5 steps to convincing the adcom to say “yes” to your b-school application
Some applicants believe it’s best to present themselves in a way that is totally spontaneous and top-of-mind. They wait until the final few days before the application deadline and produce just one or two drafts before submission. This approach is risky because it skips the introspection and optimization that produce the most compelling and competitive MBA candidacies.
Some other applicants feel it’s essential to spend several months doing online research, and reading so-called “insider guides” in an effort to reverse engineer the admissions process and crack the code for each targeted school. Such individuals craft dozens and dozens of drafts but they never truly convey their authenticity and uniqueness.
From having advised thousands of successful applicants, we have found 5 keys steps to building and presenting an MBA candidacy that wins the hearts and minds of gatekeepers at top business schools:
1. Avoid excessive humility and arrogance.
It’s essential for an applicant to express self-awareness and self-confidence. If you’re too humble when describing the significance of your accomplishments in college, on the job and in the community, the adcom will wonder how impactful you really are. Likewise, if you boast and brag about everything you’ve done since puberty, the decision makers will have serious doubts about your ability to be an effective leader or teammate. So, dial down both of these attitudes when building your case for admission. Present yourself as someone who others would really want as an MBA classmate and fellow alum.
2. Follow a proven framework.
Reflecting on the entirety of your past and present is an overwhelming task for anyone. Yet, applicants have to select the most relevant topics, engaging examples, and convincing evidence of their attributes in order to present a competitive candidacy. The most efficient and effective way to do this is by using a framework to help align your strongest selling points with the selection criteria at the targeted school. You can try to build your own framework by examining the school’s website, reading speeches and articles by the dean, interpreting the published profiles of recent classes. Or you can engage the services of a professional admissions consultant like The MBA Exchange that brings to the table decades of experience with a wide range of applicants and schools.
3. Involve those who know you best.
Relatives, friends and trusted colleagues are aware of successes and failures that you’ve long forgotten. Not only is their collective memory larger than yours, but they also have a major stake in your future success. So, when trying to recall the situations and experiences that reveal the most about your skills, passions, values, vision, you should solicit candid input from those who can suggest examples beyond the ones that you recall. Specific facts, episodes and perceptions they share will only enhance your story.
4. Explain and — ideally — fix what’s broken.
No MBA candidacy is perfect. Strength in one aspect of the application are always countered by weakness in another. At the very least, the admissions committee expects an applicant to provide a credible explanation for gaps and failures. A little remorse goes a long way in demonstrating sincerity. However, even if you have just a few weeks before the application deadline, that could be sufficient to mitigate a negative by taking positive action. For instance, if you lack evidence of leadership, you could launch a new initiative at work. If you have soft analytical ability, there may be time to begin an online class and receive a positive mid-term grade. Actions speak louder than words when it comes to business school applications.
5. Double-check for continuity and coherence.
Your final application has to be much more than just a “data dump.” The content has to be presented in a clear and logical manner that makes it easy for the admissions committee to consider and remember your candidacy compared to others. So, to confirm whether you’ve presented a convincing case, it can be very helpful to have your app reviewed by someone who doesn’t know you. The more knowledgeable about the MBA admissions process this person is, the more reliable their feedback will be. (Another good reason to hire an experienced admissions consultant.) This last reading of your app — before you click the mouse and send it to the school — could be the most important step of the entire process.