Jack-o’-Lanterns And Why Being A ‘Maker’ Can Help Your MBA Application

It’s almost Halloween. That means some of us are turning pumpkins into gruesome candle faces. Other than pleasant distraction, can this have anything to do with MBA admissions?

Well here’s the thing.  To apply successfully you need to extract the full MBA admissions value from what what you do and have done in your life.

Truth is, if you just hack out pumpkin that’s not something you will get much advantage from talking about in your MBA essays. But there are people out there that have incredible craft and design skills, and perhaps are part of the international Maker Movement and present at Maker “faires”, and if that is you then that is something you absolutely should talk about in your essays or MBA interview.

The Maker Movement is a loose connection of crafts people, technologists, and tinkerers who make stuff, from basic crafts to the latest gizmos.

It’s creative. Innovative. Productive. Self-reliant. Often team-oriented. These are all value points that matter to MBA  Adcoms.

The takeaway principle is this: whatever it is that you do or are part of may seem too small and piecemeal to matter for MBA admissions. And on its own it probably is.

But look for ways to connect it to what is valuable in MBA terms. Note this sometimes requires bridging-up in terms of scale, or linking disparate items to an organizing category.

In this specific example, carving a pumpkin has no intrinsic value to your MBA application; but being active in and identified with the Maker Movement would have many dimensions that you could mine for an MBA admissions boost.

You’ve traveled widely. Can you extract its full MBA admissions value?

I’d estimate that three out of five MBA applicants to top-tier schools have traveled widely, for work or for fun. It follows that in their MBA applications they cite travel as an activity they value and put it among the important experiences they have had. They think that journeying across the world speaks for itself as proof of “diversity.” Travel broadens the mind and all that.

This is true. But there is a lot of value to be had in travel that MBA applicants often don’t get to. Here I tip my metaphorical hat to the mother of an MBA Studio client from a while ago who gave her son the following feedback — before he came to me — which absolutely dovetails with how I exhort clients to squeeze admissions value from their travel (and other) experiences, for both the essays and MBA interview. I quote:

“I don’t think you have written something meaningful enough about your travels. You have traveled widely but it looks like it doesn’t seem to have influenced you, affected your outlook about people, society.

“Perhaps write something meaningful about poverty, and yet the ingenuity of people who have very little but are innovative, creative, hard working.

“Can you think of reasons why you chose to travel to these places, culture, philosophy, history, etc.?

“Some insight into the way you and your friend chose to travel, no fuss, not staying fancy places.

“This travel was a test also in being independent, showing initiative, taking calculated risks in foreign places. You don’t give yourself sufficient credit for these things.”

If all mothers had this depth of insight, I’d be out of a job. But, seriously, the task here, and everywhere in MBA admissions, is to extract the full admissions value from any and every activity you have done, experiences you’ve had, or choices you’ve made.

Look at your experiences, look at the skill sets and character traits of middle-to-senior managers, and make the link.

In this case an applicant go beyond claiming “travel experience” to demonstrating a nuanced outlook on foreign cultures; an appreciation of alternative value systems including alternative forms of innovation; a no-fuss, non-materialist sensibility; an ability to ride out adversity; and practice at being in unfamiliar situations and taking calculated risks.

Putting it like this, you turn the empty label of “travel experience” into a platform that demonstrates the kind of experience, and insight into experience, that an MBA admissions committee will warm to.

First Round MBA Essays: Why Have Applicants Turned Into Monks and Saints?

Here’s one from the files, which I wrote a few years back at exactly this point in the admissions season, in responses to Round 1 essays I was seeing then. Given the essays I’m seeing now, I’m reminded of it:

You are not applying to join a holy order. You are not applying to Amnesty International. You are not applying to save the rainforests or unmelt the ice caps or feed the starving or create Middle-East peace.

You are applying to business school.

At business school, yes there will be electives around well-meaning things, but by far the main agenda of an MBA is to present you with and test you on classic curriculum stuff to do with finance and operations and marketing and strategy. They will not teach you to weave sisal or wash Zika babies.

Now of course you are a good human being. And you should certainly communicate to Adcom (with evidence) that you are a good human being, which includes being concerned about major domestic or world problems. And not just concerned: wanting to play your part in fixing them too. You definitely need to apply with a meaningful purpose to your future career, and it’s fine to want to improve social welfare at home or abroad.

But you are applying to business school.

So keep it credible. The pertinent question for MBA admissions is: how will you make a business or take a business in the direction of broader community benefit? How and why do you need business and management and leadership skills to make the difference you plan to make?

Here’s a clue to hitting the right note: one person or a group of well-meaning people can make a little difference somewhere. But a business, or a large organization, professionally managed, properly financed and running at optimum efficiency can make a whopping difference. That’s where you want to go.

If you do this, your MBA application will retain its credibility. If you say you want to run an education business in Ho Chi Minh City, Adcom will believe you. If you say you want to teach long-division to Vietnamese orphans, they won’t.

 

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