Category Archives: Application Tips
December 15, 2016
This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News. It’s mid-December – a time when people around the world make travel plans, exchange gifts, feast with friends and family and enjoy the …
This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.
It’s mid-December – a time when people around the world make travel plans, exchange gifts, feast with friends and family and enjoy the magic of the coming holidays and new year. However, for those applying to business school in round two, the merriment can get tamped down by the last-minute hustle required to pull together a polished application for the first week of January.
If you’re submitting your MBA application next month, here are four things you need to do right now to make the process as smooth as possible and still enjoy all the upcoming year-end festivities.
1. Manage your recommenders: By now, each person writing a letter of recommendation on your behalf should have all the necessary forms and prep materials. Gently remind them of the upcoming deadline, which you should target a few days in advance of the actual deadline to reduce your stress. And make sure they have everything they need to create a strong letter in support of your candidacy.
Don’t expect your recommenders to remember every great thing you’ve done, and definitely don’t leave this process to chance. If you haven’t yet done so explicitly, remind them of the strengths you would like the letter to vouch for – such as leadership skills, teamwork, passion – as well as anecdotes that support those characteristics.
Many programs also ask recommenders to address a weakness, so make sure to remind them of a growth area and give examples of how you have already begun working to improve this weakness. A recent performance evaluation can provide a jumping-off point for this type of question.
Remember to show your gratitude for their help, especially if your recommenders will need to take time away from their families to work on your letters over the holidays. They’ll appreciate your assistance and thoroughness and produce a better recommendation on your behalf.
2. Continue getting to know your top-choice schools: It may have been love at first sight when you visited campus and sat in on a class, but as with any relationship, a deeper dive into programs will solidify your feelings and confirm whether your top-choice schools really are the best fit. Contact the student clubs that interest you, become a devoted reader of the MBA student blogs many programs have and, if possible, reach out to alumni.
During the winter break, many students return home and host informal coffee chats with prospective students – these offer a golden opportunity to get answers to any questions you have about applying, student life, academics and more. The feeling you walk away with after having personal contact with students past and present will speak volumes about whether the choice will provide the best learning environment for you.
3. Seek feedback from a trusted source: Don’t forget to proofread, spellcheck and then proofread your application essays more. Grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes reflect poorly on your candidacy and can overshadow other impressive qualities like a high GMAT score or interesting work experience.
At some point, though, you’ll have read your responses so many times that errors will no longer jump out at you. This is where outside assistance becomes invaluable.
If you haven’t yet sought feedback on your essays, go ahead and enlist a family member, colleague or trusted friend to look them over. Their primary focus should be on your spelling and grammar and not making you second-guess your strategy.
However, they can provide feedback as to whether you come across as an interesting person who has a lot to share with others and would be a great addition to any MBA program. A fresh pair of eyes can also see how well you have conveyed your goals, experiences and strengths to an audience outside of your industry.
• Pull back for a holistic review: Over the next few weeks, take time to reflect on your essay responses to ensure that they hit all the crucial points.
Have you conveyed the passion that makes you leap out of bed every morning? Have you laid out your career goals in a sensible way, showing that you understand the industry in which you hope to work and how an MBA from X school will help you achieve that goal? Make sure you have shared the things in life that inspire you, what matters to you or what moved you to make the decisions you have made.
Every component of the MBA application is an important piece of the puzzle when it comes time for the admissions committee to evaluate your candidacy. Your test scores, transcripts and GPA will tell them something about your capacity to handle their curriculum.
Your resume shows your career progression, increased responsibilities and demonstrated results. Your recommendation letters can offer even more proof of your leadership potential. And your essays can give the committee a sense of your voice, as well as provide insight into what makes you tick.
Ideally, these pieces come together to create an intriguing, layered and thoughtful representation of the student you will be if admitted to the program. So, take this time in the home stretch to make sure your application will make a memorable impression and spark greater curiosity in whomever reads it. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to get back to celebrating the end of another year and toasting to the prospects that 2017 will bring.
December 13, 2016
If you’re thinking of submitting a standard resume along with your MBA application, you’re missing an important opportunity to sell your candidacy to the admissions committee. Like a traditional CV, the purpose of the MBA …
If you’re thinking of submitting a standard resume along with your MBA application, you’re missing an important opportunity to sell your candidacy to the admissions committee. Like a traditional CV, the purpose of the MBA resume is to make a good first impression and persuade the reviewer to take a closer look at you. However, the reader of your MBA resume will be different than the person hiring you for an investment banking job or an engineering position.
