Acing the MBA Application: Essential Skills Every MBA Candidate Should Master Before Applying
Published on: September 13, 2023
As one of the most prestigious degrees, the Master of Business Administration provides exciting opportunities to develop your leadership skills and distinguish yourself as one of the best and brightest in the business community. There’s no denying that MBA programs are rigorous, but ambitious candidates are willing to put in the work to reap a myriad of personal and professional rewards.
What some don’t realize, however, is that the hard work begins long before classes start. The application process itself can be highly demanding, in part because it aims to reveal who, exactly, can withstand the challenges of an MBA program. Not just anybody is up to the task, so admissions experts have implemented a detailed system designed to uncover strong potential in a variety of applicants.
A lot goes into an MBA application and resume, but skill development is one of the most important — and often, one of the most neglected — elements. Yes, your undergraduate GPA and personal recommendations matter, but they must be complemented by proficiency in a variety of areas. This, in turn, is demonstrated through application essays, admissions interviews, and, possibly, GMAT or GRE scores.
Thorough preparation can make a world of difference and, ideally, this will begin long before you submit your application. The sooner you begin developing critical MBA skills, the easier you’ll find it to highlight them during the admissions process — and the more likely you are to continue building on them once you’re enrolled.
Below, we’ve clarified which skills are most in-demand and which may require extra attention as you prepare for your future as an MBA candidate.
What Skills Do MBA Students Really Need?
The top MBA skills in demand are far more diverse than most aspiring graduate students realize. These run the gamut from soft skills to more technical or analytical areas.
What’s more, different skills will be called for at different points of the admissions process: what helps you stand out on a resume, for example, might do little for you when it’s time to write your essay, complete your interview, or acquire letters of recommendation. These, in turn, may differ from the primary skills an MBA teaches you, although your graduate studies will certainly give you the chance to expand on skills you’ve already begun to develop.
To help you prepare for each of these key elements, we’ve highlighted the most relevant skills for each task or requirement.
MBA Skills for a Resume
Every student and professional should be capable of creating a compelling resume that succinctly conveys key qualities and ambitions. Not just any resume will cut it, however, and you may need to adapt this document considerably to ensure that it reflects the unique realities of MBA applications. You’ll also want to confirm how to put MBA candidate on a resume, as this could help you score additional job opportunities or internships once you’re enrolled.
1. Leadership Ability and Experience
MBA resumes are all about potential. Specifically, these should reveal why you have such strong potential as a leader. This narrative will be shaped, in part, by your previous experience in leadership roles, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem. The nature of the role doesn’t matter as much as your ability to demonstrate how you led effectively and what lessons you will carry forward into your next leadership opportunity.
How you handle this part of your resume will depend, in large part, on where you’re at in your career. Recent college graduates may have limited experience in the workforce, and therefore, few opportunities to highlight professional initiatives they’ve spearheaded.
Thankfully, this can be replaced by details about college-based leadership, acting as president of an extracurricular organization, for example, or leading a fundraising initiative. Many part-time jobs and volunteer positions also call for leadership skills.
2. Career Ambition
As we’ve mentioned, an MBA resume is all about showing your potential —so you’ll want to confirm that details about your career planning efforts reveal your passion and work ethic. Additionally, demonstrate how, exactly, you will harness these to make progress toward your ultimate career goals.
Ideally, you will have a vision for your career by the time you apply for an MBA program, as this will inform which concentration you pursue along the way.
Your unique vision should be conveyed early on in your resume, with the remainder of the document revealing how your experiences thus far have shaped — and are continuing to shape — your career path.
3. Motivation for Development
Your MBA resume should tie your career goals to your intention to seek your master’s degree. What is it, specifically, about the MBA program in question that will help you achieve those objectives? Perhaps you want to further develop a few key skills and you’ve determined that the best way to accomplish this is to commit to targeted coursework at the graduate level.
Make these goals abundantly clear in your resume. Like your career goals, this source of motivation is best conveyed in the summary section. Phrases such as “developing skills in ___” are especially common in MBA resumes and will almost certainly have a role to play in yours.
4. Certifications and Additional Education
Educational details round out your resume, revealing the scope of your academic pursuits or outside training, as well as your potential to successfully take on challenging courses and projects. These details can also help you stand out in a sea of applications.
If you have any unique credentials that may be relevant to your MBA plans, don’t hesitate to mention them. Professional certifications, in particular, are valuable, especially if they convey mastery of essential concepts in accounting, marketing, project management, or other key areas.
