In this video, we teach you to start thinking like an admissions officer so that you can identify the strengths and weaknesses in your MBA candidacy and take proactive steps to reinforce your strengths and overcome your weaknesses.
This course will provide you with a number of tangible ways you can enhance your candidacy in the weeks, months, and even years before you apply to business school.
Please welcome back your instructor for this lecture, Tyler Cormney.
During my time as an admissions consultant, there've been a number of cases that I wished I could've started working with my clients long before it was time for them to actually assemble their applications. Once the school deadlines are two to three months away, you're going to be in execution mode – putting the final touches on your resume, writing your essays, and corralling your recommenders. The best that you can do at that point is to emphasize your strengths and attempt to explain away your weaknesses.
In other MBA Prep School lectures, we'll talk about the qualities and attributes that admission committees will be looking for when they review your application. In this lecture, one of the first in our comprehensive prep series, we're going to talk about the other side of the coin – the reasons an admissions committee might reject your application. In essence, I'm going to teach you to start thinking like an admissions officer so that you can identify the strengths and weaknesses in your MBA candidacy and take proactive steps to reinforce your strengths and overcome your weaknesses.
At MBA Prep School, we believe that a business school application is a marathon not a sprint. In this lecture, I'm going to tell you what things you can do now -- in your “training period” -- that will give you an advantage over applicants who didn't know about these steps or didn't take them. Let's take a look at our lesson plan.
In this lecture, I'm going to show you how to assess your MBA candidacy in six distinct areas and help you to identify potential weaknesses in each area.
The categories are your
1) academic profile;
2) career progress;
3) leadership portfolio;
4) career goals;
5) motivations for pursuing an MBA; and
6) personal qualities.
After helping you to identify potential weaknesses within these categories, I'll tell you about ways you can proactively correct or counterbalance each potential flaw.
As you'll see, some of the prescriptions I'm going to share with you such as taking additional college-level courses to improve your academic profile can be accomplished in the months before you begin assembling your application. Other prescriptions such as enhancing your personal qualities require more significant lead time – perhaps a year or more. You can decide what needs to be done and build your action plan in light of the time you have remaining until you applications must be submitted.
The first area we'll discuss is your academic profile.
Admissions officers will be reviewing your past academic performance and standardized test scores to judge whether have the smarts, discipline, and drive to perform in a top MBA program. As you'll see there are a number of things that you can and should do if you're concerned that your academic performance isn't competitive for a top program.
My first piece of advice is don't count on the accuracy of your memory when it comes to your university grades. I've had a number of clients who had a rude awakening when they finally got a copy of their transcripts – but by then it was often too late to take advantage of some of the steps I'm going to tell you about. Order a copy of your transcript right away so you can review it carefully with an eye to how your academic history might appear to an MBA admissions officer.
Your overall GPA and GPA in your major matter because they provide important signals about your academic aptitude, discipline, and attitude towards learning. A cumulative GPA below a 3.25 puts your academic ability in question, at least for the top programs.
While your overall performance matters, a letter grade of a C or lower will also draw attention. Admissions committees will pay particular attention to your performance in...
...Quantitative Courses such as Calculus and Statistics.
...Core-Business course such as Finance and Accounting as well as business-oriented courses such as Economics.
...Communication courses such as Writing and composition classes or public speaking courses will also be reviewed carefully because your performance in an MBA program will closely correlate to your written and verbal communication abilities.
A GMAT or GRE score below the median will raise concerns. As will verbal or quantitative scores below the 80th percentile.
If English is not your first language and you didn't study at an English-language university then you'll be required to take the TOEFL Exam. As with the GMAT, many schools report their median scores for the TOEFL and you'll want to score above that median to be competitive.
One problem that I've run into with some of my international clients – particularly those from India -- is that they hold a 3-year bachelors degree, which makes them ineligible to apply to some MBA programs. Even programs which officially accept applicant's with a 3-year degree may prefer that you have a 4-year degree or post-graduate studies.
