By Caryn Altman
Former Admissions Officer, Kellogg School of Management
Senior Consultant, Stacy Blackman Consulting
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 is already checked without question. The admissions committee is quite confident that you can excel in the core classes. Consider it one less thing you have to worry about!
Because applicants from finance are overrepresented in the admissions pool, your goal is to stand out as much as possible from peers with similar backgrounds. However, there’s a right way and a wrong way to attract the admission committee’s attention, so make sure to avoid these 10 common MBA application mistakes made by finance professionals.
Mistake #1: Failing to develop an overall strategy
Applicants with a highly typical career background face one of the largest hurdles to admission. You need to develop a comprehensive application strategy that sets you apart from your competitors who are similar to you or even better. Business Schools cannot fill the class with candidates from a similar background, so narrating your achievements alone won't help.
The MBA journey begins with considerable self-reflection to crystalize your life and professional goals and find the right schools that fit and align with those aspirations. From your resume to your essays to your letters of recommendation to your interview, you’ll need to differentiate yourself through stories and examples that highlight both your analytical expertise and personal pursuits to add another dimension to your MBA application.
Mistake #2: Not filling in the “white spaces”
When strong finance applicants don’t get in, much of the time, it wasn't their GMAT that was a weakness, but because they erroneously believed that a perfect score or having Morgan Stanley on their resume was enough to make them the perfect candidate. With such fierce competition, you have to realize you are not just your resume. You are the white spaces in between.
Curiosity is one attribute that the Admission team across top MBA Business School values. Your inquisitiveness should go beyond academics and into extracurricular or life experiences. You never know if those years on the college water polo team, the minor in game design or those articles you published in the school newspaper are just the ticket to creating a standout application.
Mistake #3: Underwhelming recommendation letters
As an evaluation from an independent observer, letters of recommendation are a secret weapon for your application success. Your recommenders will be asked to evaluate you against your peers, and may even be writing letters for your peers, so you need to ensure that your recommenders consider you the top-ranked employee in their area.
Don’t leave them to their own devices. Make sure your recommenders share specific examples of your excellent work. To help them out, you may want to provide a bulleted list of projects you worked on together, especially if you were praised for the results. Sometimes a performance review or meeting can be a useful source for specific compliments if you are unsure how to steer your recommenders.
Read 2nd Part: Common MBA Application Mistakes made by Finance Professionals
For a more in-depth look into the application process for individuals from a finance background, Download Stacy Blackman Consulting’s Quant Jock guide