I have heard many people say that MBA class is like leading an orchestra – you need your flutes, clarinets, saxophones, euphoniums, and percussion. Similarly, each applicant has many strengths and he or she has to consider how his or her skillsets can best contribute to the class. Here are the following lessons that I learned in my application process.
Market yourself as someone the class needs, not necessarily something you are more proud of: As someone in finance, I had my fair share of rejections when I positioned myself as a finance applicant. There will be many people from top investment banks, hedge funds, and PE firms gunning for these finance positions, and for anyone in a BB, Big 4, or financial advisory role, it would be very difficult to differentiate yourself among this pool. However, international candidates may have work experience in emerging economies, worked as a professor in a sub-Saharan country, or founded NGOs or profitable startups. These stories might be more worthwhile to tell.
Don’t be afraid to suggest a backup plan should your first choice career goals fail: MBA applications always ask for short and long term goals. While some specificity (industry, function, and company) might be good to say, you might also benefit from having the interviewer know that you are fin with other options. If you are coming from 0 years of work experience and expect to work in VC, you might be shooting yourself down. We are not telling you to abandon VC completely, but be open to other entry level consulting, finance, or marketing positions should your lofty goals be unachievable.
Understand where the MBA fits in your story: One really has to know why one needs an MBA at this point in one’s career. Thoughtful reflection is needed to understand how a program, its location, or a specific entrepreneurship center or experiential learning offering can help you achieve your goals. Look beyond initial prestige. Most schools have similar curriculums and it is really the school’s relationship with recruiters, its location, and its alumni network that differentiates a school.
At the end of the day, an orchestra needs its fair share of euphoniums. After all, the orchestra is a team and it needs varying instruments or skillsets to complement one another. If you happen to play both a flute and a euphonium, but there are more flutes, it might be worth it to play the euphonium instead, where you will be much needed and valued by an orchestra – or your dream school!
For more strategies to distinguish yourself, read the following article here: Out-of-the-box Strategies to Land a Top 20 MBA