Finally, even if you have a stellar GPA, your academic profile will be weakened if your school doesn't have a solid reputation in the academic community. If you went to what is affectionately known in the US as a “party school” or if your degree is from a program that very few people have heard of, then I'd encourage you to take some additional steps to fortify your academic profile.
So let's talk about some prescriptions for improving your academic profile.
The most straightforward way to enhance your academic profile is to complete additional college-level or even post-graduate coursework.
Earning A's from a reputable academic institution can counterbalance poor performance or close gaps in your transcript.
The course or courses you need to take depend on where your academic profile needs strengthening. An “A” in a college level business calculus course will mitigate concerns about your ability to handle the analytical rigor of an MBA degree. Taking part-time classes in statistics, finance, and accounting and scoring well help your profile if your grades in business-oriented courses weren't solid or if you simply haven't taken any. If your written and verbal communication skills are questionable then sharpening them in a business communication or public speaking class might be a good idea.
Extension courses typically take 12 to 16 weeks to complete so you need to get started soon. Finally I just want to emphasize that you should take courses that award a letter-grade because taking a pass-fail course may prove you are motivated to prepare for an MBA but won't be all that effective in counteracting weak undergraduate grades.
Everyone benefits from a high GMAT score, but your standardized test scores are even more important if you need to combat red flags in your transcripts. If so, I highly encourage you to take a GMAT (or GRE) prep courses or to hire a tutor.
What if you score below the median or earn less than a 80% on the verbal or quantitative portions of the test? Retake it! Clients often ask me how many times they can retake the test without hurting their chances. To my knowledge just about every program out there only considers your top score. In practice, you self-report your top score which is then matched against an official score report once an applicant is accepted. That means there's no penalty for retaking the test until you beat the medians or decide that you've maxed out with a given score.
Another way to address concerns about your academic profile is through high-achievement at work or outside of work on assignments that demands the academic skill-set in question. For example, you could demonstrate your analytical abilities by performing well on a very challenging quantitative assignment at work. If such a role is not available to you at work, be creative and find a way to demonstrate those talents outside of work. I had a client who built a complex financial model for the non-profit organization she volunteered with. If your transcripts leave questions marks about your communication skills you could volunteer to deliver a training class at work or join a public-speaking club like Toastmaster's in your free-time.
Taking classes or working with a tutor to improve English language skills and your TOEFL score may also be called for. For that matter, even if your TOEFL score is excellent, if you know your language skills need attention then you should invest the time improving them now.
If you only hold a 3-year bachelor's degree then you may have to complete a fourth year master's degree in your field of undergraduate study or 2-year degree in another discipline to be eligible for some MBA programs. Post-grad study may also be a good idea if your university transcripts are abysmal or your degree is from a school with a questionable academic reputation. I want to be quick to add that this advice does not extend to earning an Master in Business Administration with hopes of then doing a second MBA at a better school -- most schools will not consider applicants who already hold an MBA.
Finally, earning a professional designation can also enhance your academic profile and overall candidacy. If you have a 3-year bachelor's degree from India, some schools will accept an application if you become a Chartered Accountant. A professional designation such as a CPA or CFA may also strengthen the academic profile of candidates with low-grades in a 4-year program or a degree from a school that's relatively unknown or less respected.
If the admissions committee is convinced that you possess the aptitude and intellectual capacity to succeed in their Program, they will then turn their attention to what you've accomplished since graduating – your career-to-date. The time to take a hard look at your career progress isn't a couple of weeks before you sit down to finalize your resume and write your application essays. Long before you apply, you'll want to evaluate your career progress and predict how your career story might sound to an MBA admission committee.
Even if you'll be applying just a few months from now, you should view every day as an opportunity to add a new exciting chapter to your career story. Going for an MBA isn't about jumpstarting a flailing career – top business schools admit candidates have already made exceptional career progress and have distinguished themselves in their early careers. Use the time you have between now and when you apply to accelerate your career progress and take positive steps towards your career goals.
