Cranfield EMBA Admissions Q&A with David Simmons |

Cranfield EMBA Admissions Q&A with David Simmons

By Helen Vaudrey

Updated July 25, 2019 Updated July 25, 2019

Cranfield School of Management ranks 17th in the QS Global 200 business school rankings for Europe, and is one of the oldest and most prestigious schools in the UK.

David Simmons, MBA admissions director at Cranfield, talks us through just what Cranfield looks for when recruiting students onto the EMBA program.

Cranfield admissions director, David Simmons
Can you describe the ideal Cranfield applicant?

People who enroll onto our EMBA programs tend to be a little more mature and from middle management positions. They come mid-career in a context where they are often looking to scale up their career but not to change it. Plenty of candidates come with a lot of very good and useful experience but this is not enough – we are looking to create conditions for an excellent learning laboratory at Cranfield business school and want students with a story to tell.

Applicants know that this course will help them with business of management and not just the process of learning. Therefore, we look for students who want to develop skills as well as knowledge. For us, it’s fundamentally about people development in the broadest sense. It’s about developing competencies and capabilities in students that will enable them to take their career to a more strategic level – and a lot of that is about the way they manage others.

We essentially look to them as people. They have to be interesting people with interesting stories to tell and have a hunger for learning. But also, diversity is important on EMBAs because cohorts are networks of professional learners – these people are practicing managers already who want to develop their knowledge, expertise and skillset to a higher level.

Executive MBA requirements don’t just focus on work experience and admission tests; we also focus on professional achievements and life achievements in a candidate, rather than just what’s on paper.

What is the age range of EMBA students?

The average age of applicants at Cranfield business school is 36, but we like to focus more on the diversity of our intake! We have people from many industries enrolled on to the executive MBA program, including medical and military backgrounds – they don’t all come from industry. They come from jobs where management is a fundamental element of their working life but not necessarily in a commercial context. So the program does appeal to a broad group of people.

Could you talk us through each step of the executive MBA admissions process?

We always advise people to come to an open day to find out more. Choosing an EMBA is very important given the investment of time and money, so doing your due diligence is essential. Don’t just apply and go through the executive MBA admissions process – explore the school before you apply. We would always say to people who we meet at QS events, come along to our open days and find out if we fit you and you fit us. It’s a genuine exchange! Get a flavor of the culture at our school. And the essential thing to do is to talk to our students – we are happy for that to happen.

When that is completed, we require applicants to write a formal application. This is quite major. It requires a lot of thought. It’s designed to look at you as a person, not just look at you as a set of qualifications. To some extent the executive MBA admissions team is building a cohort from the get go so we want to find out what makes people tick.

We would then invite people to an interview. Everybody has an interview which lasts between 45 minutes to an hour. These are not cursory conversations; they are in-depth explorations of people’s capabilities. They are a genuine exchange – it’s not just about us choosing the student, the student has to want to choose us too.

What personal qualities do you look for in prospective students?

We focus on leadership and development. The secret of success with our EMBA alumni is their ability to work with others and understand themselves. This includes exploration of yourself, your values, your beliefs, and everything that drives you in your life professionally and personally.

There is not a box-ticking list of qualities you must have – the executive MBA admissions team at Cranfield business school are constructing an environment in which people will learn from one another, which is in some ways more important than what students will learn from faculty. Having diversity in terms of learning styles, industry sector and nationality are also important.

Students must also have curiosity and a hunger to learn. A desire to make a difference in the world is also advantageous – we don’t just look at your potential to understand classroom lessons throughout the course, we want to know that you’ll be able to do something with those skills upon graduation.

We look for people who want to learn and have the ability to learn from others. We don’t want people who believe they are experts in everything because recognizing other peoples expertise in a team and developing that expertise is an essential element to learning.

How much work experience should a candidate have?

We ask for a minimum of three years but more realistically applicants should have between 6 and 8 years of experience. ‘Work experience’ is a loose term however because some people can have work experience at a younger age than others. Experience needs to be substantial, not superficial. It has to be something which shows personal and professional growth with positions that show impact and responsibility.

How long should a résumé/application be?

The biggest single mistake on applications is that people tend to overwrite. Brevity is often impressive, not to the point where there is nothing to say, but it is preferable to people trying to oversell themselves. Executive MBA admissions directors are practical – we want to see people who talk honestly and have integrity. We can see through false claims, so honesty, integrity and a little bit of humility are important. If you know everything, or you think you know everything, why are you doing an EMBA to start with?

There has to be a desire to learn. We can’t claim we produce a finish product upon completion of the course, but we certainly don’t get finished products when students arrive! A desire to leave a footprint, curiosity and a desire to learn are all really important qualities in a person – so résumés or application forms should reflect that. We want people who are forward looking instead of backward looking.

Do you have any general tips for EMBA applicants?

Be yourself. Executive MBA learning is a competitive environment for people to get into. Like I said, selecting good EMBA candidates is not a box-ticking exercise; we simply want to get a sense of why a particular person is interesting to learn with and how we can add value to them.

Be ambitious, be positive – but be honest! I don’t think that admitting gaps or weaknesses is a bad thing in an interview – admissions teams like applicants who show a degree of modesty and humility as well. 

This article was originally published in July 2015 . It was last updated in July 2019

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