In the months and years leading up to your MBA application, you need to take every opportunity to make a leadership impact inside and outside of work. Successful MBA applicants are always on the lookout for ways to serve their teams and make their organizations stronger. In this article, we highlight shortcomings in the leadership experience area that may hurt one’s candidacy for a top-tier business school. If any of the issues we discuss apply to you, then you must find ways to add to your portfolio of leadership experience if you want to improve your chances of being admitted to a top MBA program.
- Limited evidence of leadership at work
- Limited evidence of leadership outside of work
- Lack of insight about leadership capabilities and leadership development needs
- A leadership style that appears authoritarian or self-serving
Limited evidence of leadership at work
Some candidates are initially intimidated when they come across a leadership essay question in their application. They don’t think they have any leadership stories to tell. Admissions committees understand you are early in your career and don’t expect you to be running a division of your company or leading large teams of people. Nevertheless, they will expect you to have influenced others and made a positive impact on a smaller scale. Remember, leadership experience has to do with achieving something that simply can’t be done on your own.
Limited evidence of leadership outside of work
Most applicants have heard that community service is important to admissions committees. Armed with this knowledge, they volunteer for a few community service activities and list these on their MBA application forms. Unfortunately this misses the point. Although your participation in a community service project is laudable, taking the lead in this setting is what really matters. If you’re a candidate from a technical field, an over-represented industry, or simply don’t have many opportunities to lead at work, community service leadership is practically mandatory for admission to the most selective business schools. If you want to be competitive for a top school you must be able to demonstrate a “habit of leadership” both inside and outside of work.
Lack of insight about leadership capabilities and leadership development needs
MBA admissions officers are interested in your insights about your leadership style and capabilities and what you’ve learned about leadership so far. Lack of insight about what leadership is or what your own leadership development needs might be seen as weaknesses in your candidacy, which is why you should be learning as much as you can about your leadership capabilities in the period leading up to your MBA application.
A leadership style that appears authoritarian or self-serving
Not all leadership styles will be valued equally. Admissions committees will likely be turned off if the evidence in your leadership portfolio suggests that you are authoritarian or self-serving in your leadership style. MBA admissions committees want to see evidence that you can work collaboratively as part of a team and that you put the needs of others and your organization ahead of your personal ambitions. If your leadership style appears authoritarian or self-serving you may be passed over for candidates with more team-oriented leadership styles.
Overcoming “Dings” in Your Leadership Experience
Question: I discovered I have some “dings” in my Leadership Experience. What should I do now?
A word of advice: don’t be intimidated if you don’t have high profile leadership experience. Leading in “ordinary situations” but doing it “extraordinarily well” is what MBA admissions committees are looking for in your leadership history.