Admissions officers will be looking for evidence that you've made significant career progress. There are a few different ways your career progress will be measured– promotions ahead of schedule, increases in responsibility, the acquisition of new skills, and the formation of important relationships. All those measures need to add up to one thing--
--visible, tangible, concrete progress in the direction of your career aspirations. Progress is measured in relation to a future destination. Later, we'll talk about clarifying your career goals – the point now is that if you haven't made any visible progress towards those career goals then you'll need to implement a number of the prescriptions I'm going tell you about in the next slide.
Another measure of your career progress is the strength of your reference letters from your superiors. Take a moment to consider how strong your reference letters might be, if you had to ask for them today. If you've yet to earn a glowing endorsement or can present only limited evidence of positive recognition then you need to wait to apply until you have.
One last note on career progress, there a some cases in which exceptional career progress doesn't always correlate with MBA admissions success. Candidates who have made outstanding progress in a technical field may not be accepted unless their technical achievements are matched by evidence of managerial potential. I'll offer some specific prescriptions for candidates in those technical fields in a moment.
So it's time to ask yourself if you can you can build a convincing case that you are well on your way toward your long-term career goals. If not, then you have work to do before you apply. The advice I'll give you on the next slide is simply good career advice whether you apply for an MBA or not. Of course, if you take this advice to heart, you'll also be making progress towards an acceptance letter at a top MBA program.
Hopefully it's not too late to take charge of your career. Let's talk about how you can add some new, exciting chapters to your career story before it's time to actually tell your story to an admissions committee.
Let's start with the most radical prescription first and then proceed to more targeted steps for accelerating your career progress.
If you are more than 18 months away from applying for an MBA, you can evaluate whether changing jobs, companies, or even your career path as a whole is the best choice given your alternatives. Let me first say, that if you're less than 18 months from applying, then I wouldn't advise changing jobs except under the rarest of circumstances. You won't have enough time to establish yourself in the new setting or make any significant leadership achievements.
So when does changing jobs make sense? It makes sense when it's the best decision for your future career goals as a whole. If, despite your best efforts to make the most of your current situation, your learning curve has flat-lined and opportunities to enhance your management and leadership skills simply aren't presenting themselves then you should seriously consider a job change.
Candidates are considering a career change post-MBA may actually want to consider starting this career change before applying to an MBA. First of all, admissions committees will be hesitant to admit candidates who want to go to business school in order to make a career switch because they know that MBA grads without prior experience will be a tough sell to recruiters. Even if you have to take an entry-level position in the field you want to enter, you're going to be gaining actual work experience that both admissions committees and recruiters will value.
To sum it up, if a career change is the best next-step in a well-conceived career action plan, then it's also the best next step for strengthening your MBA candidacy.
My next prescription assumes you've decided to make the most of your current situation. If you're not already doing so, I want to encourage you to start volunteering for stretch assignments and unique projects. Showing up for work and doing what you're told is a good formula for staying where you are, but it won't get you promoted and it won't get you into business school. If you want to earn a spot in a top business school, then you have to show initiative and distinguish yourself from your peers.
If you're working in an over-presented field like investment banking or consulting you need to be even more ambitious than other candidates in going after unique projects that will set you apart. That may mean volunteering for projects that others are unable or unwilling to tackle. Speaking from personal experience, when I was a junior consultant at Arthur Andersen a project was sold that required a six-month tour of duty in Kuwait -- in the summer time!!! Whereas others turned down the project, I stocked up on sunscreen and got on a plane and I'm convinced it made a huge difference in my application to HBS.
If you take this advice to heart, then writing a recommendation letter for a top MBA program should be the easiest letter your supervisor has ever written. They'll have plenty of great examples to drawn to show how you've excelled and been there for your team.
