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MBA Admissions Tip: Addressing Unemployment or Gaps in Employment

This MBA admissions tip comes to us from our friends at Clear Admit. For more expert MBA admissions advice, check out their blog.

Given the emphasis that schools place on a candidate’s work experience, it is important to be proactive in addressing gaps in employment.  When applying to business school, many candidates worry about how the adcom might perceive gaps in employment.  We would like to take some time to discuss strategies for addressing this issue.

It’s not unheard of for an MBA candidate to have a gap in employment, and this will not necessarily impact someone’s candidacy in a negative way.  Gaps might be due to anything from lay-offs to periods of travel.  As a rule-of-thumb, applicants should explain gaps in employment that are three months or longer in an optional essay or, if instructed, on their data forms.  The adcom will not want to play detective with vague dates on an applicant’s resume or large chunks of unaccounted for time. As the adcom will simply want to know what an applicant was doing during a period of unemployment, applicants should show that they made productive use of this time.  It is important for applicants to be open and clear about extended gaps to show that they were not simply spending the time to look for full-time employment.

Addressing current unemployment in applications, however, requires a different strategy than simply discussing past gaps in employment history.  Candidates applying to business school who are not currently employed are in a trickier situation, as business schools view themselves as career accelerators rather than career jump-starters.  The task is not impossible, though, and given the current state of the economy, more candidates are applying to business school during a period of unemployment.  As with addressing gaps in employment, these applicants should not evade discussions centering on this issue.  On the other hand, they should not present unemployment as the reason for applying to business school nor should they suggest that they aren’t presently looking for work due to the need to devote time to their MBA applications (a major ‘red flag’).

In addressing unemployment, applicants should show that they are doing their best to find something temporary or engaging in volunteer work.  Ideally, applicants would show that they are doing something in line with their stated professional goals, like attending conferences or working to secure an internship in a field they want to explore.  Whatever the case, applicants should be honest and appear proactive.

As every applicant is unique, we encourage our readers to contact Clear Admit directly if they need guidance on tackling a gap in employment or current unemployment situation.  Send us your resume and sign up for a free one-on-one session with one of our counselors.

MBA Admissions Tip: Visiting the Campus

This weekly MBA admissions tip comes from our friends at Clear Admit. For more expert admissions advice, check out their blog.

As many applicants are finding out at this time of year, conducting thorough research on MBA programs is an essential step in formulating a list of target schools and crafting convincing essays. Surfing the web and speaking with friends and mentors are great starting points in identifying programs of interest. However, to really get a feel for a school and determine whether it’s a good fit for one’s goals and personality, applicants need to dig deeper and gain some firsthand experience with the program and the people. Visiting the campus is a great way to gather this kind of information, and it can also be advantageous in the application process. Although most formal campus visit programs will not start until the fall (when classes are in session), we’d like to offer a few “head start” pointers for getting as much mileage as possible out of a trip to your target program.

1) Make yourself known. Putting forth the effort to travel to a school is a signal of interest in the program that the adcom loves to see – but you need to let them know that you’ve made the trip. It is possible to communicate this in your essays and interview, but the simplest route is often to register for a visit through the admissions office. Not only will most schools arrange for you to sit in on a class and have lunch with current students, but many will also make a note of your visit and include it in your file. Be sure to take advantage of all that the admissions office offers in this regard; even if you have friends on campus, it’s wise to speak to as many people as possible.

2) Think it through. Before arriving on campus, you should think carefully about the sort of information you hope to take away from your visit. Whether your inquiries cover something as broad as the night life or as narrow as the syllabus of a particular course, your trip will be much more informative if you come prepared with a sense of the details you hope to glean from information sessions and conversations. Further, it’s a great idea to reach out to members of the community before you arrive; if there’s a club about which you are particularly curious, for instance, you could contact one of its leaders and arrange a conversation over coffee on the day of your visit.

3) Put your best foot forward. Even though your conduct and interactions won’t be on the record in the way that they would be when interviewing on campus, it’s important that you be aware of the impression you’re making. Because spending time on campus is a great way to forge ongoing contacts with students who could become allies for you in the admissions process, you’ll naturally want to put your best foot forward.

We hope that these simple tips will set applicants on the path toward a positive and productive stay on campus. For more tailored guidance on application strategy and school selection, feel free to contact us for a free initial consultation or check out the school-specific information in the Clear Admit School Guides.

MBA Admissions Tip: Crafting Your Business School Resume

This post comes from our friends at Clear Admit. For more expert MBA admissions advice, check out their blog.

We wanted to offer some general tips for the Class of 2014 applicants on getting the most mileage out of resumes in the admissions process. As many of our readers know, the resume is not only an important component of your application package, it’s also a great place to start when crafting your overall positioning strategy. This document forces one to distill a candidacy into a single page – focusing on key aspects and themes.

With that in mind, here are a few simple tips to get you started:

1) First things first. Because you’re applying to graduate school, it makes sense to lead this document with a section detailing your academic history. This is also the format that many business schools’ career offices instruct students to use when applying for internships or full-time jobs post-graduation.

2) Keep it simple. While you’ll certainly want to describe your professional responsibilities and achievements in some detail, remember that this document needs to fit on a single page (with rare exceptions). Rather than overwhelming the reader with information, try to identify three or four discrete projects or accomplishments to complement a few concise statements about your day to day responsibilities in each position. Remember that it’s also important to be as specific as possible about the impact you’ve had on your organization by quantifying the results of your efforts.

3) Round it out. Don’t discount the importance of your interests and outside activities. Schools like applicants who are well-rounded and demonstrate a track record of involvement outside of work and the classroom, so formal extracurricular activities are a logical category to include. At the same time, information about your less structured information and hobbies is also relevant, as these details can lend some more color to your candidacy and help the adcom get to know you better. Remember to be as specific as possible; many business school applicants are interested in “travel” or “film,” so specifying a region you especially enjoy visiting or your favorite movie genre will be the key to setting yourself apart.

We hope that these general guidelines serve as a good starting point for Class of 2014 applicants in translating their experiences and achievements into this brief but important document. For more tailored guidance, contact us to speak with one of our counselors about your background. You can also read the Clear Admit Resume Guide for a complete step-by-step ‘instruction manual’ for crafting your resume (available on download in our publications shop).


MBA Admissions Tip: Selecting Your Recommenders

This weekly MBA admissions tip comes to us from our friends at Clear Admit. For more expert b-school admissions advice, check out their blog.

Since many of our readers are just beginning the business school application process, we wanted to offer some basic tips on a critical variable in the MBA admissions equation: recommender selection.

When choosing your recommenders, remember that it can be seen as a test of judgment – selecting a recommender whose letter is ineffective or who appears dubious about your qualifications may raise doubts about your ability to judge your interactions with others or to select the right person for a job.

In order for your letters to be as effective as possible, you should look for several qualities in a recommender.  First, your recommenders should have greater seniority than you unless the school specifically asks for a peer recommendation.  The adcom gives greater weight to statements made by your superiors than by a peer because a peer is assumed to be essentially a friend and therefore predisposed to write a positive recommendation.

As we discuss in greater depth with our clients, the most persuasive recommendation letters are those which contain specific examples and anecdotes.  Because of this, you should select recommenders who are very familiar with your work and with whom you interact(ed) on a regular basis.  This usually means that you should choose current or former direct supervisors, rather than someone whose title you think will impress the adcom.  Choosing a recommender based on their name or title can imply that you put an undue emphasis on such qualities instead of thinking about who would be the best person for the job.  In addition to picking people who know you well, you should also pick recommenders with whom you have a positive relationship, since if they like and respect you, their letters are likely to be much more positive and persuasive.

When deciding amongst your current and former supervisors or mentors, there are several factors to consider.  First, the people you select should be able to provide the adcom with a fairly comprehensive and up-to-date perspective on your professional experiences.  Often, it makes sense to ask your current supervisor and a supervisor from the job you held immediately prior to your current position.  If you find that it works best to choose two recommenders from the same employer, you should make sure that they can talk about different aspects of your experiences so as to provide letters that are complementary rather than repetitive.  In such a case, you should talk to each recommender about the anecdotes and traits each of them would like to cover.  Alternatively, if you decide to choose a recommender with whom you worked some time ago, you should choose a person with whom you have maintained a strong relationship so that they can speak positively to your continued professional development as well as to your past accomplishments.

