Improving your MBA profile – 40 ways to an awesome MBA application!
Last updated on February 12th, 2016
Most MBA grads will tell you that an MBA from a premier B-school can change your career and life in general in a myriad of amazing ways. Most of them will also tell you that getting into a top B-school requires you to have a stellar B-school profile and a rock-solid application.
If you have your eyes set on a B-school this year or next year, you probably fit in one of the below categories:
1. You have great work experience, but are hampered by an average academic record. Or, you are an academic achiever, but you’ve worked at a lack-lustre job for a few years, without much to set you apart.
2. Your career and academic performance have both been noteworthy, but you are not sure if you have that ‘x’ factor in your profile which can differentiate you amidst a set of similar achievers.
3. You have had a great career, an academic record that you can be justifiably proud of, and a differentiating factor or two- but you are wondering what you can do to improve your chances even further!
Well, there’s a lot you can do! We have compiled a list of 40 things that can add sheen to your application. Some of these ideas will directly benefit your profile, while some will have an indirect bearing. Even working on a handful of these tips will improve your candidacy and impress the adcom!
1. Learn a new language
With B-schools trying to increase diversity in their classrooms, working knowledge of a foreign language will boost your profile. And did you know that learning new languages helps improve brain function?
It is observed that learning new languages results in improved conversational abilities, better study skills, and heightened concentration- all of which you can channel to help with the GMAT and your interviews. So go ahead, enrol for a language course and impress the adcoms with your knowledge of French, Spanish or what-have-you. To do next : Check out DuoLingo, a great app for learning a new language! Need more inspiration?Watch this TED talk about how to hack language learning!
2. Start a Small Business
Try your hand at a start-up idea. Start small- you could even try a solo venture. You can work independently as a part time photographer, web designer, caterer, or handmade artifacts designer online. Though this is a microcosm of the business universe, you will get exposure to the world of pricing, marketing, and other business functions.
To do next : The internet is choc-a-block with ideas for entrepreneurship. To start with, you can find some interesting business ideas here. Read this page to understand how you can use Facebook to take your business to your customers.
3. Volunteer in your Community
Besides giving you a wider, more humane perspective, the experience of volunteering for your community can improve your ability to take initiative and hone your interpersonal skills. A volunteering stint could also be a great place for you to network.
You could take the initiative to conduct seminars and talks for school kids on awareness about issues like drug abuse, sexual abuse, adolescent health, staying safe online, etc. Imagine the multitude of skills you can learn through such an experience! You will learn how to communicate across age-groups, you will hone your speaking skills, and you will learn valuable facts about these issues that you could dispense to the benefit of everyone around you.
What’s the B-school angle, you ask? This will reflect to the Adcom your commitment to social responsibility, your ability to take initiative, and your organizational and leadership skills.
To do next : Check out iVolunteer, a social enterprise that has a presence in most major cities in India and that can help you find the right volunteering experience for you.
4. Pursue your favorite Sport
If you gave up your involvement in a sports team in school so you could focus on academics, it is now time to pick up where you left off. Playing sports inculcates the ability to work in a team to achieve a common goal. This ability is highly desirable in an MBA candidate.
So gear up, round up your new team, and get going! You may also find this to be a great stress-buster during your MBA admission process. To do next : If you’re interested and are looking for team-matesor a playing arena, check out Playo, GroundWala or Athletto.
5. Learn to play a musical instrument
Almost nobody is immune to the charms of a talented musician. But how will learning a musical instrument help you impress an Adcom, you ask? Well, being able to play a musical instrument will not just add to the versatility of your B-school profile, but will act as an indicator of qualities such as discipline and creativity. You can also show the adcoms that you’re never too old to learn something new!
To do next : Like everything else in life, musical education has gone online too! Check this link for some of the best resources on learning an instrument online.
6. Sign up for a MOOC
Take up an online certification course (or courses) through Coursera, Udacity, or edX. There is a plethora of courses offered online. A course related to the subject you will be studying in your MBA will show the adcoms how serious you are about your goals. You can also do courses on leadership, creative thinking, etc. that will help you develop your skill-set.
To do next : You can check out some of the best websites that offer online courses here.
7. Participate in a new Adventure Sport
When was the last time you lived life on the edge? There are many benefits to dabbling in adventure sports such as river rafting, rock climbing, or bungee jumping, whether as a newbie or as a hard-core enthusiast. One of them is that it displays to the adcom your willingness to take risks and indulge in the spirit of adventure. Success, as they say, lies outside your comfort zone- and the adcom is on the lookout for candidates who are willing to step out of their comfort-zone to pursue success.
