Part 2 out of 2
In Part One of this two-part series on long-term planning, we focused on big-picture issues - identifying macro ways to significantly bolster your profile on your way to becoming a more competitive candidate next year. Today, we look at pragmatic and practical steps that you can take to ensure that you will have the time needed to put your best foot forward. In some ways, these are micro tips for the uber-motivated - those who leave absolutely nothing to chance.
With some foresight and planning, you can ensure that when the essay questions come out in early July, you will be able to focus solely on them and reduce the noise around you. In last week's piece, we discussed visiting schools now, a step that will not only show your commitment, but that will also free up significant time in September. Another simple step that many can take is to prepare a resume now and then make small modifications and updates regarding your most recent position in October, during the latest stages of the application process. By preparing your resume now, you will save precious hours that would otherwise be spent crafting your resume during a much busier summer. Further, an added benefit is that you will start the process of reflecting on your accomplishments and reawakening yourself to certain experiences now as well. In many ways, preparing your resume now will be a primer for your essay brainstorming process, which will be the foundation for your essays.
We find that one of the most frustrating parts of the application process for candidates is connecting with and motivating recommenders. With some foresight, you can take the time now to identify recommenders (even if you do not approach them for months) and gather some intelligence on each of them. Has your recommender written letters for anyone else? Is he/she generous with his/her time when it comes to employee feedback and review sessions? One of the best windows into your recommendation process will be the previous experiences of your colleagues, with whom you may want to speak to discover how your supervisor managed their respective processes. By identifying recommenders who will be helpful and generous, you will potentially alleviate the stress of missed deadlines and unpredictable letters.
While you should spend time right now doing your homework on available recommenders, you should also take time to reconnect with previous supervisors who could be strong potential recommenders, but with whom you may have fallen out of touch. You do not want to be in a position where you are calling a former supervisor for the first time in a year and asking him/her for a large chunk of time on a tight timeline. If you can identify a former supervisor whose time you will need, then make contact now and keep the relationship warm for the next few months. You will be far better off when the letter-writing process begins. (Note: In most cases, MBA Admissions Committees have a bias toward current supervisors, but depending on the situation, past supervisors can be acceptable.)
At mbaMission, we always emphasize that candidates should strive to differentiate themselves via their experiences and the sincerity of their voice within their essays. With respect to sincerity, many candidates have trouble honestly articulating their post-MBA goals, and virtually every MBA program requires that candidates write an essay on short- and long-term career goals (HBS being the notable exception, as they make a goal statement optional). If you aspire to enter a competitive field, such as banking or consulting, it may be wise to conduct informational interviews or even job-shadow an individual for a day, where possible. MBA Admissions Committees frown on vague goal statements or generic claims that lack a profound personal connection to a position and therefore lack credibility. The sincerity of your interest, magnified and thus better articulated, as a result of personal experience, can make the difference for you.
For those who plan to remain with their current firm post-MBA, it wise to do some research now to find out whether your firm will sponsor your MBA. While the financial benefits of firm sponsorship are obvious, many candidates do not realize that there is additional power inherent in being a firm-sponsored candidate. The Admissions Committees know that these candidates, with their firm's backing, will be employed upon graduation and that their post-MBA goals are thereby guaranteed. Furthermore, the Admissions Committee will sleep better, knowing that when they report their school's statistics to Business Week, they will see a small benefit in the percentage of candidates employed upon graduation and possibly even average starting salary categories. So, you should find out whether your firm has such a program and then, if so, learn about the process for earning a firm scholarship. We have worked with clients who have needed to apply for such a scholarship within their own company 1.5 years before their proposed programs would begin; obviously, in such cases, you do not want to be applying at the last moment. Similarly, we have worked with clients whose firms did not originally have sponsorship programs, but created them when our candidates brought forth the idea - a process that can take months of bureaucratic haggling. So, this is certainly a process that you should start now.
Finally, if you are remarkably diligent, you can take one last step to free up some time later by preparing your responses now to the short answer sections - the small sections within the application forms that pertain to your work history, community accomplishments, scholarships and other criteria. These sections do not tend to change much from year to year, and many candidates choose to put off these details until the last moment. By starting now, however, you can rid yourself of an enormous headache later. Furthermore, similar in benefit to updating your resume now, by completing this step early on, you may contemplate and discover stories that will be quite useful when you are writing your essays.
In these two pieces, we have outlined a variety of steps that candidates can take in order to be ideally prepared for the application process. Even if you take only a few of these steps, you should be well ahead of your competition and thus should be poised for a well thought out, lower stress experience, which should in turn maximize your chances for success.