5 Ways to Boost Your MBA Profile
Updated: May 19
Top business schools tell us all the time that they evaluate every profile that crosses their desk “holistically”. Let's shed some light on what that really means.
Highly competitive MBA programs have acceptance rates of as low as 6 to 18%. For example, if you applied to HBS last year, you competed against 8263 other applicants, of which only about 1000 will get in. This pool of candidates includes MBB consultants, bulge bracket investment bankers, Fortune500 employees or magic circle lawyers from all over the world, many with reputed international brand names and a laundry list of achievements on their resume.
So how do business school admissions committees narrow down this huge pool of applicants? They’ll typical start by comparing candidates on these easily quantifiable factors:
Ranking of your undergrad University
Difficulty of your UG major
Scholarships, Honors and Awards
How this compares with their class average
If you’ve applied for a GMAT waiver: the strength of your Quant profile, undergrad GPA, etc.
Do you belong to a minority often under-represented in MBA cohorts, or an over-represented group like White male consultant or Indian male engineer?
Number of years of work experience
Brands you’ve worked with
Promotions: promotion schedule, accelerated promotions if any, and newer responsibilities you started taking on
Extracurricular activities you’ve been consistently involved in (3 months or more) during your time at University, work, or personal life.
Leadership roles in extracurriculars
Lived or worked outside your country of origin
International or multicultural work environment / projects / clientele
Collaborations with diverse individuals or communities
Fit with school:
Stories that demonstrate the school’s values and culture
Ways you can contribute and add value to their MBA cohort
Now that you know these factors, you’ll realize that there are certain factors that you CANNOT change. For example, you can’t increase your undergrad GPA, restart your career by choosing to work for a different brand, or change your ethnic background.
However, there ARE several actionable steps that you can take now to improve your profile for your MBA applications:
1. Nurture leadership traits
Demonstrated leadership is the most common trait among successful MBA applicants. However, this doesn’t mean that all accepted applicants are CEOs, founders of the next cancer-curing startup, or managers of large global teams.
Many non-traditional applicants show that they have stepped up as a leader, even without managerial responsibilities at work. Here are five ways you can demonstrate leadership:
Be a self starter - Step up to lead projects at work, preferably those that are international. Take initiative to find a solution to a persistent workplace problem , or leverage an opportunity for growth. Find an intern to mentor, set up an info session at your undergrad for students looking to move into your industry, or lead a “go-green” project.
Step outside of your comfort zone - Show personal development by volunteering to assist international colleagues, learning a foreign language, or immersing yourself in an overseas experience to gain diverse business insights. These activities may be new or challenging, but they show that you’re willing to learn and grow.
Think outside the box - Recall a time when you stepped away from the conventional path in a client matter. Or when you implemented a radical strategy to solve a business problem that landed you a promotion.
Build trust with your team - Think of ways that you can boost your team’s morale and foster a collaborative culture. This may include mentoring a struggling colleague, starting a club, or stepping up when your manager is juggling too many responsibilities.
Embrace course correction - If you’ve ever bitten off more than you can chew or messed up at work, demonstrate your ability to acknowledge and learn from your mistakes. Humility is a key trait of effective leadership as it displays maturity and self-reflection.
2. Develop your extracurriculars
Business schools look for candidates who not only contribute to academic classroom discussions, but also engage with their community. People who will take on key roles in student clubs and programs or help drive the school’s values through advocacy. In short, they don’t want business nerds who commute exclusively between their dorms and the classroom. So when they review your MBA applications, they’ll want to get to know the real human behind the numbers.
Your extracurriculars say a lot about your passions and priorities. If your profile lacks any significant extracurricular involvement, here are some ways to build them into your profile:
Volunteer to train new associates
Identify ways to improving company’s labor policies
Spearhead DEI (Diversity, equity and inclusion) initiatives
Get involved in CSR activities, like leading charity or sustainability drives to reduce the company’s carbon footprint
Make socially and environmentally conscious investments
Explore a community initiative that aligns with your personal values, like rehabilitation efforts for the unhoused, or mutual aid for local communities.
Take on a leadership position in an initiative you’re already involved in. For example, if you’re involved in recruitment efforts for new graduates at your alma mater, maybe it's time you start leading the alumni association, or offer mentorship and interview training to final year students.
Create an official website, LinkedIn, or social media account to scale an initiative you haven’t formally recorded.
3. Strengthen your quant profile
The strength of your quant profile is often based on your undergrad major and the GPA you’ve graduated with. For example, graduating with a 3.5+ GPA in a Finance or Engineering major communicates that you’re good with numbers. However, a lower GPA in a liberal arts or humanities major means that you’ll need to provide additional proof of your academic ability, especially your quantitative aptitude.
The first step in boosting your quant profile is to get a strong GMAT, GRE, or EA score.
If you’re a poor test taker or tend to get bogged down by quant-heavy questions, enroll in a Coursera Certificate, MBA Math, EdX or HBS CORe course.
Hire a tutor, if needed. Explore subjects similar to those you’ll study during your MBA, like Financial Modelling, Accounting, Statistics and Data Analytics.
Lastly, take on more analytical projects at work and highlight them in your resume and essays. Ensure that your managers discuss your learning curve in your letters of recommendation.
4. Establish strong career goals
The career goals essay is common to every MBA application. But you may not be entirely clear on what your goals are at this point, and that’s okay. Start by establishing a larger purpose that drives you professionally. For example, your mission is to make renewable energy more accessible and affordable.
From here, reflect on your past experiences and choices that have shaped your career. Then, use research and conversations with your network (LinkedIn is a great outreach tool) to identify the goals that will help you achieve your mission. Ideally, the MBA will bridge any skill gaps between you and your goals.
For example, a good career goals story reads like this:
I’ve spent the last 5 years of my career working as a senior technical lead in the structural engineering department of my firm wherein I was singlehandedly managing projects worth over $5M.
With my expertise in budgeting, planning and executing for these projects, I now intend to develop my strategic thinking skills and leadership skills to take on the role of a Project Consultant in the energy sector, developing strategies and programs for the financing workstream.
These short term goals should be ambitious, but realistic. For your goals 5-10 years down the line, show a sensible evolution from your short term goals.
Long term, I plan to start my own wind turbine manufacturing company to supply turbines using axial flux generators for commercial, rural electrification, and agricultural purposes.
For more advice about identifying the right career goals, check out our guide to Nail Your Important Career Goals Essay.
5. Strengthen relationships with recommenders
Most applicants apply to around 5-8 business schools in one round. So, while you write essays and customize resumes for all these schools, your recommenders will also need to write 5-8 letters of recommendation.
Here's what you can do to make the process easier for them:
Build up goodwill and a positive relationship with your recommenders.
Communicate your application timelines and expectations well in advance.
Provide them with notes and points to highlight certain skills or stories. This will help them write detailed, strong LoRs with examples of leadership and quantifiable impact.
For in-depth advice on which recommenders to choose, what they should say, and how to manage them, check out the Recommender Guide course on MBAconsultant.com.
Not sure which part of your profile needs a boost? Book a free chat with one of our admissions experts.