This post was originally published as part of the Ask the Experts series on MBA.com.
The same practices that make MBAs successful in their job search also make them effective in gaining admittance to the MBA program of their choice.
As a quick introduction, I am the director of the Career Development Office at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and the class of 2015 is the 11th class of Tuck students that I have worked with. I have also become involved in the Admissions process at Tuck and have noticed the following seven parallels between successful job seekers and MBA applicants:
School Fit is Critical The critical factor for many companies looking to hire MBAs is the perceived fit between the applicant and the position, and more broadly, between the applicant and the firm. The same applies to the selection of MBA applicants as admissions offices strive to enroll students that fit with the unique culture of their respective programs. To be successful on the “fit,” applicants need to sync three components: they need to understand themselves and their own priorities; they need to get to know the unique characteristics of the different MBA programs; and they need to be able to articulate in essays and during admissions interviews that they are a fit for the program in question.
Meet the People and Visit the Campus There is no better way to prepare for a job interview than to meet with current and former employees of a company and to visit their offices. The same is true when applying to business school. Always speak with current students and alumni of programs you are interested in. Ask them why they joined the program and find out what is unique about the culture and academics. The themes you hear from multiple sources will allow you to discover if there is a fit with the program while providing invaluable details you can share in essays and during interviews. Firms do not hire MBAs who have not done their due diligence and met people from their firm, and MBA programs are just as discerning.
Preparation is Key MBAs who are successful in their job search prepare. They learn an industry, understand trends, do company research, learn about who they are interviewing with, visit the firm, network with employees, review news, pick apart company websites, practice mock interviews, and more. You should do the same level of preparation when applying to business school. Study for the GMAT, conduct practice interviews, research a school, speak with alumni, and choose the right recommenders.
Answer the Three Key Questions For many fit interviews, the core questions recruiters ask MBAs are: “Tell me about yourself?”; “Why do you want to work for my company?”; and “Why should I hire you?” The same three questions also apply to MBA applicants; they should be able to eloquently and convincingly share their background and explain why they want to attend the MBA program and why they should be admitted.
Be Memorable and Tell Good Stories I will never forget an executive from a company standing in front of a group of MBAs and giving the following advice: “If you don’t have a personality, find one!” While the executive was being flip and entertaining, I believe he had an important point, which is that each of us should be able to be interesting to the people evaluating us, whether that is for a job or for admittance to an MBA program. And the vehicle for sharing interesting things about you and your background is through storytelling—being able to share events or accomplishments that are interesting, which make a point, and are memorable. As you write your essays and prepare for your admissions interview, make sure to have at the ready a set of stories you can share to convince a school that you are a strong candidate for admittance.
The Little Things Matter Dress well, make sure your resume is perfect, choose your recommenders wisely, be professional in your communications, send thank you notes, be nice to everyone involved in evaluating you, sleep well the night before your GMAT test, get your application in early… Like any job search, in the end it is the many small things that ultimately tip the balance between success in finding a new job or being admitted to the business school of your choice.
Have Fun Ironically, it is often those who enjoy meeting new people, exploring new jobs and opportunities, and who understand that rejection is an inevitable part of the job search that are the most successful. The same applies to the MBA application process. They are successful because they throw themselves into their search for the right school, find reward in the process, and are more poised and confident as they interview.
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