If you're a software engineer, a bio-chemist, or a derivatives trader then you probably have a number of technical accomplishments to be proud of. You need to be looking for opportunities in your current job to develop and demonstrate your management skills, interpersonal abilities, and -- as we'll talk about in the next section – your leadership skills. If formal opportunities don't present themselves then you need to get creative – that could mean proposing and implementing a survey of current customers, working on a business plan for a new division, or convincing your manager to lend you to the marketing group for a few months. I've even had a couple of clients who started businesses on the side. The point is that if you're serious about going to a top business school -- you must be scanning the horizon for every opportunity to show the admission committee that you are more than just a gear-head, quant jock, or rocket scientist – you're a future business leader.
My final piece of advice for accelerating your career progress is to develop and cultivate mentor relationships and model successful superiors. This is in large part common sense career advice – mentors will help you navigate important career decisions and your superiors have advanced in the organization because they possess the qualities the company values – qualities that you need to demonstrate as well.
Mentor relationships are critical to your career advancement and they equally critical to your business school application. Reference letters from a mentor who has worked with you closely, knows you well, and has a vested interest in your future success will be many times more powerful than one from a supervisor who simply worked with you on a project or two and doesn't have the insights about you and your experience to supply the kind of content required for an excellent reference letter. Start forming these relationships now -- there is a big difference between cultivating a mentor relationship over time and trying to manufacture one a few months before applying.
The kinds of applicants accepted by top schools don't let their careers happen – they make them happen by volunteering for stretch assignments, grabbing every opportunity to serve others through leadership, and by proactively building the skills and relationships they are going to need in the future.
In this slide, I've suggested some ways to accelerate your career progress – that definitely includes finding ways to acquire leadership skills and reaching for opportunities to demonstrate your leadership potential at work. But whether you're an investment banker, a management consultant, or a software engineer-- enhancing your leadership story is so important when you're applying to a top business school that we're going to devote more time to specific ways you can add to your leadership story. In the same way I suggested you evaluate your career progress months or years before you apply, I want to encourage you to take a critical look at the current state of your Leadership Portfolio.
Your Leadership Portfolio is the collection of experiences, initiatives, and accomplishments that are indicative of your leadership potential. I think it's helpful to think about this in terms of a portfolio, but I am using the term portfolio in the same way that artist might have a portfolio versus a portfolio of stocks. If you were an artist applying to a Master's in Fine Arts, you would be expected to share your portfolio with the admissions officers.
Similarly, business school admissions officers will expect you to present your Leadership Portfolio. Just as admission's committees for art schools don't expect applicants to come to them with their talents fully-formed, b-school admissions committees will be examining your leadership portfolio for potential and the promise of great things to come. At this stage, leadership on any scale will be considered – that might include leading a classroom, directing a combat squad, or coaching a little league baseball team.
An important element of impressing admissions officers is what you have to say about your leadership style and abilities and what you've learned about leadership. Lack of insight about what leadership is or what your own leadership development needs might be are weaknesses in your candidacy that you need to spend time correcting now.
Finally, 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. If you have led that way in the past, then you want to start changing your leadership style now in favor of a more collaborative and adaptive leadership style. The “servant leadership model” is more highly prized by admissions committees. Servant Leadership demands that you place the organization's missions and values first, your team second, and your own needs a distant third. This style is the opposite of the leader who seeks to accumulate power and influence for it's own sake or to satisfy a hunger for control.
Now that we've talked about some potential weaknesses in your leadership portfolio, I'll offer you some prescriptions to increase the extent and value of that portfolio. First, we'll talk about some steps you can take to enhance your leadership portfolio at work followed by some ways to add to your leadership portfolio outside of work.
In the years and months leading up to your application date, you need to take every opportunity to make a leadership impact at work. This isn't a matter of climbing over others in a mad scramble to the top of the corporate ladder. Rather, you should be looking for ways to serve your team and make your organization stronger.
I think it will help if I start by drawing a distinction between an individual accomplishment and an accomplishment that you can include in your leadership portfolio: Pulling a week of all-nighters alone in your cubicle building the ultimate LBO model is an individual accomplishment. In contrast, a leadership accomplishment is one in which you:
– Spot a problem and coordinate efforts to solve it;
– See an opportunity or innovation and persuade your colleagues to follow you in a new direction;
– Help others work together more effectively;
– Assemble and lead a high performing team that achieves something significant; or
– Mentor and teach others, thereby enabling them to succeed.
