5 Tips to Assess Your MBA Profile

Are your MBA goals clear?

Your goals should should draw a clear connection from your past to your future.

I often tell my clients that an MBA application is like a mosaic. Each element contributes to create a full picture of who you are. Some pieces will be brighter or more colorful than others. Others fail to sparkle. You can either address those weaknesses — polish those dull stones — or decide to re-evaluate your school choices to be more competitive.

Here are five tips you can use to assess yourself as you narrow down your list.

1.    GMAT/GPA

Accepted.com’s President Linda Abraham summed it nicely in a post for Poets&Quants:

“If your score is more than 30 points below the average listed at your target school than you’ve got two realistic choices: You can either adjust your list of target schools and aim for MBA programs that have lower GMAT averages, or you can keep your list and retake the GMAT.”

That being said, it’s only one factor in your application. If you scored low on the GMAT, you may be an outlier in another area, which could mitigate your score.

Your undergraduate GPA is another factor the adcom considers. Those with a 3.6 and above are generally fine at top schools. If you had a wobbly semester or two, use the optional essay to provide context and discuss what you’ve done to address those weak areas. Perhaps you retook a few classes, or later enrolled in a continuing ed course to brush up your skill set.

2.    Work Experience

Top business schools are generally looking for folks with between 3-7 years of work experience. Certain professions are highly represented. At Harvard, the top professions pre-MBA are consulting, financial services, VC/PE and “High Tech/Communications.”  At Wharton, it’s consulting and military/gov’t/non-profit. At Stanford it’s consulting, VC/PE and military/gov’t/non-profit.  If you’re not a consultant, in finance, or a government wonk – that doesn’t mean you’re not competitive! MBA programs are also looking for diversity to bring differing viewpoints to class discussions. Take a look at this “fox in the henhouse” admitted to Harvard. What you need to communicate is how your achievements are extraordinary and how your background will add to the school’s diversity. That’s what will stand out.

3.  For international applicants, it’s work experience + international exposure. Or work experience + extraordinary accomplishments.

Take a look at profiles of students who head up international clubs at top US and UK b-schools. More likely than not they have one of two boxes checked.

1.  They have significant international experience working outside of their home country, often with a multinational company or recognized global organization.

2.  They’ve done something truly extraordinary in the context of their profession.

If you have never traveled or worked outside your home country, then your accomplishments should stand out anywhere around the globe. I don’t mean test scores here. I mean introducing significant innovation at work, developing a skill, creating a business, or founding a socially-oriented activity that’s unique and interesting.

Are you networking for international assignments at work? If not, start doing so now.

Would you consider what you’ve done, extraordinary? If not, stop dreaming and start doing it now.

4.   Goals

Your goals need to make sense based on your past experience. They should draw a clear connection from your past to your future.

‘But wait!’ you say. ‘What if I want to switch careers?’ That’s fine – just show the admissions committee that you’ve already gained some exposure to the industry, and why your past experience will be an asset as you move forward.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the adcom will likely assess your employ-ability. Will your background + an MBA make sense to recruiters? Are you an international student? You may have a harder time getting hired by a firm outside of countries where you are already permitted to work. It’s best to show in your application that you’re flexible – you’re willing to return to your home country, get some more experience, then branch out based on your own networking.

5.   Fit and familiarity

Finally we get down to what I call,”fit and familiarity.” For example, have you taken a summer session course on campus? Are you an alum of the undergraduate program? Have you worked in the city where the school is located? You can then make a better case of being familiar with its curriculum and community.

Another factor is your post-MBA plans. Do you have experience in a school’s specialization? Do you have family in the area, or previous business connections that would lead you to happily settle in the school’s locale after graduation? Are you a big city kind of person, or do you enjoy the strong connections forged in smaller communities?

Be HONEST with yourself. If you don’t know, I strongly recommend a visit to campus if you can afford it. Rankings and name recognition are a place to start, but ultimately—this is a HUGE investment. Don’t make it the worst two-year vacation you went into debt for and will spend a lifetime paying back. Make it a transformative experience. Find an environment where you will thrive.

Yes you CAN get accepted to a top b-school with low stats!

Michelle Stockman Michelle Stockman is a professional journalist, former Columbia Business School admissions insider, and experienced MBA admissions consultant.

