Category Archives: Application Tips

Highlight Teamwork in MBA Applications

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News. This fall and winter, career services departments in business schools worldwide can anticipate an increased presence of corporate recruiters on campus, predicts the …

teamwork in the MBA application

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

This fall and winter, career services departments in business schools worldwide can anticipate an increased presence of corporate recruiters on campus, predicts the Graduate Management Admission Council. MBA programs will want to make those recruiters happy by providing a highly competent pool of candidates for them to meet with. But what do employers really want in candidates?

GMAC answers that question in its 2016 Corporate Recruiters Survey, which asked 842 employers that represent more than 530 companies in 40 countries to identify the most important skills and traits when evaluating MBA and non-MBA business master’s graduates as potential new hires for their companies.

Among 12 traits that survey respondents ranked as most valuable, a candidate’s ability to fit within an organization’s culture was highest overall, followed by the candidate’s ability to work in teams and the ability to make an impact.

If companies want team players, you can bet that admissions committees do, too. Schools want to know that applicants are individually capable, but they don’t expect you to do everything on your own. They want to see that you are able to work with others to reach a common goal.

The good news is that you can show admissions committees that you already possess this quality. Here are three parts of the application process where you can highlight your teamwork skills.

Essays: Themes of leadership and teamwork run through many business schools’ essay topics, but simply acknowledging that you have worked in teams won’t prove to the admissions committee that you know how to do it well. Illustrate your success in this area by citing specific experiences.

For example, talk about a time when you encountered a conflict, such as over ideas on the best way to tackle a project, or personal conflicts with people on your team. Perhaps you worked with someone who was bossy and overbearing or with people who didn’t do their share of the work – show how you brought dissenters together to achieve that shared goal.

Mine those workplace or extracurricular experiences where you handled the normal pitfalls of teamwork. Maybe you have successfully dealt with communication challenges stemming from cultural differences, multiple time zones or just working with a client or coworker who preferred to discuss everything over the phone instead of email. The actual situation is irrelevant – the admissions committee simply wants to know that you can succeed in a program that is focused on a team environment and group projects.

Resume: The MBA resume should include details that explain what you did on a project,showcase specific achievements and results and highlight your increased responsibilities over time. Use these details to demonstrate your ability to work well on a team.

The following examples are from former clients’ resumes and help support their abilities to work well with others.

One client from strategy consulting had a bullet point that stated, “Conducted focus groups with influential client representatives to validate and communicate the strategy.” Another client from private equity noted, “Considerable client exposure: participated in pitches, due diligence and drafting sessions and preparing Fairness Opinions.”

A military applicant displayed his impressive interpersonal skills when he listed on his resume, “Represent and advocate for detainees during Law of Armed Conflict Detainee Review Boards.”

Every applicant is different, but most b-school candidates can find some way to convey teamwork experience on their resume. Think of examples of when and how you united people behind a common goal, capitalized on others’ talents and skills, instilled a vision, identified a new problem or prioritized the project’s needs above personal ones.

Interview: During an MBA interview, whether it’s with an alumnus or admissions staff member, you’ll likely be asked about a time when you worked as part of a team. The interviewer is trying to get to know you but is also assessing your fit with future classmates.

If you go to the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, for instance, and work on a project within a study group, will your fellow students like working with you? Will you be timid about speaking up or will you communicate effectively and get things done?

Show off your teamwork abilities by mentioning a situation where you listened to others and bridged a gap between diverse participants to help foster collaboration on a project. Or talk about a time when you boosted morale or facilitated a compromise between two stubborn teammates.

You will likely encounter scenarios like these during business school, and if your interviewer feels you are already well-prepared for the inevitable challenges, your application is much more likely to receive a green light.

Building or running a business is not a solo endeavor. To create anything scalable, you’ll need to rely on others.

Even small enterprises require working with others to get things done. Prove you already have the skills in this area, and you’ll impress not only the MBA admissions committee but also future employers.

Image credit: Kellogg School of Management

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10 Common MBA Application Mistakes of Finance Professionals-Part 1

Surprised to hear that MBA applicants from finance make up the largest percentage of the incoming classes at many of the top business schools? I didn’t think so. Several firms require the MBA for top-level …

application mistakes finance professionals makeSurprised to hear that MBA applicants from finance make up the largest percentage of the incoming classes at many of the top business schools? I didn’t think so. Several firms require the MBA for top-level positions, and finance industries feed heavily into the most competitive programs.

At the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, for example, 45% of the Class of 2018 has previously worked in finance, followed by 36% of the entering class at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and 27% at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

While other applicants will have to work hard to demonstrate that they can handle classes such as finance, accounting and statistics, if you hail from finance, this box is already checked without question.  The admissions committee is quite confident that you can excel in the core classes. Consider it one less thing you have to worry about!

