Tuesday, July 05, 2016 at 2pm

How to Market Yourself to an MBA Admissions Committee

Looking to score a perfect '10' with the MBA admissions committee?

The MBA admissions process can feel pretty daunting, especially when you consider some of the leading schools’ acceptance rates (Harvard’s was 11% for its latest class while Stanford GSB says the rate is typically 5-7%, for example). From GMAT scores and recommendation letters, to those often-imposing MBA essay questions (some of which even ask you to supply a video response) it’s not only important to have everything in place before the deadline, but also to differentiate yourself from other applicants in the process.

During the course of a TopMBA.com series with MBA admissions directors around the world, we’ve found that top business schools often place great emphasis on finding candidates they believe will enrich their MBA program, through the skills and past experiences they can bring to the class. To get into your dream business school, therefore, you’ll need a clear – and honest – vision of what you have to offer. You can gain some insights into the right and wrong ways in which to position yourself during the application process from a QS webinar on August 3, 2016. For the time being, however, here are a few pointers raised by admissions staff attached to leading schools.

Make your MBA essay stand out

Yes, you want to stand out among other applicants in your application’s MBA essay questions. But, that doesn’t mean you have to embark on a futile search for things you have done that no one else in the history of humankind has ever done before, as Stanford GSB’s MBA admissions director, Lisa Giannangeli, advises:

“You don’t need to have accomplishments or feats that are unusual or different from your peers…If you concentrate your efforts on telling us who you are, differentiation will occur naturally.”

With this in mind, it seems wise to ensure your MBA essay captures who you really are - from the values you hold and the experiences underpinning the direction you have taken in your professional life to date, to why you believe an MBA will set you on the right road for the future.

Indeed, concocting an overly elaborate story in your application could conceivably do more harm than good, if and when you progress to the interview stage of MBA admissions, as HEC Paris’ director of communications, development and admissions, Philippe Oster, explains:

“Candidates should aim for consistency – ensuring what they say at interview matches what they have written in their applications.”

Research the specific MBA program to which you are applying

If you don’t research the specific MBA program to which you’re applying properly, it’s almost certain that you’ll be found out sooner or later, as Renice Jones, assistant director of graduate recruitment and admissions at York University’s Schulich School of Business, points out:

“One mistake that applicants make is not doing enough research to ensure that the program will fit with their career goals.”

This piece of advice isn’t just about impressing the MBA admissions panel. After all, when you consider the cost of an MBA, it’s very much in your interests to find out whether the program on offer at a particular school matches what you are looking for, not just in terms of career goals but also in terms of campus culture and learning environment. Displaying knowledge of why you think you can thrive at a particular business school during the application process can only go down well, just as long as you are not regurgitating passages from its official website!   

Don’t overlook the importance of recommendation letters

The recommendation letters you will need to apply for a top MBA program shouldn’t be seen as a ‘tick-box’ exercise. It is an opportunity for you to select recommenders who can speak to your accomplishments and strengths, and corroborate what you are saying about yourself. For this reason, almost all top business schools will advise you to choose someone who knows you well over someone with an impressively senior job title who, well, doesn’t.

In addition to this, it can help to have an informal chat with your chosen recommenders when asking them to furnish you with their written blessing, as Duke Fuqua’s director of marketing and recruitment, Allison Jamison, says:

“Share with them why you are seeking an MBA – if they understand what your goals are, they are better equipped to provide supporting anecdotes in their write up.”

This could be a useful test of selection in itself because if you’re picking someone who knows you well, you shouldn’t find it a problem to seek them out and have this sort of chat before asking them to provide one of your recommendation letters!

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Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).