The common denominator is that a leadership accomplishment has to do with achieving something that simply can't be done on your own. It requires the cooperation, contribution, support, and energy of other people. Leaders form a vision of the way things could be, tap into their passions, and devote energy to rallying others to work together to make a difference. It's very important to keep this definition clearly in mind when you're evaluating ways to enhance to your leadership portfolio.
If you're early in your career or the low person on the totem pole in a hierarchical organization, opportunities to be a leader at work may be limited. If so, I strongly encourage you to find ways to add to your leadership portfolio outside of work.
At this point, many applicants understand that community service is practically a pre-requisite for admissions to business school. Armed with this knowledge, they do some volunteer work in hopes of having some community service activities to list on their application forms. I believe this misses the point. Just as having a job is not sufficient for earning a place in a top MBA program neither is simply being a participant in a community service organization. You want to demonstrate a habit of leadership – and that habit should extend to making a difference for others outside of work.
First of all, the quality of the experience is more important than quantity when it comes to community service. One significant leadership achievement can outweigh a laundry list of more limited volunteer work.
I'm often asked by my clients who haven't done any volunteer work what kinds of community service activities business schools want to see. Again, this misses the point. No community service organization is better than another from an admissions officer's standpoint. Admissions officers really just want to see that you have engaged with a community that you have a passion for serving and that the volunteer work you've done has importance and meaning to you. So if you're looking for way to get involved then look for an organization that has a mission that you want to be a part of. Find an emotional connection and work on a problem that you have a passionate interest in solving. For example, if you are a first generation American who benefitted from free English language classes then you could volunteer to teach classes in that program or, better yet, work at the organizational level to raise money and expand program offerings to reach more students.
If you can't find an organization that turns you on, or you see an unmet need for a community service organization, then start one! If you're successful, you'll have an amazing story to share from your leadership portfolio.
If you're already volunteering for a community service organization, you should be looking look for the same kinds of opportunities that I talked about when we spoke about exercising leadership at work. You need to harness the energy of other people, generate results, and make a real difference. Your leadership could take any number of forms: you could lead a fund raising drive, pull together a team that addresses a long-standing organizational issue, or work with board members to develop a five-year strategic plan.
It bears mentioning that community service leadership is by definition servant leadership – there are no promotions, raises or bonuses for a job well done; so community service leadership will provide exceptional evidence that you are a giver not a taker in your leadership style.
On a related note, you should remember that you're going to need two to three references for your application; a mentor in a community service setting can provide one of those references and they'll be able to speak to your leadership contributions outside of work.
One final word of advice, if you're a candidate from a technical field, an over-represented industry, or are simply so early in your career that you don't have many opportunities to lead at work, community service leadership is practically mandatory – if you want to be competitive for a top school you must be able to demonstrate a “habit of leadership” inside and outside of work.
The primary reason for pursuing a Master's in Business Administration is to prepare yourself for a future career as a business leader. You may have decided that you want an MBA – the question is can you clearly articulate why you need an MBA and how the MBA will prepare you for your short-term and long-term career goals. In the next section, we'll talk about the importance of focused career goals when applying for an MBA.
When the application deadlines are approaching, it can be hard to find time to do any serious career planning. Establishing and clarifying your career goals can be a time-intensive process so the sooner you start this process the stronger your candidacy will be when it comes time to apply. If you invest time now developing a well-designed career action plan then you'll be ahead of the game when it comes time to assemble your application.
Admissions committees will expect you to have focused career goals and cogent reasons for pursuing an MBA. You'll be asked about your career aspirations and why you want an MBA in the application essays and during your admissions interview.
Let's talk about the kinds of answers that might undermine an otherwise solid candidacy.
