Finance is one of the largest industries that business schools draw from. And I mean “finance” in the broadest possible terms, including corporate finance, investment banking, private equity, asset management, and others.
MBA admissions committees like candidates with experience in finance. The flip side is that competition for a place at top MBA programs is stiff. Just think about how many of your colleagues are also applying to business schools. This leads to the question, why should an MBA program pick you over the person sitting next to you?
To maximize your chances, here are some things to focus on:
While, no doubt, all of you are smart, business schools need some sort of metric to determine who the “smartest” people are. And, rightly or wrongly, this frequently boils down to the GMAT.
Even more alarming for some is that generally, the average finance “jockeys” have GMAT scores above average. While the average GMAT at Stanford is ~730, for finance folks it is probably over 750.
This means you better nail the GMAT, which means taking many, many practice tests; enrolling in a course to sharpen your skills; maybe getting a tutor to help you over the rough spots; and then possibly taking the actual test multiple times until you get the perfect day.
Given that most finance folks have starkly similar backgrounds and experiences, be prepared to tell a story in your essays that only you can tell. This means: not a lot of discussion about that last deal you worked on which will be just like the last deal your neighbor worked. Instead, share something unique about your background, college experiences, or something you do outside of work. Tutoring underserved kids, organizing a conference, a life-changing experiences you had? All good fodder for a unique and potentially compelling and memorable essay.
Over time, many of the biggest banks and finance companies have moved away from requiring an MBA to progress. Given that you may be able to succeed without an MBA, it is important to explain why you need one — and in a very specific way.
If you intend to return to a similar function, what does your progression look like with an MBA versus without an MBA? Or maybe you are looking to change industry or function – all good reasons to get an MBA – but you have to explain why you need an MBA to make this career pivot.
Building off of your reason to get an MBA, you have to be very clear about what skills you need to develop to be a success in the future. And the answer is not: “more of the same.”
If you are already a finance maven, don’t say you want an MBA to study more finance. Why would you want to spend two years studying something you already know? It doesn’t make sense for you or the business school. The answer may be along the lines of, “well, I know how to build a powerful financial model in a spreadsheet but I don’t know a thing about strategy, so I want to go to business school to study strategy.” That is a more compelling answer.
Of course, remember to include why you want to study strategy and how knowing about strategy will lead to success in your desired post-MBA role.
Given that you look a lot like many other candidates with backgrounds in finance, it will be worthwhile to turn the equation around. Rather than explaining what you need from business school, explain what you can bring to business school and to your classmates.
Maybe your expertise in finance will allow you to support your number-phobic teammates. Or perhaps you can leverage your finance contacts to bring speakers to campus. Be willing to be a resource for others; this can be compelling.
In the end, a finance background has both its pluses and minuses when it comes to MBA admissions. In some ways it enhances your candidacy, as business schools know what they’re getting from someone coming out of finance. In other ways, it diminishes your chances as there are a lot of candidates who “look” just like you, so you have to work even harder to set yourself apart.
Remember though, business schools are looking for people, not profiles. So, create an application that lets the admission committee know you are not just your resume; you are someone who is unique with a clear view of what your future is and how business school fits in. That is the type of person they want to accept, no matter the category.