There is tons of advice on Accepted.com and on previous episodes of Admissions Straight Talk, about what you should do when you’re applying to top MBA programs. But what about common mistakes? What about the things that you shouldn’t be doing? What are the errors that applicants like you all too frequently make on applications?
Today you’re going to hear different admissions committee directors from around the world talk about what they think are the most common mistakes in MBA applications, and you’re invited to listen in.
Welcome to the 538th episode of Admissions Straight Talk. Before I turn to those mistakes I mentioned a second ago, I have a question for you: Are you ready to apply to your dream MBA programs? Are you competitive at your target schools? Accepted’s MBA admissions quiz can give you a quick reality check. And you’ll not only gett an assessment; you’ll also get tips on how to improve your qualifications. Plus, it’s all free.
If you’re a regular listener to Admissions Straight Talk, you know that during most episodes of AST I interview a guest. Occasionally, I do a solo show. Frequently, the guests are admissions directors. I also have many times asked my guests, “What are the most common mistakes that you see when you’re reviewing applications?”
Today’s episode is a collection of guests’ answers to the questions, what are the most common mistakes you have seen during the MBA application process? What are the most common mistakes that you see when reviewing applications? All featured guests are admissions directors at top MBA programs sharing what you should not do when you are applying.
The two most common mistakes were in broad categories,
- Lack of authenticity, a sense that you’re not really revealing yourself.
- And number two, sloppiness, which can come in many forms and you can learn about those forms through the admissions directors’ comments.
There are nuances and details that the admissions committee directors provide in their comments, and you want to hear from them in their words what they are – so don’t go anywhere. Don’t just think that the two items I listed, you’re done for the day.
In addition, there were some other errors that don’t fit into those two categories and still are common and damaging to applicant’s chances. For example, one would be to not adjust in your resume for business school, but give in the technical resume that you have used in getting jobs. That’s not going to work when you’re applying to an MBA program.
But again, you’re going to want to hear what changes you need to make and you’re going to want to hear it from the admissions’ director’s mouth. In short, to make sure that your applications shine like gems, first, remove the impurities. Those impurities are the common errors discussed in the rest of this episode. I’ve arranged the episodes in alphabetical order by school name.
Teresa Peiro, Associate Director of Global Admissions for Degree Programs at INSEAD [3:22]
Linda Abraham: Our first speaker is INSEAD’s Teresa Peiro, Associate Director of Global Admissions for Degree Programs.
Now, you’ve been doing this for a few years, what’s the most common mistake you see in the application?
TP: I would say lack of motivation. We know that the application process is long and it takes time, and our recruitment team is always saying focus on the essays, focus on what you’re writing. You need to prepare. So a sloppy application is a no go.
TP: Essays that aren’t well-structured, essays that are not well-prepared, things that are mismatching, lack of consistency, that would be a killer.
And that translates to you as lack of motivation.
TP: And this is a big investment and it’s not only about money, but it’s also who you’re going to… This INSEAD will follow you for the rest of your life. We tend to say that you’ll never travel alone, for instance. So it’s something that we want to be sure that you’re really going to enjoy. I always say that we are looking for motivated candidates, engaged students, proud alumni. Candidates know that pre-selection is purely based on your application form. So it’s like your business card.
Linda Abraham: If you’re getting the impression that INSEAD really wants to understand what makes you tick, I think you’re right. It’s not the only school, but I think she’s very clear about it.
Taya Sapp, Senior Associate Director of Admission at Michigan Ross [4:53]
Linda Abraham: Taya Sapp, Senior Associate Director of Admissions at Michigan Ross, sees underestimating the importance of your resume as the biggest mistake. Learn why in this clip.
TS: I think honestly, one of them is kind of overlooking the importance of the resume. That’s the first thing I look at when I open an application, and it’s the snapshot of your whole professional career. And so I think it’s really important, and I’ve seen a lot of people kind of just assume I already have that done. I don’t need to worry about that. Let me focus on the essays. And I think it’s important to think this should not be the same resume that you might’ve just applied for your current job with and what that looks like, because it might include a lot of technical jargon that is only appropriate for your particular career path. It might not have as much, I mean, hopefully it has impact, but I think earlier in our careers, we’re more often thinking about what our responsibilities are and need to be shifting into the impact. I do see a lot of resumes that it doesn’t seem like people have stopped and really spent time on thinking about how they want to be representing their professional career and what that looks like. So that’s what I think.