 

Related Resources:

MBA Action Plan: 6 Steps for the 6 Months Before You Apply
Best MBA Programs: A Guide to Selecting the Right One
MBA Rankings: What You Need To Know

What Are My Chances? Energy Sector Veteran With an Entrepreneurial Spark

This blog post is part of a series of MBA profile evaluations called “What are My Chances?” by Michelle Stockman. Michelle, who started consulting for Accepted in 2007 and worked previously in the Columbia Business School admissions office, will provide selected applicants with school recommendations as well as an assessment of their strengths and weaknesses.

If you would like Michelle to evaluate your profile at no charge and as part of this series, please provide the information requested at http://reports.accepted.com/what_are_my_chances.

PROFILE #8: Sachin, energy sector veteran with an entrepreneurial spark

Check out more MBA applicant profile evaluations!

Stop right there. Retake your GMAT!

Note: This profile request arrived with very little information.

Give me more details folks!

-BACKGROUND: 30+ Indian male who graduated in 2001 from Nagpur University in India. Chemical engineer with 12 years managerial experience in the natural gas industry.

Sachin, why now? That would be my question for you.

You’re on the older end of the scale when it comes to MBA candidates. You’ve got to explain why you’re ready to interrupt your career for two years, lose income, and perhaps give up your current management position to pursue an MBA.

It’s not enough to be in a mid-career funk.

At first glance, if you want to advance your career within the industry, you might fit better into an EMBA program. Have you considered that?

-GOALS: Progress career within the energy industry, pursue entrepreneurship allied to the energy sector, and contribute towards India’s social development.

These goals definitely make sense with what you’ve shared about your background. When writing your essays, you should share specific, personal examples from your work experience that show past leadership successes. Then state what skills you are missing that an MBA will address.

As an older candidate, you also need to show you have the industry network and connections to move into your next position. Don’t think you can rely only on career services to make this transition.

-GMAT: 580 Verbal-37 Quant-77

Halt. Hit the breaks. Stop right there.

This is not a competitive GMAT score. Other aspects of your profile are really going to have to stand out for you to be accepted to any school. Right now they do not.

Retake your GMAT.

-GPA: 73.5%

Very good GPA from a strong, though relatively lesser known Indian university in terms of international renown. It’s not so important though, as you graduated more than a decade ago. Your GMAT is a better indicator, at this point, of your ability to keep up in an MBA classroom.

-EXTRACURRICULAR: Teamwork in social activities.

This is very vague. What kinds of activities? What did you accomplish?

-SCHOOLS:

Sorry. I’m not going to recommend any schools for you. Believe it or not, I’ve read applications with about this level of information from the candidate. They don’t get past a first read.

Sachin, you’ve got to go on some long walks and think about why you really want an MBA. What do you hope to achieve? What stories from your past indicate your leadership potential?

Don’t approach your MBA from a mental space of feeling stuck or wanting out of your current situation.

Research, have conversations throughout the energy sector, then connect the dots from your past to your future. Make your ability to do something extraordinary within your industry sound plausible.

Get clear, practical guidelines for answering the MBA goals essay question. Click here to download our free report.

Michelle Stockman is a professional journalist, former Columbia Business School admissions insider, and experienced MBA admissions consultant.

 

Related Resources:

What are My Chances?: Rahul, the Indian Male IT Guy 
Best MBA Programs: A Guide to Selecting the Right One 

Leadership in Admissions 

Seven Tips for MBA Interview Prep

Click here to download your free copy of How to Ace Your MBA Interviews!

Prepare teamwork-based stories.

1. If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.

While you may not have control over the questions you’re asked, you can prepare a set of flexible responses. You should be able to discuss the following:

1.  A walk through your resume (Focus on what you accomplished and learned at each job, and then why you transitioned to the next position)

2.  Why you chose your undergraduate college

3.  A story when you accomplished something extraordinary in the context of your job

4.  A story when you influenced stakeholders to help you make an idea become a reality

5.  A story when you led a team to produce quantifiable results

6.  A story when you failed

7.  Your career goals

8.  Why you want an MBA (make it school specific)

2. How to tell your stories

I suggest loosely following the S-O-A-R framework: Situation-Objective-Action-Result. (I also suggest adding one more letter to the acronym: L for “Learned”.)

