I’ve interviewed and hired numerous MBA grads in my 20+ year banking and consulting career. The skills and experience required for each role vary, of course – in finance, expertise in specific finance concepts, models and tools might be a prerequisite, while in management consulting, business acumen and strategic thinking skills might be more relevant. But there are also intangible qualities that matter just as much:
Passionate people bring great energy to the workplace and rub off on the people around them. The best employees love their work and do a great job because they care. They are also more likely to come up with new ideas, contribute beyond what is expected, and put in extra hours to get the job done without being asked. And they are more likely to stick around longer.
It’s not enough to be smart; you also have to be practical and have good instincts to be effective at work. If you come up with a great new idea, you also have to figure out what to do with it. Otherwise, your ‘great idea’ may get shelved indefinitely, not be well received, or worse, get claimed by someone else. When I interview a candidate, I not only want to hear about her accomplishments, but also about how she navigated the work environment and problem-solved to get things done.
You need to have perspective about your experiences, be thoughtful about your decisions, and know yourself. I worry when a candidate can’t clearly articulate his career decisions, or why he is applying for the position; if he has no idea what he is getting into, he probably won’t last long at the job. If a candidate says, “I can’t think of anything I need to improve in,” would he be receptive to feedback or blame others for problems? On the other hand, a person who is mature enough to learn from his mistakes and understand his own strengths and flaws will continually grow and excel professionally.
At work, you have to be able to work with many different people (even if you don’t like them very much). Anyone who complains about prior colleagues or managers is a big red flag for me. You need to be both respectful of others and able to command respect from others, and be personable enough that I and others would gladly spend long days working side by side with you.
I looked for these things when hiring an MBA grad, but I also know from my experience on Wharton’s admissions committee that business schools look for the SAME thing in their applicants. They want students who are passionate about their personal and professional interests, are effective leaders and contributors, who have unique strengths and are constantly learning and growing, and who will work well with their teammates. Whether you are applying to business schools or for a new job, highlighting these qualities to the adcom or hiring manager will make you a stronger applicant.
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