To do next : Check out the best adventure sports activities to pursue in India.
8. Write a Blog
Whether writing has been an interest of yours or not, you will find that polishing your writing skills will pay off when it comes to MBA admissions.Writing in a blog will give your recruiters credible proof of your flair for communication. Also, writing a blog will give you visibility and give you a channel to put your perspective out there. To write informed blog posts, you will have to read a lot – this will help you improve your research abilities. For all these reasons and more, a well-maintained blog is definitely a way to up your B-school profile.
To do next : Read about some great tips to start a successful blog and decide if this is something you would like to pursue.
9. Contribute to your Alma Mater
When you give back to your alma mater, it shows your commitment to the institution – this will reflect well on you since top B-schools look for candidates who would be part of their strong and committed alumni network. You can contribute to your alma mater financially, or show support as a guest lecturer or student mentor. The alumni-alma mater relationship is a mutually beneficial one- your contributions will benefit your alma mater by helping it uphold its popularity, and this will in turn contribute towards ensuring that the brand value of your education does not diminish.
To do next : Start by reading this article on how you can contribute to your college. Go to your college website, check out the alumni page, and take it from there!
10. Travel to a new place
“Nothing opens your mind or your eyes like travel.” Travelling opens you up to new geographies, cultures, and economies. The experiences you gain while travelling will develop your ability to relate to others, to negotiate well, and work with people from different backgrounds. So take some time off work to travel through all the countries you have always wanted to see!
A more interesting way to do this would be backpacking. Backpacking is a great opportunity to find joy in ambiguity and soak up experiences you never imagined undergoing. Backpacking is now made more exciting by concepts like couchsurfing.com. You will get to be a host to international travellers visiting your locality. As a host, you may open your home for travellers to stay, or be part of events where you can meet travellers in different cities. Meeting new people and gaining exposure to cultures from all over the world will add a great deal of shine to your MBA profile.
11. Learn the basics of Finance
This is an important one if you do not have a background in management studies. A sound knowledge of the concepts like capital budgeting, capital structure, dividend policies, and risk and return is important to your post MBA job. Show the adcoms that you are dedicated towards your goals!
To do next : Check out these online resources to learn the basics of finance!
12. Continue a long lost Hobby
Playing the guitar, illustrating, dancing…did you do any of these while in school or college but later lose touch with it because of your busy work life? Now’s the perfect time to take your dancing shoes out of the closet and brush the dust off. You can also become part of meet-up groups to interact with people who share a similar passion. Hobbies give you joy, keep you creative, act as an outlet for stress, help you refocus on work- and look great on your B school resume!
To do next : Here are some cool hobby clubs you can explore.
13. Do your bit for the Environment
Many B-schools prefer candidates who have made a positive impact to the world around them (some schools, such as Said, Oxford, are very particular indeed about this aspect, as evidenced by their essay questions). Join a group or organization that works towards making the world a greener and cleaner place.
If you commute to work on bicycle instead of a car, you can be part of or start a bicyclers’ club. Or, you could start a club on a local scale to plant trees in your locality. You can help in waste management by doing simple things like advocating waste segregation in households, encouraging the recycling of paper and plastic, etc.
There are also youth groups in India’s cities that focus their efforts on beautifying their cities- join one of these to feel part of a larger whole and collect material for your application essays! To do next : Check out organizations that are doing great work in this space an explore if you can be their next volunteer!
14. Attend conferences related to your field
Attend conferences on topics in the area you want to work in post your MBA. You will find that there are several conferences taking place in the management institutes in your city. These are not just opportunities to gain knowledge and network with professionals, but they give you an enhanced perspective that will definitely show through in your essays and interviews with the Adcom.
To do next : You can find out here about conferences happening this year, and take part in the ones happening in your city. You can also check the conference pages of various premier B-schools and attend the ones that are open to public (check upcoming ISB conferences here.)
15. Work for a Startup
If you look back, our parents’ generation experienced career progression in a slow and steady fashion. No matter how sincere and talented they were, it was not easy for them to disrupt this pace and accelerate their learning curve.
Today, however, we have a profusion of founders and CTOs who are yet to hit their mid-twenties- because it is the age of the startup! How does working for a startup benefit you? Well, it could be a crash-course in leadership, dealing with ambiguity, managing stress, multi-tasking and so many ‘more useful skills!
