If we were to ask a hundred MBA aspirants about what felt the most critical portion of their application was, we would expect some of them to talk about the essays, some about the letters of recommendation, some about the one page resume, and some about the overall package. Very few would identify the huge role played by work experience, because it does not seem like much – after all, many think that it is something that is in the past, something that has to be chronicled baldly in an application. Many feel that it cannot make a difference.
They could not be more wrong: professional experience is the most important part of any application, and it is also the most neglected – in the resume and the compulsory questions, some candidates choose to write down quick descriptions of their work to save time for the more important sections in the essays, many choose to spend most of the time on the Why MBA? essays rather than work equally hard on the professional achievement essays that form the bedrock of their description of work experience. Many candidates that we talk to accept that professional experience is a key part of any Business School application, and that they should spend at least as much time on it as on anything else.
However, they often struggle with the details: how do they describe all their work in the best possible way, how do they differentiate themselves from other candidates with similar functional / geographic background, and how do they create a solid foundation for the rest of their application.
Here are a few ways in which you, too, can make your work experience really stand out among the thousands vying for a top MBA seat, and differentiate yourself on basics alone:
The most obvious, measurable proof of impact at a workplace is promotion – just like a picture is worth a thousand words, a promotion is worth a thousand minutes of exposition on what a great professional someone is. However, given that there are very few who apply for a big league MBA abroad within two years of completing graduation, a single promotion is often par for the course.
However, in most industries, two levels of promotion are often difﬁcult to achieve within a 3 year time frame, and can sometimes even be elusive after 4 years. Hence, if you are able to show that you were promoted in just three years, it is deﬁnitely a big plus when it comes to your experience. Of course, this is easier said than done: to be even further ahead of the curve than the very best, you need to he aware of how to make it from Day 1, and ensure that you grow in your company without ruffling any feathers the wrong way: earnest rather than aggressive.
Remember, you need proven impact in each of your professional experience spikes; variety may be the spice of life, but one good spice is more than enough for your application.
It is deﬁnitely true that work done in the social impact space lends a lot of credibility to an MBA application. However, Admissions Boards get to see multiple applications every year from people who have woken up to this fact too late, and ended up doing something for the sake of it. They are very good at spotting cases like these, and most of their checks relate to planning, impact and sustainability. The principle is simple: anyone applying to a top Business School is likely to be a skilled planner and strategist: in case he / she has put insufﬁcient time into working on the strategy for social impact, then it must mean that he / she is not sufﬁciently motivated.
Therefore, it is very important to ensure that your non proﬁt / NGO work comes across as the high impact activity it undoubtedly was, and that you make clear exactly how it transformed the lives of those it sought to help.
The best way to do this is in your one page resume: if you are able to dwell only on long term and big picture impact, that is itself a statement of intent to those reading the CV that you did not just do the work so that you could include it in your application. In addition, if you are covering the work in any of your essays, you should talk about it like you would about a project at work, and bring the same metrics of impact to bear.
These signs will tell any audience that you meant business when you worked in social impact, and that you were able to bring your expertise from your leadership and work experience elsewhere to bear on a problem where there was no conventional reward involved at all.