Ideally, you would also choose recommenders who can write well and who are receptive to input.  Strong writing skills are obviously important because an articulate letter is more effective than an inarticulate one.  In addition, an openness to input is important so that your recommenders can build upon and reinforce the general message of your candidacy.

These tips should offer a good starting point for readers who are beginning to think about recommendations.  For those candidates looking for more guidance, we direct you to the Clear Admit Recommendation Guide.   After years of one-on-one work with clients in coaching their recommenders in producing the most supportive endorsements possible, we’ve made our MBA recommendation best practices available to the applicant pool at large.  The Clear Admit Recommendation Guide will teach you to strategically select the best possible recommenders, help them understand the characteristics of a strong recommendation, and exert some influence over the content of their comments to arrive at complementary documents that reinforce the strengths of your candidacy and alleviate its weaknesses.   This 29-page PDF file, which includes a set of guidelines you can print and share with your recommenders, a list of frequently asked questions and two full sample recommendations, is available for immediate download.  Buy this guide.

MBA Admissions Tip: Feedback Session Etiquette

This weekly MBA admissions tip comes to us from our friends at Clear Admit. For more expert b-school admissions advice, check out their blog.

At the beginning of April, we discussed the importance of signing up for a feedback session when one is planning to reapply to a program that provides this opportunity. Today we’d like to follow up on that post by offering a few thoughts on feedback session etiquette.

While on one hand a feedback session marks the close of this year’s process, it’s crucial that you realize that the impression you make on the adcom member conducting the session may be added to your file and come to bear on your candidacy next year. Taking heed of the following advice could help to make your feedback session as productive as possible – both in terms of gaining information about your weaknesses that you can address now and fostering a positive relationship with the school that will pay off in the future.

Be pleasant. Though the admissions process is a highly emotional one and to have invested time, effort and money in an application without having an acceptance to show for it is undoubtedly very frustrating, receiving the adcom’s comments in an appreciative – not defensive – manner is of the utmost importance. While it might be tempting to argue with the adcom’s criticisms of your file or counter their comments about your weaknesses with steps you’ve taken to address them, this is simply not going to be productive. You should view this as an exercise in listening and an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to the school. No one ever converted a rejection to an admit by merely arguing their case in a feedback session.

Take what you can get. Because time is so limited, we often encourage applicants to approach the adcom member conducting their session with pointed questions about specific elements of their application and ideas for improvement. However, you need to remember that there is some information they are simply not at liberty to divulge. If you’ve waived your right to view your recommendations, for instance, they might not be able to speak on this subject, and they might also hesitate to go into detail about your interview as well (for fear that you’ll track down an alumni or student interviewer to complain about their review). When you meet a roadblock like this, the best strategy is to leave it at that, letting the adcom member share what he or she is comfortable saying rather than pressing or probing for more information.

Follow through. If you take down the name and email address of the person conducting your feedback session, it would be a nice touch to send this person a brief thank you note after your meeting. Further, by keeping in touch with this individual and updating him or her of your progress over the months leading up to your application and decision, you can make that person your advocate by demonstrating that you’ve been following their advice (an email or two between April and November is sufficient).

Of course, the schools are not always able to tell an applicant the whole story; for instance, it’s difficult to tell an applicant who comes from an oversubscribed group and had fine numbers and essays that the class simply didn’t need another banker by the time he applied in round three. For this reason, it’s important to seek feedback from other sources, such as current students or colleagues. If you’d like an objective and informed assessment of your candidacy and previous application, feel free to contact us for information about our comprehensive feedback reports.

MBA Admissions Tip: Going Beyond Business School Websites

This post comes to us from our friends at Clear Admit. For more expert MBA admissions advice, check out their blog.