Interview and Communication Skills
You’ve created a compelling resume that commands the attention and respect of admissions staff. Should you make it to the next step in the admissions process, you may need to expand on that resume with a formal interview. This is often the most nerve-wracking part of applying, but a little practice can go a long way.
5. Ability to Ask Insightful Questions
The questions you ask during your interview may say as much about your potential as how you answer the interviewer’s very different questions. These reveal whether you’ve done your homework and put in the time to research the MBA program you hope to enter. Targeted questions are also important from your perspective as a student — you should genuinely want to know whether the program is likely to be a good fit.
The topics worth investigating will vary based on your goals as an MBA student and the scope of the program in question. Interviewees frequently inquire about the following topics:
- MBA program diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives
- Definitions of student success
- Recent or upcoming changes to the MBA program
In general, these questions should be open-ended, as this will produce the most insightful responses. In-depth questions are preferable to surface-level queries, which may inadvertently reveal that you haven’t done enough research on the program.
6. Strong Answers and Reasoning
You expect strong answers to any questions you ask during the interview and, of course, the interviewer expects the same at your end.
Be prepared for difficult questions that delve into a variety of complex ethical concerns. These are the most likely to stump an aspiring MBA candidate, but they also provide ample opportunities to reveal who you are and what sets you apart.
7. Confidence While Speaking
Effective verbal communication is a must for any MBA student. While this will be further developed while pursuing your graduate degree, it’s also important to practice this skill prior to applying for an MBA program.
After all, no matter what you say when responding to key questions, your answer will only come across as meaningful or authoritative if you use strong body language and a confident tone of voice. Commit to participating in recorded mock interviews. Analyze these videos to determine whether you have any quirks that might make you seem less confident.
Essay and Presentation Skills
MBA application essays allow you to convey your exceptional skills in written communication while also shedding light on your accomplishments thus far and your goals for the future. In addition to these persuasive essays, you may be asked to submit presentations, projects or other proof of your far-reaching skills.
8. Analytical Reasoning and Thinking
Analytical aptitude is highly sought after in MBA applicants, but displaying it in a resume, interview or essay can be tricky. GMAT and GRE scores can reveal a lot about your analytical skills, but you can also highlight them by incorporating objective analysis into your essay.
Select a story that reveals how you’ve developed your ability to think analytically — and how you’ve used these skills to solve difficult problems in the past.
9. Data-Driven Problem Solving
As with analytical thinking, a data-driven mindset may seem to be most closely linked to GMAT scores — but with a little nuance, you can also highlight this in your essay. Find relevant places to discuss your experience with gathering and analyzing large volumes of data. Readers should come away feeling confident that you are data literate — and that you can apply these skills as you solve complex problems.
10. Storytelling and Cohesive Thoughts
The application essay provides yet another opportunity to tell your story. Here, you have far more freedom than with the succinct summary on your resume. Use details from your own life to weave a fascinating saga revealing what exactly compelled you to seek your MBA.
As you tell this story, make sure it remains cohesive and purpose-driven. Less is more, so avoid meandering thoughts that don’t abide by the central theme of the essay.
Skills for a Letter of Recommendation
Your instructors, supervisors and mentors can provide powerful insight into who you are and what you are capable of accomplishing. Their letters of recommendation can give you a powerful edge, especially if your application is lacking in other areas.
To acquire these recommendations, you can leverage work months or even years before you start to think of applying for an MBA program.
11. Discipline and Hard Work
Those who write your letters of recommendation will have clearly seen your work ethic on display. You can amplify this aspect of your application by simply putting in the work and demonstrating that you’re a passionate and highly dedicated student or employee.
This is particularly important if you plan to complete a 4+1 program — which allows you to earn credits towards your master’s while you’re enrolled as an undergraduate — as the feedback from previous professors will prove especially insightful and extra compelling.
12. Integrity and Morals
A strong work ethic is important, of course, but it should also be accompanied by equally strong ethics. These are more nuanced and may not always be readily discernible to those in positions of authority — but if you commit to demonstrating integrity in all that you do, it will be noticed.
The best person for your letter of recommendation will, at some point, be in a position to see you make ethical decisions backed by your personal convictions.
Your Story Starts Here
At Park University, we offer several programs designed to move you closer to your most ambitious business or leadership goals. Our Master of Business Administration is a natural option if you’re looking to study at the graduate level, but we also offer several business-oriented concentrations for undergraduate students.
Don’t forget to check out our analytics certificate programs, which help you expand your niche skills and industry-specific knowledge. Reach out today to learn more about these and other exciting opportunities.