MBA Program Fit and Game Plan

The world of MBA programs can be confusing. There are schools that are traditionally known for particular careers or industries, but those schools may also be investing in increasing other areas of focus. Here are a few simple tips to help guide you:

What is your reason for wanting to get an MBA?

Before even thinking about taking the GMAT think about why you are considering an MBA. Do you want to change careers? Change industries? Do you want a diverse network of people from all over the world? Do you need a specific skill set and the MBA is the best way to get it?  This is going to be the story you tell in your application through your essays, resume, short answers, and letter of recommendations, so you need to know your story is going to resonate with the schools you are applying to.

What are the schools on your radar?

Write out all the schools you are considering and why you are considering. These reasons could be a joint degree program, prestige, community, etc. Whether it is Harvard, UChicago Booth, Stanford, Kellogg, MIT Sloan, INSEAD, LBS or any of the other top MBA programs, think about what makes this school special to you. You are forming a hypothesis of why you like this school!

Research and talk to people!

You are going to need to confirm or deny your hypotheses about MBA Programs. You can do this through online research, talking to current students, and talking to alumni to gain a deeper understanding of the school. Your research may lead you to adding or removing schools from your application list. And you may be thinking, I already know the schools I want to apply to I don’t need to do research! False talking to people at these schools and understanding where the program’s investments are going is very important to your overall application. You will be able to weave in themes about why you and this program are the perfect match that others will miss.

Logistics can be annoying but are very important!

Make a game plan of the programs you intend on applying to, their various information sessions and on-campus opportunities, and the application deadlines. Make sure to be transparent with your recommenders about timelines and expectations (we’ll dive into this more, but it’s an important part of your game plan). This high-level game plan will help you figure out when you need to set deadlines for taking the GMAT, drafting essays, building your resume, and leaving time for reviews, and finalization of all of the components of your application.

GMAT Preparation and Strategy

The GMAT can be tricky. You spend hours studying with no real indication of how you are going to do until test day. Here are some quick tips for how to approach the GMAT prep portion of your application:

Make a plan and stick to it

Some may be tempted to let the GMAT section drag on for months and potentially years. Don’t do this! Set a test date and work up to it.

Think about the technical and the strategy

It is easy to get swept away in memorizing formulas and grammar rules, but this is only half the battle. The strategy behind the test is just as important. You need to understand how the GMAT creators are trying to trick you and not fall into their traps. You also need to know when to narrow down to the two best options, pick one and move on, save the time for a question you know you can win!

Remember your studying style and do what works best for you

One of the things we often forget is in school not everyone studied the same. Some people loved studying at the library or in groups while others preferred to study alone and in complete silence. Now is not the time to make dramatic shifts in the way you study best. You are likely working and studying, so optimize your time and study the best way you know how.

Use all the resources

The GMAT prep sites are really great about giving you a bit of study help for free in the hopes that you sign on for a full session. If you need to sign up go for it there is no shame in this it keeps you on track and can be an environment people thrive in. If you are more of a solo studier then make sure to still take advantage of the free test questions, YouTube videos, and advice out there!

Essay and Letter of Recommendation Storylining

It’s easy to get super focused on your GMAT and forget about the GMAT only being about 25% of the battle. Your essays and letters of recommendations are where the admissions committee actually gets to know you as a person. They want to understand not only what you have done, but why what you did matters and what motivates you to do those things. Here are some tips on how to make sure you are telling your best story that will resonate with the admissions committee.

You need to make it clear that you’ve done X, learned Y, want now want to do Z, and this specific MBA program is the platform you need to achieve that!

This is so important we are putting it here again – What is your reason for wanting to get an MBA?

Why and MBA and why now? Do you want to change careers? Change industries? Do you want a diverse network of people from all over the world? Do you need a specific skillset and the MBA is the best way to get it?  This needs to be clear in your essay and also short answers about career goals (short and long term).

Tell a story no one else can tell

The admissions committee is literally going through thousands of applications and they want to find people who stand out. You may think well I have a career hundreds of others in this pile of applications also has, so I’m not unique. Wrong! You may be coming from an industry where hundreds of people apply to the same schools, but the things you learned personally and professionally and your reason for applying an MBA program are uniquely yours.

Think about times where your perspective shifted greatly. Maybe this was living abroad. Maybe this was working with someone that really challenged you. Maybe this was almost changing jobs but deciding to stay. This list could go on forever, but the main point is think about experiences that were vitally important to your personal and/or professional development and why this matters to the MBA admission committee.

Weave in your research about the program

When you are thinking about your application to each program think about what you heard about from students or alumni and what you saw in your online research. What are the schools core values? What are experiences you’ve had where you can demonstrate those values without saying them outright? What organizations, professors, applied learning, or other aspects of the school are you most excited about?