If you’ve worked for a startup, especially one that’s on the rise, it tells the Adcom that you had the aptitude to survive in a dynamic workplace and that you had the courage to take the risk of working in an uncertain environment. To do next : Begin to explore the startup ecosystem and the best startups to work for here and here.
16. Become active on Twitter
Having a lot of followers on Twitter extends your influence- you’ll have social authority, and you can spread ideas and influence people. Posting valuable content that is worth retweeting, and commenting on relevant and trending news will increase your presence on the platform and bring you more followers. So, use your Twitter account to show the adcoms how influential and up-to-date you are when it comes to current events and trends.
To do next : Read this Harvard Business Review article on managing your socia presence. And then, start tweeting! 🙂
17. Get involved in your Society’s General Body
Become a member of the Resident Welfare Association for your housing society. You can play a role that suits your interests. For example, you can work as secretary and conduct regular meetings to discuss the concerns of individuals, or you can even maintain the organizations’ funds as a treasurer.
You can also organize events in your housing society. Take charge of organizing a festive celebration, a cultural event for kids, a charity drive, or a fund raiser. This experience could have the potential to make for a good story in your essays. This experience will display your ability to take initiative and hone your team-playing skills.
To do next : Here’s a guide to apartment associations. Start by attending the next association meeting of your society to explore if this activity interests you.
18. Pick an ambitious project at work
For a great MBA profile, it is important to have a spike in your career in the last one to two years. So, pick up challenging projects at work that relate at least a little to the career path you aspire to pursue post your MBA. Take up responsibilities that you could use to build a story for your essays.
Most schools ask you to describe an instance where you showed leadership and/or problem solving skills. Start building experiences early on so you can pick the most impressive one of all your stories.
To do next : Read this and this. Initiate a one-on-one meeting with your manager and tell him/her that you want to take on high-visibility opportunities at work. Also, keep a constant lookout for new opportunities – read all company newsletters, network more within the organization and pay utmost attention during all those long meetings and conferences 🙂
19. Volunteer/ Work with Teach for India
Spend some of your free time on weekends volunteering at Teach for India. You can work as an assistant teacher in their classrooms, or in administration. Alternatively, you can apply for the Teach for India fellowship, which makes for a strong entry point to an MBA.
Either way, a stint at Teach for India will definitely add a great deal to your profile.
20. Read a new book every month
Reading keeps your mind stimulated and improves your speaking and writing skills. It will also indirectly help you with writing an impressive application essay, and you will probably never fumble for words in an interview or group discussion. So get a library or kindle membership, as the case may be, and use your time well with the pages of a book.
To do next : Here is a list of 50 books you need to pick up now, as an MBA aspirant. If you’re interested in finding out what others like you are reading, you can check out this social network for readers.
21. Join a Fitness Program
Following a fitness regime will make you energetic and disciplined, which will help you in all aspects of life, including your MBA admission process.
And if you have always been a fitness enthusiast, you can start a fitness club in your community, which will also credit you with leadership skills and the ability to take initiative.
To do next : Find a fitness program that strikes your fancy- whether it be yoga, dance, zumba or cross-training, and stick to it. If you find yourself wavering, get back on track by reading inspirational material, such as this.
22. Try your hand at something creative
Having a creative hobby, such as painting, pottery, or illustrating can add a touch of uniqueness to your profile. A creative skill, especially a self-taught one, reflects the fact that you are self-motivated and dedicated. Also, a creative hobby will train your brain to think more creatively even when it comes to work. You can engage your interviewers in an interesting conversation about your hobby that can set you apart from other candidates.
To do next : The sky’s the limit here! Are you wondering where to start? Here are some great hobby ideas.
23. Master your negotiation skills
Negotiation skills are an asset in any career path you choose. But when it comes to MBA admissions, it will help you greatly during your interview. Some positive results of mastering negotiation skills are the ability to communicate better and the ability to persuade.
You will be able to see the perspectives of all parties involved in a discussion, become better at understanding the nature of a discussion, and talk your way into making your interviewers understand why you are a perfect fit for their school.
To do next : Get started by enrolling for an online course on negotiation.
24. Take part in Cross Functional Activities at Work
Cross-functional and cross-organizational events require a specific kind of leadership skill-set. They will require you to plan, coordinate with a team that has no formal structure, and delegate work to people that you may not even know.
