“What is an MBA loar?” a student asked us last week.
“Loar?” We were flabbergasted. “We have no clue!”
“Everybody seems to be talking about MBA essays and loars!”
“Loar?” We wracked our brains. Then, realization dawned. “Oh! You mean LORs?”
LOR is the acronym for Letter of Recommendation, an essential component of your MBA or Master’s application. This post will take you through everything you need to know about MBA recommendation letters themselves as well as about choosing recommenders.
Letters of Recommendation May Not Always Be Letters
Many Master’s or Ph.D. programs will ask you for 2-3 actual letters of recommendation – starting with “To Whomsoever It May Concern…”
The requirement for B-schools is slightly different.
For MBA recommendation letters, you will need to submit the names and contact details of your recommenders and the school will send them a web form. This web form will have some rating questions (for e.g. Rate the communication skills of the applicant in comparison to those of his peers: top 10%, top 25%, top 50%, bottom 25%) and some short answer questions (for e.g. What piece of constructive criticism have you offered the applicant? How did the applicant respond?)
The word limit of these short answer questions could be from 50 to 200 words.
Recommenders Need Official IDs
The recommenders you choose must have official email IDs because that serves as a verification of their identity. For eg., [email protected] shows that this person is a credible source who works at Infosys.
No personal IDs such as Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo etc. will be accepted by B-schools. For all they know, the person behind this ID could be you or your friend or relative!
If your recommender doesn’t have an official ID for whatever reason, you may have a problem.
One solution that schools suggest in these cases is to submit a hard copy of your MBA recommendation letter, sealed and signed by the recommender. To avoid delays in mailing such a hard copy, make sure you plan for these well in advance.
Family Members & Professors as Recommenders: NOPE.
The short version is – don’t do this.
Recommendations from family members and professors will never have the weight that recommendations from managers, bosses, vendors, clients, or colleagues can have.
Schools discourage recommendations from family members because they may give a biased view of you. If you work for a family business or have co-founded a company with family members, you cannot use them as your recommenders.
You will need to approach a mentor, client or vendor for this.
If you have more than 2 years of work experience (which is the minimum eligibility for most MBA programs), your recommenders must be people you have worked with. They can be from your workplace or from the company with which you volunteer or a company to which you offer freelance services.
But no going back to your professors from college!
However, if you have very little work experience (less than 2 years) and you have worked with a professor outside of class – for e.g. as a research or teaching assistant – you can approach him/her for a recommendation.
Here’s what CrackVerbal’s founder and CEO, Arun Jagannathan, has to say about choosing the right recommenders:
Do Not Write Your Own Recommendations
This may seem like a no-brainer, but we are still surprised by the number of students who tell us that their recommenders have asked them to write their own recommendations.
“I will submit whatever you send me!” your manager might say.
Should you take up this offer?
Of course not!
Apart from the (obvious) reason that writing your own recommendation is unethical, this is also a foolish decision.
For one, the admissions committee will be able to spot underlying patterns in your writing style in a jiffy – they will know that the same person has written the essays and the recommendations.
B-schools often engage external agencies to do audits or verifications of information that applicants submit. What if they call up your recommender and he/she has no clue what is written in the recommendation?
Both these possibilities can damage your chances of getting admission. So, DO NOT write your own MBA recommendation letter.
Instead, make your recommenders’ lives simpler by sharing relevant information such as your profile highlights and essays with them well in advance.
That is a succinct account of all the things you should know and the do’s of MBA recommendation letters.
Choosing Recommenders: What Not To Do!
Now, let’s talk about what not to do when it comes to choosing recommenders: how not to choose recommenders or how not to approach them.
One big problem that a lot of applicants have is, they end up choosing an inconvenient recommender.
For example, a boss.
You know you have to approach the boss, but you just develop cold feet; you feel awkward to reach out to the boss early on.
What happens then is, you keep waiting till a point where the application deadline is almost a week away and then approach the boss. Especially when the boss is busy!
Your boss is doing something, and you go accost him and thrust the application at him and say, “I’m going to send you a link, can you take out the time and look at the recommendation?”
Now what happens in this case is:
- Your boss is not comfortable recommending you.
- He hasn’t had any time to think about it so he probably doesn’t have enough data to write a meaningful MBA letter of recommendation.
- Your boss could feel a little offended that he didn’t know you were planning to do this, or he could feel he’s going to lose someone, so he may not write the best recommendation possible.
That moment when you have walked into his office in the middle of a work day is NOT a time when you have much of an option to avoid this situation. You’ll have to walk away with a measly recommendation or worse – no recommendation at all.
So here’s what you actually can do to avoid such a miserable outcome.
Identify Your Recommenders Early On
In fact, the earlier the better. You don’t even have to tell them which schools you’re applying to. The best way is not to discuss this in the office environment, maybe you can take your boss to the cafeteria or a coffee shop.
If your boss drinks, maybe you can even take them out for a drink. Tell them what you really want to do.
Talk to your boss about why you want to do an MBA, what are the things that you hope you will achieve in life from an MBA, etc. Genuinely ask for your boss’s opinion, let them give their two cents.
Get your boss committed to your plan.
Nobody is going to come and say you shouldn’t do an MBA. They will say, “This is my opinion and this is what I feel.” Take their opinion into cognizance and keep them updated.
After a couple of months, gently bring up this topic and say, “Would you like to be my recommender? You know how much it matters to me.”
By that point, hardly anyone will say no.
Most people will agree to write you a recommendation letter for MBA. And because you’ve made them a part of your journey in advance, you’ll probably get glowing recommendations, too.
When the time comes, give them at least a month’s notice. Send them the link.
One way you can prep them is to give them your application form, resume, and other things that they could possibly use in order to write the recommendation. At no point should you encourage them to ask you to write it.
We think it’s unethical to write your own recommendation letter. Plus, trust us when we say that the college will definitely figure out who wrote the recommendation.
It’s important to get MBA Letters of Recommendation planned and sorted out well in time.
If there’s one thing that cannot be rushed, it is a well-written recommendation!
You need to remember why you want to do an MBA and align your lifestyle accordingly. Everything else will fall in place if you develop the right mindset.