When it comes questions about your career goals, the “I want to figure my goals out once I'm in business school” answer isn't sufficient. If you haven't determined what your career goals are then how do you know an MBA is your best next step? Furthermore, your candidacy is not going to compare favorably with other applicants who know where they want to go and can explain clearly how the MBA will get them there. Admissions officers know that once you're in business school you'll have more work to do than there are hours in the day – there's simply not much time for self-reflection and career planning – within weeks of arriving on campus for your first year you'll be polishing your resume up and submitting it for summer internships. My point is that if you don't already have your career planned out you won't benefit from the MBA experience in the same way as the candidates who do. Now is the time to do some serious thinking about where you want to be ten years from now and how you plan to get there. Don't wait until it's time to write your essays to start your career planning.
Your career goals directly relate to your motivations for pursuing an MBA. Therefore, defining those career goals is on the critical path to explaining why you want an MBA. Unconvincing motivations for pursuing an MBA can be another big weakness in your candidacy. If the only answer you can come up with for why you want an MBA is “I'm in a two-year analyst program and everyone goes for an MBA” then I want to strongly encourage you to do some more thinking about your motivations and reasons for applying to b-school.
Similarly, admissions officers will be asking you why you are applying to their school. If the only answer you have for that one is “You guys were ranked #1 in BusinessWeek” then I want to persuade you that it's time to start building a stronger case for your choice of schools.
The good news is that the prescriptions for addressing these three weaknesses are fairly straightforward – you'll want to invest time now in career planning and in educating yourself on the value of an MBA and investigating the schools you intend to apply to.
Defining your career goals is the first step to enhancing this aspect of your candidacy. Career planning can be a time-intensive process so you should start now. In a future MBA Prep School lecture, we'll provide a step-by-step approach for formulating a career vision and mapping out a career action plan. You'll also find links in the self-study area of this lecture to other books and resources that can help you define your career aspirations and plot out a career path that inspires you.
Once your long-term career goals are in focus you can further educate yourself on the industry you plan to work in. I'm always skeptical when one of my client tells me they want to work in a particular field like venture capital or sustainable energy or social enterprise but don't seem to know much about the industry they want to work in. Admissions committee members will expect you to be fairly well versed on the strategic landscape of the industry you plan to be a part of. Some of the questions you should be able to answer include:
– Who are the market leaders?
– What opportunities, issues, trends, and threats are confronting the industry?
– Who are the innovators and what do they do differently?
– Which business leaders in this industry do you admire? How did they get where they are and what special skills, knowledge, or talents do they possess?
You'll find a list of career planning and research questions like these in the self-study materials.
Another important step that you can take now is to seek out mentors in the industry you plan to work in post-business school. These mentors will help you further refine your career path for your business school applications and will prove helpful when you're trying to find a summer internship or full-time job in the field as an MBA.
When your career goals are defined you'll have a much firmer grasp on what kinds of challenges you need to prepare for in the future – understanding those future challenges will help you to explain to admissions officers your motivations for pursuing an MBA, which is the area we'll talk about next.
When it comes to your motivations for pursuing an MBA, you'll score top marks if you make it clear that your future career requires an MBA: not just the diploma on the wall or the letters on your resume but all the things that an MBA imparts: skills, knowledge, the network, and personal growth. To achieve this you need to educate yourself on the value of an MBA degree and engage in extensive research on the various MBA programs that are out there. This is all work that needs to be done before you assemble your application.
Going to business school is a major life decision – not to mention a major investment decision. You need to show the admissions committee that you fully appreciate what business school has to offer and the value of spending two years in an MBA program. If you haven't built a solid case for this huge investment of time and money, then they would be justified in wondering what kind of business leader you're going to be in the future.
All of the work you do defining your career goals and educating yourself about the industry you plan to work in will pay big dividends when it comes time to build your case for pursuing an MBA. If you know what challenges are facing industry leaders and what qualities lead to success then you'll have a solid grasp of the types of courses you need to take, the strengths you need to develop, and the resources you need to take advantage of during your two years in school. Not only do you need to explain why you need an MBA, you need to explain why you need an MBA from that school specifically. That means you need to be very familiar with the unique attributes of every school you plan to apply to and how those resources are a great fit with your specific development needs.