A few examples of such activities:- When your team is hiring a new member, try to participate in the hiring process. You can help develop the selection criteria, participate in the interview, and give your inputs while making the final decision. Being a part of this process can reflect positively on your credibility within your organization, and show that you understand what makes for a great employee.
You can take part in the training process for new employees in your team, and conduct sessions in your area of expertise. Or you can act as a mentor to a junior to help him or her with their professional growth. This will further enhance your own skill level and will be a testament of your own professional development.
To show the adcoms that you take initiative and are a leader, start a club at work. It can be based on an interesting hobby or a skills development club such as Toastmasters. Your unique hobby and the activities you organized for it can make your profile stand out among others.
To do next : Speak to your HR manager or reporting manager to understand how you can pick projects that cut through teams. If you would like to explore Toastmasters, read this link on how to start a ToastmastersClub.
25. Junk TOI and start reading “The Economist”
Reading a ‘serious’ newspaper/magazine can do wonders to the way you perceive the world and articulate your ideas. The Economist covers news on international and regional economic trends that will help you understand the workings of the business world.
It carries articles on current events in politics, finance, business, science, and the arts from all regions of the world. You will not just be updated on news, but will get to read thoughtful analyses of important events. This kind of reading will sharpen your skills to put across well-structured arguments about various topics in your essays and interviews.
26. Write a Personal/ Daily Diary
This may not be something that will have a direct impact on your profile, but the benefits of writing a daily journal will definitely have a positive impact on you. Writing everyday will help you clarify and disentangle your thoughts and emotions, and you will be better at expressing yourself.
When writing a journal, you do not just write about an incident, but you go into the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’- that is to say, you introspect. Also, putting something down on paper creates a sense of accountability, and therefore you can use your daily diary to document your progress and stay on the straight and narrow path.
To do next : Did you know that you can now keep a personal, private journal online? Here’s how.
27. Learn the basics of Data Sciences
The job of a data analyst is most definitely an exciting one and one of the highest paid jobs. Even if this isn’t your post MBA dream job, a basic knowledge of data sciences will greatly benefit you in the heavily data-driven business world we are forging into.When you are able to manipulate and analyze data, make inferences and predictions, you have an edge when it comes to a job promotion or an MBA admission.
To do next : Sign up for an online course now to gain data science skills!
28. Become a Wikipedia Editor
Anybody can be a Wikipedia editor and work anonymously, but it requires a little effort to become a trusted member of the Wikipedia community. You can create a Wikipedia account and user page to get credit among the community. Creating an account will give you the ability to edit some articles that are locked from anonymous edits.
Also, being a Wikipedian, you will get to be part of meets like Wikimania and Wiknics, where you can socialize with fellow Wikipedians from around the world. How does this benefit you as a B-school aspirant? It adds to your coolness/quirkiness quotient!
To do next : Read up about how to become a Wikipedia Editor.
29. Volunteer Overseas
Take a sabbatical from work and enroll for an overseas volunteer program through organizations such as Global Vision International and Projects Abroad. You can work in a country of your liking in areas like community development or wildlife rescue. Such a volunteering project is a great way to broaden your mind regarding social and environment issues and to broaden your network. Needless to say, an overseas volunteering stint is not something everybody is into- and hence, it could really help you differentiate yourself at a B-school.
To do next : To know about some interesting projects abroad, check out this link.
30. Practice your Oratory Skills
Having awesome public speaking skills is as desirable a quality in an MBA candidate, as it is in life. Make use of every such opportunity you get at work to hone this skill. With good public speaking skills, you can reach out to and influence a larger number of people. The ability to talk well to a large group of people is also a vital step towards becoming a great leader.
If you’re having trouble getting up on that pedestal, you can join a public speaking club and get an oratory make-over!
Practicing mindfulness (through meditation, zentangling or whatever else strikes your fancy) improves both physical and mental health. It is proved to reduce stress and improve working memory and attention span. So, try practicing mindfulness as it would be a great way to clear your mind and prepare for your interviews.
32. Create a YouTube Channel and Post ‘How-To’ Videos
If you have a skill you are proud of,what better than sharing it with the world? You can create an explainer video series for any topic you can imagine! You can be as creative as you want when making your videos, using different techniques like animation, live-action, or anything else you can think of.
Posting how-to videos and gaining followers on your Youtube channel is not only a platform for you to show off your skills in that particular topic, but is also an opportunity to exhibit your creativity and increase your circle of influence.
To do next : Learn how to make a great how-to video.
