Have you slogged long hours at the office to keep the boss happy and meet client deadlines? Pulled all-nighters in college to accumulate credits and maintain your dean’s list standing? Aced your job interviews and secured a spot at an A-list consulting firm? Distinguished yourself as a career wunderkind who’s risen to the senior ranks in your 20s? Congratulations. You’re super smart with a great job, and your commitment and excellence are laudable. Alas, they may not be enough to secure admission to one of the world’s top MBA programs.
Why not? Because you’re not the only one who’s been going the extra mile to be the best—especially in a hyper-competitive field like consulting. Alas, the management consultant is one of the most common profiles in the elite MBA applicant pool (along with finance and tech). So while your academic and professional excellence is requisite, these are not the data points that will set you apart.
So how will you position yourself to stand out in such an over-represented applicant pool?
My colleagues at Fortuna Admissions, former admissions directors of top-tier MBA programs, consolidated their most essential advice for applicants in three of the most overrepresented pools: candidates from Consulting, Finance, and Tech / Engineering. We’re drawing upon our decades of insider industry expertise and MBA coaching experience.
This first in our Sector Savvy series zeros in on top tips for consultants on how to position a compelling application when the best isn’t the barometer.
TOP TIPS ON HOW TO STAND OUT AS A CONSULTANT
- Reveal greater dimension to your candidacy.
Don’t let your identity be defined only by your job. Most consultants feel it’s who they are, a common condition among high-achieving rock stars. Take this opportunity of applying to b-school to step back from a breakneck 80+ hours-a-week schedule to understand what really drives and motivates you, and where you wish to have the most impact. Reflect on what’s brought you to this moment in your career and your life – and this decision to pursue an MBA. Excavate unexpected and unique elements from of your past or future aspirations that can you craft into a compelling story and offer as evidence of your leadership potential. Being able to tell stories that are important to you is about being reflective and self-aware. The more personal you can be in terms of why you do what you do, the more interesting and memorable you’ll be – because so few people are.
- Shape your experience.
If you know that an MBA is right for you, you’ll want to start immediately curating your professional experience to distinguish you from peers – and the earlier you begin the better. And if you’re currently with a consulting firm like McKinsey, Bain, or BCG (MBB for short), you may be applying within your initial two years, which gives you a short runway to tailor your experience. Proactively seek opportunities that are out of the ordinary and volunteer to lead projects outside of your scope. Seize any chance for international exposure (projects, conferences, trips, or work abroad). If you can connect these experiences to your future aspirations, all the better, but the key point here is that anything out of the ordinary on your roster of experiences will go a long way to making your application more memorable. What will give you a different edge over peers with the same title, and show you’re bringing something unique to the MBA classroom?
- Communicate your self- and situational awareness.
In a candidate pool whose sharp self-possession can veer quickly to overconfidence, your communications savvy will be under scrutiny. For example, certain qualities that may have helped you thrive as a strategy consultant can come across as impatient, arrogant, or misaligned with the MBA Admissions Committee. My Fortuna colleague Karla Cohen, former Associate Director at HBS, has a spectacular story of being interrupted by a prospective candidate in the HBS interview who corrected her mid-question (No, no, what you should be asking me is…’). The MBA interview is a relational experience, not a pitch meeting. Establishing that you are who you say you are on paper means staying alert and curious, maintaining eye contact, and asking thoughtful questions when given the opportunity. Your ability to be authentic, and to discern the line between confidence and arrogance, speaks to your acumen and maturity.
For all seven tips for consulting candidates, view the full article on the Fortuna Admissions website. Next week we’ll continue our three-part series on overrepresented profiles (tech, consulting, finance).
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Matt Symonds is Co-Founder of MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and Co-Host of the CentreCourt MBA Festival. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.