It’s your job to demonstrate to the adcom that you stand out from the applicant pool and are exactly the person they want in their next MBA class. In this series, you’ll learn how to dig deep to unearth your unique character traits, experiences, skills, and talents and bring them to the forefront of your application, so that when the adcom pick up your file, they’re hooked from the very first moment.
Your MBA profile is nearly perfect: You’ve got great stats and an impressive resume. You’re friendly, personable, and a fantastic leader. There’s just one little glitch: your criminal record.
A criminal record does work as a strike against you, but it’s not necessarily an insurmountable problem. Here are some points to consider:
1. How severe was your crime?
Not all crimes are created equal, and adcoms will take the severity of your crime into consideration. Did you shoplift from the dollar bin at Target? Did a wild night in college put disorderly conduct on your record? Minor misdemeanors like these are more likely to be excused than more serious crimes like drunk driving, sexual harassment, or tax evasion.
2. When did you commit the crime?
A minor crime committed 5+ years ago (like when you were a dumb teenager or college kid) will be forgiven sooner than a crime you committed last week (as a responsible adult applying to business school).
3. Are you being honest?
You’re doing the smart thing by putting your record out there in the open. Better that you present the information yourself then for the adcoms to stumble upon your dark secret on their own. Background checks happen; if you don’t fess up, you won’t look good.
4. Are you being direct and to-the-point?
Your approach should be direct and succinct. Take responsibility for your actions, express regret, and then discuss what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown from the situation. Don’t be defensive or apologetic. Leave the drama and tears at home, tell your story, and move on. And don’t divulge more details than are necessary – this isn’t Confession and this isn’t your best friend who wants to hear your every move.
5. Are you discussing the issue in the correct spot on your application?
You can address your criminal record in an essay that asks you to describe a personal flaw or weakness, or, if that doesn’t seem appropriate, you can disclose past indiscretions in an optional essay. Once this information has been presented in your written application, I would not bring it up again in an interview unless you are specifically asked about it.
6. Is it a deal-breaker?
If the crime you committed was especially serious, it’s possible that it could lead to rejection, regardless of how pristine the rest of your application is. Violent crimes or money-related crimes, for example, are potentially insurmountable. Marks on your academic record (like cheating) may also pose a threat to your acceptance. You are expected to be a trusted contributor to the b-school environment – and beyond – and such crimes will severely detract from your potential to do so.
Remember, your criminal record may not look good, but it also may not doom your MBA dream. Just make sure you present this information in an honest, straightforward way, and express how you’ve learned and grown from the experience. Don’t overshare, don’t whine, and don’t apologize – we all have pasts, and our pasts don’t always need to define our futures.
Read the complete 9 Secrets to Standing Out in Your MBA Application series for more tips on how to create a compelling application that highlights your unique strengths, character traits, and talents.
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