Letters of recommendations are vital to your application

These letters provide a second and third opinion on what you’ve done and learned personally and professionally. A good letter of recommendation confirms your story. A great letter of recommendation makes the admission committee want to talk to you. There are a few strategies to letters of recommendation (trade offs between prestige of position of person writing and someone who knows you really well), but in the end the following are really important:

  • Have coffee, tea, or a quick meal with your potential recommenders to help them understand why you are applying to MBAs, their responsibilities as a recommender, and ask them if they would commit to being a recommender
  • If you have recommenders who have worked on the same team with you, make sure they don’t tell the same story ask them to coordinate and differentiate
  • Choose recommenders who are reliable and will submit on time
  • Choose recommenders who will tell your story

Resume Development

You may be asking yourself how is a resume different that a CV? What makes a great MBA resume? How does my resume fit into the overall MBA application evaluation?  Not to worry! We are here to give you some clarity!

What are the differences between a resume and a curriculum vitae

Resume – What MBA Programs Want!

  • Communicates how your skills and experiences align to a specific position (in this case MBA Programs!)
  • Resumes are all about what you did, why it mattered, and how it prepared you for this position
  • It has to be brief – no more than one page – this may mean you need to leave certain things out
  • The layout is flexible but needs to help communicate your story by being easy to read and understand

CV – Not What MBA Programs Want

  • Goes into great detail about your entire life from your academics including coursework to professional achievements and is static – it does not change position to position
  • CVs are more about what you did and not necessarily how you did it
  • Can be as long as you need to communicate what you’ve done
  • The layout is more standardized

What makes a great MBA application resume?

Your resume is meant to show off the amazing things you have done! Did you lead a team? Did you manage client relationship? Did you solve a complex problem that resulted in a major change to an organization, a new innovation, or cost reduction? There are a few nuances to the MBA resume.

  • Think about your broader application – does the school you are applying to give you a chance to state awards you have won or organizations you have been involved in outside of work? If not, make sure to incorporate these in your resume
  • Don’t go crazy with fitting everything in – don’t think about your resume from how much can I fit on one page, instead think about how to tell the stories that matter the most to understanding your professional experiences and how that fits into the larger picture of your application (I know we are saying this again, but its because its that important!)
  • Get a sanity check – the person reading your application may not be from the industry you are coming from, have someone outside of your industry ready your resume and see if they can tell you what they think you did and the impact it had. If they can’t figure out where you’ve gone wrong and try again!
  • Have clear sections – some common ones include:
    • Professional Experience – includes job title, one-line description about the job, impact bullets about your experience (what you did and why it mattered), location, and dates in position
    • Education – includes University, GPA, degree obtained, dates attended, and you can include awards here
    • Others – you can include a community section, a honors and awards section, an interests section, or other sections that help you tell your story

How does my resume fit into the overall MBA application evaluation?

Your resume is a snapshot of your professional experiences with some personal attributes (e.g., organizations involvement, academic institution attended, awards). It needs to be consistent with the things you write about in the rest of your application. If you say in an essay you loved working with the social sector, but your professional experience shows you have worked in banking for the last five years and did no community engagement that exposed you to the social sector the admissions committee is going to be really confused. Make sure you are telling a consistent story from your resume, your essays (e.g. I did X for the last three years but now I want to do Y because of Z), to the short answers, to even your letter of recommendations. Remember your resume is just one piece of the application, but it is the quickest snapshot of your experience the admission committee is going to see, so make sure it counts!

Interview Preparation

CONGRATULATIONS!!! You’ve made it past the GMAT and the daunting application itself and now it’s time to tell your story in person. Here are a few tips to help you through this last stage gate!

Understand who your interviewer is

Interviewers across schools vary, but the most common are current second year students, alumni, and admission committee members. Because of this they will have varying degrees of information about you. While the admission committee member knows your story deeply the alumni and students likely only have your resume. This means you need to message your story appropriately and also align your questions. Don’t ask an admission committee member how their experience was at X school, they may not have gone there. Instead ask about the future of the MBA program, how they’ve seen it change over time, what excites them about this years class, etc.

The research doesn’t stop

If you get the interviewer name in advance look them up. Figure out intelligent questions you can ask them based on their industry or past experience. Don’t be creepy though and find out that they have three kids and a poodle. That is a step too far. Stick to LinkedIn.

If you don’t know who the interviewer is in advance, make sure you get to know them in the interview. While the interviewer’s goal is to see if you are a good fit for the program, one of your goals is to quickly understand the interviewer and get them to like you.

Answer with clear and interesting stories 

How many times have you answered tell me about yourself, tell me about a time you worked with a difficult team member and how your worked through a problem, etc. This interview is going to be no different you need to show that you have experiences that are valuable to the class. You also need to show them you are a good fit by weaving in your knowledge about clubs, organizations, and the culture of the school as discretely as possible. Remember to talk about the situation, your action, and impact. Make sure the interviewer has a picture of who you are and your approach to problems. If you can link a question back to how you would approach something at that MBA program do it! Sometimes they tee you up to make a connection to fit with the program through calling out a student organization or applied learning lab, DON’T MISS THESE OPPORTUNITIES!

Career Path Insights

At the end of the day, a very important aspect of MBA programs is getting exposed to many different industries, functions, companies, sectors, and people. You can start to understand how people progressed in their career and how the MBA helped them achieve their career goals by talking to alumni and even second years who just finished their internships.

If you see a mentor on our platform, you’d love to learn more about – book time with them! Understand who they are and what motivated them to go to business school and how it’s changed their lives. This service is meant for you to get any questions you have about career paths answered, so come prepared with all of your burning questions!

 

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