Every year is similar in MBA Admissions, but slightly different given what is going on in the economy and the world. This year a key framing condition is the recession. Applicants who get into top schools will have a excellent spread of academic, professional, and extramural attributes. But the economic downturn will make itself felt, and one of the aspects of this was well picked up by Business Week this week in an article which says MBA Career Services departments are getting a stronger voice in who gets admitted.
Says BW: “With company recruiters becoming ever more selective, B-school admissions departments are taking a closer look at how easily candidates will be able to parlay their education into a job come graduation… While admissions officers have always favored these qualities, increasingly—as the job market tightens—they’re demanding them. Admitting employable students on the front end in some cases means shying away from some traditional admissions metrics such as test scores and grades and embracing professional qualifications such as interpersonal skills, proven job performance, and promotions.”
None of this is new. Future employability, quality career continuation, and likely starting salary have always been a consideration in MBA admissions. It’s just a shift to greater emphasis.
Recruiting well out of an MBA is one of the key function a business school offers. They do this for the candidate (it’s part of what you pay your tuition fees for) but it’s hardly altruism. This is because, among the matrices along which MBA schools are typically ranked is “percentage of students recruited on graduation,” and “average starting salary.” In other words the pressure is on Career Services to get these numbers up.
In good times they are willing to take a punt on students who have potential but not much or a record because it’s likely they will get a good offer (in boom times practically everyone at a top-20 school gets multiple offers). But in a bust Career Services knows it will be left with jobless graduates. Not only is it a headache to have them emailing you and endlessly bugging alumni, but it drives down rankings, to say nothing of word-of-mouth reputation.
So while b-school Admissions Services (Adcom) and Career Services are traditionally separate “empires,” in recessionary times Careers want to make sure they get the most recruitable candidates possible. So many schools’ Careers departments are demanding and getting a seat on Admissions Committees, where they can sit in on interviews and evaluate applications.
What does this mean for applicants this year?
Says BW: “The increased attention to job placement could spell trouble for candidates whose essays fail to outline clear career plans. Career switchers, with no work history in what they hope will be their new profession, might be similarly disadvantaged. The same goes for younger students as some schools up the criterion for average years of work experience.”
The way through this is, first, to play up your career progress and future employability (via all inputs: essays, résumé, interview, recommendations, etc.) The second is to have a really convincing, plausible, short-term career plan. Given your work history plus an MBA (from the particular school) can you make Adcom and Career Services believe you will be gainfully employed in a MBA-worthy position on graduation day? If you can do this, you’re one step closer to getting in.