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Thumbs up B-school directors tell how to get noticed - October 22nd, 2007

Who would have thought that the essay would come to haunt you beyond the boundaries of school? Yup, it will, if you are planning to apply for a foreign MBA that is. The essay by all accounts has become the killer in the application process.

That is where your personality and passion come through, where you can demonstrate fit and very often it’s the first opportunity for an admissions officer to hear your voice, even though it’s through reading . Should you hire a consultant for the job? While the jury is still out on that one, for those of you looking at an MBA abroad, scoring the right application isn’t easy.

While there are a numbers of things - acads, GMAT score, letter of recommendation, extracurriculars , and yes that formidable essay - that are looked at, when assessing applicants, the story boils down to how well you ultimately hinge them. “There is no ‘one stand-out factor’ that we look for. Our evaluation is holistic.

Impressive accomplishments in one area may balance weaknesses in the other,” says Dawna Clarke, director, MBA admissions, Dartmouth Tuck School of Business. Explains IV Ranga Rao, director, admissions , ISB, Hyderabad, “If an applicant has a strong and unique ‘work experience’ , we may consider a G-MAT score which is slightly less than what is expected.”

While it’s true that many candidates want an MBA to switch to a new career, many aren’t sure what the new career will be. But you still need to write that essay that reveals your plans. Says Dr Janet Shaner, director, MBA marketing, at IMD, Switzerland: ”The applicant has to tell us a good ‘story’ about why he should be accepted into our program, what he has done prior to IMD and what he could contribute to the class, what he would like to do in his career, and why IMD is a good fit.”

Applicants usually fall into the trap of thinking they should write what committees want to hear. “That’s not right. The MBA application process is very introspective, making candidates think about themselves. And the candidates who stand out know themselves well. They are aware of their strengths, their weaknesses. To stand out, be self-aware ,” says Rosemaria Martinelli, associate dean, student recruitment & admissions of Chicago Graduate School of Business.

“Consequently, knowing how you, as an individual , can add value to the class and vice-versa ,” she adds. Which is why colleges welcome students of varied backgrounds. “At INSEAD, ‘diversity’ is one of our key differentiating factors. We look for individuals who add diversity to the class. The largest nationality only represents 10% of the class,” says Antonio Fatas, dean, MBA program.

While ‘work experience’ tops the list of requirements at some B-schools , few of them have dropped this minimum requirement. “At IMD we require a minimum of three years of experience and most participants have between four-10 years of experience. The maturity of our class is one reason why participants select IMD,” says Shaner. “While work experience is important, many candidates are ready to pursue MBA with as little as one year of experience (and in some cases, directly from college). What is important is that a candidate can answer why, now,” adds Martinelli.

Conversely, some colleges are dropping the minimum slab for work experience. Says Clarke: “We have no minimum requirement. But when evaluating experience, we look at the extent to which an applicant has progressed in his/her career , opportunities to manage people, projects, budgets and leadership potential.“

Many B-schools want to see that you’ve made an impact, whether that’s in your career, through extracurricular activities or in your personal life. Demonstrating leadership gives the admissions committee a vision of your potential. Says, Thomas R Caleel, director, MBA admissions and financial aid at Wharton School: “For those with no work experience, any demonstration of leadership , even at the undergraduate level, will be noted in your application.”

Though not exactly at polar opposite, Harvard values experience. Says Deirdre Leopold, MD, MBA admissions and financial aid, HBS: “Some work experience is important, because HBS prides itself on being close to the actual practice of business. But the amount of experience can vary. There is no hard and fast rule.

We urge students to apply when they feel they are ready. The key is quality of experience. We have just announced a special program ‘HBS 2+2’, whereby we’ll offer deferred admission to students at the beginning of their senior year in college, give them career advice and job leads so that they can then work for two years before they actually matriculate here.”

One of the best resources in evaluating a candidate’s work experience is the letter of recommendation. In an article recently, Brandon Royal, author of A Perfect MBA Application: 100 Sure-Fire Tips to Get You into the Business School of Your Choice: writes, a good recommendation is one that provides specific examples: “There are five things that are generally present in an outstanding letter of recommendation. One, the recommender mentions in what context he or she knows the applicant. Two, what the applicant accomplished on the job or in school. Three, how the candidate ranks in comparison with others. Four, what he or she believes are the applicant’s best personal and professional traits. And five, one area of perceived weakness and/or one area that need professional , academic, or personal improvement.

“Rather than making a broad statement such as ‘the applicant has strong team skills,’ the recommender can give a particular event that demonstrates those skills. For this reason, it’s important for applicants to choose recommenders who know them very well,” says Bruce DelMonico , director of admissions at Yale School of Management. Same goes for the essays that are expected from the applicants.

Yet another factor that candidates miss out on are extra curricular activities. “One key element is community service. I see applicants make the mistake of stopping all community outreach once they graduate from college.

Everyone, early in their career or not, can volunteer, and even demonstrate leadership skills by working with non-profits ,” points out Sara Nehar, admissions director at Virginia Darden School of Business.

The competition is tough, but a stellar application will get you a look in.

Source:economic times


Rohan Kachalia
MBA (Finance & Marketing), Inter CA

VP- Utkristh Share & Stock Brokers
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