The MBA is a business and management qualification for professionals aiming at business leadership roles and top management positions. MBA applicants are expected to provide evidence of their leadership skills, potential and experience. Clearly, gaining the experience and accumulating facts and success stories takes time. The experience that you can share may go right back to your college years. However, MBA admissions committees will also be interested in how you have grown as a leader and a team player during your professional life as well. Success stories, failures and lessons learnt can all serve as illustrations of your skills.
Business schools usually enquire about your leadership potential in the MBA application essays and the recommendation forms. However, you should also have some evidence to list on your CV/ resume. Your leadership potential and need for improvement are also common topics of discussion during the MBA interview, which is an essential part of the decision making for MBA admission.
Set down career milestones
MBA admissions committees will scrutinise both your short- and long-term career goals and your past career progression. Clearly both aspects take time to achieve.
Eligible MBA applicants are required to have at least two or three years of full-time professional experience. This is because the training relies heavily on students’ ability to relate to cases, challenges and success stories from their professional lives. However, as the MBA is for aspiring senior managers, you need to demonstrate potential for growth. If you have managed to progress in the first three years, this is a good sign.
If there has been no formal change in your position, make sure that you mention in your MBA application any change in responsibilities. These can include more complex projects, supervision of colleagues, higher-budget projects, etc. Particular achievements and challenges that you overcame count as well.
All of the above implies that you have to aim intentionally at quick career progression. In your MBA application you will need to provide facts, figures and recommenders' opinions on your progress. They should be listed in the CV/ resume, in the relevant essays and in the letters of recommendation. Career progression, goals and the role of MBA studies in achieving them will be discussed during the MBA interview, as well as at any preliminary meetings with business school admissions staff or faculty.
Business schools require two or three letters of MBA recommendation about your performance as a professional. MBA programmes will rarely ask for a letter or recommendation from a university professor. Usually, one of the recommendations is expected to be from a current supervisor or a senior professional in your current company. References from previous employers are also welcome.
However, you should bear in mind that each business school has its own forms and requirements for the letters of reference, that are updated for each admissions round. Also, each MBA programme expects the recommendation to be really focused on your potential for success in the particular programme.
Check out: MBA Recommenders are Your Best Advocates
So, general letters of recommendation will not do for your MBA application, but you need to nurture a relationship with potential recommenders during your professional life. This will enable you to have several people who can be your potential recommenders when the time comes for MBA application. Moreover, if you apply to several business schools it will be overwhelming for the same people to write several letters of reference. So you need to have more people ready to support your application with a recommendation.
Nurturing potential recommenders requires that you make a positive impression with your work and attitudes. A second step is to convey to your potential referees that you are committed to growing as a business leader and an MBA is an appropriate step on this path.
Immersion in an international environment
Leading international MBA programmes often require applicants to have been exposed to international work settings. This is a strict requirement for some of the programmes, but even if it isn’t international exposure is always appreciated in the world of management education.
This is an aspect of your professional life that you have to manage. Of course it is not always possible to travel the world in the first couple of years of your professional life. And there is no need to do so. One can get extensive international exposure in a single country as well.
What B-schools value is that you have worked with people from different countries and/or cultures. These can be part of your team or they can be clients, suppliers or partners. International academic experience should also be mentioned. There are some university campuses that are very international in terms of the student and professor mix. If you were part of such an environment, make sure you share it in the MBA application.
Intercultural awareness is also built through personal or academic travel. So any long- or short-term study experience abroad, or travel for extracurricular or non-work projects, also counts.
Volunteer in social activities
Engagement in social causes and community service is valued in an MBA application. Such experience reveals that you care beyond your immediate academic or professional responsibilities. Socially responsible business leaders are a real asset to any company. This is naturally reflected in business schools' recruitment as well.
Social commitments are an important asset to MBA applicants with a more “traditional” profile, such as those with academic and professional background in business, management and finance. Their out-of-the–job commitments, hobbies and achievements can help them stand out from all other applicants with a similar profile. Business schools aim to attract students with diverse experience in order to enrich the learning environment in the MBA classroom.
Such experience can hardly be gained in the several months while you prepare your MBA application. So, you have to look for such opportunities several years in advance. Of course, don’t do it just because of the MBA application – commit to something that you really care about. Such experience is usually very rewarding, inspiring and mind-opening on its own.
The CV/resume is where you have to list your activities. However, your experience can be commented in the MBA application essays and also during the interview.
Studying in an MBA programme requires fluency in English. Being part of an MBA is a truly international and multicultural experience that goes beyond the MBA classroom. That is why you, as well as the MBA admissions committees, have to make sure that you are comfortable with communication in English.
You should be able to understand different accents of English speech, to speak, write and read equally well. You should expand your vocabulary beyond the glossary of your job. You should be able to discuss topics related to business and management, everyday life on a university campus, and to communicate fluently during networking events with business executives.
Preparing for language proficiency tests such as TOEFL or IELTS – that are usually required for admission to an MBA – can be an excellent way for you to advance your skills in a structured way. In addition, take every opportunity to use all four communication skills in English. Expand your vocabulary into diverse areas of knowledge by reading or listening to specialised information.
Depending on your current level of English language skills you may need just several months or up to several years to gain the fluency that will enable you to study in an international MBA.
Assess your profile
If an MBA is a part of your career development plan, discuss your profile with admission experts, business school representatives and MBA graduates. It is never too early to benefit from a profile evaluation, but it can come too close to the actual application to develop some essential aspects of your professional curriculum vitae.