Getting ready to apply for MBA programs? Make it impossible for admissions to say no with a killer resume, essay and interview.
As soon as you decided to apply to their MBA program, the school had to have you. Your resume earned universal admiration, your essay made them swoon and the interview was a formality. Welcome to the class of 20XX!
Nothing could be further from the reality of today’s competitive MBA application process. No matter how decorated a student and professional you are, the applicant pool is full of equally qualified and remarkably diverse individuals. What does it take to impress and stand out from the crowd? ( to tweet this question.)
Tailor your resume
Everybody looks great in clothes tailored to them, since no two bodies are identical. Your resume works the same way. If you send the exact same resume to every MBA program, don’t expect enthusiastic responses. Showcase yourself in a light that appeals to individual schools.
For each school, based on what you know about their unique elements, from teaching styles to location. With that in mind, maybe a skill featured first on your resume for one school is further down the list for another, or one particular aspect of a past job is explained in detail for one program but omitted for the rest.
Ask what this school emphasizes: case study, internships, group projects? Use your resume to show real-world experience matching the program’s specific brand.
Write panoramic essays
The biggest mistake MBA applicants make when writing essays is not looking at the group as a whole. Each essay should complement — not overlap — others, like pieces of a puzzle coming together to create a picture.
Do two of your essays focus on leadership? Change one to talk more about your cooperative abilities. Does every essay end in triumph? Share an unfortunate error or failed endeavor and what it taught you. MBA admissions officers want to read about a well-rounded skill set in diverse situations.
Overall, your essays should of your most important personal and professional traits without getting too focused on a couple particular themes. In addition, make sure your essays don’t repeat information found elsewhere in the application, particularly your resume.
Nailing the interview
The interview is probably the most nerve-racking aspect of the MBA application process. With preparation, though, you’ll come in confident and ready to impress.
1. Reach out to your network
You probably selected each target school based at least partially on knowing an alumnus or having met one or two during an information session or visit. Get in touch and ask what they remember about their interviews.
How many people were present? Was it formal or conversational? Did interviewers ask new questions or request elaboration on topics from your essays?
Of course, no two interviews are identical. But you can build a basic idea of the atmosphere, expectations and common questions from those who have been there before.
2. Prepare potential content in advance
Yes, this can seem daunting, but the payoff is substantial. Time spent pondering is time lost. Plus, sitting in silence can come across as awkward or unprofessional to MBA selection committees.
Create a base of useable responses that come quickly to mind and cover many topics, from employment and education to visions and values. Make sure they don’t sound overly rehearsed, though. You shouldn’t memorize word-for-word, but rather build confidence with talking points so they flow naturally in the right situation, even under pressure.
While preparing, also think about how you might be able to impress the interviewer with unconventional — but appropriate — responses. A great option is featuring relevant anecdotes from volunteer service, travels or daily life in addition to those from work and school. You don’t want to sound like someone focused on nothing but your job and studies.
3. Record a sample interview or two (or 17)
Thanks to today’s technology, there’s no excuse for not knowing what you look and sound like in an interview setting. Use a computer or phone to record mock interviews and watch them. You’ll be stunned how often you say “um,” “like,” or other verbal tics, which should be minimized.
Also, pay attention to your body language. Does your attempt at eye contact make you look borderline psychotic? Are you too stiff? Do you fidget? Recognizing those behaviors is the first step to correcting them and adopting a professional yet comfortable interview demeanor.
Though nothing in admissions is ever guaranteed, a well-tailored resume, diverse set of compelling essays and preparation for anything an interviewer can throw your way will make you a triple threat coveted by any MBA program. Good luck!
Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of & and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. He’s worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants.