Last month, Kellogg Northwestern announced a bold MBA Admissions decision: to waive GMAT and GRE exams for laid-off tech workers. As discussed on our most recent BusinessCasual podcast, other top business schools have moved quickly to attract top talent that’s flooded the market in the wake of a stunning array of layoffs – some 60,000 tech workers since October and counting. Several elite business schools are making unique concessions: MIT Sloan and Berkeley Haas have extended round-two deadlines for recently laid-off employees; Cornell Johnson is offering both an app fee and app test waiver; and most recently, UCLA Anderson is offering a slimmed-down application process with just one essay question to meet its Jan. 4 deadline, along with deadline extensions for test scores and recommendations.
In the past few weeks, my Fortuna Admissions colleagues and I have been fielding calls from prospective MBAs hoping to throw their hat into the ring for this admissions cycle, given the calamitous change in their short-term job prospects. For early career professionals whose plans have been summarily upended, business school holds enormous appeal as a prime adaptation strategy. The thinking goes, pursue business school during the recession and graduate a year or two from now with new experience and expertise when companies are hiring again.
My message to most candidates on the fence about applying now for an MBA: Accept this challenge for a life-changing experience that stands to improve your future career prospects. Not only are top MBA programs incentivizing you to compile your application quickly, but they’re also removing some formidable hurdles. It’s very hard to prep and take the GMAT, write essays, and solicit strong letters of recommendations within a span of four to six weeks. Depending on where you choose to apply, you can take advantage of shorter applications, test and fee waivers, and other incentives. From my perspective as an MBA admissions consultant and former INSEAD Director of Admissions, this is a golden opportunity, and a rare one.
Given the exceptional circumstances at play, what do you need to know, and how can you prepare for delivering a standout application for round two deadlines in four-to-six weeks? Read on for expert advice from my colleagues at Fortuna Admissions.
5 TIPS FOR TECH CANDIDATES READY TO PURSUE AN MBA
- Position your adaptability as an asset.
Most candidates think it’s their accomplishments that define who they are, but it’s the challenges and pain points that so often shape our character and catalyze growth and transformation. This is what the admissions committee is looking for. Look for opportunities to show patterns of behavior that convey your leadership potential – whether it’s taking the initiative at work or responding to a need in your community. Schools will undoubtedly be sympathetic to a gap in your resume given the circumstances. It’s about using this time in a way that you create value, and that’s consistent with who you are in your overall narrative.
- Position your uniqueness.
Think beyond what you’ve accomplished that’s exceptional – because lots of people have done exceptional things – to what makes you different from others with a similar (or identical) professional profile. Your exceptionalism is a given if you’re applying for the MBA at a top program, but if you’re seizing the moment to apply now, you’ll be doing so alongside many candidates with a similar job title. As the admissions committee is charged with building a diverse cohort, they’ll be looking for what makes you unique and what value-add you’ll bring to the class.
- 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, and an admissions office will be familiar with a higher degree of mobility in your sector. 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. Set them up for success by walking recommenders 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. To prepare your recommender, discuss your goals and how business school will help you get there. And given the disruption of the coming holidays, it’s vital to connect with them early and check back in consistently to ensure your letters are prepared by the deadline. (For more advice, view our related article on how to secure the best letters of recommendation.)
If you’re still feeling intimidated, take this to heart: You are more than what you do for a living, and frankly, it’s your unique qualities, how you make decisions, and what motivates and drives you that is so much more interesting to the MBA admissions committee than misfortune of your recent layoff. When I was head of INSEAD Admissions, my team and I are were always seeking to understand who the applicant was as an individual. Your profession – identity shaping though it may feel – is really just the vehicle by which you learn to harness this bevy of skills and abilities.
Finally, don’t over-focus on the competition or fret about the idea that there are likely more people with your job title in the pool. What’s vital is to deliver a strong narrative and a unique story.
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.
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