I find myself consistently, always telling MBA applicants to extract the full MBA admissions value from what they have in their bio, and what they have done.
Doing this is the only way to present as more valuable than the next applicant to the business school in question. That is, the only way to get admitted in a competitive system.
Easier said than done of course. So the question comes back: How do I do that?
How to do it, as I’ve written at greater length in my book, has to do with:
(a) understand the full dimensions of MBA admissions value associated with what you have done and/or achieved;
(b) understanding what is valuable to Adcoms, which is to say what is valuable in the b-school environment and in MBA careers, and
(c) being able to connect “a” to “b” in a clear and compelling way.
That’s the theory. Here’s an example. (Note: nothing works in MBA admissions essays as well as an example, if it is relevant and credible.)
Let’s say you have been involved in Jujutsu for much of your early life, achieved your “black belt” at the age of 18, were reasonably successful in competitions during high school and college, but now just keep your hand in at the dojo as a part-time instructor.
Is this valuable or not? Or, how do you make it valuable?
First, of course it’s valuable. Martial arts are a recognized personal, psychological and physical development activity. It takes youths through a structured and disciplined and group-oriented series of challenges.
Also, if you have have spent this much of your life on the activity, it has to get some airtime in your application.
More pertinently, which parts are valuable? What do you say?
Is it valuable to say you can fight people and easily knock them down. Of course not. That’s a red flag.
Is it valuable to say you can defend yourself in any situation? That’s not going to hurt your application, but it won’t help. Adcom doesn’t rate people on whether they can physically defend themselves – it is not something that counts for much at business school, or with the school’s careers office, or for recruiters of MBA graduates, or in the business world in general
The value is in:
- the self-discipline you acquired
- your experience of setbacks, and perseverance in overcoming them
- participating with competitors and in competition
- learning to manage adversity
- being part of a structured environment
- learning to structure and manage your time (e.g. going to the dojo 5x a week on top of everything else.)
There may also be value to be had in the psychic development your experience offers: exposure to alternative (oriental) philosophy, mindfulness, inner peace and self-reliance, and so on. If you are now a coach or trainer or mentor of the next generation, there is obvious admissions value in that too.
The point is, there is usually lots of admissions value on offer from a past experience, if you mine it properly. This becomes part of your “value claim” as a person and professional going forward.
Once you can extract what admissions value is there to be had, you can choose which parts to emphasize and how much to say. And then you move onto the next value activity from your past, approaching it in the same way.