Often, when we work with MBA applicants who are from traditional technology backgrounds, they begin the process already feeling that the odds are stacked against them. Their first question is usually “How can I stand out in such a crowded field to earn a place in a top MBA program?”
This post is here to help.
Let’s start with the undeniable facts: tech applicants do represent one of the largest categories of applicant “types,” but equally important to note is that they also comprise a large percentage of the MBA classes. For example, applicants from tech backgrounds are the third largest group at Stanford, Chicago Booth, Kellogg, Wharton, and HBS.
The competition to distinguish yourself from the pack will be fierce, and you must prove that you are not just a cubicle-bound engineer with great tech skills but who lacks the broad experience and leadership exposure to merit a spot in top management.
Here are five suggestions to help you shine as an individual in your applications.
#1 Know your strengths
Your technology background gives you some advantages: strong analytical and quantitative skills that these now STEM-certified MBA programs require. The application forms’ text boxes and your resume allow you to share those credentials.
Likewise, as an applicant in technology, you almost certainly work in teams and have likely been part of perhaps dozens of cross-functional and multicultural teams in your career. In your essays, you can highlight how you have applied your technology skills to diverse industries, and how you have combined them with teamwork and leadership to achieve measurable results.
#2 Combat the stereotypes by showing your diversity of experiences
You can also fight techie stereotypes by showing the schools the varied, fully engaged life that you live through your community involvements, hobbies, and personal life. Consider these examples:
- Are you an artist outside of work who has won oil painting competitions?
- Did you climb Uganda’s highest mountain with your church’s youth fellowship group?
- Did you use your knowledge of computer science to design computer games for your brother, who has a learning disability?
- Did you establish a national organization for sufferers of your rare hearing disorder when you discovered that no such organization existed?
There is much more to you than your technology skills. Show the adcom some of what has motivated and moved you in your life.
#3 Emphasize leadership
The top schools want leaders, and many technology professionals struggle to demonstrate that they fit this expectation when they work in flat organizations and have no direct reports, no budget authority, and no performance-evaluation responsibilities. How can you demonstrate managerial potential or leadership?
One way is to share the leadership roles that you played even without an official title. For example, did you coordinate the efforts of 15 people from five departments on a mission-critical project worth hundreds of thousands in revenue? Have you mentored teammates? Have you lobbied successfully for your ideas or solutions when everyone resisted you? These are examples of leadership, too!
You might also have demonstrated your management caliber through your commitments outside of work. Consider these examples:
- Do you serve on the board of directors of a local charity?
- Were you elected to your condo’s homeowners association?
- Did you convince a few friends to join you in teaching tae kwon do to inner-city kids every weekend?
- Do you organize a local sports league whose season culminates in an annual fundraising tournament?
All of these are examples of leadership. With a varied and strong record of these kinds of leadership activities, you will show the adcoms that you have the management skills they are seeking.
#4 Differentiate your goals
Another way to show the admissions committees that you are not the “typical” technology applicant is to ask yourself whether the post-MBA goals you are presenting are described too conventionally or are too limited in scope. For example, rather than saying that you want to make the transition into strategy consulting at Bain or McKinsey (like so many others!), try to individualize your goal:
- You want to join a top strategy consulting firm’s defense and aerospace practice to marry global security with sustainability.
- You aim to lead innovations in healthcare service delivery that meet the intense cost pressures of the industry.
- Your goal is to lead innovations in e-commerce using AI and augmented reality.
Similarly, make sure to include the longer view of your goals and the social impact that you hope to make through them. For example, rather than say you need an MBA to gain credibility and funding for your edtech start-up, show the potential impact you hope to bring to the communities you grew up in through this venture.
Finally, you can highlight your individuality by describing unusual career goals – provided, of course, that they are rooted in your past experiences and involvements. As long as your ideas aren’t too farfetched, goals with a creative twist will certainly make you stand out from the crowd. Consider these examples:
- Given your experience playing flute in a local chamber group, you hope to combine music and technology to improve education outcomes in disadvantaged population centers.
- Your lifelong interest in space exploration makes you want to be the CTO of the first Latin American satellite launch provider.
- You are inspired by your family’s history of heart disease and diabetes to lead healthtech innovations that prevent lifestyle diseases.
#5 Get the help you need to stand out in the crowd
The bottom line is this: Applying to top MBA programs as a techie means you need to show the adcom that you are not just a stereotype. Accepted’s experienced consultants will help you reflect on your experiences, interests, and skills and guide you in selecting the themes and anecdotes that best portray your singular self. Linking these stories together into compelling essays will grab the admissions committees’ attention for all the right reasons.
Take a look at Accepted’s menu of services to see how we can help you gain admission to the best MBA program for you.
By Jennifer Bloom, admissions consultant at Accepted for 20 years and Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW). She is an expert at guiding you to produce application materials that truly differentiate you from the rest of the driven applicant pool. If you would like help with your application, Jennifer can suggest a number of options that work with any budget. Want Jennifer to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!
- Why MBA, a free guide to show you how to determine your MBA goals and weave them into compelling essays
- What Should You Do If You Belong to an Overrepresented MBA Applicant Group?
- Different Dimensions of Diversity, a podcast episode