This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com
Every MBA candidate brings something unique to the table, but business schools are always on the lookout for specific qualities as they review the thousands of applications that cross their desks each season. If you can convince the admissions committee that you possess the following five qualities, you’ll put yourself leagues ahead of everyone else within your applicant pool.
1. A leadership track record: Business schools want to develop leaders who will contribute positively to society, and applicants should show how they have begun to lead others even before setting foot on campus. But this does not have to mean coming up with grand and sweeping examples that forever changed the course of history at your company.
Think about a time when you motivated others to do something, when you marshaled resources to solve a problem, when you brought a fresh idea or new way of thinking to your organization and most importantly, how you worked to inspire others and bring out the best in them. The aim is to show where you made an impact, no matter the size.
One former client, George, had participated in an annual charity bike ride for the past five years. He felt his application lacked compelling examples of leadership, so we suggested that he volunteer to lead the coordination of the next ride. His responsibilities included recruiting volunteers, coordinating vendors and collecting funds.
George’s leadership of the team ultimately helped to increase the amount raised in the ride by 14 percent. George used this experience to write a strong leadership essay for each of his target schools, and it ultimately helped him gain admission to MIT Sloan School of Management.
2. Display quantitative competency: While you don’t need an undergraduate degree in economics to go to business school – MBA programs warmly welcome diversity in the form of applicants from the humanities, arts and social sciences – you do need to show that you won’t be in over your head with the information business school is designed to teach.
To get your foot in the door, strive for a GMAT or GRE score that aligns with the average at your target schools. It will set the admissions committee’s minds at ease knowing that, assuming you have relatively minimal academic experience in quantitative subjects, it won’t be a hindrance once you hit those core courses.
If this is a problem area for you, tackle it head-on. Allow ample time for test prep, retake the test a few times, complement your score by acing a college-level quantitative course or point out any quantitative skills used on the job to support your ability to handle the material of the program.
3. Exhibit excellent communication skills: The general principles of finance and accounting are easily learned at business school, but recruiters frequently gripe that even MBA graduates from the most elite institutions need to work harder at cultivating soft skills.
You’ll impress the admissions committee right out of the gate if you can demonstrate that you already possess strong communication skills. Highlight experiences that show you work well with others and that prove you can make a presentation in a persuasive, professional manner. Or, show how your effective communication skills have helped you land a client or seal a deal.
If this is an area you need to work on, reach out to mentors or supervisors whose communication skills you admire and ask for advice on how they read their audience, navigate meetings, and how they have cultivated their own interpersonal abilities for business success.
4. Set realistic post-MBA career plans: It’s not uncommon for MBA applicants to be uncertain about their career goals. Nevertheless, you need to be very concrete about short and long term goals in your application. Explaining why you chose your career path is crucial.
As you describe your career trajectory, make sure you explain what has led you to pursue it and why it resonates with you. The answer doesn’t need to be elaborate or dramatic, but it should be convincing and real.
Whether they discuss it openly, business schools are very concerned with job placement statistics. If they can’t help their MBA graduates find jobs, the ripple effect leads to fewer applicants in the future and lower yield.
Are you sure that the industry you want to work in is one that typically hires MBAs? The admissions committee needs to know your career plans are achievable with an MBA degree.
5. Get enthusiastic recommenders: Letters of recommendation are one of the most compelling components of the application, and also the most unsettling for applicants since it’s the one aspect you cannot entirely control. Make sure your recommenders are close enough to provide specific and relevant examples of your work and, above all, make sure they share in your excitement about going to business school.
Whether the mistake is choosing someone who doesn’t know you well enough to provide a convincing recommendation, not adequately preparing your recommender, or unwittingly selecting a supervisor who is not 100 percent supportive of your MBA plans, there’s nothing worse than discovering your chances at admission were torpedoed by a lukewarm endorsement.
So there you have it – five essential details that can make or break your MBA application. Study them well and with any luck, you’ll sail through the admissions process and sidestep many of the common red flags plaguing lesser-prepared applicants.