The IMPACT™ Approach to MBA Admissions
December 20, 2023 :: admisdev
A good MBA admissions consulting firm can help you navigate the landscape, make smart choices about where to apply, and develop your application to bend the odds more in your favor. A better one will do all of that (table stakes much?) and prepare you for business school itself through the admissions consulting process––training you to think like an MBA, ask the right questions, communicate more precisely, and be more effective on campus.
But ‘better’ still isn’t Admissionado-grade. We want our process to set you up for success in life itself. “Easy, Tiger. You’re an admissions consulting firm, maybe take it down a notch?” Fair enough.
Still, how cool would it be if that were the result?
We’ve worked with thousands of MBA applicants over the years, analyzed the wins and losses very, very carefully. But we also keep an eye on how the story continues AFTER business school. What actually happens when these folks are released into the wild? What does that success look like? What makes an admit today a win, ultimately?
These are the questions that admissions committee members (adcoms) are most concerned with. They judge their success not by the quality of the applications they receive, but by the performance of the students they admit. We’ve written about it before but just to review: it all comes down to “did this student benefit our institution”? This typically happens in one of two ways:
- A student earns an epic amount of money and writes large checks back to the school (at top schools alumni donations account for twice as much revenue as tuition).
- Or, a student does something flashy enough to burnish the brand of the institution, essentially improving demand, allowing the institution to be more selective and improve their odds of cranking out the mega superstars (who pay) or earning government funding (particularly crucial at public B-schools).
If a student ends up doing either of those two things, it’s a win for the school. What we (and adcoms) try to do is imagine that hypothetical future “37-year-old mega success”, and go back to what that kid looked like at age 23, when she was an applicant. What were the CLUES back then that gave the institution high confidence that her story would end the way it did?
Answer: it’s six things, as far as we can tell. We call these characteristics IMPACT™:
You might have decent business sense, and you might have leadership positions on your resume. But that doesn’t mean you can actually… lead. At the root of true leadership is your ability to “Influence” others. Not manipulate, not force, but influence: persuade, change minds, inspire. When you talk about leadership, you need to tap into aspects of your story that touch on THIS feature. We’ve all worked with people who were “leaders” only on paper, and people who led without any relevant title at all. Adcoms are looking for this deeper leadership quality, with or without titles attached.
Having great ideas is… awesome. But have you ever known people who trip over themselves? Folks who let perfect be the enemy of good? Folks who constantly come up with “the billion dollar idea” but never actually execute on it? It’s not enough to have the brain, or the leadership talent. You need to be able to manage. Like, actually, physically, be good at organizing things, people, situations. Regardless of the object of management, it requires a way of thinking that is characteristic of most folks who crack the M7. They’re good at this. How can you convince someone of this specific thing in your essays and your resume and in your interviews? It often comes down to effectively presenting specific examples of impressive execution.
Being ultra-talented in every dimension is exciting, but if you’re lacking in passion, you will fold when the going gets tough. And the going WILL BE tough. The biggest mistake an adcom can make is to accept a student who quits part way through the program. A close second is a student who completes the degree but later quits the career path for which it is required. A successful applicant convinces the adcom that they CARE. That the goals they describe are so integral to their identity that they could not imagine life without striving toward them. That their interests are deeply and irrevocably ingrained into their psyche. That’s the reasoning behind Stanford GSB’s longtime essay prompt: “What matters most to you and why?”
Maybe there are people out there who always get it right on the first try. If so, we haven’t met any of them! A fundamental premise of business school is that leadership is a teachable skill, and the committee is looking for applicants who are willing to learn. That requires self-awareness: the ability to reflect on past experiences, identify mistakes, and correct those mistakes next time. As a practical matter, peer feedback is a crucial part of the B-school classroom experience. If you appear unable to reflect, you are unlikely to benefit from the MBA, and the adcom will skip over you for someone with the requisite humility.
Business school creates highly effective doers, but what exactly do you propose to do? Adcoms are looking for revolutionaries, not functionaries. The guy who clocks in every morning, does the same old thing, keeps everything running smoothly–that guy is essential, but he’s not going to donate a building to his alma mater. The kind of success business schools are built on, success that puts names on lintels, requires innovation. The donor doing the ceremonial ribbon cutting did something differently than her peers (or she inherited it all, but that’s not a viable path for most of us). Demonstrate that creativity by identifying your BIG IDEA, and explaining how you plan to transform the way your proposed industry works.
It’s not just that you can work well with others–that goes without saying. Successful applicants prove that they are coachable and collaborative even when the team situation gets very difficult and the room for compromise is narrow. Not everyone can leave the meeting happy: now what? True team players are able to understand the viewpoint of people they vehemently disagree with and change their mind if the evidence warrants it. Most applicants know they need to demonstrate this characteristic, but many fall into the trap of focusing on the superficial bonhomie of fair weather team projects.
These six characteristics undergird every essay prompt business school admissions departments put out. They’re also a pretty decent stab at the core traits of a successful businessperson. Our clients report that they find themselves returning often to these ideas in their own hiring, and we use them when evaluating ourselves.
The purpose of identifying fundamentals is to reveal the many paths to a successful application. If a criterion for B-school admission is “managed X people,” and you have managed less than “X”, you’re cooked. But the process doesn’t work that way. Sure, you can demonstrate “influence” by “managing X people”… but there are an almost unlimited number of ways to make that argument, including many that are more compelling and don’t require that specific resume line item.
Admissionado’s IMPACT™ framework is, in the hands of our expert consultants and editors, the key to lateral thinking about your application, your career, and––yes––life itself.