This is the first part of a three-part series: Common MBA Application Mistakes made by Finance Professionals
Surprised to hear that MBA applicants from finance make up the largest percentage of the incoming classes at many of the top business schools?
I didn’t think so.
Several firms require the MBA for top-level positions, and finance industries feed heavily into the most competitive programs. At the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, for example, 45% of the Class of 2018 has previously worked in finance, followed by 36% of the entering class at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and 27% at Stanford Graduate School of Business.
While other applicants will have to work hard to demonstrate that they can handle classes such as finance, accounting, and statistics, if you hail from finance, this box...
Q) How should candidates from Information Technology background approach MBA Application Essays, when the word limit is 500 words. Most “What I did”, require offering some context. How much jargon is allowed? How evenly should the technologist cover the “How,” “Why,” “What” aspect of the project for the Essay?
Stacy Blackman: We often field questions from clients working in Information Technology about how best to frame their work experiences within a 500-word MBA application essay, especially since the technologist often believes it necessary to provide meaningful context when describing the “What I did” aspect of the essay question. The truth is, business schools don’t really care whether you can code in Java or possess multiple certifications in Oracle, Linux, or Cloud+. The admissions committee doesn’t even need to know those aspects when reading about your technical projects, and getting bogged down in such details is the number one mistake that engineers applying to business school often make.
When describing a technical project, try to sum up the essence of the project in a non-technical way in one to two sentences. Share your...
F1GMAT: Stacy, you have written about this topic in 2005 but to refresh our memory, what advice would you give an MBA candidate who is much older than the average class? What are some of the points that the candidate should keep in mind while writing an essay? Which age group has the least probability of getting into a premier Business School?
Stacy Blackman: Bottom line, it can be challenging for an “older” applicant to be admitted into a top business school. In the MBA world, older means over 30. Is this some sort of arbitrary age discrimination? Not really. Business schools want to admit people who will legitimately benefit from the experience, who will do well in recruiting and who show potential to succeed. It can be difficult to meet these criteria when you are older than the average student.
Q) I've read that extra-curricular activities (ie. leadership via community involvement) is an important part of the assessment. As a consultant/auditor I have little time for activities outside of work, however I have good leadership experience of many teams in the work environment. Could you comment about the weight placed on community involvement in the application process? – Jay
Community involvement is very important to the application process because MBA programs pride themselves in training future leaders, not just educating a bunch of people who know how to calculate an IRR. They look for individuals who are concerned about doing great work and improving the world around them.
Although some younger candidates feel that even though they have not prioritized “extracurricular” activities early in their careers, they will definitely focus on these activities once they are more established. However, typically the patterns we establish toward community activities early in our careers remain...
F1GMAT: What are some of the best practices that an MBA candidate should follow if they are waitlisted? Some experts advice to follow up regularly and others advice to be cautious with follow ups. What is your advice on follow-up frequency?
Stacy: Business schools are busy assessing files and making decisions. Yes, it’s that time of year again…some good news, some bad news and some in between. When you receive a waitlist notification, you are not quite sure how to feel. It is not an acceptance…and yet there is still hope. You are in agony - the waiting continues.
The first thing to do when you are waitlisted is congratulate yourself. While it probably is not the answer that you were hoping for, you should know that far more people are denied admission than placed on the waitlist. If you are waitlisted, you are still in the running, and your application has passed an important hurdle. The waitlist has a lot of unknowns associated with it, even for the admissions committees. Until they know how many applicants will accept their invitations and until they start to understand the makeup of the class, they really do not know how many people will be admitted from the waitlist and who those people...
800 words in Total —let’s discuss the fact that you will need to be very, very economical in your use of these words.
1) Map out all of the things that HBS needs to know about you and then figure out how those stories can be told through other parts of the application.
2) Don’t even think about regurgitating the career path that is already present on the resume or the awards or titles that were entered through the data form. Your “top performer” story from work might be something that a supervisor can discuss in a letter of recommendation. When a colleague from the YMCA Young Leadership Board writes a letter on your behalf, that also might eliminate the need for an essay about your performance and innovation in that role.
3) You might need to be more strategic in selecting and guiding recommenders in order to make sure that the right stories are told.
So after you have figured out ways that your resume, transcript and recommendations actually say what needs to be said, you can work with them to hone in on a handful of topics that reveal even more about you and help convey a thoughtful personal brand. So let’s look at those essay questions:
First, I would like to clear up some rumors regarding the new HBS MBA Application Essay for the 2012-2013 season:
1) Rumor #1: HBS no longer values leadership. What? This new process is the ultimate test in leadership by seeing if applicants can keep calm, think clearly, and be both decisive and strategic under pressure. The interview and the follow-up essay are also clever tests of leadership. If you do not have the endurance to write an essay after their interview—and if you cannot make savvy decisions about the content of that essay—perhaps you do not have what it takes to go to HBS.
2) Rumor #2: HBS is no longer asking “why HBS?”. Here is a piece of news: they never asked that question. Lots of people wanted to answer that question, but that was a mistake because really, the HBS admissions committee already knows why applicants want to go to HBS.
3) Rumor #3: HBS no longer cares about an applicant’s career plan. I don’t understand why this has surfaced as an interpretation of the new application. HBS wants to hear whatever a candidate want to tell them. If your career plans are meaningful and important to you, and if they provide insight into an important aspect of your motivations and personality, then by all means those...
As you approach the HBS application you will need to think about more than just the essay questions – make sure your resume is a compelling view of your career path, your recommenders are providing specific examples of your management potential and leadership qualities, and approach the two essay questions as opportunities to showcase who you are and what motivates you. The final essay, written in 24 hours after your interview, should fit in holistically with the rest of your application. A thorough self assessment of your strengths and weaknesses will be an asset as you approach this essay set.
The limited word count for Harvard Business School essays forces applicants to be focused and concise. When you answer a question, think about a discrete example that can be efficiently described, leaving you room to discuss lessons learned.
Harvard Business School is interested in knowing how you work as a person, how you think, and what kind of leader you are. Community involvement and a broad international perspective are certainly valued, as you can see by the topics. Most importantly, specific and concise examples are the best way to demonstrate who you are. Without specifics, a claim to be a leader is...