Many MBA candidates believe that admissions committees have narrowed down their criteria for selecting applicants over the years and that each school has one distinct “type” that it seeks. So, in this world of stereotypes, Harvard Business School (HBS) is looking only for leaders, Kellogg is looking only for marketing students, Chicago Booth is looking only for finance students, and in some extreme cases, people actually believe that MIT is looking only for “eggheads.” Of course, these stereotypes—like most stereotypes—are not accurate. Chicago Booth wants far more than one-dimensional finance students in its classes, and it provides far more than just finance to its MBA students (including, to the surprise of many, an excellent marketing program). HBS is not a school just for “generals”; among the approximately 950 students in each of its classes, HBS has a wide variety of personalities, including some excellent foot soldiers. So, at mbaMission, we constantly strive to educate MBA candidates about these misconceptions in hopes that they will eschew these stereotypes, which can sink applications if applicants pander to them.
By way of example, imagine that you have worked in operations at a widget manufacturer. You have profound experience managing and motivating dozens of different types of people, at different levels, throughout your career, in both good economic times and bad. Even though your exposure to finance has been minimal, you erroneously determine that you need to be a “finance guy” to get into NYU Stern. So you tell your best, but nonetheless weak, finance stories, and now you are competing against elite finance candidates who have far more impressive stories in comparison. What if you had told your unique operations/management stories instead and stood out from the other applicants, rather than trying to compete in the school’s most overrepresented pool?
We think that attempting to defy stereotypes and truly being yourself—to try to stand out from all others and not be easily categorized—is only natural. Of course, if you are still not convinced, you might ask Stanford’s director of MBA admissions, Derrick Bolton, who wrote on his admissions Web site, “Because we want to discover who you are, resist the urge to ‘package’ yourself in order to come across in a way you think Stanford wants. Such attempts simply blur our understanding of who you are and what you can accomplish. We want to hear your genuine voice throughout the essays that you write, and this is the time to think carefully about your values, your passions, your hopes and dreams.”
Kind of makes sense, right?