If you have the option to submit a video essay, go for it.
No matter which school in which country you’re applying to, submitting a video essay is a great idea. A video essay is the best way for you to present yourself to the Admission Committees before an interview can happen.
You do not want to miss out on this advantage:
Whether you’re excellent with words or someone who struggles to express their emotions in writing, a video essay goes well beyond your mastery with words.
If you are not exactly gifted when it comes to writing down your thoughts, a video essay plays to your advantage. It gives you a chance to display all the qualities and communication skills that can’t be seen through a written essay.
Even if you are great at finding the best words to say what you need to, a video essay is an added advantage. It allows the AdComs to make their own inferences about your overall personality, including what they written essays don’t show.
In this post, we will talk about:
- Types of Video Essays
- Schools Accepting Video Essays for MBA Applications
- Video Essay Guidelines
Types of Video Essays
There are two basic types of video essays. One involves recording it yourself, editing as per your preferences and sending it along with or after your written application. The other involves rehearsing your answers and using the University website to record and send them.
Let’s get into a little more detail.
1. Impromptu or Auto-Recorded Essay
This is the most common type of video essay. Almost every major B-school uses this format of video essay through independent third-party platforms. You cannot edit these essays.
There are two ways in which this works.
One is that you receive a link from the University admissions team after you submit your written application; the link leads to a platform where you receive questions and are expected to record your response immediately.
The other alternative is that your video essays are included within your application process. In this case, your application is not considered complete unless you record and upload your video responses. You can record your videos on the University application website itself.
Typically, you have 20-30 seconds to prepare before you need to start answering. The answer length is one minute.
You have to make sure you start and stop speaking within the given recording time because you don’t get to control when the recording starts or stops.
The question may be played in video format, appear on your screen or be played in audio format, but in any case, it remains visible throughout your video recording process.
In most cases, you can’t even re-attempt answers. You have one shot at answering and you have to get it right. Sure, the sound of it is intimidating, but that’s just the thing – the B-schools want to see how you perform under pressure!
A welcome relief is that most of these platforms allow you to practice a couple of times before you have to record your final essay.
Among the schools currently accepting video essays, these are the ones that require impromptu essays:
– Schulich School of Business
– Rotman School of Management
– Vanderbilt University
– Kellogg School of Management
– Ivey Business School
– Yale School of Management
All these schools, apart from Yale School of Management, have video essays as a necessary part of their application process. The typical prep time is 30 seconds and the videos are to be no longer than 60 seconds.
Yale does things a bit differently.
After finishing your written application to Yale, you will receive a link from the Admissions team. The link leads to a platform where you are expected to record and submit three video essays. You get 20 seconds to prepare and 60 seconds to record the first and third essays, but for the second essay, you’re allowed 30 seconds to prepare and 90 seconds to answer.
2. Self-Recorded Essay
Some schools give you the option to record and send in your own essay. It gives you significantly more freedom than the former type and is definitely much less stressful to complete.
However, this is not a popular option.
Its important to understand that schools are not interested in your video production skills, they’re interested in what you have to say and how you present yourself. There is no point in editing your video to include pictures and other fancy effects.
It may not be a bad idea to put in a couple of captions when you want to stress on a point you make in your video. But do not spend too much time on this as it is not really important.
There are only two popular B-schools that accept this format:
– MIT Sloan School of Management
– McCombs School of Business
The MIT Sloan MBA Applications website clearly states that they do not accept edited videos. You are expected to shoot your video in a single take and answer within 60 seconds. The advantage you have here is that you can do as many retakes as you need.
Things work differently with Texas McCombs, though – the essay itself is optional. What is expected is an introduction of yourself in writing or as a video; if you choose the latter, the time limit is one minute.
As we have said before, video essays present a fantastic opportunity for you to showcase yourself to the AdComs before the interview. If you have the opportunity to do this, do not pass it up!
If you read the blogs of any B-school that accepts video essays, you will find one common factor among them all – every single one of them is accepting videos because they want to get to know you better. It is meant for you to express yourself freely and openly.
Your MBA video essay is not meant to show off your video production skills, but how it looks does have a big impact on what the AdCom panelists think of you.
Video Essay Guidelines
Here are some video essay guidelines to help you make an impression:
1. Maintain High Audio-Visual Quality
The whole point of video essays is to let the AdCom see you and listen to you – so, they should be able to do this clearly and without hindrance.
The best way to put people off your video entirely is to have grainy visuals and noisy audio. The last thing you want is for your MBA application essay to look like a shaky selfie video from your phone or a home video captured with a low-grade camera.
However, the good news is that you don’t need to worry about having fancy equipment or a DSLR camera. The mobile phone in your pocket (or the one you are reading this article on) should be more than enough for the purpose.
Here are a few things to remember:
- Tip #1
Try to buy a cheap mobile tripod. This is important because you want a place to keep the mobile and precariously balancing it on top of a stack of books may not be convenient. Having a friend to hold the camera might make you conscious. So it is best to invest in a cheap tripod. You get a lot of options below Rs.1000.
- Tip #2
Ensure that the camera is at face level and the place where you are going to record the video is relatively silent. Also, ensure that you are seen properly in the frame – typically waist-above is perfectly okay. You don’t need to get your whole body in the video. And keep your eyes on the lens. It makes you more confident.
Remember that we are just trying to make sure your message is getting conveyed properly. The MBA program does not need the next Steven Spielberg!
- Tip #3
To get a good video, make sure that the light source is not behind you. Try an overhead light or one pointed towards you, instead. This is because you want to highlight your face and not look like you have attained nirvana (which is what you will get with the light source behind you – also called the “halo effect”.
- Tip #4
Your video will lose its entire point if you cannot be heard clearly. So, make sure you speak directly into the mic or in the direction of the camera, as the case may be. Also, ensure that the room is not noisy (in India you might underestimate traffic sound).
You need to be serious about your application and the video should reflect that very clearly.
2. Be Creative… or Not
An MBA Application video essay is no place to show off your video production skills. Honestly, all the AdComs want is to get to know you better.