Situation: Give background and context to the situation such as where you were working, what your role was, and who were the stakeholders involved. Be succinct, yet specific.
Objective: Describe what your goal was, and any obstacles that complicated the situation.
Action: Discuss how you proceeded toward your goal, and how you overcame your obstacles.
Result: Quantify the impact that you had on the situation.
Learned: Tell the interviewer what you learned about yourself from the experience.

Your response should take no more than about 2-3 minutes. You don’t want to bore the interviewer with a lot of theory and tangents. Once you’ve got your top stories down, you have a reservoir from which to pull when you’re on the spot that will be easily adaptable to the interviewer’s questions.

3. Practice with someone who is not your significant other/family member. Then practice with a significant other.

A friend may notice something that a family member, who is closest to you, may not. A family member might be more willing to be frank with you than a friend. A family member might be willing to put in the time with you. An objective party can give you feedback about your first impression and body language. In any case, you want to practice, a lot. Use 2-4 people. (Of course, you are also welcome to do a mock interview or get interview coaching from an Accepted professional, including me.)

4. What’s your latest?

Let’s say they ask you what accomplishment you are most proud of. In your heart of hearts, it might have been working two jobs to put yourself through university. Now that is quite an accomplishment. But if it was more than say, 3 years ago, you need to pull from something more recent. The interviewer might think, ‘Why is he or she not talking about something that you’re doing right now?’

If it truly was a significant achievement from your past, you can use it. But bring that accomplishment into the present, say, by how it influences your values or interests right now.

5. Watch your tone. Focus on teamwork accomplishments, rather than academic results.

Business schools are looking to weed out arrogant, insecure and emotionally immature candidates. During your conversation, don’t pepper your responses with achievements such as high test scores, a high GPA, or a plethora of individual publications. The ad comm can look at your transcript to find out your grades. Alumni really don’t care. Also, don’t argue with them over a question they might have asked you. These types of responses are culturally off putting to US-based interviewers. You want to come across as friendly, at ease, communicative. Again, by preparing teamwork-based stories, you’re going to add to this perception.

6. Non-blind interviews

Schools like MIT and Harvard grant non-blind interviews. That means they’ve taken the time to review your resume and your essays. Most other schools rely on alumni and current students who generally serve as marketing tools for the school, comment on your English speaking skills, and indicate whether or not they would have liked you as a classmate.

In non-blind school interviews, they want to know the details behind the accomplishments you’ve mentioned. They also want to get a sense of the sort of person you are. They may throw some oddball questions your way, just to see how you handle pressure.

They are particularly interested in decision and turning points in your life. Take the time to have an objective person look over your resume to see if they can identify any holes or questions, or lack of link between your past and your future goals. Work on explaining these connections and transitions. Write down SOAR-L’s for all the pertinent bullet points on your resume so that you’re ready to discuss them. Don’t fudge over holes or “bad periods” from your past. Be honest! Say ‘Yes, that was a tough period, but this is what I learned from it. This is what it motivated me to do.’

7. Group interviews

Wharton and Ross now require group interviews. If you can, sign up for a group interview prep service. You’ll be amazed at how quickly the time flies, and how you react in a group setting. This experience can prepare you to provide the group with a session framework, without sounding arrogant or pushy. Business schools want to see how you interact with others under pressure. You don’t want to steamroll the other applicants or turn into a shrinking violet. Strive to have your voice heard, but also to be inclusive.

Have a TBD Coming Up? Practice with the pros before your big day! CLICK HERE TO REGISTER FOR A MOCK WHARTON TBD!

Michelle Stockman Michelle Stockman is a professional journalist, former Columbia Business School admissions insider, and experienced MBA admissions consultant.

 

Related Resources:

How to Ace Your MBA Interviews
MBA Interview Format Series
• The 10 Commandments of MBA Interviews

What Are My Chances? Indian Architect with Designs on a Real Estate Career

This blog post is part of a series of MBA profile evaluations called “What are My Chances?”  by Michelle Stockman. Michelle, who started consulting for Accepted in 2007 and worked previously in the Columbia Business School admissions office, will provide selected applicants with school recommendation as well as an assessment of their strengths and weaknesses.