Once you've narrowed down your choices of programs to a handful I highly recommend that you visit those schools. When you're asked in essays and interviews why you want an MBA from a particular school, you'll be able to provide first-hand observations about what impressed you vs. quoting a website or the things you've heard other people say about the school.
An important note on timing your school visit, if you're planning to apply in the first round deadlines in October you'll want to visit the schools while they are in session in the prior academic calendar year because they may not be in session or scheduling school visits until after the first round deadlines have passed.
In addition to visiting the schools, I suggest that you meet with alumni and current students. The insights that you'll gain from asking them why they decided on their school over the alternatives will help you with your school selection and provide additional reasons that you can use to clarify your own motivations for applying.
In the final section of this lecture, we'll touch briefly on a few other qualities that might be considered weaknesses in your candidacy and I'll offer some prescriptions for addressing these concerns.
The weaknesses that we're going to talk about now relate to personal qualities – your personality, life experiences, and overall perspective.
You might hear the word “diversity” thrown around quite a bit as it relates to MBA candidates – as in “Will this candidate add diversity to the class?” My sense is that admissions officers certainly want to build a diverse class but that goes beyond typical notions of diversity. If you're just like everyone else, will you be handicapped in the application process? OF COURSE YOU WILL. The question is, “Are you just like everyone else?”
Having worked with over 100 MBA applicants, I can tell you that each one of them was unique in some way. But when we started working together, many of my clients struggled to articulate how they were different. I helped them identify the things that made them unique. Here's where I'm going with all this -- I don't think applicants are passed over because they are just like everyone else – rather they are passed over because they don't know themselves well enough to explain exactly how they're different ... and this leads me to the first weakness I want to talk about:
...the lack of self-awareness and maturity. I believe self-awareness is your secret weapon in the battle for a spot in the most competitive MBA programs. An admissions consultant like me can certainly help you to identify what might set you apart, but my sense is that you can also do this work on your own, and I'll give you some pointers for doing so in the next slide.
Another weakness that falls into the Personal Qualities category is limited international experience and/or global perspective. In the next slide, I'll share a few of the ways that you can correct this deficiency.
The final two weakness I'll highlight are polar opposites of one another – you could be passed you're “too much of a poet” – or for the exact opposite reason – “you're too much of a suit.” Let's talk about the poets first: If you were an English major who blogs about French Existentialist Poetry and has Lord Byron's picture on your nightstand then you probably have some work to do if you've decided that an MBA is the best next step on your path. By the same token, if you're a strategy consultant who dreams in 2x2 matrices and is President of the Michael Porter fan club then you too have your work cut out for you before you apply for a top program. The operative phrase here is “too much” – meaning that you need to take some of the steps I'll suggest in the next slide to add some dimension to your profile.
If any of the description apply to you, there are some steps you can take to make your candidacy stronger.
Let's talk about expanding your self-awareness first. The better you understand who you are, what you're motivated by, and what makes you unique, the easier it's going to be to communicate those things in your application.
One specific step to expand your self-awareness is to start a daily journal. I'm not talking about recording what you ate that day or how your last date went. I'm suggesting that you devote about 20 minutes a day to wrestling with some big questions like:
– What matters most to me and why?
– What are the most important decisions I've made and why did I make those choices?
– and What have been the defining moments in my life? What did I learn from each experience? And How have those experiences changed me?
If you need more convincing that tackling these kinds of questions will be worthwhile – I'll just point out that every single one of the questions has been asked in one form or another on an MBA application for a top program. The point is that not only will you be increasing your self-awareness, you'll also be assembling the raw materials of your future essays, which is time well spent.
Another step that will increase your self-awareness is to take personality tests and self-diagnostic exams. There are tons of interesting tools out there like the Myers-Briggs Personality Profile which help you to identify you strengths and gain insights into your motivations. A book that I found interesting is Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham which also includes an online diagnostic tool. I'll post some links to some of these resources in the self-study area for this lecture.
