A recent blog from KT had a great summary of application do’s and don’ts following his own unsuccessful application year (he’s waitlisted still – so there is hope!). I wanted to add a few thoughts and perhaps even illuminate a point for KT and others like him whose “stats were well above median for all my target schools.”
First, yes, passion and viability are two essential elements of an applicant’s career goals. Part of viability is not only proving that the market you want to serve exists but also that you have the potential to succeed in the role you foresee yourself in. There is plenty of demand out there for neurosurgeons too, for example, but my own expertise in editing is not going to help me succeed in that role! To prove that their goals are truly viable, applicants must show their own understanding of what is required to succeed in a given industry or position and how they uniquely fit that niche.
Second, in my opinion the key elements of the leadership essay examples are not necessarily in which you demonstrated the most “leadership qualities” as much as in which example did you lead the most challenging set of people and make the largest impact? When we lead teams of people that are above us in rank or from outside our team/division/company, then we are able to demonstrate that we had to use influence, charisma, charm, persuasion, and innate leadership ability to succeed, not hierarchical influence, the threat of receiving a negative evaluation, or being fired. These “outside of ourselves” examples make up the best leadership essays in the eyes of admissions committees.
Finally, I would like to address KT’s mention of stats. KT implies that having stats that exceed the median for the schools he applied to was actually a point on the positive side of his application, but unfortunately, work experience that significantly exceeds the average at your target programs is actually a negative factor that an applicant must work around. Many traditional recruiters are seeking graduates still early enough in their careers to mold, so most MBA programs focus on accepting students with 4 to 5 years of work experience to feed this market. If you are more than three years beyond that experience range, you need to go even further to prove that you are 1) being realistic in your post-MBA goals, 2) still in need of an MBA education – not just a stamp on your resume, and 3) going to fit into a class with a bunch of young 20-somethings. If you come across as a stick in the mud or even as someone who has done so well that he doesn’t need an MBA, you are at risk of not fitting in.
For older applicants, I recommend larger programs where age diversity is greater (this excludes HBS, which is large but does not boast great age diversity), lower-ranked programs that will be more eager to gain from your experience and your other above-average stats, European programs less focused on recruiting students with fewer years of work experience, and executive MBAs and Fellows programs (MIT/Stanford/LBS Sloan Fellows/Master’s, Nanyang Fellows, etc.), that provide full-time MBA studies for mid-career professionals.
Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your “stats” is an essential element of your application process. Accepted’s editors have years of experience assessing and addressing them.
By Jennifer Bloom, who has been helping applicants to the top MBA programs draft their resumes, application forms, letters of recommendation, and essays for 12 years. She is happy to serve as your personal coach and hand-holder throughout the entire process. There’s no time like the present to begin!