You don’t need to focus excessively on providing the best light or the highest quality sound. Don’t waste your time trying to perfect your make-up and hair, you don’t need to be a diva. Your face should be clearly visible, your voice loud and clearly audible, and your appearance should match that of a confident young professional.
The entire point of video essays in MBA applications is to showcase who you are. Your personality matters to AdComs because they want to be sure you will fit into the overall batch. Display your thought process, your strengths and beliefs and just your very personality in your video essay.
If you are a creative person, let it show. If you’re not, don’t try to look otherwise.
Really, there are no rules for how you should communicate what you want to. You just need to make sure you communicate it well.
3. Keep it Crisp!
Wait – we know you don’t need to be told to keep it crisp when you have all of ONE minute to speak. That’s not what we’re saying.
There will always be a whole lot of things you will want to say in response to a question – we all do. The trick is to pick the right and most relevant things to say, especially since you only have 30 seconds to figure out what to say.
Use those 30 seconds to jot down your thoughts.
With all your ideas on paper, you will know how to structure your answer. It becomes easier to organize your thoughts when you can see them. It also helps you stick to the point.
It’s too easy to end up talking about the same thing for too long and end up with no time to mention other important things. If you ramble on or get into too much detail about any specific point, it can belittle everything else you’ve said. That is what we’re asking you to keep crisp – every point you mention should be succinct.
Typically, the prescribed time limit will be one minute. You have to be able to make all your points clearly and convincingly within that much time.
4. Keep it Simple!
You don’t need to use big words to make an impression.
Nobody expects you to speak like Barack Obama, whether your essay is self-recorded or impromptu. After all, even President Obama had an entire team of professional speech writers behind him – we’re not sure even we know what he would sound like by himself!
The point is, AdComs expect you to sound like no one but yourself. If you don’t usually use big, uncommon words, don’t try to throw some in only to sound smarter. It shows when you’re saying words you don’t normally use by the way they roll off your tongue.
It’s better to sound less “smart” and use your usual vocabulary than to use fancy words and sound fake.
The AdComs will be impressed by how well you communicate the ideas you have in your mind. Make sure you’re good on that front and you don’t need to worry about the other aspects of your video essay.
5. Practice Before Recording
An almost obvious but super-important tip is to practice saying your answers out loud before you start recording.
If you can, do a couple of dry-runs; record yourself and watch the video.
This gives you a good idea about how long you’ll need to finish and whether that fits within the required time limit. It’ll also give you a good idea of how you appear and whether you need to change anything.
If you’re a camera-shy kind of person, these practice sessions will help ease your discomfort, too.
We know that the prospect of appearing on video may be exciting for some of you and daunting for others. It’s bound to be – after all, it is similar to appearing for an interview. In fact, it might be scarier because you don’t get any clues from the viewers’ facial expressions.
Look on the bright side, though!
It’s only one minute long – you can’t really go too wrong in such a short time!
On a parting note, a quick word of advice: don’t leave video essays for the last minute. Research has shown that video essays are turning out to be the biggest factors influencing AdCom’s decisions regarding candidates.
If you’re overwhelmed with your MBA Application work, feel free to reach out to us.
Are you a Late Latif who’s been planning an MBA since the beginning of time, but have got around to booking a date in late November 2013? 🙂
Or are you a GMAT re-taker looking to improve your score?
The question that’s foremost in your mind right now would be –
can I make it to Round 2 deadlines? Will I have enough time to prepare my application?
This is a very subjective question, and frankly, there’s no good objective answer!
How long it takes you to write your essays depends on how much thought and research you have already put in – if you have already introspected long and hard about your post-MBA goals, and researched your target school/program well, you would have answers to the standard questions B-schools ask:
1. Your goals
2. Why an MBA?
3. Why this particular school/program?
4. Why you?
CrackVerbal’s MBA application clients typically take anywhere between 4 and 6 weeks to complete their application from start to finish. i.e. from the initial brainstorming to define their essay strategy to multiple rounds of revision of the essays. This is adequate time to write your essays, provided you have the answers in your mind.
Contrary to popular belief, preparing for the GMAT and for your MBA application are not necessarily sequential processes. 🙂
As you prepare for the GMAT, simultaneously spend time doing your research on B-schools and introspection on your own profile and goals. You can even start drafting some of your essays.
Here’s a step-by-step approach to drafting your application essays:
1. Begin with a story outline for every essay
2. Expand this outline by writing everything you want, without worrying about the word limits.
3. Keep this aside for a couple of days and come back to it. On reading what you’ve written, you will find that you can trim out many of the details you’ve put in, and include other points.
4. Keep repeating steps #2 and #3 till your essays are more or less in place.
5. Show the essays around – to friends, colleagues, family or experts. Each will have a different perspective.
Some tips to get your essays reviewed:
Don’t show your essays to too many people because too many inputs will just confuse you.
When you pick reviewers, make sure that you pick a good mix of people who know you at work, outside of work, and who do not know you at all. I would say, 3-4 reviewers is a good number to go with – not more than this.
Do remember that you do not need to incorporate all the feedback you get – the final decision is yours. So, rather than take feedback verbatim, think of the underlying problem the reviewer is pointing out, and try to address that.
For instance, if someone asks you to include a specific incident in your essays, before going ahead and writing about it, ask yourself why this incident is significant. Does it bring out a certain quality or trait of yours that will add value to your application? Then perhaps there is a better way to bring this out, other than by citing the suggested incident.
Below is the link for some free resources that will help you in your MBA application process.
View E-Book library!
“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so i wrote a long one instead” – Mark Twain
The man is, quite possibly, the most articulate person in history. But, judging by the current B-School trend of reducing the number of words applicants can use to tell their story, he would have sweated as much as the next person, unless that person were Saeed Ajmal. (Non-fans of cricket, please check out Ajmal’s notorious murder of English in these interviews).
Less is more
Last year, Columbia Business School allowed applicants 200 characters to respond to its short answer question and a total of 1,250 words for its three essays. This year, CBS candidates have a mere 100 characters for the short-answer question and 1,000 words for the three essays. This certainly makes the application writing tougher. However, there are certain exceptions. Look at Harvard’s essay question for this year:
You’re applying to Harvard Business School. We can see your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you.
