Improve your Candidacy, Then Improve your Application

By Jeremy Dann

For people applying to major business schools, October, November and December will inevitably be months filled with typing, spell-checking, typing, editing, typing, proofreading”¦and then some more typing. Choosing which bullet format looks best on the resume. Finding synonyms for all of the words one overuses. Spending two hours cutting the final 50 words from a 500 word essay. Incredibly fun stuff.

But, May, June, July and August can be very fruitful months for both your personal development and for improving your business school application””or, more precisely, for improving your business school candidacy.

Many b-school aspirants see the spring and summer solely as a time to take a GMAT prep course. They often wait until they are neck deep in the process of writing their essays and compiling all of their other application materials to identify the elements of their candidacy they wish to improve. Or, I should say, the elements they wish they had improved when they had the time. But, with a little advanced planning and a commitment of just a few hours a week, applicants can do a great deal to bolster their overall candidacy before that final rush of the fall and winter.

Community Service
Business schools pride themselves in training future leaders, not just educating a bunch of people who know how to calculate an IRR and overuse the word “leverage.” They look for individuals who are concerned about doing great work and improving the world around them. Some young business people feel that even though they have not prioritized “extracurricular” activities early in their careers, they will definitely emphasize these sorts of activities once they are more established. However, more often than not, the patterns we establish toward community activities early in our careers remain fairly steady. If you feel that your commitment over the last several years to outside causes does not reflect the balance you want to establish in your life”¦well, put your money where your mouth is and get involved.
If you haven’t been participating in outside activities, look up a few opportunities on the internet and get involved next weekend. It’s really as simple as that, to be honest. Candidates who get involved now will have a six or even nine-month track record by the time apps are due. True, young professionals work long hours and often have demanding travel schedules, which sometimes rules out activities such as Big Brothers/Sisters or tutoring. But the next person I meet who cannot take out two hours on a weekend to help clean up a park or paint a school or talk with seniors at a nursing home will be the first.
If you have been involved with outside activities over the last couple of years, consider stepping your activities up a notch. One of my clients had helped out for a few hours a month for two years at a local Ronald McDonald House. In the fall, he ratcheted up his involvement by organizing some fundraising/recruiting events for young professionals.
To some, ramping up involvement in community activities may seem like “gaming the system.” I personally don’t feel this way at all. The community benefits by getting extra labor, at the very least, and maybe even the talents and creativity of a gifted individual. You benefit by deepening your involvement in causes that are meaningful to you. If the side effect of this is that your candidacy for b-school is in some way enhanced, all the better.

Reading
Getting in the habit of reading again””and I don’t mean Arbitrage Today or This Week in CRM Software Implementation Consulting””will pay huge dividends for your candidacy and your application process.
You are about to engage in quite possibly the most demanding writing process of your adult life. And you’ve probably forgotten half of the vocabulary words you learned for your SATs. Reading outside of work will immerse your brain in the English language again, expanding your active/accessible vocabulary, reacquainting you with interesting sentence structures and illustrating great organizational techniques for your essays. Your apps and your GMAT scores will both benefit.
But beyond that, you’ll probably become a more interesting person, frankly. You’ll show that you take time to get to know more about topics that are important to you. You’ll have more to talk about with interviewers. You may even gain some material for essays.
We’ll look at some interesting summer reading and ways you can approach assembling a smart reading list next week.

Travel
You’ve worked hard the last several years. You’re going to spend a ton of hours cooped up studying for that pesky GMAT. And in the fall you’re going to spend 50-100 hours in front of your computer writing and editing essays.
You deserve a vacation.
But instead of just making a quick jaunt to Vegas for golf and gambling or a “shop ’til you drop” trek to Manhattan, consider planning a vacation with a dual agenda of fun and personal enrichment. Injecting a bit of a learning agenda into your trip can expand your personal horizons, help more fully define your career objectives and provide you more material for essays and interviews.
One candidate I’ve worked with was considering taking a vacation to Florida; instead, he traveled to a different tropical locale where he could both enjoy some quality beach time and participate in an environmental restoration program.
If you’re a interested in a career in technology after business school, but don’t have much experience in the area, consider traveling to the Bay Area, attending some tech events and setting up some networking time with entrepreneurs. You’ll still be able to kite surf on the Bay and enjoy a day in Napa. If you’re interested in international business but haven’t really gained much exposure to foreign cultures since your Eurail pass expired in 2002, plan a holiday to an interesting overseas locale. While there, see if you can pick out a few things in the local economy that seem different in your home economy: the products people buy, the brands they love, the kinds of technology they favor, the level of service you experience, etc…

Use the time wisely”¦and have fun
If you get a little bit of a jump start on prepping for your GMAT and application-writing process, you’ll find your fall and winter a much more projective and enjoyable time. Get started now by doing a few little things that will improve your candidacy. We’ll be talking more about this over the next several weeks, so please let us know any questions you might have about what you can do this spring and summer to enhance your candidacy. Good luck.

”¦and to read one current MBA student’s advice on ways to prepare for the GMAT and for the first semester at business school, check out: The Divine Miss N

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