33. Become a Top Contributor on Quora
You can become one of the ‘most viewed writers’ on Quora by answering queries on topics you are an expert in. Contribute frequently and thoughtfully, with quality answers and solutions. Pick specific topics that are related to your field of study so you can project your academic seriousness to the adcoms.
To do next : Read up about how to become a top writer here.
34. Spruce up your LinkedIn Profile
Make sure to keep your LinkedIn profile updated with your professional experience and skills, recommendations, and resume. Other than this, you can write quality articles on LinkedIn.
Since your connections as well as others can follow your posts, strong content can get you the right attention as you are already addressing the right professional audience on LinkedIn. Write articles that could be featured on LinkedIn Pulse as that will give you visibility amongst millions of users. This can help you gain a large number of followers and opportunities to engage with readers.
To do next : Read this article for tips on how to create a killer LinkedIn profile.
35. Kick an Unhealthy Habit
Losing those extra pounds or getting rid of an addiction is not that easy. It requires patience and a strong will power. So a feat like this shows that you are determined and focused. Not to mention, it would be good fodder for the ‘What are you most proud of’ essay that is common to many B-schools. Also, healthy habits keep you positive, and this will benefit your candidacy.
To do next : Read this thoughtful article on how to kick a bad habit. Introspect! Look at what changes you’d like to make to your life, if any.
36. Contribute to Newspapers and Magazines
Write to newspapers and magazines and get yourself published with a byline. You can write in the form of a letter to the editor, voicing your opinion on a current issue, or you can write an article for a magazine about the latest developments in an area of your interest. Most online publications have a ‘Write for Us’ section where you can submit your article.
A publication in a renowned newspaper or magazine will show to the Adcom that you are up-to-date on important issues, that you care enough to voice your opinion, and that you are articulate enough to be published! To do next : Research publications that are aligned to your areas of interest.
Check out the ‘write-for-us‘ or ‘contribute’ section to figure out how you can get your articles published.
37. Join a Political Party
Being part of a local political party will get you involved in the grassroots problems of your society. Awareness of governance policies and an in-depth awareness of the problems faced by your community prove your social consciousness. You can diversify yourself as an MBA candidate through your involvement in politics. Also, you can experience leadership in a completely different environment.
To do next : Read up on how to join a political party here.
38. Be very active on GMAT/ MBA Forums
Be helpful! Share all that you’ve learned with your peers on GMATClub, BTG and any network you are following. Reciprocity is a powerful human emotion- if you help out fellow aspirants, you are widening the network of people who are at some stage likely to help you in return. Staying active in the B-school aspirant circle will also ensure that you stay updated about all new developments and trends in this space.
39. Consider Part-Time Teaching
A teacher needs excellent interpersonal skills to interact with students and communicate ideas to them. The fact that you have had experience as a teacher would reflect your ability to articulate well and to guide a group of people. You can take up a part-time teaching position, or you can simply take tuition classes at home- both could make your profile look more desirable.
To do next : To start out on this path, you could upload your profile here.
40. Visit the B-School Campus
Visit the school you want to get into through freshman visits or group visits programs. You will have an opportunity to interact with students and the admission committee and also have a guided tour of the campus. This would give you a clearer picture of what the school is looking for in a candidate, and interaction with current students from the program you are applying to is always an added advantage.
To do next : Check out this article for useful tips on how to conduct your B-school campus visit.
Now that you know all the things you could do to improve your profile, here are two important points to keep in mind while you polish your B-school profile.
First, choose activities that would help you break the stereotype people would fit you into if they wanted to. For example, if you are one amongst the over-represented IIM (Indian IT Male) population, joining an NGO might not really distinguish you that much, because a LOT of Indian aspirants tend to have NGO experience on their resumes. Try and pick something unexpected that will stick in the minds of the Adcom. For example, if you are an accountant and showcase a skill that is not expected of an accountant, such as writing poetry, your profile will be memorable.
The second crucial point is that you need to understand the art of storytelling. Telling their stories well is not a skill that comes very naturally to most B-school aspirants. However, with a little guidance and practice, you can master the art of presenting your story in such a way as to make it sound unique and unforgettable. How do you get better at this? There are some great books available on pitching your B-school application well. Besides, you can also reach out to application consultants to help you frame a winning B-school application!
Don’t have work experience? Here are the MBA programs you can do without having any work experience. In fact, if you have to be eligible to apply to these programs, you shouldn’t have any work experience!
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