All posts by Avi Gordon

Know the 3 types of MBA Admissions ‘ding’ before you apply

The year turns, and we look ahead to a new MBA admissions cycle. This means the MBA Admissions Studio is now in its 20th year.

In the off season I get emails (not from clients, mostly!) of the type “I-was-dinged-last-year, what-did-I do-wrong?” So this seems as good a place as any to start the discussion this year, in the spirit of helping those dinged last year apply better, and those who are applying for the first time understand the potential pitfalls.

There are three types of ding:

A. You were dinged because there is something or things in your background that make you just not good enough or right enough for the program, in comparison with the average standard of admitted applicants. This could be because of lack of high-quality or brand-company work experience, a low GMAT or GPA, being too young or old at the time of application, and so on. In this category, in other words, your ding is caused by something or things that you are, or are not. You fail to meet qualification standards.

B. You are good enough and fit well — you are a competitive, qualified applicant — but applied badly in that you made a clear mistake or raised a red flag in your application. Your ding was caused by something specific you said or did not say.

C. You are good enough and fit well — you are a competitive, qualified applicant — and you didn’t make any obvious application mistakes, but applied badly in that your admissions value was not clear or somehow you didn’t stand out. This is the category of applicant that Adcom refers to when it says “we had many qualified applicants and we couldn’t take them all.” Your ding was caused by other qualified competitors applying better than you did in a system where there are more applicants than places.

What are the fixes? Let me take them one by one.

In the first situation, the problem is choice of school, or career timing of application or both. Bear in mind that everyone has weaknesses — I’ve never seen an applicant without weaknesses (though they don’t always know it.) But here we are talking about aggregate weakness in an applicant such that, no matter how they apply, they are going to be dinged because they don’t meet the standard of generally accepted applicant. The dinged candidate “doesn’t have the goods” so, logically, the only way to solve the problem is to get the goods, or lower one’s school sights, or both. Getting the goods is realistic only if age is on your side and you can take a few years to drive up your MBA admissions value via new career experiences, greater responsibility or new leadership roles, promotions or awards, new extra-mural participation, and so on.

The second situation is the easiest of the three to deal with. Here the solution has to do recognition — recognizing in advance what creates or exacerbates problems in an application, so-called “red flags,” and staying well clear of these. These problems are, in theory at least, easily fixable once recognized (assuming none of them point to deeper category 1 problems.)

The third type of ding is the stuff of competitive admissions. Here the applicant didn’t do anything wrong, just didn’t do as well as others in the application process. The solution has to do with applying all the hard and soft admissions value-enhancement and value-communications techniques that make an application ‘pop’ from the pile. This is not easy, and varies on a case-by-case basis. But there are general principles that apply in optimizing any application.

I’ve written extensively on this site, and in my book on the profile principles and communication strategies that can be applied, including creating the foundation of a solid yet differentiated application platform and driving up candidate value and uniqueness through use of memorable proof examples and stories. More to follow as the weeks roll by to R1 deadlines.

Talking To Your Employer About Your MBA

Getting company buy-in and (possibly) even financial support for your MBA matters.

There are some resources out there to help. Here’s one from the Cambridge Judge School, and another from INSEAD.

Be aware that for study while on the job, you’ll need to secure your employer’s understanding and support, and demonstrate that to the admissions committee.

Judge says: “You’ll need to demonstrate how your employer will benefit from you gaining an MBA.”

Its text is oriented towards EMBA applicants, and references the schools specifically, but the observations are widely relevant to managing employer perceptions anywhere, for all forms of MBA, at any business school.

Note also that many of the topics overlap with those you need to attend to, when writing good MBA admissions essays.

Some highlights:

Know your company

This is your opportunity to demonstrate to your employer that you have thought about the value of an Executive MBA from the company perspective.

Areas you might like research or discuss with your employer:
 Has your organisation ever sponsored employee education in the past? What is their policy on this? Do any of your competitors sponsor Executive MBA’s? Have any senior managers taken an Executive MBA or similar course? What benefits did previous employees gain from their Executive MBA? What were the benefits to the organisation? How might your colleagues/ line managers/ subordinates support you? How can you obtain buy in from your manager as well as HR?

Know your chosen programme

There are a number of Executive MBA programmes available – it is important that you are able to show why you feel the Cambridge Executive MBA is the right programme for you and your organisation.

You therefore will need to be able to address the following questions:
 Why is the Cambridge Executive MBA right for you personally and professionally? How do you expect to benefit from the programme (improved performance, networking opportunities)? Which courses are going to make your more effective in your current role? Which course will directly benefit your employer? What individual project can you carry out that will help you/ your organisation? How will the Cambridge reputation add value to your career and organisation?

Know yourself

This is probably the most important section for you to consider as a complete understanding of your motivation for undertaking the Cambridge Executive MBA will be vital when discussing the programme with your employer and may influence the type of support you require.

Why is this the right time for you to start an Executive MBA course? How will taking this course improve your performance? How will you balance work, study and the other aspects (family/partner) of your life? How do you plan to make use of your personal and professional development?