Top US MBA programs value leadership which, for candidates with just a handful of years of work experience, frequently is a result of involvement with community organizations. While community engagement is engrained in American students, many international candidates struggle to present a strong leadership profile.
While many Indian MBA candidates have outstanding GMAT scores and top grades during undergrad, EQ and soft skills developed through ‘outside’ activities frequently set an Indian applicant apart from the competition.
Having reviewed MBA applications from Indian candidates for many years, I have seen a broad range of leadership profiles. Joining Toastmasters, donating blood or tutoring the children of your family’s household house are insufficient demonstration of leadership. Here are some tips for Indian MBA candidates:
1) Consider Work Opportunities
While your formal job description may position you as an individual contributor, look for ways to demonstrate leadership within your place of work. Consider your on-boarding experience and take action to improve the process. Volunteer to make presentations and interview students from your undergraduate institution. Establish lunch and learn sessions for junior staff and bring in subject matter experts to share their knowledge. Ask your manager for opportunities to mentor or manage new hires. If your company doesn’t have a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) group, start one.
2) Connect with your Passion
Think about what is really important to you and find opportunities to lead based on your passion. If you care about the environment and sustainability, consider initiating recycling or other sustainability initiatives in your workplace or community. Love soccer? Volunteer to coach a youth team or put together a corporate team to play in a local league. If your passion lies in the arts, find an arts organization that could benefit from your ‘technical’ skills and offer to build a website or help with fundraising or budgeting.
3) Find Balance
Many Indian MBA candidates have been successful in the classroom and at work because that has been their SOLE focus during that time. During an MBA program, you will need to balance classwork, team projects, club involvement and recruiting. If you have no experience balancing multiple priorities, admissions committee may find it challenging to see you succeeding in their program.
4) Websites are not enough
I lost track of how many applications I read from Indian candidates who had started a non-profit to teach ‘slum children.’ In many instances, they got together with group of university friend who were also applying to US MBA or grad programs. Some candidates even created a website with photos of their ‘team’ and some of the students they were working with. But there was nothing more. No results. No funding. Don’t be THAT candidate.
While Toastmasters is an excellent program to develop public speaking skills, just being a member or participant fails to demonstrate any leadership and can come across as being self-serving. But Toastmasters CAN be a wonderful opportunity to develop your skills and display leadership. Years ago, I read a wonderful essay from an Indian applicant who shared what he learned and how he grew through Toastmasters. The chapter he belonged to had members from different countries, religions, and even ages. His participation exposed him to new ideas and perspectives allowing him to develop empathy and understanding that would serve him well in any MBA program.
If you took a leadership role in your university’s technical or cultural festival, great! Share the impact you have had through your essays and short answers. If you focused entirely on academics and were a topper in your class graduating First Class with Distinction, it is not too late to develop leadership skills that will make you a more compelling MBA candidate. Many top US MBA programs rely on student involvement to run social events, clubs, conferences, speaker series and other activities that form the backbone of the school’s culture. SHOW admissions committee that you are ready to contribute.