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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 14, 2011

The Role of Potential Employability in the Admissions Process

An applicant's potential employability is not an abstract consideration for admissions officers. Based on my conversations with MBA admissions officers since 2001, I can say with certainty that one factor impacting admissions decisions is potential to be employed. In addition to being hired by someone else, self-employment (entrepreneurship) counts as employment for this purpose  Schools are partially judged in terms of ranking by their ability to place their graduates and therefore it is part of the admissions director's responsibility to admit those applicants who are likely to find post-MBA employment.  Within a business school, it is usually the job of the career services director to provide the admissions director with sufficient information about the job market for the program's graduates in order for the admissions director to make effective judgments about who to admit.  While this is far from a perfect process at most schools, employability is certainly one core criteria for judging candidates.

Potential employability is partially a function of the applicant's background and partially a function of what the applicant says are his or her goals. Some reasons related to employability for rejecting a candidate:

1. Lack of believability that someone with the applicant's background could make an effective transition to the kind of career the applicant has discussed in his or her essays.  This is frequently a problem for career changers. While MBA programs are designed for those who want to make a career change, an applicant must really show that he or she has the potential to make that career change.  If an applicant has never done anything related to the career they want to enter, they will find it harder to make an effective case for themselves. For example, someone who wants to become a social entrepreneur and has no record of volunteering,  entrepreneurship, public service, work in the non-profit sector, work in government, or other activity related to social entrepreneurship will have a great deal of difficulty making an effective case for themselves in their career goals essay.   Sometimes demonstrating cross-functional skills that can be applied to an applicant's future intended career will be sufficient. If an applicant lack sufficient cross functional skills (or even if they have them),  such things as informational interviews, attending relevant classes or seminars, or brief volunteer activities can make a positive difference in how an applicant is perceived.  An applicant who has tried and failed at entrepreneurship is really well placed to make a credible case for why they will be able to become an entrepreneur.  Someone who has passed Level 1, 2, or 3 of CFA is really in a good position to make the case for why they will be able to transition to a finance career. Someone who has actively networked to learn about an industry that they want to enter and has even begun working on internship opportunities is really showing their potential employability.

2. Relative weakness of the applicant compared to other applicants pursuing similar goals.  Admissions directors have to make difficult choices about who to admit. The more competitive the program, the more difficult these choices become.  I think it is fair to say that Derrick Bolton at Stanford GSB has the most difficult choices to make because he can only let in somewhere between 6% and 7% of the annual applicant pool.  He is forced to reject many highly qualified applicants both before and after interviews. Given that level of competition, applicants are necessarily compared to each other and sorted out in order that Stanford forms a truly diverse class.  Goals are one such way of sorting out candidates, both in terms of initial application review and in terms of final decisions.  As such, it is an applicant's interest to have goals that are to their advantage over that of the rest of the pool.  This means having goals that are designed to enhance perceptions of the applicant's employability compared to that of other candidates.  In other words,  applicants should create a set of goals that play to their advantages, not a set of goals that are likely to make them look inferior to other applicants.   

3. Lack of fit between the applicants goals and the post-MBA jobs that the school's graduates have obtained in the past.  Part of the process for school selection for any applicant is to actually make sure that the career path they intend is one that the school has a track record of being able to support.  An applicant's goals should always fit with the school.

4. Ignorance on the part of the admissions office regarding the applicant's career path. As someone who was focused primarily on working with Japanese applicants from November 2001-August 2007, I realized after talking with American admissions officers that many knew almost nothing about what was happening in Japan and were making judgments about applicants' post-MBA goals based on their assumption that what was true in the US also applied to Japan.  Since September 2007, when I started my own consulting service and began working with clients worldwide, I have realized that this was not just a problem for Japanese candidates, but for applicants coming from all over the world.  As such, I think it is very critical that all applicants (and not just international applicants) clearly demonstrate the viability of their short-term goals in as specific a way as possible by including names of likely employers, stating that MBA would enable hiring from such employers, and, possibly explaining why they would be a good candidate for such a position.  This statement actually does not need to take a huge number of words, but it can help to educate admissions officers about the viability of your goals in order that they perceive you as someone with high potential employability.

Finally, potential employability is a good way for an applicant to determine whether they have a viable short-term career goal.  As I discuss elsewhere, career goals are about ambition and vision, but they are also about realism. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
-Do I believe in my goals?
-Do my essays really show why I am employable for the position I want post-MBA?
-Have I demonstrated that I have the necessary skill set to be employable?
-Since I want to change my career, have a really made the case for that?
-Do I think I  compare favorably to other applicants pursuing the same goals as I am?
-Do my goals really take full advantage of my strengths?

If you can't answer "YES!" to the above,  you need to work on developing a winning set of MBA goals.

-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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