MBA Preparation, Services

Myth No. 4: I should present only my strengths when applying for an MBA

July 27 2010 By The MBA Exchange
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Every MBA candidacy has strengths and weaknesses. These could be academic, professional and/or personal. Admissions committees know and expect this when considering an applicant. When applying to business school, you must do everything you can to sell yourself. This means making sure that your strengths are prominent and clear, but also not just ignoring your weaknesses.

All applicants have some achievements and accomplishments that convey excellence. It could be their GPA or GMAT score, perhaps a big promotion at work or leading a non-profit organization. Given the time pressures that applicants face in preparing their submissions, it’s understandable that they often overlook, subordinate or rationalize a weakness. It’s easy to just say things like:

  • “I’m sure the b-schools won’t notice my ‘C’ in Calculus.”
  • “I don’t think that the ad comm will care that I’m too busy to have leadership activities outside of my job.”
  • “My work assignment is so complex and demanding that I really can’t describe my quantified impact and results.”

A common hope is that the strengths will outweigh the weaknesses so much that the weaknesses don’t need to be mentioned or explained. Such short-sighted thinking is dangerous when you leave it up to the admissions committee to find and interpret your vulnerabilities.

Admissions committees are savvy. First they strive to maximize the size of the applicant pool, and then, as soon as the deadline arrives, they are motivated to quickly reduce the pile of apps in front of them. Business schools can’t be expected to prepare a “balance sheet” on each candidate, weighing perceived weaknesses against stated strengths. So they will find or assume your weaknesses if you don’t mention them outright. So why leave it up to the ad comms to interpret and analyze a flaw when you could put your own spin on it?

As in most aspects of life, being upfront and honest will pay off. Acknowledging vulnerabilities provides you with an opportunity to explain why you’re missing a certain qualification or made a bad choice in the past. It’s your chance to demonstrate humility, self-awareness and determination.

The best approach is to start with an objective listing and analysis of all strengths and weaknesses across your candidacy. This requires candor and introspection. It should happen well before you start writing essays or speaking with potential recommenders. This list is your opportunity to identify the issues that must be addressed before you prepare your application. This is not about confessing “sins.” Rather, it’s a matter of prioritizing the soft spots and holes that relate to admissions criteria at the targeted b-school.

Next, the key is to expand the strengths with fresh or updated examples that reinforce them. At the same time, confront your weaknesses and make improvements if possible. At the very least, the applicant should explain the circumstances behind the weakness, state the learning that resulted from a mistake or missed opportunity and describe corrective actions and improvements that are intended before or during the MBA education. At this point, the applicant can say:

  • “Here’s why I got that sub-par grade, and here’s what I’ve done to confirm my academic competence.”
  • “Even though I work 100+ hours a week, I’ve still contributed to society in this way.”
  • “Although the focus of my work is highly technical and internal, my efforts add to the bottom line in these important ways.”

By being open and honest in your essays and interviews, an applicant with even significant flaws can win the hearts and minds of an MBA admissions committee that appreciates integrity and wants to help such an individual succeed.

Now is time to take the first step, so request an objective, professional evaluation of your candidacy for the schools that you really want to attend. With 14 years of experience helping nearly 2,500 business school applicants to succeed, The MBA Exchange is ready and eager to help you achieve your objectives.