In keeping with the recent Admissions Tips we have posted for the new crop of applicants to the Class of 2014, today we want to offer some tips on engaging the community of one’s target programs.  Communicating with b-school insiders can be beneficial for a number of reasons; in addition to learning about a given school and your potential fit, you’ll also generate material for your essays, demonstrate your interest in the program, and perhaps even make an ally or two.  In your efforts to go beyond the schools’ websites and promotional materials, we recommend reaching out to individuals in a few key groups:

Current Students – People who are currently enrolled in a given program can obviously provide the clearest picture of the present state of the school community.  They are often more capable of evoking their school’s overall culture than brochures put out by the admissions offices and can describe to prospective students the ins and outs of academic and extracurricular options.  In addition to reaching out to friends and acquaintances who are studying at a given school, it’s also wise to get in touch with the leaders of clubs and programs in which you are interested (their contact information is generally available through the website).  This will help you to understand the impact you could make while on campus and provide a sounding board for the ideas you plan to share with a certain student group or organization.

Alumni – While students offer a great view of the program itself, a school’s alumni can often provide the best perspective on just how far an MBA from a given program can get you in a certain field.  Meeting with alumni working in your target post-MBA industry (tracking them down either through your own network or school-sponsored events) may help you anticipate the program’s strengths and weaknesses in setting you on the right professional course.  You might also gain some valuable insight that will help you to refine your career goals and better understand what short-term position would best prepare you for your long-term plan.

Faculty – The professors at business school tend to be a bit less accessible than students and alumni, but if you’ve identified someone whose research interests match yours or sat in on a class that you found particularly intriguing, there’s no harm in sending a note to let the faculty member know that you find his or her work appealing and would like to speak if possible.  The individuals responsible for designing and teaching the curriculum can offer great insight into the specific skills and lessons you would learn from one class to the next and help you to refine your understanding of the ways that an MBA would bridge the gap between your current skills and those you will need to achieve your goals.

Aspirants to the Class of 2014 should consider each of these options in the months ahead.  Not only are many individuals quite pleased to discuss their experiences with prospective students, admissions committees also like thoroughly informed applicants (of course in all cases, patience and manners are of great importance).  For more tailored guidance on what sort of programs you might consider, feel free to contact us for a free initial consultation or consider reading the Clear Admit School Guides, our in-depth profiles of the leading business schools, or the School Selection Guides, which offer comprehensive summaries of career-specific offerings at the top MBA programs.

MBA Admissions Tip: Approaching the Career Goals Essay

This post comes to us from our friends at Clear Admit. For more expert admissions advice, check out their blog.

With essay topics for the coming year already starting to be released by some schools, there are applicants who are eager to get started on their written applications. Though essay questions tend to vary year to year, the two things that nearly every prospective student can count on being asked are “What are your short-term and long-term post-MBA goals?” and “How will Business School X help you achieve these goals?”

These are the fundamental questions of the entire application process; identifying clear answers will help in everything from creating a list of target schools to communicating effectively with recommenders and interviewers down the line. As such, it’s a great idea to begin drafting answers to the Career Goals essay early and often! To help you get started, here are some general pointers:

Whether the essay is 1,000 or 500 words long, the adcom looks for applicants who offer fully defined long- and short-term career goals, sound reasons for pursuing an MBA at this point in their careers, well-informed interest in School X and specific plans to contribute to the campus community if they are admitted.

The key to successfully tackling each of these components is specificity. In presenting future goals and explaining one’s motivation for seeking an MBA, it is crucial to present well-defined and feasible objectives. Unlike the undergraduate experience at many American colleges and universities, MBA adcoms believe that students need a fair amount of direction at the time they enter the program in order to take the right classes, join the appropriate clubs and seek the best internship. Everything is oriented towards preparing for the post-MBA job, so specifying a specific industry and function for the short-term is of the utmost importance. In addition to identifying goals for the adcom, it is also important that applicants explain their interest in their particular plans. Along the same lines, applicants should comment on what they hope to accomplish in their target positions.

Admissions officers understand that successful students are focused in their ambitions, and one of the best measures of this is what they have done so far. Not every school asks for this explicitly, however in most situations a Career Goals essay is more compelling when it includes a brief but coherent career history summarizing the applicant’s work history to date. This should reveal the continuity between one’s previous professional experiences and goals for the future. A great essay manages to thoroughly and efficiently address each of these elements, with a nice balance between the ‘career progression’ section, the ‘career goals/why MBA’ section and the ‘why School X’ section.

