1. Fluency in English
English is not only the “mother-tongue” of the MBA, as it is an American invention, but leading business schools (B-schools) on all continents now provide their MBA programmes in English. Some MBA programmes may require the knowledge of another language as well, but English is the primary language of instruction.
It is important to master all aspects of communication in English. You will need to apply all the language skills during your studies – listening comprehension, reading comprehension, writing, speaking. Correct usage of English grammar is especially important in effective international communication, not to mention its importance in your application documents and then during all oral and written work during the studies.
You should also take care to build a diverse vocabulary going beyond your everyday working topics or field of expertise. Not only is the MBA curriculum diverse, ranging from finance to HR and ethics, but during MBA programmes there is a considerable focus on social activities and interaction. Finally, you will be living in an international setting and even if the native language of the country where you are studying is not English, the everyday conversations within your university community will be in English.
To make sure that you master English, a B-school will require you to take a language proficiency test such as the TOEFL or IELTS. These exams check all of your language skills. Even if you already have a high level of proficiency, you will still need to spend some time practising for the exact format of the test you will be sitting. Clearly, achieving the fluency in English that results in high TOEFL or IELTS scores takes years of study and practice.
2. Quantitative and analytical mindset
Business management and the growing amount of data around us clearly require an analytical mindset and good quantitative skills. Managers have to take decisions based on facts and stats in diverse areas, not necessarily in the ones they are experts in. This calls for sound foundations in analysis and decision-making approaches.
The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is the most common exam required for MBA admission. It has been developed to evaluate quantitative, critical thinking and analytical skills and thus predict success in graduate management studies. Currently the GMAT has quite a precise way of assessing your skills.
However, before you start focused preparation for the exam, you should refresh (or build) your maths skills at a high school or college level. This may sound like a piece of cake to some of you, but the GMAT is so sophisticated that it can really challenge you with its questions even if they are built around school-level maths.
Even the verbal parts of the GMAT test your critical thinking and decision-making skills, but in this case English fluency and grammar can help you.
Check out: How to Prepare for GMAT – Essential Guide
An alternative to the GMAT exam is the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) revised General Test. Some business schools also have school specific admission tests. But they all basically test the same skills, the idea being to assess your potential for studies and a career in management.
Check out: GRE Scores That Can Get You into B-School
You can refresh or build your maths skills in up to six months of intensive preparation. In addition, just mastering the types of questions and formats of the GMAT or GRE takes several months. But if you have been out of school for a while your study habits and speed of work will have deteriorated, so you will need more practice to get fit.
A clever approach can be to sit the GMAT or GRE soon after your Bachelor’s degree. The scores of both tests are valid for five years, so you are likely to be able to use them when you apply for your MBA.
3. Social activities
Your personality and what you do outside the office is more and more often the sole differentiator between MBA applicants. Especially if you come from a more traditional academic background such as management, business administration, economics, finance or even engineering, it is your personality, hobbies, interests and social involvement that will make a difference.
Your community service, social involvement and out-of-the-office achievements usually also take years to evolve. It is realistic to compensate for the lack of a social involvement track-record shortly before your begin your application for admission. However, starting earlier will bring more quality to your experiences and higher value to your profile.
4. Leadership roles
Modern management requires a great deal of leadership skills. There is a debate as to whether leadership can be learned or just developed if you have the potential. But if you are heading to business school for an MBA you will be expected to reveal your leadership experiences.
Aspiring leaders can identify their qualities from as early as their school years. Others shine in college or even later. Leaderships can often be situational and depend on the environment and the group you are in.
No matter when you discovered your leadership skills, it is important to be aware of how comfortable you are in leadership roles and have examples to share with the business schools. Take every opportunity to test your potential. Don’t neglect your achievements even if they are sporadic.
A longer record of leadership roles brings extra value, but even if you only recently had the chance to shine, this will be considered by the business schools. With leadership, quality matters as well as quantity.
5. Career progression
B-schools require at least two or three years of professional full-time work experience for admission to MBA programmes, and at least five for Executive MBAs. The MBA is for people who aspire to grow as managers either on the corporate ladder or in business or social entrepreneurship. That is why MBA admissions committees (AdComs) expect that during your professional career (even if two or three years) you should have demonstrated your potential for growth to managerial positions.
Career progression can be in terms of positions, but also of responsibilities. Even if you have not had the opportunity to be promoted to a managerial position, maybe your responsibilities have been expanded to include some managerial aspects.
If you are thinking of an MBA and are starting your career now, aim at taking on higher level responsibilities. You can do this step by step by taking the initiative to manage projects (even on a small scale at first), budget or teams. If your job does not offer such opportunities quickly, you can supplement by joining volunteer or community service to gain more managerial experience. Projects of not-for-profit or public organisations are no less difficult to manage than any business project.
The bottom line here is to constantly expand the scope of your managerial involvement. This is important for B-school application, but even more so for your own career growth, as it is a learning process.
6. Career vision
The MBA is a transformational experience that can open many new avenues. However, B-school AdComs expect you to have a clear career plan of your own at the time of MBA application. They will be interested to learn what you think is best for you to do immediately upon MBA graduation and how it is in line with your long-term career objective.
MBA studies are a once-in-a-lifetime experience and an important moment to concentrate on what you want to commit to career-wise and personally. Take your time, do the soul searching, talk to friends and mentors, get career counselling, dream, remember what you wanted to be when you were a child. Break the stereotypes. Be your true and best self.
Clear career objectives are essential if you are to select the right business schools and MBA programmes. This choice will make your MBA studies worthwhile and will springboard your career.
7. Be yourself
On the road to career growth and MBA always keep in mind your genuine interest and inspirations. Thus, you can never go wrong. This is a common piece of advice provided by top B-school admissions directors.
Clearly, none of these steps can be taken last-minute just before the MBA application deadline. So, step on the road to MBA and business leadership career paths and follow these milestones as you progress towards reaching your dreams.