 2000, clearly a shift to specifically target Asia and the Pacific Rim. Asian universities in turn have stepped up their game when it comes to competing for students.

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, one of the region’s highly recognized graduate schools of business, has joined forces with China Europe International Business School in Shanghai and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore to raise their visibility in North America and Europe and interest more Western candidates to Asia to earn MBA degrees. Lower program costs and Asia’s ever-increasing economic relevance, plus the use of English as the language of instruction, makes this trio particularly appealing to students in the West.

Latin America, meanwhile, is a relatively young MBA market that offers substantial growth opportunities and an affordable management education compared to its North American counterparts. According to the most recent QS Top MBA Report on the global job market, hiring is particularly insular in Latin America, and the percentage of employers who look for talent within their own region is second only to the U.S. and Canada.

The region’s rapidly growing economy – notably in Mexico, Brazil and Peru – means increased opportunities for business and trade, and MBAs who are comfortable with the local language as well as with the region’s social and cultural norms will thrive.

Some of the schools recognized throughout the world are the EGADE Business School and IPADE Business School in Mexico, the CENTRUM Católica Business School in Peru and FGV’s São Paulo School of Business Administration in Brazil.

Whether your goal is to establish yourself ahead of U.S. candidates for international jobs or simply to have a degree that carries the cachet of regional knowledge, choosing to pursue an MBA overseas give you the opportunity for a truly transformational experience, leading to a greater understanding of yourself and how business operates around the world.

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