If you're truly committed to expanding your self-awareness you could work with a life coach or as they used to be called “a therapist”. I don't know you so I'm not suggesting you need therapy – but I will say that some of the most dynamic and effective business leaders out there work with executive coaches – and I'm sure many more could probably benefit from a few hours on a therapist's couch.
The second weakness I talked about on the Personal Qualities slide was a limited global perspective. If during your self-assessment period, you come to the conclusion that you need to expand your global awareness then you can take some of the steps I'm going to recommend in the next slide.
Admissions committees are looking for candidates who have a global perspective and will be capable of one-day leading businesses that are global in nature. If you don't have a passport and have never travelled outside of your home country except for a Spring Break trip to Cancun then you should consider some of the following prescriptions.
Traveling is certainly a way to expand your point of reference. Personally, I think that my clients who have taken trips abroad as part of volunteer or educational programs get more from the experience than those who have visited as tourists. They learn important lessons about adapting to unfamiliar situations and people who are different than themselves -- lessons that simply aren't available if you're staying in a tourist-class hotel and museum hopping. As a practical matter they can also write about these educational experiences in their essays.
If you don't have the time or resources to travel you could also demonstrate global awareness by studying another language. In fact, some international MBA programs such as INSEAD require proficiency in a language other than English to be eligible for consideration.
For that matter, you don't have to go abroad to reach out to another culture. Just about every metropolitan area has well-established international communities. To reach out to another culture you could teach your language to new arrivals in your country and learn about their culture while teaching them about yours.
Another aspect of your global perspective has to do with your career goals. Think about how you can make your career goals global in scope – that might include spending a few years outside of your home country as part of your career action plan. The point is that you want to demonstrate that you are aware that just about every business you can think of is global in nature and that you are going to prepare yourself to be a leader whose vision extends beyond his or her domestic borders.
Last but not least, let's offer some helpful prescriptions to the poets and suits out there.
If you fit into one of those two categories, then you should make an effort to add some additional dimension to your profile.
The poets can start by diving into a few business books, subscribing to the Wall Street Journal, and by linking up with business-oriented organizations. One of my clients who had had very little business exposure but wanted to be an entrepreneur joined the local chapter of MIT Sloan's Entrepreneurial Forum -- a networking and professional development organization for current and aspiring entrepreneurs. He was very active in this group, convinced the President of the local chapter to write a recommendation letter for him, and was eventually accepted to Sloan.
If you've been all-business then you should take some steps to make yourself a bit more well-rounded. Explore a hobby, sign up to do some volunteer work, and – why not -- read some poetry!
In the introduction to this lecture, I told you that I was going to help you to start thinking like an admissions officer. I'm hoping that you now have a much better understanding of what admissions officers will be looking for, some insights into a few weaknesses that you might want to address, and the beginnings of an action plan for overcoming those weaknesses in the time you have remaining before you have to assemble your applications. Let's review the key takeaways from today's lecture.
We talked about potential weaknesses in six distinct areas of your candidacy and I offered a number of Prescriptions for Strengthening Your Application before you apply in each of these areas:
--Improve your Academic Profile through additional courses and by demonstrating skills at work and in community service
--Accelerate your Career Progress by changing jobs or making the most of your current one
--Build your Leadership Profile by making an impact at work and a difference in your community
--Define your Career Goals and expand your knowledge and relationships in the field you want to work in
--Clarify your Motivations for Pursuing an MBA and do extensive diligence on the schools you plan to apply to
--and Expand your Self-Awareness and venture outside your comfort zone – globally and interpersonally
I want to encourage you to use the precious time between now and your application deadline dates to make your candidacy as strong as it can be. The proactive steps you take now will offer you a competitive advantage over candidates who are praying that the flaws in their application will go unnoticed. At best they'll be trying to explain away weaknesses, whereas you'll be able to point to the substantive ways that you've addressed any potential concerns upfront.