Work in Finance? Don’t Make These Common MBA Application Mistakes

As an MBA applicant with a background in finance, you’re no doubt wondering how to stand out from your equally impressive peers. No matter how remarkable your pedigree, the truth is that no business school wants an entire class filled with individuals of the same profile.


While this information may be sobering and have you wondering how in the world can you ever earn an acceptance letter, keep in mind that MBA programs welcome candidates with your background. In fact, every year the classes at top MBA programs are filled with former finance professionals.

Because applicants from finance are overrepresented in the admissions pool, your goal is to stand out as much as possible from peers with similar backgrounds. As we pointed out last month when we started this Top 10 list of common MBA application mistakes, there’s a right way and a wrong way to attract the admission committee’s attention. Let’s dive deeper into what finance professionals should avoid, and what makes for a successful MBA application.

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Mistake #4:   Failing to leverage your interests outside of work

While most of your peers will have similar work examples, you are the only one with your particular hobbies, interests, friends and family. What are your passions outside of the office? You’re missing out on a critical opportunity to connect with the admissions committee if you don’t tap into your personal pursuits to add another dimension to your MBA application.

When you reflect on your life, think about the differences that can help you stand out. It can be anything from education to family to activities and interests. What do you spend your free time and money on? What values have you inherited from your family? Take those differences and create a nugget of a story to include in relevant essays to reveal more about you than your GPA or work history.

Mistake #5: Overlooking work accomplishments that fall outside the norm

Everyone in the admissions committee knows what an investment banking, hedge fund or private equity analyst actually does all day. Many of your peers are also working hard to gain admission, and thousands of applications later, your work experience may start to seem similar to all the others in the pile.

As you survey your peers, think about what you do at work that is outside your typical deal or investment focused work (and theirs). Instead of talking about the analysis you conducted or the due diligence you performed, think about the time you trained the interns or organized a community service event for your colleagues.  Maybe you created a new process or led recruiting efforts. Any of these “extra-curricular” work activities can be an asset to your application and help you stand out.

Mistake #6: Not explaining the meaning behind your career goals

Whether you are staying on your current career path or switching to something completely different, it’s important not to assume that the MBA admissions committee will understand why you are pursuing your specific career goals. Your task is to explain that you have consciously selected your future career plans through research, evaluation of your own strengths and weaknesses, and other intangible factors. In short, your career goals have to have meaning to you, and you’ll need to communicate that meaning through your application materials.

Aim to demonstrate exactly how your career goals and personal history have come together into a path with real purpose. Obviously not every candidate is planning to save the world after pursuing an MBA, but even if your career goals are not inherently altruistic it’s important to show that they have deep meaning for you personally.

Mistake #7: Not showing your collaborative side

How do you demonstrate teamwork when you are sitting solo in front of a computer screen all day? What if you work largely on your own projects for your associate, and very little with other analysts? Overall, it’s sometimes tough to feel like you are part of a team when you’re always performing tasks for senior level meetings and pitches. That’s the dilemma facing many of you as you answer questions that ask for your ability to work collaboratively as part of a team.

The most successful teams take the strengths of each person to counteract any weaknesses of others. As you enter your MBA program you’ll bring specific skills that can be an asset to any project. Taking these key strengths and applying them to your business school environment can be a great way to showcase how much you will contribute to your learning team, your cluster or cohort, and any club leadership position.


We’ll be back next month with the final installment addressing the common mistakes finance applicants need to avoid. Until then, please follow SBC in social media and sign up for the SBC newsletter, where you’ll receive expert advice on all aspects of the MBA application process delivered straight in your inbox each week.



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