MBA Candidate Persona: The Early Career Candidate

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Last Updated on January 9, 2023 by MBA Gateway Team

Twelve years ago you would be hard-pressed to find many college seniors in an MBA class, let alone MBA programs boldly declaring that they are seeking candidates who are early in their career (less than two years of work experience). For the past few years, many MBA programs have begun to court candidates who are very early in their career. Harvard and Stanford’s MBA programs were two of the first to take this position. Many other programs have also expanded their marketing to college seniors and individuals who have less than two years of professional experience. Even as I write this book, Harvard Business School has announced the launch of its 2+2 program (admitting college juniors who then work for two years after earning their under- graduate degrees before taking up their admission offer). Employers haven’t been shy about coming on board with this program either.

Although many schools have become open to younger applicants, the reality is that only a portion of the class will be represented in this demographic group. The average age of an MBA entering class at most top MBA programs will likely remain between twenty-six and twenty-eight years old. The important message is that early career (EC) applicants who are great leaders, have an excellent track record of making an impact, and demonstrate professional and personal maturity should consider applying to business school when- ever they feel ready.

EC candidates, like every other applicant to business school, have to make a compelling case for why they need the MBA. For EC candidates, there is even greater pressure to make this case. The questions every MBA Board member will have been, “Why you are applying now? What is the hurry?” Therefore, if you happen to fall in this category, you do need to demonstrate that you have thoroughly reviewed your career goals, have enough meaningful experience to bring to the classroom, and can show that the MBA is a critical next step for you to achieve your career success.

Valuable Early Career Skill Set
• Clarity of career focus
• Excellent leadership background
• Driven
• Push the status quo, innovative
• Inquisitive and naturally curious

Early Career Detractors
• Too much in a hurry
• Overly confident
• Lack of relevant experience
• Emotional intelligence and maturity can be a problem

What to Do
• Take the GMAT and have very strong scores (at least within the range of the program’s median score).
• Have an excellent academic track record, which includes a strong GPA as well as some business courses.
• Demonstrate exceptional evidence of leadership in college.

The laundry list of club membership absolutely will not cut it. Because you will have limited work experience, you should be able to demonstrate that you are a “natural” leader with real involvement and results you can point to.

If you have managed classmates on projects or worked in roles in which you have been given managerial responsibility, then highlight that experience. For instance, if you managed the student union at your college, this example can showcase your managerial potential.

• Maturity is an important trait for all candidates, but is even more critical for an EC candidate because you need to be able to fit in among classmates who are much older and have more work experience.

• Show laser-like focus when it comes to career goals. Career goals that are ambiguous or general will not cut it. Avoid this by making sure that you leave the board member with an iron-clad perception that you are grounded and have a clear but obtainable goal that absolutely warrants an MBA degree.

• Select your recommenders wisely. Although you can likely get away with one recommendation from one professor, having all academic recommendations that stress how smart you are will not work. You need to show your business potential, so look for a recommender who has observed you in a professional situation, whether in an internship or a nonacademic leadership capacity. Student deans can offer strong recommendations if they can talk about how you have impacted the institution through your student leadership roles.

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