Getting into business school is about more than having good scores and some work experience under your belt. It’s all about building a strong personal brand, and knowing your audience. If you do that right, you could be sitting pretty in an MBA program next fall!
- view your application like a greatest hits album
- propose a logical career path
- focus on leadership
- remember: business schools accept people, not profiles
- over-tailor your profile
- use jargon
- let anyone write your application
Pick your best three to four stories, and make sure that you tell them in all your applications. Make sure to share all of your “greatest hits,” if you will, in each application. No matter what the schools are asking, you have to put your best foot forward at all costs! After all, they are simply choosing the essay questions that they believe will allow you to share your greatest hits…
If for example, you tell your seventh or eighth best story simply because that story matches best with the essay question—and if you leave out the coolest things you’ve done, you’re doing it wrong!
Propose a career path that is logical given your background. No matter how well polished your application is, and no matter how sterling your work experience, if you miss the mark on your career goal, all will be lost. To maximize chances of getting into business school, pick a future path that connects your past experiences to your future goals. Why? Well, because that is the only area in which you are credible.
Let’s look at an example: The case of Jack from New Jersey. Jack has a strong real estate background. So when Jack graduates from his MBA program, he will likely get some good offers in the real estate business. Why? Well, employers will appreciate his experience, and his MBA of course.
Let’s now say that Jack wanted to go into…nonprofit management. Jack will have a tough time explaining to a nonprofit investment firm why his real estate background fits this nonprofit’s mission. Therefore, to maximize chances of getting into a great MBA program, Jack should likely tie his career goals to real estate.
Now, once Jack gets into his MBA program, he can of course do whatever he wants! But let’s get him in first, by playing to our strengths, shall we?
The bottom line is this: whether you are interested in finance, general management, accounting, marketing, whatever…. as you get promoted through the ranks, you will have to manage people. This is why no matter which schools you are applying to, you need to show your leadership skills and your leadership potential. All fields will require leadership as you move up in the world.
Now, this statement tends to make many applicants nervous. “But Jon, I am only 26-I haven’t really led many people at this stage in my career.” Or even, “Erm, I don’t have any direct reports, and I haven’t actually led anyone!” And that is okay! After all, schools aren’t looking for 60-year-old CEOs to admit into business school, they are looking for young folks juuust like you.
What you need to show is that you have leadership potential, even if it's not a ton of leadership experience. Despite the fact that nobody reports to you directly, there have been a few occasions when you were in a position of leadership. And during that instance, you nailed it!
No matter how great your background is, it will always be just that: your background. Your resume. And at the end of the day, especially in the world of business, it is critical that there be more to you than just work. Are you well-rounded? Do you have interests? Are you an interesting person? Will you add more than just your work experience to the MBA class?
If yes, you are in great shape. Schools want people who will add color to their classes after all, especially in full-time two year programs, you will be spending a lot of time with your peers. Schools want students who will bring diversity, interest, and make the lives of your fellow peers more appealing. Folks who will make their surroundings better.
Besides, there are other areas in life in which schools would love to see their alums be successful, not just in business. Many will make their marks in the world after they retire from business (in nonprofit work), or even in their extracurricular interests (teaching, mentoring, writing, etc.) Show that you are more than just a profile, you are an interesting and promising person!
Don't over-tailor your profile from one school’s application to the next. Just because one school happens to specialize in marketing (like Kellogg, for example), it doesn’t mean you have to pretend to like marketing to get in.
At the end of the day you will simply want to put your best foot forward, no matter where you are applying. Don’t try to be something that you’re not. Kellogg wants finance people too, not just marketing people. Even schools known for Wall Street and finance will need marketing people and entrepreneurs. Your best chances in your application will be based on putting your best foot forward. Focus on the stories that make you seem the most promising, the most impressive. Don’t worry too much about what each school supposedly wants.
Now, that being said, each school will of course ask that you prove why their school is a good fit for you. And this is an important section of the application. But always be true to yourself once you start changing your story too much based on what you think individual school preferences are you will run into trouble. By the way, schools’ preferences also change greatly from year to year, so good luck keeping up…
Do not assume that schools know anything about your business. In 99 percent of the MBA applications that we see the same mistake: too much jargon. Some applicants assume that schools will be impressed by the fact that they can talk like industry experts. Other applicants may not even realize that they are using jargon, since they are so entrenched in their areas of expertise. Regardless of why applicants make these mistakes, it can kill MBA applications.
Business school admissions committee members are not experts in your field; many have never even worked for a single day in any field of business. These are often young men and women, more like HR managers and liberal arts majors than business people. Keep your stories and your experiences nice and simple for these readers. Jargon is always your enemy.
Do not let anyone but you write your own application. There are many people and companies out there who “help” MBA applicants …by writing the entire application for them. Not good. The admissions committees are onto this shady trend, and they’re looking out for it. And, contrary to what you might think, it’s very easy to spot. Especially when an applicant’s GMAT writing sample looks entirely different from the application essays.
Do not fall into this trap, folks. Do not let anyone but you write your essays, or your application. Not only will the work be more interesting and original, but you will also avoid the risk of being caught, and rejected instantly.
Sometimes it feels like getting into business school is harder than surviving it. And with the competition out there, that’s probably true. But if you know what you’re doing – and now you do – you’ll be just fine.