Linda: I frequently tell applicants who want to start early, get your resume done, and focus on your accomplishments, not your responsibilities, that kind of stuff. So that’s a great, great input, I think.
Dawna Levenson, Assistant Dean of Admissions at MIT Sloan [6:23]
Linda Abraham: Dawna Levenson takes a somewhat different tack. Do you want to write something shocking in your application? Something provocative for MIT Sloan? Well, Dawna, Assistant Dean of Admissions, reveals why that’s a bad idea, along with another critical error.
DL: So the most common mistake is trying to stand out in an inappropriate way. Provocative is the best word I can use on your video or perhaps in your cover letter where you talk about subject matter that has a shock factor tied to it. You use unprofessional, inappropriate language. It happens, every year there’s a handful of them. Aside from just not following instructions. I believe are very reasonable if we ask for a cover letter to be 300 words, we are not word counters. If it’s 310-ish, no big deal. If you submit a five-page essay, it raises a red flag for us.
Danielle Richie, Director of Full-Time MBA Admissions and Student Recruitment [7:14]
Linda Abraham: UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Danielle Richie, Director of Full-Time MBA Admissions and Student Recruitment, returns to the theme of authenticity and failing to reveal the human non-professional side of you in her comments.
Linda: What are the most common mistakes that you see applicants make during the application process?
DR: Not being themselves. So I think that’s one of the first things. And then also, I mentioned that human component earlier, and I feel like that’s another thing. Everyone has a professional side. Yes, but there’s that personal side to who you are, and I feel like sometimes that’s lacking in an application, and it would be great to fully see and know a candidate throughout the application process. So bringing in that human side, bringing in that EQ is really important.
DR: So if you have extracurriculars, I mentioned earlier, I’m a soccer referee, most people wouldn’t understand what goes into that, the trainings, the thought process, that’s absolutely something I would put on my resume and talk to because in any given game, you can make between 300 and 350 decisions. And so that’s a great talking point to bring up and for someone to think on their feet. So when you have extracurriculars, maybe you’re part of a team, maybe you have volunteer experience, those types of things the committee would love to know about and see how you are outside of work too, because there’s so much more than just your job title in your career.
Rodrigo Malta, Managing Director of MBA Recruitment and Admissions at UT Austin [8:49]
Linda Abraham: UT Austin’s Rodrigo Malta, Managing Director of MBA Recruitment and Admissions, provides three common errors that he says he sees year after year. Don’t make them.
RM: I know that your listeners are awesome and they’re not going to make these mistakes because they’re listening to this podcast. So the first one seems really simple, but it’s not answering the essay prompt. So as you build your application and you focus on those essays, it is really important for you to engage with individuals within your community. If you have an opportunity to work with an admissions consultant, awesome as well. But always ask yourself and those that are reviewing your essays, if you’re appropriately answering the essay prompt.
RM: I know that applicants have a lot to share, right? And they want to share everything with us. Remember that there are a lot of different application components and opportunities for you to share who you are. The essays are a great asset to your application, but it’s only going to be one that you’re going to be able to capitalize on if you answer that essay prompt. So that’s kind of number one. And I have two other ones, if I can sneak them in, is that okay, Linda?
Linda: Absolutely. Go for it. This is great.
RM: So the second one, it’s also around essays, and it seems really basic. So I can see some of our listeners maybe rolling their eyes whenever they listen to this, but mentioning the wrong school name in the application, it’s a big no no. That happens more often than you think. So make sure to double, triple check the materials that you’re submitting with your application that you’re listing out the right school name. And the second one is a kind of a new nuance that we’ve been seeing, I would say as of the past three to five years, which is discrepancies between your resume that you submit with the application and any information that you have that have out on LinkedIn.
