Writing an MBA application is not easy. There is a lot of talent in the market place. How do you sell yourself and stand out from the crowd? People all around the world are writing competitive applications. Sometimes, what sinks an MBA application is not something complex, it is something really simple.
They say “the only thing the eye cannot see is itself”. I remember writing my own MBA statement and my essays for my doctorate. I had coached people on MBA admissions for years. But when it was my own application it was so much harder.
Regardless, I reflected on the mistakes I see most often in my clients’ applications and made sure I avoided them. Here is how to avoid common mistakes on MBA applications and to make sure you can let your talent shine.
ONE: All cliché – No examples
A very common mistake is not backing up your claims. Anyone can say they are successful. Anyone can say they have a proven track record. Anyone can boast to be the most successful manager in their company. How many can actually prove it?
Filling your essay with empty clichés about your success, dedication and drive will not sell you. Make sure you include concrete, real examples of things you have achieved. If you reached high sales targets, mention the amounts. If you led a huge change project, show the results. If you managed a team of people, say how many and what you achieved.
TWO: No Averages – Hiding your Academic Past
Do not forget that universities and business schools are academic. Your averages must be included in your CV. Most universities will ask for them explicitly during the application process. If you have a low average from your undergraduate days, then you have a low average. Do not try rounding it up in your CV from 7.7 to 8 because your academic transcripts with tell the truth.
One of the great things about MBAs is the need for GMAT or GRE in the application. An excellent performance in the GMAT or GRE can show admissions managers and teams that you are academically more capable than your previously low average may suggest. If you do have a low average, my best advice is to study very intensively for the GMAT or GRE.
Additionally, strong work experience, including a track record of career progress, can be highly weighted. Extracurricular and social projects also help shape your CV into something far more competitive. High academic scores are important, but so is experience.
On the flip side, if you do have a high undergraduate average (9.4+), never assume this is enough. Make sure you still show off your experience, achievements and potential for the future. Admissions teams want to get to know you, not just your certificates.
If it helps, I had a poor average from my college drinking days. Despite this, I graduated with a distinction from my MBA and now I study a Doctorate part-time at a top-ranked UK university. Don’t let your past haunt your future.
THREE: Answering the Wrong Question
This is pretty self-explanatory and is the mistake that bemuses me the most. I would say around 70% of the clients I have bring me a draft of answer that answers a different question. Some are just a little off topic, others are miles off.
If the university asks you to talk about your future goals, write about your future goals. Boasting about past achievements in a ‘future goals’ essay will make you look badly prepared. Equally, if a question has two parts, i.e. we would like to hear about A and B, make sure you talk about both A and B.
The simple tip here is “read the question!” Give the admission’s team what they want, not what you feel like giving them. Once you have written you answer, compare it against the question and ask yourself “have I truly answered the question here?”
FOUR: Billy Big Balls – Wow, you’re a Superhero
There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. It is good to be confident and you should celebrate your successes. Your story is vitally important (see my blog on Storytelling and Strategic Narrative). Do not be afraid to share significant achievements and to show you are proud of what you have achieved. However, be very careful to not come across as an arrogant pr**k.
Humility can be a powerful tool in the workplace. Equally, being overly humble can as well. Getting the right balance between arrogance and confidence can be hard. A good tip is try writing things in different ways. Then get friends or experts to read them and give you their opinion on how you come across.
Moreover, I also recommend you get to know the culture of each business school and university you are applying to. Some like more boasting about success than others. Visit MBA fairs and meet admissions teams. You will soon get to know what kind of candidate personality they will more likely favor.
FIVE: Your Statement of Purpose (SOP) doesn’t match your CV.
I often see a big disconnect between people’s CVs and what they sell in their statement of purpose. The statement makes them look like a Senior Director, but the CV shows limited career progressions and responsibilities. Universities will see through this easily.
Make sure that your CV and your statement coincide with each other. If you make big claims in your statement, make sure your CV supports them.
To give you an example, if you claim you led a team of 20 people on a project worth $10 million USD, your CV should not have the title “Project Coordinator” or “Executive Admin”. It would most likely say “Project Manager” or “Area Director” or something similar. Be truthful!
In short, you should sell yourself, but keep it realistic. If you do get to interview then any major inconsistencies will quickly be exposed by an experienced interviewer.
How Can I Avoid These Mistakes?
My best advice is get professional help with your application. Talent all around the world is investing to get into the best business schools. The points above are some of the basics to follow. There is so much much more to a really well written application.
Do not look at an application coach as a cost, see them as an investment in your future. They will bring knowledge and contacts to the table that will help you greatly. They will help you see the side of you that you cannot easily see.