If you would like Michelle to evaluate your profile at no charge and as part of this series, please provide the information requested at http://reports.accepted.com/what_are_my_chances.

PROFILE #7: Lakshya, the Indian architect with designs on a real estate (or energy) career

Click here for to check out the rest of the profiles in the What Are My Chances series!

Think of your app as you would a building you’re designing. Build it for its intended use, and users.

Note: This profile request arrived with very little information. In my evaluation, I’m going to mention “ideal” details that would make him stand out.

-BACKGROUND: 24-year-old Indian male who graduated in 2013 from Dehradun Institute of Technology in India. Six months full-time training at renowned architecture firm. Two years of work experience as a chief designer and team leader for various projects.

Lakshya, you’re on the younger side of the MBA applicant pool. I’m not sure how you could have 24 months of full-time work experience having graduated in 2013. Perhaps you wrapped your class schedule around your job or you’re counting months to matriculation? You need to clarify this.

My advice? Wait.

Unless you have some significant leadership or design accomplishments–you need another year or two of work experience to accrue noteworthy leadership stories for your application. This would also give you time to research and network your target schools.

What leadership stories might stand out? First, be careful about how you word your experience. You must come across as talented, yet humble. A “renowned” architecture firm won’t mean much to an ad comm member. They are going to be impressed by YOUR extraordinary accomplishments in an ordinary job.

So give some context. Seeking an MBA with an architecture background is distinctive. You’re going to be one of the few, if admitted, in a global MBA program. You must be exceptional.

Are you a wunderkind in India’s “green design” field?  Did you introduce a socially conscious kind of design to a building project at your company that saves resources or energy in a country where conservation is a necessity? What was your impact on the job? Or have you come up with an ingenious method using cheap materials at hand to help the disadvantaged build cheap, sturdy shelters as a humanitarian project? Have you shared your experience at architecture conferences around the country?

If not, start now.

-GOALS: Work in the real estate and energy sector.

You obviously know the guts of building. I assume now you want to understand the business side of decision-making–that impacts your design. You must communicate three things with your goals.

1. Make them ambitious: Show the admissions committee that it’s not just about making money, but responsibly developing an overcrowded nation. Inspire them with your ideas for India’s future development.

2. Focus: Real estate and energy are two vast markets. Choose one. Then choose a specific part you want to be involved with. Make it relate to your past.

3. Experience: You must show the admissions committee that you do have some experience working on business deals. This piqued your interest and now you need an MBA to fill in the gaps in your knowledge to achieve your goals.

-GMAT: 720

No breakdown was given, but this is a decent score. You don’t necessarily need to retake the test, especially if you can match yourself well to a program.

-GPA: 3.5

Your GPA comes a bit out of left field because you graduated from an Indian university. Do not feel that you need to translate your percentage score to the 4.0 scale. US and UK MBA programs understand the Indian system well enough to understand your GPA.

Overall it’s a solid GPA.

-EXTRACURRICULAR: Arranging cancer check up camps in my city and giving presentations on cancer awareness.

This is great. I want to know more. Did you come up with this idea? Why? How did you identify the need? How involved were you? For how long? What kind of difference has it made in your community?

Perhaps, you came up with this idea after you or someone close to you was stricken by cancer. You decided to create an awareness campaign that you funded through donations and fundraisers. You are involved in the administration of this program on a weekly basis. You used technology as much as possible to advertise and streamline administration of the program. For example, you convinced a mobile phone service provider to run free text msg. based ads to remind people to get their cancer screenings.

Thanks to this program, “x” number of people have been evaluated, and “x” number of cases were caught in preliminary stages. You’ve shared your plan with, perhaps, a regional hospital system, and they intend to copy the program in several villages.

If you haven’t, begin to think on this scale!

-SCHOOLS:

Stretch matches: Berkeley, Stanford, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Wharton, UCLA

On-par matches: University of Texas – Austin, UNC, USC, Ross, Amity University — RICS School of Built Environment

Safety matches: Warwick, Rice – Jones, Aberdeen Business School, University of Calgary (Haskayne School of Business)

Overall, I write this with the caveat that ALL THESE SCHOOLS ARE STRETCH MATCHES unless you start networking now to get to know alumni, students and the admissions committee. You also need to tailor your application specifically to your target schools. Think of your application as you would any building you are designing. Build it for its intended use, and users.