Another critical part of this essay is the explanation of one’s interest in a given program, as the adcom is sensitive to whether or not applicants are serious about attending if admitted. Individuals who name specific classes that are relevant to their goals, recount their impressions of the campus culture based on a class visit, or share what they’ve learned from discussions with alumni and students will be in good shape. The aim is to convey the fact that the applicant has conducted extensive research and is making an informed decision in applying.

Beyond convincing the adcom of their genuine interest in the program, it is also important for applicants to keep the following concept in mind: any fair trade necessitates mutual benefit. In other words, in addition to showing that School X is the best MBA program for one’s needs, the applicant should demonstrate to School X that he or she will enrich its community. A strong candidate describes insights he or she could contribute in class, and offers detailed intentions for getting involved in campus activities.

These general pointers should set applicants on the path toward crafting a great Career Goals essay, the centerpiece of any compelling candidacy. Happy writing!  For a free assessment of your candidacy, feel free to send us your CV or resume.

Law School Admissions Tip: Administrative Holds

Every other Wednesday, our friends at Clear Admit will share a helpful law school admissions tip. For more, check out their blog.

Students this time of year are hearing about being accepted, rejected, and waitlist – and some students are also receiving notification of being put on an administrative “hold.”  Because this is not as common or transparent as other admissions decisions, students who are on hold at their dream schools may be uncertain about what this means and what to do next.  Here are a few tips from us to help guide you through this process:

1) Examine your file. There are several reasons that cause admissions committees to put applicants on hold.  The first is that although one is a strong candidate, the admissions committee is simply not ready to make a decision until they have reviewed more applications.  The adcom may also be concerned about your numerical scores (i.e. LSAT and GPA) or another aspect of your candidacy.  If you are not sure why you have been put on hold, it is in your best interest to reflect upon your application and see if you can pinpoint the reason for the adcom’s concern.

2) Prove yourself. Once you have pinpointed the reason why the adcom has put you on hold, it’s helpful to address this concern by sending in materials that supplement your application if the admissions office accepts them.  For example, if you had weak grades your junior year, perhaps you have just finished your senior year on a strong note and can send in your updated transcript as a sign of the strength of your candidacy.  Even if you don’t have a major “weak point” in your candidacy, you can still show the adcom how your candidacy has improved since the time of you application, i.e. a promotion at your job.  This way the school not only knows that you are still interested in being considered for admission, but is also aware of the most recent strengths of your candidacy.  Before sending any updates, be sure to verify that a given admissions office accepts these additional materials, since not all do.  Your “hold” notification generally contains some information about maintaining communication with the admissions office, and you should abide by whatever level of contact the admissions office requests.

3) Remain positive. The good news is that being put on hold means that you were originally selected from the applicant pool as a promising candidate for admission.  Therefore while you may be upset about not being automatically accepted, you should definitely view this as a “glass half full” outcome.  That being said, the decision you may receive can be admit, deny, or waitlist, so you should have a backup plan in place: the other schools to which you have applied, job options, or a strong strategy for being a reapplicant next year.

Best of luck to those who are on “hold!”  Stay strong – we know it’s a grueling process.

MBA Admissions Tip: Late Round Considerations

This post comes to us from our friends at Clear Admit. For more b-school admissions advice, check out their blog.

After a relatively sleepy February, March will soon be upon us with its extensive list of application deadlines and decision notification dates. Let’s take a look at the long list of Round 3 (or 4 or 5) deadlines spread over the next two months:

March 1: Michigan/Ross R3
March 3: Wharton R3
March 8: Duke R3
March 9: INSEAD R3 (Sept. intake)
March 15: NYU R3
March 16: Haas R4
March 17: Yale R3
March 22: Cornell R4
March 30: Darden R3, INSEAD R1 (Jan. intake)
March 31: HBS R3

April 1: Tuck R4
April 6: Stanford R3
April 7: Kellogg R3
April 13: Columbia RD (US-based), Chicago R3, UCLA R3

While it’s always best to apply as early as possible, the difference between applying in Round 1 and applying in Round 2 is, for most applicants, a marginal one. However, the later rounds are a very different game. Because most of the seats in the incoming class will have been given away by the time round two decisions are released, the acceptance rate in the third round is dramatically lower than that for the first two deadlines of the season.