Rework your resume so that it functions more as a narrative about your career and outside interests—not a dry list of responsibilities and achievements. The MBA resume should focus heavily on MBA skills and traits such as leadership, teamwork and international work experience. Some admissions officers consider your resume just as important as the MBA essays, so the extra work you put into it could make the difference between a ding and an interview offer.
#1: Shows Career Progression
Illustrate career progression by highlighting promotions or showing how skills were cultivated after switching to a new job. For example, if you have worked for the same company for five years but were promoted twice, you should highlight all three job titles, with separate dates of employment and separate descriptions. The descriptions should reflect your increasing levels of responsibility.
Applicants who have been in the workforce for a number of years, possibly at various companies, may need to be selective in detailing professional progress. When deciding which experiences to include and which to ax, ask yourself if the work was meaningful and if it can be used to illustrate a specific skill set or important accomplishment. Consider if it supports your career path as well as your future goals, and include it only if it makes sense for your overall story.
Demonstrate that over the course of your career, you have picked up new skills, assumed new responsibilities and developed as an individual. Emphasize that this growth has been recognized by others.
#2: Provides Leadership Examples
Although you’ll further hone your management abilities during an MBA program, the admissions committee wants to know that a foundation of strong leadership skills is already in place. Show when you united people behind a common goal, made use of other’s talents and skills, instilled a vision, challenged the status quo, identified a new problem or prioritized the needs of the organization above personal needs.
It’s important to note if you manage one or more people. Even if you informally supervise and mentor someone, it’s worth including on the resume. Mention if you’ve taken a lead in recruiting, as it means you’re acting as the face of your company. This demonstrates that leaders at your company respect you and trust that you will represent them well. Remember, your resume is a tool to tell your story, so keep your resume focused on the experiences that highlight the story of you as a leader.
#3: Quantifies Results
It’s great to describe your responsibilities, but don’t miss the chance to quantify your results whenever possible. Managing a staff is interesting, but the fact that you managed a staff of over 30 employees and improved profitability by 25%, is something a reader can understand. By giving the reader a number, you give them the chance to see just what kind of leader you were, and will be.
Business school applicants often find it helpful to bullet point their accomplishments using the STAR method, which stands for situation, task, action and result. For each employment position listed on your resume, think of a project, initiative or transaction where you made a meaningful contribution. Then describe the situation, your task, the actions you undertook and the results.
#4: Avoids Industry Jargon or Acronyms
Never assume the admissions committee member reviewing your application is intimately familiar with your particular industry. Write for a lay audience, and avoid flowery or stuffy language – use familiar words instead. You do want to provide a snapshot of your functional skills, but the admissions committee will be more interested in the fact that you led a cross-functional team to develop a new version of your product than the fact that you coded in three computer languages to develop the new version.
To appeal to an MBA audience, an applicant must think beyond technical tasks. He or she must identify what lies behind those tasks that might reveal an effective business leader. Rephrase your accomplishments so that anyone could understand them. With hundreds of applications on their desks, the admissions staff has only a few minutes to review each resume. It should be immediately digestible.
#5: Looks Clean and Polished
Imagine someone scanning an MBA application resume for the first time on the 30-second walk down the hall to the interview. That person should be able to get a clear picture of the candidate – and that quickly.
Appearances matter when it comes to a winning MBA resume, so be sure to adhere to proper margins, spacing, and accepted fonts. Some applicants try to squeeze it all in by reducing font and eliminating margins. This is a good way to ensure that your resume is not reviewed, as no one wants to go blind scrutinizing resume number 207 of the day. Some business schools specify formatting requirements; if so, do not deviate from the requested format.
Since admissions committees and alumni interviewers look for people who others will enjoy being around both inside and outside of class, it’s also a great idea to include at least some brief mention of your interests and hobbies at the bottom of the document. A lot of times it’s this information that interviewers use to break the ice when they first meet you.
Never underestimate the power of a well-executed resume. Use this opportunity to create a powerful first impression on the admissions committee and show why you’d be an asset to their program, and, fingers crossed, your future MBA interviewer.
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.