MBA admissions tips for Indian applicants! Download Free. s
Michelle Stockman is a professional journalist, former Columbia Business School admissions insider, and experienced MBA admissions consultant.

 

Related Resources:

What are My Chances?: Rahul, the Indian Male IT Guy 
Best MBA Programs: A Guide to Selecting the Right One 

Leadership in Admissions 

What are My Chances? Latina Software Developer Moving to Marketing

This blog post is one in a series of MBA applicant profile evaluations called “What are My Chances?” authored by Michelle Stockman. Michelle, who started consulting for Accepted in 2007 and worked previously in the Columbia Business School admissions office, will provide selected applicants with school recommendations as well as an evaluation of their qualifications. 
 
If you would like Michelle to evaluate your profile at no charge and as part of this series, please provide the information requested at http://reports.accepted.com/what_are_my_chances

Profile #6: “Camilla” Latina software developer, plans a move to marketing

Need advice for writing about leadership in your application essays?

How have you inspired others to perform their best?

-Background & Work Experience: 29-year-old US citizen Latina with B.S. Comp. Sci. from a UC. Started out as developer at mid-tier financial software company, promoted to team lead of major account. Moved to startup that grew from 80 to 500 people and was acquired by giant e-retailer. Now working as a team lead in product management.

Well played. Looks like you’ve handled your cards well while riding the wave of growth in the tech industry. Right now you’re two of a kind. You’ve got hard skills as a developer, and it seems, you’ve got charisma. You not only kept your job in an acquisition, but you’ve been promoted several times. Not everyone is so lucky, or should I say, so savvy at securing a leg up when bought out, says the tech industry grapevine.

The adcom will want to know how you earned these promotions. In your resume and essays, really detail impact and leadership. Your resume bullet points should quantify what you accomplished on high profile projects. As you prep your essays, make a list of challenging projects and professional setbacks—especially dealing with dysfunctional teams. A huge part of marketing is managing creative personalities under huge amounts of pressure. How have you inspired others to perform their best?

-Short-term goal: Move outside product management into marketing.

As you’re switching functions, spend your essay real estate making the case for transition. Have you had any exposure to marketing through your experience in product management?  Let them know you’re not just jumping blind because you’re bored or dissatisfied. Have you participated in a marketing initiative at your company? What did you contribute, and what did you learn about marketing? What do you still need to learn?

-Long-term goal: Start tech marketing firm.

As stated above – you need to make the case for switching industries. Show you’ve done your homework by talking about conversations or research on the future of the industry.

-GMAT: 680

Not a good test taker? This is a little low. They could ding you on this if your GPA is also low. But on the upside, you are coming from an underrepresented minority. You also have a technical degree. Further, your work experience and promotions appear to speak for themselves.

-GPA: 3.62. 
First-generation college student. Supported self, and cared for ailing mother during college.

No problem with the GPA. This is really good, especially since you supported yourself and looked after your mother. It speaks to your time management and academic ability. Write about these mitigating factors in the optional essay if you had any semesters where you’re grades were a bit low.

-Extracurriculars:
 Due to family obligations, most of free time is spent with them. My brother was wounded in combat in Afghanistan, so as an extended family we are involved in the Wounded Warrior Project, supporting social events for veterans.

Don’t apologize! I would suggest writing about what you have done to help support your brother and other families through their recovery. Did you organize any activities, fundraising for families, or attend support groups? The details will show how this experience has shaped your outlook on service.

-Schools:

Stretch matches: Stanford, Kellogg, Wharton

On-par matches: Stern, Ross, UC Berkeley, UT McCombs, Duke, Darden

Safety matches: Purdue Krannert, Indiana Kelley
 
Final Note: As a woman, and a Latina – coming from an underrepresented minority in the hot tech industry – the adcom will be attracted to candidates who portray themselves not only as leaders, but also as pioneers. 

Download our free special report: Best MBA Programs

Michelle Stockman is a professional journalist, former Columbia Business School admissions insider, and experienced MBA admissions consultant.