Inside The Mind Of An MBA Admissions Officer

An excerpt from the newly published book Get In, Get Connected, Get Hired by Brian Precious

An excerpt from the newly published book Get In, Get Connected, Get Hired by Brian Precious

Does Jane demonstrate leadership skills or potential? 

This is probably one of the most important questions I ask when reviewing an application. As we’ve already discussed, MBA programs are designed to help those who wish to lead organizations. Good leaders are so important, yet so rare. My goal is to identify and prioritize the admission of those who can demonstrate that they are already good leaders, or those who can show they have the desire and potential to become good leaders.

So, where do I look for evidence of leadership skills or potential? The personal statement and essays are important. In these, I’m looking for evidence that you have made a positive impact on the organizations and companies with which you’ve been affiliated. I’m not expecting a twenty-two-year-old to have run a major corporation, but I would like to see that you’ve been active in student organizations. In the essays, I’m also looking for information about your leadership style. Writing about your thought process as you faced a tough problem, or how you brought people with differing beliefs together, can be a positive differentiator. Finally, I’m looking for examples of how you intend to enhance the student learning community. Mentioning your desire to participate in or lead specific clubs, or talking about starting a new one, demonstrates your intent to lead as a student.

Leadership was not a strong point for Jane. Her application failed to highlight any relevant experiences, and during the interview she confirmed she doesn’t enjoy working in groups, and was not involved in any extracurricular activities as an undergraduate student.

Does Jane conduct herself honorably and ethically? 

Sadly, it’s not hard to think of numerous examples of unethical leaders destroying companies, defrauding investors, and harming their customers. MBA programs tend to place graduates in leadership positions, and I see it as a moral obligation to verify that those I am considering for admission to our program have a solid understanding of the importance of ethical behavior.

To answer the question of whether I believe the applicant will behave ethically, I utilize every aspect of the application. I look at the essays and letters of recommendation to see if the applicant has ever been placed in a difficult ethical situation and learn what his or her response was. I also carefully review the essays to verify that they were actually written by the applicant. On occasion, I’ve phoned a recommender to get additional details about some information depicted in a letter of recommendation. Every now and then, I’ve come across a made-up letter of recommendation (either the supposed recommender or company doesn’t exist) and this always, always, always leads to an immediate denial of admission, regardless of the applicant’s other qualifications.

The best advice I can give is to demonstrate your understanding of the importance of ethics in business school and beyond. Talk about difficult situations you’ve faced, and walk the reader through your thought process, the actions you took, and the results.

Unfortunately for Jane, she did not receive his advice. During her interview, I noticed a disconnect between her speaking skills and her essays; while her essays contained a lot of big words and complex ideas, she preferred very brief answers during the interview. Furthermore, when I asked about some of the content in her essays, she had a hard time relaying some of the information she supposedly wrote. I’m now very suspicious that she did not write her own essays, which is a huge red flag. This not only makes me question her ethics, but also makes me wonder if she will be able to succeed in her writing-intensive coursework.

Will Jane be a good team member? Would I want to work with her? 

Like communication skills, the ability to be an effective team member is a critical success factor both in business school and in the “real world.” I would much rather have someone in my program who has lower grades or test scores but has exceptional interpersonal skills and an orientation toward teamwork than the other way around.

It’s pretty easy to spot good team players. They tend to use we more than I in their essays and during their interviews. Their recommenders highlight their team-oriented nature and offer examples illustrating their ability to function in a highly collaborative environment. Some applicants bring to the interview a portfolio of group projects on which they have worked.

Jane underwhelmed in this area as well. In her essays, she said she prefers working alone to teamwork. None of her letters of recommendation indicate that she’s a team player. That’s a problem because most of our coursework is done in teams. Furthermore, most of our employers want to hire future leaders with exceptional interpersonal skills and a strong desire to work in teams.

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.