All the research you have done to narrow down graduate school choices is about to pay off, but before pressing the send button make sure that you have set yourself apart from the other candidates. Think about what makes you an attractive candidate to the program and be sure to reiterate your credentials in your essay, resume and interview. These seven tips will help you highlight your best academic and professional characteristics.
1. Write an essay that admissions officers will remember.
Typically, the first opportunity to make a good impression on the Admissions Committee is through your application essay. However, you would be surprised to learn how many applicants simply don’t bother to put forth their best effort. Submitting an essay full of spelling and grammatical errors is the surest way to rejection. Be sure to proofread your work and don’t be afraid to invite others for editorial feedback. However, be forewarned about having too many editors – the essay is not a group exercise and must speak to your character, accomplishments and goals.
Don’t be timid. Graduate schools are looking for people with lofty expectations and goals. Define success in a way that is meaningful to you, not just in financial terms. Take a moment to reflect on the impact you would like to have during your professional career? Overcoming personal hardship or describing the trials and tribulations of starting your own business are easy stories to remember. Make a connection between your goals and the type of program you are applying to. Remember, the Admissions Team has a limited number of seats to fill and must be sure that each acceptance is a good fit for the program.
Talk to admissions counselors when visiting campus and ask them what makes an essay memorable. Get some advice from those who have already been through the experience. Read some good essays.
2. Carefully choose who will recommend you.
Select people that know you best, not just those with the most impressive credentials. Your direct manager can write a much better recommendation letter than the CEO who may barely know you. The ideal person is someone who is an advocate for you; someone who has observed your strengths first-hand and can speak directly to your accomplishments. The recommendation should address both your professional abilities as well as your personality. Most MBA programs look for candidates with good interpersonal and collaboration skills. The ideal recommendation letter will describe your performance under less than ideal circumstances and provide examples of your business skills as well as your innate intellectual skills. Your recommendations are central to helping the admissions team judge how well you perform alone, as a team member and as a future manager or leader.
3. Take the entrance exams seriously (GMAT/GRE).
Many candidates take the GRE or the GMAT soon after graduation from college knowing full well that attending graduate school is years down the road (programs typically accept scores that are less than five years old). However, depending on your school selection you may not need to take an entrance exam. In many cases, your professional achievements and licenses may qualify you for an exam waiver. Even if you aren’t required to submit a score as part of your application, the exam will provide a good benchmark. Submitting a score demonstrates your commitment to earning a graduate degree. Many applicants short change themselves by only selecting programs that do not require the submission of a test score.
Once you decide to take the entrance exam, be sure to invest the time to properly prepare. There are many resources to help improve your chances of success. Take advantage of them because every point helps.
4. Make sure your resume is results-oriented.
Regardless of your employment title, what matters to admissions counselors is your level of responsibility and demonstrated accomplishments. Many candidates seek advice when re-positioning their resumes for an MBA program because the admission requirements often differ from a typical job description. Ideally, your resume should demonstrate your ability to work collaboratively and underscore your leadership positions.
Most admissions counselors look for increasing levels of responsibility and evidence of business maturity. They want to make sure that you have both the practical experience as well as the theoretical knowledge to contribute to the class discussions. Learn what admissions counselors look for in a resume.
5. Discover the skills and qualities the program values most.
Every MBA program has its own defining set of learning goals and outcomes. Some may be embedded in the program while others may be part of the university or college’s mission. Make sure to highlight where your background aligns with those objectives and why you have chosen them for your education.
Having a good grasp of what the program values most will help hone your application submissions. Demonstrating an understanding of these values should show through in your essay, resume, and your interview. The best way to get a firm grasp on what a program values most is to attend an information session and talk to the program director or an admissions counselor. Unfortunately, a simple review of the online material will only take you so far.
6. Write down potential interview questions and answers.
An internet search will provide you with a list of typical MBA interview questions but the most meaningful ones are likely to come from material submitted as part of your application. Surprisingly, candidates often fail to perfect answers to questions that revolve around their academic and professional experience and are often thrown off-guard by too much preparation for those rare oddball question.
The biggest failure during the interview is not having enough, or any, questions of your own to ask the interviewer. Don’t underestimate the challenge of coming up with good questions to demonstrate your level of due diligence and interest in the program. Asking questions that are already explained on the website will not place you in good standing with the admissions team.
Practice your answers out loud to see how they sound. You may want to enlist a friend to listen while you practice and to throw in a few surprises of their own. Successful business executives must be able to present their thoughts clearly and succinctly. Approach the interview as you would a pitch to a new customer.
7. At the interview, be honest and authentic.
The best advice for success during the interview is to be honest and authentic. The admissions team – there may be more than one person conducting the interview – is there to judge your character and determine if you are a good fit for the program.
Too many candidates mistakenly assume the interview is only a formality or adhere to the philosophy of “fake it till you make it.” It is not difficult for an admissions counselor to sense when an interviewee is not being fully honest or transparent. Importantly, a seemingly good applicant on paper can disappoint with a lackluster performance while the opposite is true for a candidate with weaker credentials.
Remember, your confidence is directly related to the amount of time devoted to study and practice – the more practice the greater your confidence.