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. However, there’s a right way and a wrong way to attract the admission committee’s attention, so make sure to avoid these 10 common MBA application mistakes made by finance professionals.

Mistake #1: Failing to develop an overall strategy

Applicants with a highly typical career background face one of the largest hurdles to admission. You need to develop a comprehensive application strategy that sets you apart from equally impressive peers. No matter how remarkable your pedigree, business schools don’t want a class filled with individuals of the same profile.

The MBA journey begins with considerable self-reflection to crystalize your life and professional goals, and find the right schools that fit and align with those aspirations. From your resume to your essays to your letters of recommendation to your interview, you’ll need to differentiate yourself through stories and examples that highlight both your analytical expertise and personal pursuits to add another dimension to your MBA application.

Mistake #2: Not filling in the “white spaces”

When strong finance applicants don’t get in, much of the time it’s not because they are unqualified or didn’t deliver when it comes to their GMAT, but because they erroneously believed that a perfect score or having Morgan Stanley on their resume was enough to make them the perfect candidate. With such fierce competition, you have to realize you are not just your resume. You are the white spaces in between.

MBA programs seek to attract applicants who show curiosity about the wider world, whether through academic, extracurricular or life experiences. 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 #3: underwhelming recommendation letters

As an evaluation from an independent observer, letters of recommendation are a secret weapon for your application success. Your recommenders will be asked to evaluate you against your peers, and may even be writing letters for your peers, so you need to ensure that your recommenders consider you the top-ranked employee in their area.

Don’t leave them to their own devices. Make sure your recommenders share specific examples of your excellent work. To help them out, you may want to provide a bulleted list of projects you worked on together, especially if you were praised for the results. Sometimes a performance review or meeting can be a useful source for specific compliments if you are unsure how to steer your recommenders.


We’ll have more common mistakes that finance applicants need to avoid ready for you soon. 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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Pros, Cons for MBA Applicants of the Single-Essay Trend

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News. A decade ago, business school applications commonly included up to six essay questions for applicants to fret and labor over. For at least …

writing MBA essays

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

A decade ago, business school applications commonly included up to six essay questions for applicants to fret and labor over. For at least the past three application seasons, however, many top-ranked MBA programs have abbreviated their required essays. Several now ask candidates to answer just a single prompt.

My immediate reaction to these changing requirements has been, “I love it!” It makes sense to test applicants in this way. After all, the world’s best b-schools want students who are future leaders – those who can act quickly and decisively, with little to no direction, under stressful circumstances.

Client feedback in recent cycles has ranged from confusion to outright panic, so applicants may benefit from plenty of guidance as they grapple with how to present themselves and thoughtfully tell their story.

Prospective MBA applicants should know there are pros and cons to the streamlining trend.

Pro: Having to write just one essay eases the burden on applicants applying to multiple programs. Our 2016 SBC Survey of Prospective Applicants revealed that almost 38 percent of applicants plan to apply to five or more schools this year, and fewer and shorter essay requirements are precisely what motivated nearly 52 percent of respondents to apply to more schools.

As a bonus, admissions teams are betting that requiring a single essay means applicants will be less able to recycle essays for other schools.

Con: This increase in applications skews the overall application, acceptance, and yield numbers as the volume of the applicant pool increases but the quality declines. Schools need to adjust to these new figures, as they may influence a prospective applicant’s decision not to target a specific school if the program is perceived as less competitive and therefore, less desirable.

Pro: They say high self-awareness is the strongest predictor of overall success. The single prompt forces you to be very clear about who you are and what you want to communicate. In fact, many admissions committee members believe serious self-reflection prior to applying lays the foundation for compelling essays. A lot of thought will have to go into distilling your messages, which is hard work, but will ultimately benefit you.

Con: It’s much harder to mold your agenda with fewer words and only one question.But whether you have multiple essays, or a single prompt, 1,500 words or 500, the process of coming up with your personal brand is the same. You need to have a strategy for your application process that includes a lot of brainstorming up front to help you come up with the highlights of your candidacy that you want to convey, regardless of what is being asked.

Pro: From the photo commentary essay at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, to the “cover letter in lieu of essay” requested by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management, to the “meet-and-greet at the airport layover” scenario posed by Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business, these single essays provide an exciting opportunity for more creativity and meaningful content, rather than multiple, potentially more rambling essays of what applicants think the committee wants to see.

Con: Having a lot to say is overwhelming and can be stressful, but then having to stuff all an applicant wants to say into limited words only compounds that feeling. With so many accomplishments to highlight and leadership examples to share, the critical task of editing leaves many applicants incredibly anxious since it’s their one shining moment to share their story.

As communication in general seems to have condensed on many fronts thanks to social media, the single-essay trend appears here to stay. Ultimately, I see these types of questions as an invigorating exercise in presenting oneself, knowing what needs to be told and what can be left out. Just remember that having a well-thought-out strategy will be the key to making this lean essay format work for you.

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