RM: So as part of the application here at Texas McCombs, applicants can submit their LinkedIn if they have a LinkedIn profile. If you are going to submit your LinkedIn profile with your application, and that piece of it is optional, the resume is not optional. To submit your LinkedIn profile, make sure that the LinkedIn profile matches the resume on the jobs that you’ve had, on the dates, et cetera. Because if there are discrepancies between both of them, you may raise questions from the admissions committee and you don’t want the admissions committee to have questions. You want to answer any questions that we have. So those discrepancies between resume and LinkedIn can be a little bit tricky sometimes. So be on the look for that.
Linda: Those are great insights and great input. The first two I’ve heard before, and actually I’ve many times been asked, what are schools looking for? And my first answer is they’re looking for the answer to their question. That’s why they asked the question, – they want the answer.
Amber Janke, Director of MBA Recruitment and Admissions at UW Foster [12:01]
Linda Abraham: Amber Janke, Director of MBA Recruitment and Admissions at UW Foster, shared two common mistakes and returns to the theme of insincerity, and shares a second common failing in applications.
AJ: I have a couple that I want to share. One is not being authentic in your application. I think sometimes people believe as though the admissions committee wants to hear just one thing or a certain thing. And really what we’re trying to do is get to know each individual applicant, authentically. We want to know who you are. We want to know what your goals are, your dreams are. We want to know truly who you are and what your experiences have been. And time and time again, I’ll talk with an applicant for an info interview and they say, “My friends are telling me I shouldn’t share this very lofty goal.” And I’m like, “Well, you should think about what you really want to achieve. Certainly have a plan B, but if that’s really what you want to achieve, you’re going to want to share that as part of your application.”
AJ: So that is one thing, people feeling as though they can’t be authentic in their application, and I would encourage you to do so because if you aren’t authentic, we’ll be able to see that in an interview. So that’s really important. The second really is just not doing research on the program ahead of time. We know you want an MBA, but why do you want to Foster MBA? We’re a small program, we can help you achieve certain things, and we want to know that people really want to be part of this type of program. But you got to do the research on your end as well. It’s not just about the MBA, it’s about what you are looking for in an MBA experience and doing some of the research ahead of time to learn if you think a program might be a right fit for you.
AJ: You don’t have to have figured it out yet. That’s totally fine. That’s part of the MBA application process. But start to do some of the work on your end to really understand about not just why you want an MBA, but why you want an MBA from Foster or maybe another program.
Linda: I sometimes talk to applicants and they’ll say something like, “I want to work for Microsoft.” Or, “I want to work for Amazon.” Or they’ll name some other company and some other school. Would your response to that be that’s a good reason, or would it be why do you want to work for Amazon? Or why do you want to work for Microsoft?
AJ: I mean, certainly those are part of people’s goals that they might have certain companies or roles in mind. But an MBA program is not just about what you do immediately post MBA, it’s about what the experience is for the two years that you’re here. It’s about what you want to gain, how you want to learn, how you want to grow for five years, 10 years down the line. Plus.
Linda: It’s your professional life.
AJ: Exactly. For your professional life.
Linda Abraham: So remember NOT to do the things discussed in this episode. And before you submit an application, make sure that you’ve crossed the T’s and dotted the I’s, both literally and figuratively. And of course, make sure that your application reflects the best side of you, but the real you.
If you’d like help in presenting the best of the authentic you, please contact Accepted for guidance and presenting your best self and polishing that gem of an application. Discover how Accepted’s experts can help you and take advantage of an initial free consultation.
- MBA Admissions quiz
- Five Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your MBA Application Essays
- School Specific MBA Essay Guides
- Get Into INSEAD, the Business School for the World – podcast Episode 520
- University of Michigan’s Ross MBA Program: Everything You Need to Know – podcast Episode 479
- How to Get Accepted to MIT Sloan MBA – podcast Episode 498
- How to Get Accepted to UNC Kenan-Flagler Full-Time MBA Program – podcast Episode 496
- Get Accepted to UT Austin McCombs – podcast Episode 452
- Get Accepted to UW’s Foster School of Business – podcast Episode 461