Writing essays, sweating through interviews, filling out applications, and commissioning letters of recommendation can leave you frazzled, especially in today’s competitive market. One way to set yourself apart is to educate yourself on some of the more common ways applicants tend to trip up.
Below are the five most common mistakes that could make or break your chances at admission.
Your essay and personal statement are a crucial part of your application—nobody knows you better than you know yourself, so you ought to be able to make a convincing case for your admission. The worst thing you can do is fill your essay with clichés, acronyms, and buzzwords that will leave you sounding like every other applicant. A few to avoid: “at the end of the day,” “dynamic,” “diverse” “in a world where,” “B2B/B2C,” “multi-task,” and the nebulous, meaningless “synergy.” Your prose is stronger and more interesting without these.
Your letters of recommendation are some of the most powerful tools you will have in your arsenal. Knowing this, there are a few things to avoid. First, don’t solicit a recommendation based solely on the writer’s credentials. You want to be sure the person making the recommendation is familiar with your skills and talents. An impersonal letter will do you no favors, regardless of the writer’s clout. You will also want to stick to recent relationships. Your current employers and colleagues will give a better picture of the person your are today. Finally, check in and follow up! You need to make sure that the person you commission to write your recommendation follows protocol and meets the university’s deadline. After all, this step speaks to your ability to manage others on a time constraint. Don’t forget to send a thank you note after the recommendation is sent.
If you consider yourself someone who “tests well,” do not simply blow off your preparation for the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). A high score on this test could be the deciding factor in your admission to the program of your choice. Don’t try to “cram.” Rather, begin preparation by taking a class. You will have taken several practice tests, and you’ll be more likely to feel comfortable with the material on the big day. Don’t be discouraged by a low score—you may take the GMAT more than once, and your highest score is the only one that makes it onto your record. If you feel unhappy after multiple tries, consider taking the GRE, which can highlight your strengths in writing, math, and reasoning where the GMAT might not.
Don’t be a Stereotype
It is often perceived that careers like accounting and engineering attract individuals with weaker “people skills.” Likewise, more creative types are generally thought to be risky additions to the business world, and lacking in managerial skills. Your personal history may also have its own set of connotations. Be more than a struggling single mother, a by-the-bootstraps immigrant, or a cut-throat entrepreneur. Make it your goal to surpass such perceptions by building your skills across the board, and you can set yourself apart from other applicants.
5 Face Off
Yes, you may be confident, and you confidence may be boosted by the fact that you’ve made it to the personal interview, but the process is far from finished. The worst thing you can do for your chances of admission is to walk in unprepared. Rehearse like an actor learning his lines—aloud, with a partner or in a mirror. Being prepared will keep you from fidgeting and stammering when you are hit with a question you don’t expect. This is where you get to really play up your assets, so practice steering the interview, rather than leaving it in the hands of the interviewers. Make sure you have some questions of your own prepared; after all, you’re interviewing them, too.