What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy? There is no word limit for this question. We think you know what guidance we’re going to give here. Don’t overthink, overcraft and overwrite. Just answer the question in clear language that those of us who don’t know your world can understand.
Although no word limits are prescribed, the AdCom is urging candidates to keep it brief and to-the-point.
What this means:
You may not have the luxury of eloquence and will need to distill the crux of your message to meet narrow word limits.
An open mind
Another important trend is that MBA application essays are moving away from the conventional “Tell us about your accomplishments in 300 words” to a more open structure where the response doesn’t need to stick to a particular format. Quoting from Harvard, again:
You’re applying to Harvard Business School. We can see your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you.What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?
Whoa. However, the good news is that no matter how B-schools phrase their question, it is likely to fall into one of these categories:
What this means:
You now have the opportunity to go beyond expected boundaries and write compelling essays that differentiate you.
B-schools are also facing the innovation challenge – breaking away from conventional norms, but retaining their mojo at the same time. With honest self-introspection and persuasive storytelling, you can convince the good folks at the admissions office how you are the right choice for them.
Read how our student, Raviraj Jain, gained admission into Harvard Business School.
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You are now just a week away from your MBA application deadline. As you pore over your essays for the umpteenth time, your eyes glazed over, your hair standing on end… you are worried. You have spent months writing and rewriting your MBA essays – they seem pretty good to you.
But are they good enough for the admissions committee?
Or, you may feel vaguely that ‘something’s missing’, but you are unable to put a finger on just what is wrong.
What do you do now?
Should you go ahead and hit ‘Submit’?
Wait! Here are 5 things to check for before you submit your MBA application. If your essays tick all these boxes, well done! If not, you know what to do.
1. Well-begun is half done:
Does your essay have a striking opening? Does the first paragraph hook a reader and make him want to read on? If not, you are in trouble. Remember that your application is going to be read by people who have to wade through hundreds of applications each admission season – so you don’t want to put them to sleep.
Avoid a mundane opening (for example, the question says “I am most proud of…” and your essay starts off this way: “I am most proud of the fact that I come from…”). Instead, use a relevant quote or a humorous quip or an anecdote or illustrative example to start your essay. This will tickle a reader’s curiosity or make him/her smile and want to read ahead.
2. Drama, drama, drama!
Who doesn’t like a bit of drama in life? 🙂
By ‘drama’, I don’t mean theatrics and histrionics. After all, this is not your personal blog entry but your MBA application. However, a strong and memorable MBA essay must have the right mix of emotion, action & character. The application essay is the tool that the admissions committee uses to understand you and get a glimpse of your personality before actually meeting you (or deciding they want to meet you.)
So, don’t shy away from doing this – be brave enough to expose your vulnerability, your conflict & struggles, and your mistakes in your essays. Don’t paint an overly ‘golden’ picture of yourself – if you have made no mistakes and no weaknesses, then what’s your story? 🙂
3. Replace X with Y:
A question that you inevitably see on your MBA application is “Why do you want to join B-school X?” Your answer to this question must be specific, insightful and a testament to the research you have done on the school.
A common mistake I have seen applicants make over and over again is writing a generic response to this question. For example:
The small class size at SBS, coupled with the incredible diversity of student profiles attracts me very much. In this environment, I can interact with students from a variety of backgrounds and learn from them, in addition to from the classes and professors.
What’s the problem with these lines? They are supposedly about Said Business School, Oxford University – but you could replace SBS with Judge School at Cambridge or HEC Paris or IE Spain – and these lines would read the same!
In a nutshell, you are not being specific enough about your interest in the particular school or program.
Do this X/Y replacement test for all your “Why B-school X?” questions before you submit your application – it’s a simple and easy way to know whether your answers are too generic.
4. Razor-sharp clarity of goals
“I envisage a career in the field of marketing because my key qualities: creativity, research aptitude & communication, can be best put to use in this field.”
See anything wrong with this goal statement? You should!
No school wants to admit someone who is not employable or whom they cannot help achieve his/her goal because the goal itself is unrealistic. Most admission committees will have one or members from the school’s career services team.
When a school asks you what your goals are, they pretty much want to know 3 things:
(i) Are you someone who has a clear vision in your mind?
(ii) What sort of roles/companies will you try to approach during/after your MBA?
(iii) Are you equipped to achieve these roles in any way?
You need to answer these 3 questions in your Goals essay. Try to be as specific as possible – state the industry, role and even your dream companies. (Of course, make sure these companies actually recruit alumni of the school you are applying to!) Spell out why this role or company interests you. If you have some knowledge or experience or skills from your pre-MBA days that will help you do well in this role, describe them.
In this way, you signal to the admissions committee that you are someone who has clarity and a plan of action.
5. Be a giver, not just a taker
While almost all schools will ask you what you want from the program, very few ask you explicitly how you will give back. (London Business School is an example of a school that does ask you this.) However, this question is definitely on the mind of every admissions committee – every school wants to know what you can do for them.
So, even if this question is not explicitly asked, try to answer it. Explain why you are a good fit for the program – do your values and those of the school match? How will you enrich your classmates’ experience during your time at the school? What will you do for the bigger community? Is there anything you want to do as an alumnus?
A lot of people who answer this question make the mistake of stating the obvious. For example, “I will share my knowledge of technology” or “I will be a great team player”. The thing is, all such points are hygiene factors – they are expected of you. Think beyond the obvious – what more can you do?
Do all of your essays need to have all of these factors? Perhaps not. For instance, a straightforward essay question that gives you just 150 words is probably not a great place for you to build up drama. Perhaps you are better off with just answering the questions.
So, use your noodle when you evaluate your essays based on this checklist. And at any point, if you feel you would benefit from expert opinion, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Click the button below and we will get back to you!
All the best with those applications! 🙂
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Here is an alarming statistic – there are several MBA aspirants who look forward to a great MBA program but are clueless about their post-MBA goals! These candidates do not reflect and research adequately on how an MBA will change their lives and advance their career – most often, they want to earn an MBA because it seems to be the current trend!
