Most applicants decide to apply to MBA programs a year or two before the start of the program. But what if you have set eyes much in advance, say 2-3 years.
If that’s the case, you’ve time on your side, and you can take few long-term steps to improve your odds of success. Let’s look at some of the steps that you can plan.
Uplift your professional experience. This is the key.
The average work experience of students enrolling in international MBA programs is typically five years, with most European programs touching six.
Whereas the number of years is important, what’s more important is the quality of that work experience.
Leadership roles. The impact you made. Achievements. Promotions. Standing out among peers.
There are no prizes for just spending time, right?
So if you’ve years on your side, think of how you can shape your professional experience in the direction that will be viewed favorably by the admissions committee, rather than just drifting along and accumulating months. Specifically, keep following in mind:
1. Lookout to Shine
Take initiative at your workplace.
Volunteer for challenging projects.
It’s hard to impact and outshine peers while doing what everyone else is doing. So be on the lookout for such opportunities.
2. How is Your Career Progressing?
Keep an eye on career progression in terms of promotions and increased responsibilities.
If you get promoted faster than your peers, then nothing like it. But even without it, try to get increased responsibilities in terms of bigger projects, prestigious clients, and so on with time.
In short, your career trajectory should clearly trend north.
3. Learn to Collaborate
If your work doesn’t necessitate much collaboration with others, then seek projects where you get an opportunity to work with others.
In an MBA program, you’ll have to constantly collaborate with other students, mostly in teams of 4-5, to accomplish projects and assignments, and your comfort with meeting deadlines while working with others will hold you in good stead.
4. Can you find an opportunity to work internationally?
Within your organization, can you find the opportunity to work internationally?
The longer the better, but even if you can pull off few weeks in the form of a short-term project, it’ll add value to your resume.
Because the class in an international MBA program is highly diverse and international – nearly one-third class in most U.S. B-schools are international, and 80-90 percent in most European programs.
If you’ve worked with people from different cultures and nationalities, you would be in a better position to appreciate and work with not just your classmates, but also in your post-MBA employment, which would likely be similarly diverse.
And if you can’t pull off a stint abroad (it’s not easy, after all), try getting on projects where you get an opportunity to collaborate remotely (through calls) with your colleagues, vendors, or clients located in a different geography.
This experience, too can help you get a hang of cultural cues and quirks, and it is better than not having anything on the plate.
5. Can you lay your hands on something entrepreneurial?
Well, this doesn’t mean you quit your job and start on your own.
You may find an entrepreneurial opportunity in your organization itself.
Maybe your organization is working on a new product or service.
Maybe they’re planning to expand in a new geography.
Maybe they want to do something new in their CSR work.
Look around, and you may just find something entrepreneurial.
Entrepreneurial experience is valued because it teaches you how to build things from scratch amidst resource constraints and willy-nilly exposes you to most business functions.
6. MBA Admission Interview
The final step in the MBA admission process is an interview, which is conducted in English.
It goes without saying that you need to be fluent and articulate in the English language, otherwise your weeks of effort will go in vain.
However, the role of communication skills doesn’t end with the interview.
During the MBA program, you’ll have to often participate in classroom discussions (the most common teaching method in MBA programs is through case study, which requires participation from the students), work with other students in teams, make presentations, and appear in job interviews.
You’ll need strong communication skills at every step after you enroll in an MBA program.
Because you can’t improve your communication skills in weeks, you need to take steps now.
So, be more intentional about participating in discussions over coffee, opening up in meetings, and making presentations in your current job. The more you practice, the better you’ll get.
7. Build strong relationship
Build strong relationship with your supervising officer and other senior personnel who see your work closely, because they’re the ones who will write your recommendations.
8. Career Clarity
If you have clarity on what career path you want to pursue post-MBA, start taking some steps to build the skills you’ll require in your future job.
For example, if you want to become a Project Manager in a technology company in the future, you can volunteer for more end-to-end responsibility for a customer-facing product or take steps to interact more with end users to get better at taking feedback or get your hands dirty with data-backed decisions.
9. Build a track record in quantitative courses
MBA curriculum will swamp you with number-crunching.
Therefore, the admission committee when evaluating your application specifically looks at your quantitative score in GMAT (or GRE) and performance in quantitative-oriented subjects in your undergrad or grad program.
So if you’re still pursuing an undergrad degree, take few quantitative courses such as Statistics, Calculus, and Accounting to build your quantitative portfolio. Well, if you score well in GMAT, this won’t matter much. But it’s nice to have some quantitative trail in your transcript.
10. Don’t ignore extracurricular activities
We delved at length on professional experience earlier in the post. B-schools, however, would also like to see some interests outside work.
Is the person just a robot focusing on work and work alone, or is he ‘interesting’ as well, after all lots of learning in an MBA program happens through interaction with peers?
Your extracurricular activities bring that interestingness quotient to the table.
Having said that, more is not better. In-depth interest, which implies some degree of expertise, in 1-2 activities is far better than a smattering of 3-4. In other words, go for quality, not quantity.
Many applicants have this false notion that extracurricular activity is incomplete without a stint with a non-profit organization. This is not true. You can pick any activity outside your professional work. Any. What matters is the level of interest in it.
About the Author: This article has been contributed by Anil. He writes on MBA admissions and English language skills. He can be reached at @anilky13