To maximize your chances of a later round acceptance, demonstrating your interest in the school and submitting thoughtful and error-free written materials will be crucial. Just as applying in Round 1 is generally taken as a sign of interest in a given program, applicants submitting their materials in a later round need to work extra hard to convince the adcom that they are genuinely interested in the school and are not simply applying as an afterthought because interview invitations didn’t come through in round two. Demonstrating that you would make a valuable contribution to the community and providing evidence that you have taken steps to engage current students and alumni will work to your advantage.

As always, we’d like to recommend the in-depth Clear Admit School Guides to those applicants who are targeting the later deadlines and just beginning to investigate certain programs, and to encourage those who’ve visited the campus and interviewed to share their experiences in the Clear Admit Wiki. Potential R3 or R4 applicants are also welcome to contact Clear Admit directly to discuss the strength of their later round candidacies and learn more about our one-on-one counseling services.

MBA Admissions Tip: The Waitlist

Here’s another weekly MBA admissions tip from our friends at Clear Admit. For more advice about the b-school application process, check out their blog.

What should an applicant do when placed on the waitlist at his or her dream school? While most applicants regard the waitlist in a negative light (we’ve even heard it described as “a sort of purgatory prior to getting dinged”), the best approach is to view the glass as being half-full (especially for R1 waitlisters). In all cases, getting waitlisted is much better than getting denied.

Here are a few tips to help you navigate this often difficult and mysterious process:

1) Know your file. Before you can develop a waitlist strategy you need to understand where you may have fallen short in the application process. Read over your file with a critical eye and try to identify any weaknesses. Talk to anyone you know who might be able to give you feedback (MBA students at the target school, former admissions officers, admissions consultants, etc).

2) Familiarize yourself with the school’s waitlist rules. Do you need to ‘opt-in’ in order to be on the list? Are you allowed to submit supplemental materials to bolster your case or inform the committee of changes to your candidacy? Does the school offer a chance for feedback via a phone session or interview with a ‘waitlist manager’?

3) Follow the waitlist rules.

CASE A: Schools that accept supplemental materials. If a school hints that you may want to provide a supplemental essay or recommendation letter, then by all means, take this offer seriously and get something together for them. Approach these materials in the same way that you would approach the application process (e.g. do not just send along something that you dash off in a matter of minutes). If you have several items you wish to send, it may make sense to spread them out over the course of a few weeks to demonstrate steady interest.

CASE B: Schools that do not accept supplemental materials. This may sound obvious, but if a school indicates that they do not want supplemental materials, then you should respect their guidelines. In other words, do not send along a new recommendation or an essay if the program has clearly indicated that you should not do so. There may be exceptions to this – for example, if a dramatic change has taken place in your candidacy – but in most cases, you should simply follow the rules. [Contact us to learn about other ways to improve your waitlist status with schools that frown on supplemental materials.]

4) Consider a school visit. It may make sense to visit the school, particularly if you have not been before. So many different things can happen on a visit:

a) You never know when you’ll have that chance meeting with an admissions officer who is willing to give you a little feedback (and who through the process of meeting you face to face might get a better sense of your candidacy)

b) A school may take note of your visit (if you sign in with the admissions office) and view it as a potential sign of your interest

c) You may interact with students or professors who can better inform you of opportunities at the school and provide you with helpful ‘content’ for any waitlist materials you go on to submit

d) By visiting, you may find out that school X is really not for you, enabling you to move on and remove yourself from the waitlist

Just as there are a number of waitlist to-do items, there are also countless things to avoid doing. We’ll devote another post to that at a later date. Please contact the Clear Admit offices for questions about waitlist strategy and our related services (info@clearadmit.com).

In addition, for valuable guidance about being on the waitlist, check out the Clear Admit Waitlist Guide.  This guide will teach you to understand the ground rules of a program’s waitlist policy, formulate a plan to address weaknesses in your candidacy, craft effective communications to the admissions committee and explore every opportunity to boost your chances of acceptance.  This 26-page PDF file, which includes school-specific waitlist policies and sample communication materials, is available for immediate download.