Every B-school, through essays, recommendations and interviews, is trying to evaluate whether you are clear about your goals in life. An unfocused candidate will find it very difficult to convince an AdCom that he/she is serious about doing an MBA. Thus, ‘Clarity of Goals’ is probably the most important trait that B-schools are looking for.
Do you have good clarity about your post-MBA goals?
I want to get into Marketing OR I want to get into Consulting are not acceptable answers!
Answering the following 6 questions will help you sketch out your post MBA goals!
1. Broadly speaking, what do you want to do in your life?
First things first: if you are considering an MBA, you need to think over what is your long term goal. What is the one thing you wish to do in your life in terms of your career? Think in terms of details and specifics!
For instance, your long term goal could be to become the Country Head of an investment bank or the CEO of a reputed IT company.
Unless and until you figure out your long term goals, you will not be able to optimize the time and effort you spend on applications effectively. All successful people lay down specific goals and create a plan for achieving them. AdComs expect the same from you!
2. What are your short term goals?
Once you decide what career you want to pursue, it’s time to divide it into smaller modules. i.e. your short term goals that will ultimately help you to achieve your long term goal. In fact, you cannot devise your short term goals unless you are very clear about your long term goals.
Essays like ’Where do you see yourself after 5 years?’ or ‘What are you most passionate about in your life?’ try to understand your immediate goals in life and why you are considering an MBA.
3. Where am I now and where do I want to reach?
Let’s say your goals are now well in place! The next step is to realize where you are at present and how far you are from your destination. Identifying this gap will actually help you to figure out how an MBA can bridge it in the least amount of time. B-schools expect you to create ‘SMART’ goals which are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and also timed. It is therefore, essential that you know how far you are from your goals and what the delta is.
4. How will I get there?
It is not enough that you understand the gap between your goals and your current status – you also need to convince yourself and the AdComs – ‘Why should I do an MBA, what should I do after MBA or how an MBA will help me achieve my goals. For instance, if you aspire to become a successful IT entrepreneur, you may need some years of experience as a product manager, and for that you plan to do an MBA.
However, one word of caution-don’t go overboard! It is a bad idea to make AdComs feel that you are a disaster without an MBA! You just need to clarify that you have all the potential to reach your goals, though an MBA will enhance your skills and knowledge and accelerate the pace of fulfilling your aspirations. An MBA degree is, at the end of the day, a means and not the destination itself!
5. Why only this B-school? What is so special about this school?
Practically every B-school essay will ask you why you are applying to that particular school. But generic answers do not impress Admissions Committee at all! For instance, if you are applying to Harvard, an answer such as “Harvard has a world-renowned management programme with world-class faculty…” will not work out at all.
Instead, you need to be very sure and specific about how the MBA program at Harvard will help you out to advance your career in the right direction. It could be the curriculum, pedagogy, networking opportunities, students’ activities, the faculty or anything very specific about Harvard you think will give an advantage in your career progression.
6. Why is this the right time for you to do an MBA?
Why didn’t you consider doing an MBA last year? Why are you not applying next year? What’s so special about this year that you are applying for MBA? These are questions that often stump candidates. However, there could be several answers for this question.
It could be that you now have the right amount of work experience or that right now, you meet the age requirements or that you do not have any family responsibilities at present or that you have planned your career in such a way that doing an MBA at present will reap you great benefits in future. Whatever your reason is, it should be compelling enough to convince AdComs!
If you can find the right answers to all these questions, half your battle is WON! Moreover, these are the MBA interview questions through which AdComs try to judge whether you are clear about your goals.
Remember, AdComs always prefer specific, focused answers to a generic, ambiguous ones!
If you know where you stand with regard to all 6 of the traits we have been discussing in this series, then you are through with all the self-analysis and introspection that is required before you actually apply to B-schools.
Here is the 5th trait top MBA programs look for, in case you missed out!
Give yourself a pat on your back, treat yourself with whatever makes you happy and get ready for the next step in your MBA journey by downloading an E-book on How to get into your dream B-School!
While it’s true that great essays are key elements for a successful application, there is still one degree of separation between your essays and your admit – the interview process! Have you ever pondered the need of personal interviews for MBA, especially when AdComs already have your academic transcripts, GMAT score, and your essays where you have already poured out the best of yourself?
The simple reason is that essays are just written words that do not give a complete picture about you.
Your personality, emotional quotient, presence of mind, the way you carry yourself and even your likeability are factors best assessed in person.
Such is the importance of this trait that the top B-schools in India and abroad have created new and smarter ways to understand your personality!
1. ISB Video Essay:
Apart from its usual 3 written essays, this year ISB has introduced a video essay also wherein the applicants get 90 seconds to talk on the topic, “Life to me is…”
If you think that ISB’s AdCom is keenly interested in listening to your views on life, you are partly mistaken.
The primary purpose of ISB video essay is not to understand what life means to you, but to catch a glimpse of you and hear you talk, even before you get called for an interview! This also means that the ISB AdCom can now eliminate applicants with a ‘spark’-less personality or poor communication skills in the initial stage of the process itself. Your articulation, expressiveness and voice modulation all say a lot about you.
Essentially, AdComs are eager to know whether you are a great communicator with a pleasing body language and have a clear vision about your life ahead. as all these traits are imperative to excel in the business world!
2. Harvard Business School Essays
Harvard Business School (HBS) has also revamped its entire application process, by reducing 4 compulsory essays of 400 to 600 words each to just 2 essays of 400 words each. Secondly, HBS has introduced a post-interview essay of 400 words for those who have been selected for the interview.
The interviewees will be granted just 24 hours to submit their “last word” to Harvard. On one hand this change in the application process has made things more challenging for the applicants, but has also opened new avenue to showcase their personality through a post-interview essay.
3. Wharton Business School’s Team-based Discussion:
Moving away from conventional assessment methods, Wharton Business School is launching a novel evaluation model this year –
The team-based discussion. Wharton will invite some of the most competent applicants to take part in group discussions (of about 6 participants each) on identifying a solution to a real-world business problem. The conversation will be attended and appraised by trained facilitators from Wharton’s admissions office. This offers their AdCom an excellent way to assess not only the personality but also the business acumen of the candidates.
With the same pattern of admissions year after year, applicants have become used to the standard admissions procedure of essays, recommendations and the personal interview for MBA and very often, prepare well in advance. It’s high time B-schools introduced something new that applicants are not so familiar with and this will help to conduct a fair judgment.
Did you go through the 4th trait top MBA programs look for?
Clarity of Goals…to woo the AdComs – coming up next!
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Imagine a classroom of over 500 students, all from South Asia with similarly strong academic backgrounds and who have worked with some IT services firm or the other!
How does this sound? Boring?
It is not just boring but also a sad state of affairs if B-schools start producing carbon copies of IT managers. This is why they look for classroom diversity!
There are many ways in which B-schools endeavor to make their classroom diverse:
Diversity in terms of:
An ideal B-school classroom never consists only of MBA aspirants belonging to a particular region, country or even continent. There will be an assortment of students across the world, where every student brings in his/her unique experiences and values and makes the learning more dynamic. A classroom where a Chinese student shares his/her life’s journey with an American is much more productive than a classroom where professionals belonging to a similar demography network with each other.
If you analyze the class profiles of top B-schools, you’ll find that they all reflect statistics such as this:
B-Schools across the world receive numerous applications each year with diverse profiles. Unlike in India, where IT employees form the majority in the professional world, B-schools give equal weight to other professions too! Again, if you glance through the class profiles of top B-schools, you will find:
Sadly, in India, the scenario is not as good. Do you know who are the most disadvantaged group of MBA aspirants?
The IIMs – Indian IT Males!
This group typically consists of males with an IT background and about 4 years of experience at Infosys, TCS or a similar company. The number of Indian IT male professionals applying in top B-schools is also humongous!
But if you happen to belong to this category, is there any way you can differentiate yourself from the crowd?
Yes, apart from your academic potential, there are a couple of ways in which you can display your unique traits to the AdComs. For instance, if you have lived in different parts of India, you can always showcase your qualities of adaptability and cultural sensitivity that you have developed with time. If you have studied in a hostel for most of your student life, you can explain how this has made you a more mature and independent person.
Irrespective of qualifications and work experiences, every applicant has something distinctive to add to the classroom. The key is to identify this pearl in your closet!
As B-schools understand the significance of diversity in their classrooms, it is not uncommon to see an increasing number of female aspirants getting admission to top B-schools. In fact, a look at the class profiles of top B-schools indicates clearly how well B-schools sketch out their classroom diversity and have a well-balanced male-female ratio.
So, sit back and start reflecting on what your USP is!
Go on! Read our post on why B-schools look for Leadership qualities!
Next in this series: The 5th trait top B-schools look for in MBA aspirants.
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The third vital trait that AdComs look for is Leadership in MBA aspirants. At some schools, this trait is given even more importance than Academic Potential.
Who is a Leader?
I bet if there are 20 people answering this question, we will receive 20 different answers. This is because every person has a different perspective of a leader!
According to The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, there are two circles in life:
1. Circle of Concern
2. Circle of Influence
Circle of Concern covers a broad gamut of concerns that each one of us has in life, such as our professional and personal problems, health issues, concern about kids, managing finances and so on.
On the other hand, Circle of Influence covers those kinds of concerns that are under our control to some extent and about which, we may actually do something.
Can I make a difference to my neighborhood in any significant way?
Can I take up more responsibilities at work to get the project delivered on time?
What Admissions Committees are searching for?
Remember, Adcoms are constantly looking for proactive people; such people focus on issues within their circle of influence and try to do something about them, thus increasing their circle of influence eventually. Conversely, reactive people are those who are likely to ignore those issues that come under their circle of influence and it eventually decreases.
Who is a leader?
Now, it will be a little easier to answer this question! 🙂
“A leader is someone who wants to expand his Circle of Influence!”
You may not be a born leader, but leadership is a trait that can also be developed over a period of time. How?
Avoid… Wishful thinking!
If I’d had a better education, I would have…
If I have a better employer, I would…
Inculcate… Proactive action!
I can be a better manager by…
I can be more attentive to…
Your essays, recommendations, interview should all reflect that you have the leadership quality to influence others around you and make a difference to the work place and the society you live in.
Your MBA application will carry more credibility if:
You have been a part of the solution instead of part of the problem in your professional and personal front.
You have contributed substantially to the company you worked with as well as the community you live in.
You have the ability to take initiative, organize events and eventually manage projects efficiently.
You can take timely and calculated decisions and take ownership of the same.
You have the ability to communicate effectively, convince people around you and get things done smoothly.
You can keep yourself motivated and inspire others too to achieve professional and personal goals.
For instance, if you are the one who does your day’s job, comes back home, have dinner, watch crime reports on T.V and goes to sleep… you are not a leader because your circle of influence is tiny!
You will be a leader if you contribute to the society surrounding you in some tangible way. Remember, leadership is the most vital quality that can distinguish you from other applicants. You need not necessarily be an entrepreneur or a part of an NGO. Even if you are pursuing any constructive hobby consistently, that can display your leadership qualities, it is sufficient.
For example, if playing football is your hobby, how have you contributed to promote this sport within your sphere? This can speak a lot about your leadership traits.
In essence, what AdComs want to know is whether managers like you can be transformed into great leaders of tomorrow. Thus, ‘Leadership’ is one of the important requirements for MBA admission.
Click here to read about the 2nd trait B-schools are looking for!
There is still more to your MBA application! Look out for 4th trait…
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In our first blog in this series, we threw light on how academic potential is the core indicator of one’s ability to succeed in an MBA program from a top B-school. Now, let’s probe into the next one…work experience for MBA.
The second quality that helps B-schools assess the caliber of an applicant is work experience!
Though some B-schools do accept applicants who have just finished with their undergraduation, many of these actually prefer a minimum work experience for MBA, usually ranging from 2-10 years (depending upon the curriculum the schools offer). Work experience is important as this gives the AdComs a criterion to evaluate your competence in the workplace in terms of leadership qualities, managerial abilities, communication, etc.
