This write-up is aimed at showing elements that you should consider while applying to MBA programs. What you need to highlight in your MBA application depends on several factors such as what your target business schools want, what other applicants offer, and how your strengths of weaknesses compare with these applicants.
STEP 1: IDENTIFY NEEDS OF A BUSINESS SCHOOL
Understand exactly what those needs are and their order of importance.
All business schools need intelligent applicants and potential leaders because their goal is to teach them to be the leaders who will gain repute in their area. School’s objective is, therefore, to enhance its reputation as well as generate donations from former students, who generally bolster the school’s budget with significant contributions.
Your job is to identify each school’s needs. To help you understand the qualities the schools look for, you have at your disposal:
- The essay questions on the application, because they reflect what the school is looking to find out from the applicant.
- The school’s websites
- The presentation sessions that the schools regularly organize around the world
- School alumni
- If you have the time and money, a visit to the campuses of the schools which interest you.
If you have successfully passed this first stage, the next step is to meet with those needs that you have identified.
STEP 2: MEET THESE NEEDS USING YOUR PAST EXPERIENCE
Starting hereon, you must select from your past experiences those which best show the qualities that the school is seeking from potential students. In other words, the experiences that you choose to relate must demonstrate that you possess these qualities.
If you have problems finding suitable experiences, don’t hesitate to talk about these issues with people who know you well. Ask them for examples of situations where you have shown such and such a quality. In general, this should prove very fruitful because others sometimes retain experiences that you yourself have forgotten.
STEP 3: ANSWER CONVINCINGLY BY CHOOSING YOUR MOST RELEVANT EXPERIENCES AND PRESENTING THEM WITH MAXIMUM IMPACT
After step 2, you will most likely have gone through a large number of experiences that should correspond to the qualities sought by the school. In order to be convincing, you must select the experiences which in themselves convey the idea that you possess the qualities required. Experiment with different ways to express this, so as to be as persuasive as possible.
a)Choose your most relevant experiences for each of the sought after qualities.
For each quality, we recommend that you identify the experiences that you have gone through. Then let your common sense decide: put yourself in the reader’s position and ask yourself whether you would be convinced that the applicant possesses such and such a quality upon reading such and such an experience. Do this test and there is a strong possibility that one of these experiences will stand out from the rest. If, however, you still can’t see the right choice, we would encourage you to reach out to people around you, describe your experiences and ask them which experience best conveys the quality in question.
b)Once you have selected the experience that best conveys the fact that you have the desired quality, you must work on the way you put this down on paper, in order to be as convincing as possible.
For this, we recommend you use the communication methods that can be summarized in four sequences: The STAR (Situation, Task, Action, and Result)
Situation: The goal is to explain the difficulty of the task you set for yourself, which will enable you to highlight your accomplishments with even more confidence. This part is all the more important given the lack of context for the admissions committee – they don’t know if the organization of a university event in India is harder than managing a military unit or handing a building-site construction project. So you have to help them understand the context in which you are operating because that way they can better compare your qualities against those of other potential students.
Task: You have to indicate the goal that you were required to achieve. Generally, one line is enough.
Action: You must explain the actions that you took in order to show how you achieved the goal you mention above.
Result: The objective is to quantify the results gained, be they numerical results (“hard data”, for example, the rise in sales) or human results (“soft data”, like for example the improvement of the work atmosphere)
STEP 4: REPLY IN A DISTINCTIVE AND PERSONAL WAY
It is important to be convincing, but that alone won’t guarantee you a place. There remains a final stage before concluding your personal marketing. You must be unique in order to differentiate yourself from the other applicants. This means that you must
- Relate an experience which is out of the ordinary
- Open yourself up to the admissions panel using a personal and sincere style;
- Bring out an overall “marketing position” for your application.
If you get it right, then what you put down will be engaging, and will hold the attention of the reader, ensuring that your application distinguishes itself from the others.
A)Choose some out of the ordinary experiences
You must not only select experiences that best convey certain qualities, but also set them down in a persuasive manner. It is to your advantage to have uncommon experiences. If your application bears only examples of your latest projects at work, or common activities during your college career, you stand a strong chance to going unnoticed among the 7000 other candidates.
The solution is to ensure that some of your experiences are not ordinary. If you have a passion for digital photography, or you have helped with humanitarian aid, or even a passion for theater or a strong liking for cooking, make sure to mention them. This piece of advice is all the more important for those of you who with backgrounds such as consulting, investment banking or marketing because a lot of applicants will have a profile similar to yours.
B)Open yourself up to the admission panel using a personal and sincere style
It is important that you reveal your personality through your application so that the admissions committee can better appreciate the richness of your personality. Above all, don’t limit yourself into the commonality of an ideal applicant. Each one of us has his strengths and weaknesses, his good and bad experiences. Also, if you want to talk about your family, about your community or about a person or experience that has made a particular impression on you, it may work to your advantage because in this way you will draw the attention and gain the empathy of the reader.
In addition to this, you should try to avoid wording that seems too cold and conventional. It is true that such wording allows you to avoid taking risks, but an overabundance of such expressions will prevent your personality from coming through. Therefore, use “I” instead of “one/we”, and use “active” rather than “passive” phrasing. Be natural in your writing and don’t borrow anyone else’s style.
C)Bring out the strong themes in your application
Some people call this “positioning” because you have to gather together your various experiences around a small number of themes. It could be certain aspects of your personality, some passion, or areas where you show a high level of skill.
An applicant’s positioning must be able to be summarized in three or four chosen themes. The advantage of having these themes is that they help the admission committee to synthesize your various experiences. If you don’t put any work in positioning, it’s possible that the admission committee will have difficulty seeing the link between your various experiences - giving the impression that your personality is a little too “different”.
STEP 5: ORGANIZE YOUR APPLICATION TO MEET THE NEEDS OF THE SCHOOL
Finally, you must now organize your application to be sure that you are best using various opportunities to reveal your personality (essays, recommendations, interview) for getting your themes across, as well as their relevant experiences. I advise you to be rigorous because your application must correspond as precisely as possible to the order of importance of the qualities sought after by the school.
If you have identified that the school is looking for, in order of importance:
- Leadership, i.e. the ability to initiate projects, give them structure and motivate a team so as to make the projects successful
- Open-mindedness and an international perspective, i.e. the ability to work in a different cultural context
- Humility, i.e. the aptitude to recognize and learn from one’s failures
Then, you must plan the messages and the framework you expect to see to meet these needs. It is essential to talk in particular with your recommenders in order to explain this organization to them.