When it comes to over-represented profiles in the MBA applicant pool, engineers are at the top (alongside applicants from consulting and finance – which we’ll address in upcoming articles of this series).
Set your sights on a top 10 business school, and you can assume your peers have equally impressive academic and professional distinctions, along with stellar GMAT scores. So, it’s rarely these elements that will set you apart. If you’re an engineer, you need to approach the MBA application differently with a sector-specific strategy.
First, take heart: It’s fantastic to have a tech background plus a degree from a top business school to launch you into your future career. Both place you in an excellent position to advance to a lot of different roles in an array of industries. They’re a great combination.
The top business schools think so, too. The best of the best from the tech giants continue to enter the ranks of the world’s most competitive business schools – more than 16% of Stanford GSB’s incoming class hails from the technology sector, and 11% of the incoming class at Harvard Business School.
The question is, if you’re in tech or engineering, how do you position your application to stand out in a sea of excellence?
Consider how to get the admissions team motivated about choosing you versus another candidate. Do you bring an unusual academic background, noteworthy distinction in your field or experience in a non-traditional industry? What unique perspectives, characteristics or stories can you weave into your narrative? It’s not just what you do, but who you are, and your ability to convey your uniqueness in a way that’s coherent and persuasive that set you apart.
Before you sit down to write, consider these essential tips gleaned from my colleagues at Fortuna Admissions, part two in our Sector Savvy series on tips for overrepresented profiles.
ESSENTIAL TIPS FOR ENGINEERS AND CANDIDATES IN TECH
- Lift up your transferable skills.
The tricky thing for many engineering applicants is that the role you have and the work that you’ve done may not be directly relevant to the MBA classroom. (Or to your post-MBA career – many engineers are looking to make a career switch.) Step outside your narrow role and take a bigger picture view of the skills and talents you’ve acquired in the job. As you do, reflect on the transferable skills that you’ve developed – in realms like communication, teamwork, leadership and/or presentation skills. This may be quite different from the way you think about your skills in the context of day-to-day demands and not be so obvious at first. Consider the patterns of behavior that flow through your professional performance and how they extend to your engagement in the community, the roles you took on, and how you made a contribution.
- Present a coherent career trajectory.
There’s a lot more movement in the tech industry than in others like consulting or finance. Top programmers get lured away by competition, and an admissions office will be familiar with a higher degree of mobility in your sector. For example, it’s not uncommon to see the software engineer who started at Oracle, then continued at Salesforce before moving on to Uber. What’s vital is to ensure coherency in the career narrative that you share.
Rather than being perceived as the ‘hired gun’ with a mosaic of employers, you’ll want to convey that you’ve had the time and opportunity to really take ownership of a project and see it through. Really focus on the impact that you’ve had – and get to it quickly. Go beyond what you did to convey what you learned from your experiences and be able to connect what you’ve learned to what you’ll bring to the MBA classroom.
- Coach your recommenders.
They may be accomplished professionals, but don’t assume your recommenders will know exactly what’s expected from them. Unlike the consulting industry, where it’s common for senior leadership to have an MBA, it’s not a given that your boss went to b-school. Set your recommenders up for success by walking them through the process, emphasizing the importance of depth, details, and anecdotes to address specific situations and your contributions. This doesn’t mean telling them what to write – you want your recommender’s voice and authenticity to lead. But you also don’t want them to dive in blindly – especially if they’re unfamiliar with what’s entailed. Business schools want substance, with stories that really back up the fact that you’re an amazing person and stellar employee with enormous potential to succeed.
In preparing your recommender, be sure to share your goals and how business school will help you get there. Having this discussion is critical to ensuring coherence across your application. The added benefit is that your conversation may elicit insights that you haven’t considered about how your abilities are perceived, or how you’ve contributed on a team or project. Your recommender can also convey aspects of your personality or character traits that will add color to your candidacy.
For all seven tips for tech and engineering candidates, view the full article on the Fortuna Admissions website. View part 1 in our Sector Savvy series for tips for consultants and stay tuned for next week’s focus on tips for finance candidates.
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Caroline Diarte Edwards is Director of Fortuna Admissions and former Director of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid at INSEAD. If you’d like more guidance on applying to a top business school and a candid assessment of your chances of admission, reach out to Fortuna for a free consultation.