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Are Your Communication Skills Strong Enough for an MBA Program?

Posted in Test Prep on March 7, 2011 by

According to the Graduate Management Admissions Council, the average GMAT AWA score dropped from 4.7 in 2007 to 4.4 in 2010. Though it’s unclear why this is happening, a GMAC spokesperson indicated that this dip in AWA scores is a result of the increase in international applicants taking the exam.

An article in the Wall Street Journal examined the issue from the perspective of employers as well as faculty and administrators at top business schools. The consensus seems to be that oral and written communication are significant factors in business performance and that the ability to communicate effectively is an important skill often overlooked in MBA programs.

Complaints from employers indicate that communication from business school graduates can often be pretentious, overly casual or contain extraneous information. Many freshly minted MBAs also have difficulty adjusting their prose for different situations:

M.B.A. students are often challenged when they have to adapt their writing for multiple audiences, says Keisha Smith, global head of recruiting for investment bank Morgan Stanley. Research associates are encouraged to develop their own voice when writing opinionated recommendations on stocks, but they sometimes have trouble presenting information in emails to clients. Some tend to write long emails when only a short list is needed, she says. At Morgan Stanley, managers look over new hires’ emails before they’re sent out to clients, she says. (Wall Street Journal)

What this means for you. Be cognizant of the fact that you will be evaluated on your communication skills during the MBA application process. Members of the adcom will draw their own conclusions from factors such as your GMAT AWA score, your letters of recommendation, and your interview evaluations. Though it may seem like quantitative ability is the only thing that matters, you are not applying for a master’s degree in statistics, economics or finance (and even if you were, some of those programs have interviews as well); you’re applying for a master’s degree in business administration and business does have a social component – so, writing and speaking skills inevitably matter.

Test scores. You’ve heard this before, but it’s worth saying again: don’t blow off the AWA section on the GMAT! Yes, it doesn’t count toward your score out of 800; yes, it’s one more thing you have to pay attention to, but you don’t want to raise any red flags during the admissions process. At the very least, you want to score respectably. And of course a perfect “6/6” could add some “wow” factor to an already outstanding score (out of 800) or make a good application “pop” a bit more.

Letters of Recommendation. If you have yet to apply to programs and you intend to ask your current supervisor for a recommendation in the next year or so, it doesn’t hurt to start thinking about your communication skills and how others perceive them. Even if you’re a quant rock star and don’t care for writing and presentations, you don’t want a glaring weakness in your profile if you can help it. Some applications even require evaluators to score students as top 1%, top 5%, top 10% (and so forth) among their peers in areas such as “written communication” and “oral communication.” So, next time you shoot another email to a boss or co-worker, proofread and aim for clear, straightforward expression.

Interview. Though it may seem like a half-hour interview in which you are asked basic questions like, “Why an MBA?” and “Why now?” can’t possibly be difficult, it’s worth practicing a bit, especially if you have a tendency to ramble or go into too much detail. It can be challenging to tell a compressed version of your story that still retains all the significant and memorable points.