B-Schools are keen to have a diverse group of professionals in their classrooms who can add value to classroom discussions, projects and other group activities. In fact, B-schools are very open to applicants from all industries and do not favor those belonging to any particular industry.
3 Aspects Admissions Committees Look For In Work Experience
Think about the amount of time a B-school has in hand to judge your application… just 1 or at the most 2 hours to know who you are and what your potential is. In such a situation, your work experience comes to their rescue. AdComs turn to your work experience to quickly know what you have been doing over a period of time and what domain expertise you bring to the table.
1. Pedigree of the company you worked with:
Are you working with Google or Microsoft? If yes, great! If not, no problem. This is because Admissions committees do understand that not everyone gets into a Google or a Microsoft. Yes, though it’s true that a big brand does leverage your chances of getting into your dream B-school, the good news is that even if you are working for a start-up, your application will not be rejected solely on this basis.
However, if you are working for a small brand, you should be able to quantify your performance, roles and responsibilities and precisely what value addition you brought to your employer.
2. How well did you perform at work?
There is something even more important than the brand name of the company you work with and the number of years of experience you have. AdComs focus more on your work performance and value addition you made to the company. Now, is there any standard or norm to appraise this? Your performance is directly related to the number of promotions you got.
If you are able to show a couple of jumps, this adds a lot of weight to your application. AdComs will try to gauge your work performance through these parameters:
Were you able to explore your professional opportunities to the fullest?
Do you believe in teamwork and work ethics?
Did you perform satisfactorily or exceed your employers’ expectations?
Thus, it is extremely important that your application and your admission essays should display your ability to perform well.
3. Roles and Responsibilities:
You may be a great software engineer, doing a great job assigned to you.
Was your job restricted only to IT coding?
Or were you also involved in the cross-functional and cross-cultural roles?
Did you work in other functions also such as pre-sales, functional consultancy etc?
Have you worked, studied or traveled abroad?
Even if you have not worked abroad, have you undertaken any such project where you had to deal with foreign parties?
Are you a person who can appreciate and work with people from other cultures?
Remember, this holds true for professionals belonging to other industries also, not just IT. It is very crucial that you provide precise quantifiable information that will demonstrate your initiative to take more challenges and responsibilities and show your excellence in these.
If you missed out the 1st trait, here’s the link!
Coming up next…The 3rd trait that top B-schools look for in an applicant!
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First things first… Introspection!!!
Before we even begin the actual discussion about the essential factors that B-schools look for in their applicants, let us ask ourselves a very fundamental question:
What is my ultimate goal in life?
What am I passionate about?
And the million dollar question – Why MBA?
Is the answer really worth a million dollars? Of course! The fact that MBA aspirants will be spending a considerable amount of money, time and effort (more than anticipated) for a 1 or 2 year program, makes the answer priceless. Plus, the returns that MBA aspirants hope for after graduating from a reputed B-school is a huge leap from what they will be getting sans MBA!
Though there are ‘n’ number of other fields that provide job satisfaction in terms of job profile and pay packet, MBA still rules the professional world!
Here’s a link which gives you a very thoughtful insight into why there is a mad rush behind the ‘Master of Business Administration’ degree!
Coming to the key MBA admission requirements…in this write-up I highlight the first of the 6 attributes that top Business Schools look for in MBA aspirants:
Whether you like it or not, the hard fact is that academic potential is the first aspect that admissions committees assess in an applicant, and with good reason! The MBA curriculum is very rigorous and taxing and this makes it extremely crucial for the admissions committee to judge whether you can survive in that environment. Your academic potential is directly related to your competence to thrive in a business school.
Three major indicators of your Academic Potential are:
Professional Certifications e.g. PMP Certification
1. GPA (Grade Point Average):
You must have often read or heard…”What is the minimum GPA required to get an admit into a particular B-school?” GPA is a very common tool used by B-schools to assess your academic profile. A decent GPA to enter a top B-school is about 3.5. Apart from your GPA, B-Schools leave no stone unturned to scan your transcripts thoroughly to evaluate how well you’ve performed in various subjects over the years.
Similarly, exclusivity of your undergraduate school also speaks a lot about your academic caliber. Unsympathetically but practically, if you are not an IITian or an NITian, it becomes really hard for you to prove your academic potential to an international admissions committee. The other side of the coin is that if you are coming from a less-recognized school, but ranked among toppers, you still hold some chance of being picked up!
Remember, a mediocre school along with low grades is the recipe for a disastrous application. Conversely, a high GPA along with a well-recognized school makes a strong MBA application. Though the minimum GPA required may vary from school to school, usually 3.5 is considered as a decent number.
For instance, a student from IIT-Bombay with a GPA of 3.5 doesn’t need to prove his credentials to the admissions committee. It becomes implicit that he has the academic potential to sail through the MBA curriculum.
2. GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test):
No introduction is required for this either! The fact that the number of people taking GMAT is increasing at an accelerating pace, just proves how crucial the GMAT score is. This 3-digit score can make or break your chances of getting into your dream B-school.
This standardized test is a very good pointer of how well an applicant is expected to perform in his/her MBA program. A high GMAT score indicates your potential in analytical writing skills, math skills and the English language.
Though many B-schools do not explicitly specify the minimum GMAT score, a glance at the average GMAT scores of top business schools clearly indicate that the comfortable score required to get into a top B-school is a minimum of 700. 20-30 points less or more than the average GMAT score of your target school will work for you.
For instance, if the average GMAT score of a B-school is 680, even a 660 stands a fair chance. If you apply to a school where the average is 650, and you have scored 680, you have a huge advantage. So, instead of searching for the minimum GMAT score, look for the average GMAT scores of the B-schools.
Secondly, GMAT is the most important factor to decide your scholarship. The thumb rule is – the higher your GMAT score, the higher your chance of getting a winning scholarship from your dream B-school! This will definitely reduce your financial burden to a great extent. So, your GMAT score, along with other aspects of your application, forms a significant basis to assess your abilities.
