”Wish I had done that a few years ago ….” We hear that frequently from MBA applicants as they’re filling out their MBA applications. We don’t want you to have to say that. This is the second of a five-part blog series with advice on how you can prepare, years in advance, to be competitive for a top MBA program. From college to those first years of work, I’ll discuss steps you can take along the way that will appeal to adcoms.
On the job: B-schools want candidates who are leaders, as well as excellent team players. Use your first year on the job to show you know how to contribute to team success. This will likely point toward leadership opportunities down the road. Taking the following steps could also lead to stories you can tell the adcoms in your essays:
1. Seek to add value. First and foremost, excel at your assigned role. Master the skill sets you need to succeed. Turn in work early or on time. Ask smart questions. Admit when you don’t know something. Communicate well with managers.
Once you are proficient, analyze your role and identify ways to do it better. Teach yourself new skills. If you come up with a better, faster or cheaper way to get something done, pitch it to your manager–then execute.
Finally, if someone can’t perform, volunteer to step into their role and take on added responsibility.
2. Be curious. Find out as much as you can about your company. Get to know people, both in and beyond your department, so that you can create allies who eventually might help you.
Also, get to know your industry. Read up on competing companies. Find out who is doing research in your field at various business schools, and make it part of your studies.
3. Find a mentor. A wise and experienced mentor can give you constructive criticism, as well as make your case to management for promotion. Ask for feedback after presentations so that you can work toward an “executive presence.” Ultimately, a mentor can help you develop the tact and maturity that companies seek in future leaders.
GMAT/GRE: Your GMAT/GRE score is valid for five years. Why not take it right after university while you are still in the swing of study? Of course, if you wait longer than five years to apply to business school, you’ll need to retake the test. But five years out is generally the time when most people apply.
1. Make the most of your time. It might be tempting to take an extended vacation before you begin your first job. But you would be wise to use at least some of this time to study for and take the GMAT. Taking it early gives you a chance to get to know the test, and retake it if your score is low. The higher your GMAT score, the more options you will have when it comes to applying for an MBA program.
And you can use that vacation as a carrot to treat yourself when you’ve completed the test.
2. Get help: If you get a low score on your practice tests, consider taking a prep course or hiring a tutor. Sure these tests are about evaluating your knowledge. But these courses can teach you strategies on how to approach the test can boost your score.
The Bottom Line: Use your first year out of university to take the GMAT, and establish a solid reputation for yourself on the job.
Michelle Stockman is a professional journalist, former Columbia Business School admissions insider, and experienced MBA admissions consultant.