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Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

August 19, 2011

In Finance now? Want to be in Finance after your MBA?

I work with a very large percentage of MBA clients who are focused on having future careers in finance. In this post I briefly discuss the current financial career climate and the way admissions offices seem to be reacting to it. Then I provide some advice about what applicants can do in their MBA admissions essays to best make the case for a future career in finance.

If you have not done so, I suggest reading my previous posts on ambition and vision and employability as they relate directly to what I will be discussing below.

When Wall Street Fires, MBA Applications Go Up
I use Wall Street here symbolically to represent the entire financial industry.  Unemployed people in their twenties and thirties are more likely to pursue graduate education when the job market is bad and finance people are now seemingly in for round of badness.  With terminations coming in the summer and early fall of 2011, there should be plenty of time for people to make first and/or second round applications to US MBA programs. What this means that there is likely to an increase in applications from finance professionals at the very time when  the perceived future outlook for jobs in finance is not so great.
For the Class of 2013, HBS significantly reduced the number of those it admitted with finance backgrounds.  I assume that HBS will not be alone in wanting to not over leverage itself with people coming from a US industry that will likely need less and not people in the future.

So what is an MBA applicant to do?
Assuming you plan to stay in or want to enter the financial services industry, play close attention to defining the role that you want to play in the future. Be as specific as possible and be well informed enough to be specific. Make sure that you do the following in your essays (and perhaps during interviews as well):
1. Show your vision for future career. If you make your future career sound routine, it will be perceived as routine by admissions and you will not stand out. Assume you are playing a zero sum game and the level of competition you will be facing will be very high.
2. Show how you are ideally suited for your post-MBA career. For those without prior financial industry experience, you will need to focus on your cross-functional skills. For those with such experience, focus on those parts of your experience that best show your potential for succeeding in the future.
3. Show how the school you are applying to really will best enable that future career. Don't make tautological statements like "your finance classes will enhance my finance skills."  Instead show how you specifically expect classes and other parts of the MBA program to best enable you to reach your goals.
4. Define what you want to do specifically enough, at least in the long-term, in a way that shows your passion for your career. Why this particular career and not another? On a personal level why do you want to do this sort of work?
5.  For those with prior industry experience, consider taking the following steps to show why you would be able to make a transition to the industry: Take a finance class, conduct informational interviews with professionals in the industry, and, if feasible, start geting your CFA. Frankly, I think only those have taken some concrete steps to learn about the industry should consider writing an MBA goals essay about making a transition into it right now.  I am not commenting on this from perspective of actual post-MBA employability, but simply in terms of what kinds of goals you should be presenting in your application.  As always, I focus solely on goals for purposes of admissions and not in terms of what an applicant actually does after they graduate.
6. Come across as particularly well-informed about what you want to do in the short-term after you finish your MBA.  Having a plan will help admissions see that you are someone  who is already focused enough to succeed at what might be a difficult employment process. The point is come across as better prepared than other applicants. Trust me, many will just write some kind of vague post-MBA generalities and not really seem to have any particular plan. The point is to stand out from the pack.
7. For those with post-MBA goals not focused on US who are applying to American MBA programs, make sure you help admissions understand why your goals are viable.  As I discuss in my post on employability, you can't assume that American admissions offices understand employment conditions outside of the US.

Based on working with many clients both in the industry and those who want to be in it, I view the above as best practices regardless of whether the industry's outlook is good or ill.

-Adam Markus
アダム マーカス
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form, which is publicly available on google docs here, and then send your completed form to adammarkus@gmail.com.  You can also send me your resume if it is convenient for you.  Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. See here for why. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.

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