As top business schools such as Harvard and Wharton have reduced the number and length of essays and recommendation letters, MBA applications today provide less data and insight into a candidate’s character, aspirations, values and potential fit. However, additional background information is readily available on applicants’ social media pages — and the B-schools are actively looking.
In past years, MBA programs performed informal online searches on applicants primarily to confirm claims made on applications and to discover compromising photos or provocative postings that reveal immaturity or behavioral issues. But today the schools have a greater sense of the power of social media as evidenced by their own active presence on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. As a result, merely sanitizing an online profile by deleting ‘red cup’ party photos is no longer sufficient for serious applicants. The importance of having a well-crafted, thoughtfully managed social media presence has increased exponentially.
One Ivy League business school has already integrated social media review into the application process. Candidates for Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management now have the ability to complete parts of the application using their LinkedIn profile. This official recognition of social media as a source of applicant information is groundbreaking and sends a very important message to future MBAs. Individuals seeking acceptance to Cornell will surely refine and bolster their LinkedIn profiles to feature aspects of their background that would otherwise remain unknown to the admissions committee. Many will connect their other social media profiles to LinkedIn to expand this “window” into the candidacy, placing the applicant’s personality, passions and goals front and center.
Astute MBA applicants are now realizing that the strategic, proactive use of social media can bolster their chances for admission. Here are some specific tactics for MBA applicants as suggested by
- Ensuring their social media profiles are made public and easy to find. Many individuals fear the downside of social media and reflexively opt for a full lockdown or simply use a pseudonym. The risk of this approach is that business schools could conclude that a missing or hidden social media presence means the applicant has something to hide. These individuals miss a golden opportunity to make a compelling and positive impression on the admissions staff.
- Understanding that the primary target audience is not peers, but rather the business school community — admissions staff, faculty, students and alumni. Applicants can help themselves by foregoing “likes” from buddies based on inside humor and pop culture references and, instead, posting content that authentically, maturely and succinctly describes their accomplishments, interests and activities. Showcasing one’s beliefs, ambitions, leadership qualities and intellectual curiosity online will resonate with admissions decision makers and influencers.
- Utilizing LinkedIn profiles as a complement to and extension of the actual application. Like a traditional resume, most LinkedIn profiles reflect a dry, factual summary of the past and present. However, including one’s professional and personal goals helps readers learn far more about the person behind the profile. LinkedIn content should align with and complement the information provided on the application. The “Headline and Summary Statement” can be used to highlight what the candidate intends to accomplish during and after business school. A well-articulated account of the candidate’s vision, future ambitions and leadership attributes makes a powerful first impression.
- Leveraging social media to demonstrate awareness of and engagement with the school. The admissions staff tracks and measures an applicant’s efforts and outreach, such as making campus visits, attending information sessions, etc. Social media offers one more way to interact with the b-school community by following and engaging with students, alumni, faculty and staff. For instance, LinkedIn’s University Pages allow applicants to tap into the network at a given b-school. Once they optimize their LinkedIn profile, MBA candidates can freely communicate with members of this community, sharing and discussing relevant ideas in ways that can increase profile views. To present their profile in a more robust and engaging way, business school applicants can also publish original blog posts, photos from community service projects, travel journals, and news articles about events they are following.
Winning a seat at Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and other top MBA programs takes more than just wanting and needing a premier education. Conveying one’s persona, potential and value proposition through social media helps to differentiate the candidacy and, in turn, maximize the chances for admission.
As thousands of qualified individuals seek admission to the same, highly selective programs, it’s imperative that determined applicants use their digital presence as a strategic extension of the traditional application. This is a tactic that will benefit future MBAs before, during and after business school.
Dan Bauer is founder and CEO of admissions consulting firm The MBA Exchange, and Alan Katzman is CEO of the social media consulting firm Social Assurity, LLC. Both firms have a strategic alliance to help business school applicants understand and utilize social media as a way to enhance their candidacies, ranging from a sole focus on the LinkedIn profile to a more comprehensive refinement of the overall profile.