Applying to an MBA program can be a nerve-wracking process. Between the high cost of an MBA and statistics that show that over 80% of applicants are not admitted to the top MBA programs, you want to go into the process with as much information as possible.
A strong undergraduate record, good work experience, and a high GMAT score are musts, but it is often the application essays and the interview that set apart the applicants who are admitted versus the applicants who are rejected. Because a few mistakes can jeopardize your entire application, Manhattan Review has compiled six of the most common mistakes that MBA applicants make.
- Telling instead of Showing.
Anyone can recite a list of their positive qualities. If we were going by interview answers alone, every MBA candidate in the world is an organized, strong leader with excellent analytical and communication skills who can think outside the box. Talk is cheap, so be prepared with concrete examples of how you were a strategic thinker, or a strong team motivator. It’s not enough to simply tell the admissions committee about your strengths – you need to be able to show your strengths.
- Inadequate Research of the School.
Admissions officers can tell when they receive an application from someone that hasn’t researched their school. If you have the time, schedule a school tour, visit the campus, and sit in on a class if you can. Admissions officers will favor applicants who show a strong interest in their school, and if you don’t know enough about a school to be able to articulate why you want to attend, it will hurt your application. The more you know about the school, the more specifics you can cite in your interview. The most compelling MBA applicants are those who can cite specific reasons why that particular MBA program is the best fit for them.
- Poor Recommendations.
Form letter recommendations or lukewarm recommendations can torpedo your chances of being admitted to the top MBA programs. You don’t want recommenders – you want passionate advocates who can vouch for your particular strengths.
One common mistake applicants make is simply handing off their recommendation forms to former faculty or supervisors. Instead, provide them with an information sheet that highlights your skills and accomplishments so they can incorporate them into your recommendation.
- Answer the Actual Interview Questions.
80% of applicants to the top MBA programs are not admitted. Many of those 80% are people who sent the same admissions essays to every school, not recognizing that different programs sometimes ask very different questions.
If you can’t follow simple directions, you probably won’t do well in an MBA program. If an essay asks about overcoming difficulties, don’t respond with an essay on your future career goals. Have someone read through your application essays – they should be able to guess what the question was based on your response.
- Failing to Address Weaknesses.
No MBA candidate is perfect, and admissions officers don’t expect perfection in your application. What they won’t forgive, however, is an inability or an unwillingness to address your weaknesses.
Whether it is single bad grade or an unexplained gap in employment, don’t make the mistake of simply glossing over your shortcomings. Be aware of the difference between an excuse and an explanation. Show the admissions committee that you’ve committed to overcoming your weaknesses, and address your weaknesses head-on. One of the most important skills for success in the business world is bouncing back from setbacks, so show that you possess this skill.
- Arrogant Attitude.
Conduct and character are highly valued in both MBA programs and in the business world, so be very aware of the line between confidence and cockiness. It may be hard sometimes, since you want to highlight your strengths – what you want to avoid is going overboard and overselling yourself as the perfect candidate who can do no wrong and has nothing to learn.
Above all, be courteous, respectful, and professional towards everyone you encounter throughout the application process. Being juvenile or offensive is the quickest way to make sure your application lands on the rejection pile.
Remember that no candidate is going to be perfect – the key is being able to address your shortcomings head-on while showcasing the things you do well. Avoid the mistakes we’ve highlighted above, practice your interviewing skills, and be professional and courteous to everyone you meet. Good luck!