A good tip is to take your GMAT while you are still doing your undergraduate studies or immediately after you graduate. This is because at this time, as you are already studying, math rules and English grammar are still fresh in your mind. Secondly, you will have more preparation time on your hands as compared to when you start working!
3. Professional Certifications:
Ok, you have a high GPA and GMAT score in your kitty! However, don’t be under the misconception that you are the only one with an impressive academic profile. There will be several other applicants giving you tough competition!
So is there anything else that differentiates you or gives you an edge over others? Yes – if you have earned a globally recognized professional certification, this will surely give you some brownie points and fulfill the MBA admission requirements, atleast academically!
For instance, a PMP certification that is…(Project Management Professional) certification is a globally recognized certification for project managers. Unlike what many people think, it is a real tough certification to earn. PMP certification enhances skills, experience and knowledge to lead and manage projects. Thus, project managers can always strengthen their MBA applications by earning such a certification as this will easily convince AdComs regarding their marketability and ability to lead projects effectively.
Next in line is the 2nd trait B-schools look for.
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Giving GMAT and acing it, is just the first step on the long road towards the admission to a b-school. There is no guarantee that a great GMAT score (upwards of 750) will get you the final admit to a top b-school.
As the b-school themselves say, GMAT scores play a vital role in the selection of a candidate but are not so vital that a great score guarantees an admit by itself.
B-schools abroad only take students who they think will bring a lot to the class in terms of skill, experience and quality. 85 percent of the learning in an MBA program abroad is from your colleagues rather than from the professors.
Keeping this in mind, the schools want you to present an accurate portrait of yourself, helping them gauge who you are and what you will bring to the table.
It is for this reason; they have what they call, The Admission Essays.
Admission essays are the first round of the admission process, after you have taken the GMAT. Typically leading b-schools will ask you 3-5 questions on an assortment of questions that aim to bring out your real self. Questions may test you on different aspects of your personality and bring out your creativity and originality.
Here we give you some sample questions asked by b-schools in their essays and what they are looking for in an applicant based on their questions.
The quintessential Why MBA question
Almost all the b-schools want to know this. The questions may be direct or may acquire different avatars, but seeking the same truth, “WHY MBA”
Here are the different avatars of the question asked by different b-schools
1. Why MBA from X b-school?
2. What are your career aspirations? What do you need to learn at Stanford to achieve them? (Stanford)
3. (a) What choices have you made that led you to your current position?
(b) Why pursue an MBA at this point in your life?
(c) What is your career goal upon graduation from NYU Stern? What is your long-term career goal? (NYU Stern)
4. Describe your career goals. How will the Ross MBA help you to achieve your goals? (Ross Michigan)
5. Describe your vision for your career and your inspiration for pursuing this career path (Duke Fuqua)
6. What are your professional goals immediately after you receive your MBA? What are your long-term career aspirations? Why are you choosing to pursue an MBA and why now? (Yale)
7. Please give us a full description of your career since graduating from university. If you were to remain with your present employer, what would be your next step in terms of position? (INSEAD)
8. What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you? (Harvard Business School)
This is the most important and the most frequently asked question by almost all b-schools. And it is this question that they want to separate wheat from the chaff.
B-schools, ask this question to understand your past and what made you to take this decision of pursuing an MBA. They want to weed out people who do an MBA, without knowing what to do with it. And believe us they know a serious candidate when they see an answer to this question,
This is the question that will allow you to show your personality and your thought process. This is the place where you display your lucidity and clarity of thought. Here is where you show the pains that you have taken and your hunger for the MBA.
You can show what homework you have done about the course, the b-school and your career in general. Don’t let this question be a tribute to yourself, but a eulogy about the school and how it will help you achieve your short term and long term goals.
Remember some basic facts while answering questions
Do not portray your aspiration to a Steve Jobs by day and Mother Teresa by night. Remember an MBA is not something that will guarantee future success and it depends on individual talents as much as the education.
The career aspirations must be high, but no so high that they sound ludicrous. You have to draw the line between realism and incredible, and stop at realism. (Also remember Steve Jobs never thought he will be what he is today. And in all probability he would not have written an essay as he is not an MBA).
Align your future goals to your current career:
Remember MBA abroad is an enhancement degree and not a degree in itself. So it makes better sense for you to align your future goals to your present career.
So it will make sense for you tell, ‘Right now I am a senior software engineer where I have noticed all these flaws in delivery. I want to do an MBA, get into a management role and correct it.”
This will give you a better chance than telling, “I am a PL/SQL expert and after doing my MBA, I want to be a marketing guru and sell soap.” In the latter, the admission committee reaction in all probability will be “Are you smoking bro?”
Do not save anything for the swim back:
This is a line from the movie ‘Gattacca’. Here the main protagonist and his brother play a game called ‘Chicken’ where they swim out to the sea and the first one who gives up and swims for the shore is the loser.
The brother always wins, because of his better stamina. However at a critical juncture in the movie, the protagonist challenges his brother and wins the contest. When asked how he did it, he simply says, “I never saved anything for the swim back.”
This might be the story of your MBA application essay. If you say, I want to start a mobile application company and with an MBA, I will also have a fall-back option, they will think that you are not confident of yourself. And they don’t like people who save something for the swim back.
What you should not do?
Do not feel sorry for yourself, If you think you have not done extraordinary things. No b-school expects you to be a Bill Gates when you apply there and quite frankly no one is. Remember, even the World’s youngest ‘Billionaire’ Mark Zuckerberg (Founder of Facebook) stole his idea.
So be proud of yourself and don’t lie to get that edge. And also know if you are honest you don’t have to remember anything.
Make it all about yourself:
If you fail to talk about the specifics of the program and the course and how that will help you, the schools on their part will consider you to be another self-obsessed narcissist who has applied for reasons other than genuine.
Set your mark at such a low level that you do not need an MBA:
If you state that, at the end of my MBA, all you want to be is the Manager of your project, which quite frankly does not need an MBA, you will get the dreaded ‘dunk’ mail. Set your goals sufficiently high but not as high as they deem it to be incredible.
If you’d like to share what works for you and what doesn’t, please leave a comment in the comment section below.
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