How To Increase Your Appeal To Adcoms
There is a familiar rite of passage for b-school applicants. Sometime this fall, many will open a letter, crumple it up, and toss it across the room. Most will sit back, sigh, and stare at the ceiling. The whole time, they will mutter to themselves, “What didn’t I do to get in?”
These applicants will naturally start looking at their GMAT – and for good reason. Here, adcoms can place candidates’ scores side-by-side and gauge their strengths and weaknesses. GMAT scores may form the puzzle frame, but it is often the interior pieces that give decision-makers the clearest picture of each candidate’s capabilities, ambitions, and cultural fit.
According to Stacy Blackman, an admissions consultant and author of The MBA Application Roadmap, there are five intangibles with that gives candidates that ‘extra something’ that often separates them from their peers.
And it starts with a leadership track record. Why? In any line of work – whether it’s consulting, banking, or entrepreneurship – MBAs will be expected to coordinate, persuade, motivate, and evaluate. Managing people is far more complex and dynamic than managing processes. It requires self-awareness and soft skills, restraint and fervor, precision and improvisation. And these traits are just as valuable in school clubs and projects as the work world.
However, as Blackman observes, leadership is reflected in avenues beyond direct reports. “Think about a time when you motivated others to do something, when you marshaled resources to solve a problem, when you brought a fresh idea or new way of thinking to your organization and most importantly, how you worked to inspire others and bring out the best in them. The aim is to show where you made an impact, no matter the size.”
Second, Blackman encourages applicants to prove they can handle ‘the numbers’ (i.e. quantitative courses laden with finance, accounting, analytics, and statistics). These courses often cause first years the most grief, particularly those with ‘poet’ backgrounds. To assuage adcoms’ concerns, Blackman suggests that candidates score high on the GMAT or GRE. Taking courses (or MOOCs) that require heavy math and finance are another way for applicants to demonstrate their commitment and capabilities in this area.
Another area that sometimes trips up applicants is communication skills. “Recruiters frequently gripethat even MBA graduates from the most elite institutions need to work harder at cultivating soft skills,” Blackman confesses. To counter this, she encourages students to drum on these areas during the application and interview. “Highlight experiences that show you work well with others and that prove you can make a presentation in a persuasive, professional manner. Or, show how your effective communication skills have helped you land a client or seal a deal.”
Fourth, applicants should be realistic about what they want to accomplish after graduation. In particular, students must craft a narrative that outlines how (and why) they’ve followed their career path to date; what they see themselves doing in the future; and what they expect from their business school experience and how it will help further their short-term and long-term goals. “As you describe your career trajectory,” Blackman writes, “make sure you explain what has led you to pursue it and why it resonates with you. The answer doesn’t need to be elaborate or dramatic, but it should be convincing and real.”
And schools look at goals as more than a way to weed out dreamers and dilettantes. “Whether they discuss it openly,” Blackman points out, “business schools are very concerned with job placement statistics. If they can’t help their MBA graduates find jobs, the ripple effect leads to fewer applicants in the future and lower yield.” In other words, adcoms are often asking two questions when they are weighing applicants: “Will he be successful” and “Will he be in a position to financially support us someday?”
Finally, Blackman warns applicants to find advocates who will produce insightful, passionate letters of recommendation. “Make sure your recommenders are close enough to provide specific and relevant examples of your work and, above all, make sure they share in your excitement about going to business school.” In a related Forbes article, Shawn O’Connor, founder and CEO of admissions consulting firm Stratus Admissions Counseling, counsels applicants to do the leg work on recommendations long before they need them. “Build strong relationships now with people from whom you may request a recommendation from in a few months. Also, ensure that you perform your best, so that your current supervisor has strong examples of key personal and professional qualities, such as leadership, strategic thinking and working with others.”
Of course, these aren’t the only strategies for establishing credibility with adcoms. For example, many gatekeepers look for evidence of career progression. However, such advancement isn’t necessarily manifested in title changes and promotions. For example, leading – or even being included in an important initiative – indicates that applicants had gained their employers’ trust. However, specificity is the key here. Candidates should include quantifiable data, such as dollars saved, revenue generated, or percentage of growth, to indicate the value of their efforts. This, coupled with an explanation of their responsibilities and impact, provides evidence behind those contentions that many applicants often fail to support.
Candidates should also craft narratives that validate the themes and qualities they hope to convey. For example, it isn’t enough for applicants to claim they are conscientious. A specific example, such as volunteering to conduct quality control combined with the results of this action (i.e. identifying several bugs before a large roll out), reveals just how thorough a candidate really is. Even more, it foretells the type of student that applicants will be once they step onto campus.
When adcoms interview prospective students, they are often looking for fit, always wondering if the person is “authentic” or just another jerk whose bad habits will pop up once the pressure rises. Even more, they are wondering about applicants’ ceiling (i.e. their potential) and whether they have the commitment and talent to reach it. To stand out, candidates must establish themselves as proven entities who understand who they are, what they want and possesses the moxie, likeability, and leadership mindset to get there. And doing that requires more than simply connecting with adcoms. Candidates need to back up everything they say with data, examples, and stories too.
Source: U.S. News & World Report