The Two Most Important Traits for MBA Applicants

Created by EarlyAdmit in Articles 7 Sep 2022

The MBA application is different for everyone. Depending on your unique background, stats, and story, you would most likely approach the application differently from other applicants. However, in spite of how differently you approach your application, there are two traits that you must possess and maintain throughout the application process in order to be successful.

Those traits are authenticity and humility. These traits are so important because they are the most accurate indicators of something every top business school looks for in the students they admit—self-awareness

Deferred MBA applicants especially deal with a lot of anxiety. Some of you are anxious about not having enough work experience as the rest of the people in the application pool. Others are anxious about not fitting in with the ‘kind of candidate’ the business school is looking for because you come from non-target universities or from unpopular majors. To combat this anxiety, you feel a need to over-glamourise your profile, exaggerate your achievements, and try too hard to mold yourself into what you think the school wants. But those are the quickest ways to get dinged.

By being authentic, you show that you are comfortable enough in who you are to the extent that you proudly embrace your full self and are able to bring your realness to whatever space or setting you find yourself. By being humble, you show that, in spite of  your many achievements, you are still able to stay grounded and human; never losing sight of your flaws and your areas of improvement.

In your deferred MBA application, there are three places where you can really let your authenticity and your humility shine. Those places are your resume, your essay, and your interview. These are the places where the essence of your personality can be most easily noticed. In the following paragraphs, I will talk about how you can go about making sure that you come across as a person who is authentic and humble in each of these application components.

Crafting a Humble Resume

‘Humble resume’ is probably such an oxymoron because your resume is typically seen as the place where you brag about all the amazing things you have done and show how awesome you are. But that is exactly where most people get it wrong. Your resume is the place where you are supposed to provide relevant context about your background and show quantifiable impact that you have had in the organisations you have been a part of. You can tell a lot about an applicant by how they write about their accomplishments and the things they have done in their resume. As you craft your resume, pay special attention to your choice of words and your tone of voice. 

For example, look at two of these bullet points in a resume. They both say the same thing but they are worded differently.

  • Version A: Single-handedly led the overhaul of an outdated accounting system, which helped save the company from a $250,000 accounting scandal

  • Version B: Led the development and rollout of a more transparent accounting system, with support from lawyers and accountants, which prevented a $2.5m accounting scandal

These are extremes, but do you see the point? The choice of words and the tone of voice in Version A make the person come across as self-absorbed and a lone wolf while that in Version B shows the person as an initiator and a team player. They both have the same impact, but the way that impact is worded also shows a lot about their different personalities. In your resume, lean more towards Version B. Embrace your achievements, but stay humble.

Writing an Authentic Essay

The first step towards writing a winning essay is to make sure that the story you are telling is true. Resist the temptation to fabricate stories that you think would impress the admissions committee. Remember that you’re not trying to fit into the mold of every other applicant they review. You want to be real, authentic, and different.

Also keep in mind that your essay is not meant to be an extension of your resume. Your resume is meant to highlight your impact and your achievements, while your essay is meant to humanise you and tell a story that only you can tell. In your essay, focus on letting yourself show. Make sure that whoever is reading your essay is able to get a glimpse into your background, your values, and if possible, your regrets. You can talk about your mission and the difference you want to make in the world, but those things are most likely not going to be unique. 

Make your essays more authentic by linking who you are and what you want to be/do back to where you have come from and the things that you have experienced. Those are the things that make your story stand out and also more believable. As you speak about your past experiences, do not shy away from getting emotional. 

I once read an essay written by an applicant who wanted to work in cleantech and bring sustainable climate solutions to the world. While writing their story, they spoke extensively about how their family went from being moderately affluent to being homeless after losing almost everything to a hurricane that swept through their village when they were growing up. Having witnessed that calamity and the gruelling process of rebuilding what was lost, the applicant naturally became very passionate about working on preventive solutions to ensure that nobody else has to experience that.

 Anyone could be interested in sustainability, but your interest becomes more authentic when you can ground it in the reality of something you have experienced. Anyone could have been displaced by a hurricane, but not everyone can write about the transformation that followed such a calamity without ignoring the emotional weight and impact of such a tragic event. 

Being a Humble and Authentic Interviewee

The interview is the easiest part of the application to ace and also the easiest to fail. The easiest way to ace the interview is by internalising the most hackneyed interview tip: ‘Be yourself!’ The easiest way to fail the interview is by force-fitting yourself and your stories into something different from what is real. The interview is where everything you put together in the rest of your application is put to the test. Why ‘be yourself’ is still the best advice for deferred MBA interviews is because nobody gets the interview without being of ‘admit quality’. 

For you to be invited to the interview, the business school certainly saw something in you that they would like to see in their MBA class. All you have to do is be consistent with the version of yourself that you put forward in your resume.When there are inconsistencies between the stories you tell in your interview and the stories you wrote about in your essay/resume, your authenticity and your integrity are immediately brought into question. You do not want that.

To come across as humble and authentic in your interview:

  1. Pay attention to how you tell your story. Try to be relaxed in your interview. Be human. As you tell your story, do not be afraid to sneak in a small joke, where appropriate. That’s an easy hack to avoid one of the biggest MBA interview fails ie. coming  across as scripted. When you sound scripted, it can be interpreted that you are not really sure of your story so you had to memorise a version of it and regurgitate it. If your story is true, you should know it by heart and be able to talk about it in a relaxed way. Practice your story, but remember to be human in how you tell it.

  2. Keep your body language in check. A lot about you, your state of mind and your personality is revealed through your body language. Based on how you sit, cross your legs, arch your eyebrows, or bend your lips, you can come across as confident, shy, arrogant, dominating, or even narcissistic. Make sure that your body language conveys the message you want it to. As you speak, make sure you are poised in a way that echoes confidence in posture and humility in speech.

  3. Stay consistent with your story. As mentioned earlier, an inconsistent story is an inauthentic story. It is often interpreted as being either entirely fabricated or partly over-polished. Either way, that is not what you want for your interview. Before your interview, spend time reading through your entire application material. Familiarise yourself with the most granular details of the story you shared and be prepared to speak about any part of it. Just do not make anything up.

To learn more about how to create a winning deferred MBA application, check out our products below that will show you how to put together an application that resonates the authentic you!

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