Why Finance Experience Is Less Impressive To Adcoms
Nowadays, financial services experience won’t give you much of a competitive edge when applying to an MBA program.
What will give you that edge, according to Stacy Blackman Consulting, is taking a more critical approach to MBA application strategy.
“While MBA admissions committees do accept applications from oversubscribed populations, they are now focusing more on diversity of profession, gender and nationality, because it enriches peer-to-peer learning and contributes to their success in the rankings,” Blackman says in a new article for efinancialcareers.
A SATURATED APPLICANT POOL
A couple years ago, financial service experience held more weight for an MBA applicant.
According to Blackman, this advantage stemmed from, in her words, “the strong work ethic associated with investment bankers and money managers and the prestige that comes with working for a big brand are attributes that business schools such as Harvard, Wharton and Stanford covet, as they demonstrate readiness for the rigors of the MBA classroom.”
But the MBA environment has shifted. As diversity has grown increasingly appealing, a number of b-schools are focusing more heavily on applicants with unique backgrounds.
And that means if you only have financial service experience to show, it’s not going to look as impressive as it once was.
“The default among financiers is to assume that their strong work ethic, employer brand and high stats will get them into a top school, but that is not the case today,” Blackman argues. “About 50% of our finance inquiries do not realize that the bar is higher for their cohort, and that their application must be more compelling to differentiate themselves from the competition. Accepting that truth is the first step to securing a place on a top MBA program.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF HOLISTIC INTERESTS AND ACHIEVEMENTS
If a strong work ethic, big employer brand, and high stats won’t cut it anymore, what does?
Having personal qualities, interests, and triumphs.
In a study done by Stacy Blackman Consulting, 21 MBA candidates were charted from private equity firms as they applied to Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton.
“Our study concluded that past academic background nor GMAT (admissions test) scores could reliably predict whether candidates were admitted or rejected,” Blackman says. “Success — defined by either an admit or interview invite – was rather predicted by how interesting the candidate was to admissions officers.”
“Successful” applicants, Blackman says, tend to convey their interests through activities outside the classroom environment.
“For example, debate leadership, athletic activity and a remarkable thesis were undergraduate experiences that correlated with admits to GSB and HBS,” Blackman says. “Emphasizing earlier life interests that show character and values can differentiate finance candidates vying for top MBA programs.”
RESPONSIBLE LEADERSHIP CREDENTIALS
While credentials and titles look impressive, showing collaboration and teamwork skills is even better, Blackman says.
“Many business schools also want to educate people who will lead society, not just business, and consider how their career impacts the environment around them,” she writes. “Schools are thinking about employability when reviewing applications – a critical factor in MBA rankings – and whether candidates will use the MBA to achieve their career goals.”
Showing that you can lead, responsibly and collaboratively, is a huge plus. That’s especially true when it’s in a field that you’re passionate about.
“Illustrate how you will contribute to your new community at business school,” Blackman says. “Convey that you will be active and engaged on campus — how you will take on a leadership role within a club that you are passionate about, for example.”
Having strong recommendations in addition to a high title can give you a huge competitive edge.
Blackman suggests applicants use recommendation letters to highlight certain skills.
“Use your recommendation letters to convey what made you stand apart from your peers at the firm — including project or people management, and evidence of high performance, such as receiving promotions more quickly than others, which are all valued by MBA admissions teams,” she writes.
Having the financial experience is the first step to getting ahead in the MBA admissions race. But, knowing how to sell yourself strategically, is what will ensure your acceptance to an elite MBA program.