The Leading Independent
Resource for Top-tier MBA
Home » Blog » Careers » MBA Career Strategy » The Four Dimensions of Being a Successful MBA Job Candidate (Part 1)

The Four Dimensions of Being a Successful MBA Job Candidate (Part 1)

For each specific MBA internship and full-time job opportunity, there are a slew of technical skills, experiences, and capabilities that an MBA candidate needs to possess and highlight during the job search process. Yet, there are also a set of high-level, universal traits that a student has to display in order to be the one to receive the job offer, given that there are always more candidates who meet the criteria required to do a job well than there are candidates hired to do that job. Over the years that I’ve worked in MBA Career Management, I’ve encouraged students to shape their candidate profiles using a framework I call the “Four Dimensions”: Performance, Behavior, Capabilities, and Smarts.

The Four Dimensions exist and are exhibited in all types of jobs and situations. They are broader, for example, than a capacity such as “teamwork,” which applies only in instances when people work together on a shared project or goal. Because the four dimensions encompass many different contexts and modes of work, they can be used as a universal short-hand, a narrative framework, and as a measuring stick across industries, functions, levels of seniority, organizational objectives, and so on. They encompass a wider, more holistic set of individual character traits possessed by a job candidate or employee – most organizations simply focus on different gradations and qualities of “performance” – as well as attempt to capture not only existing skills and capabilities, but future potential and the ability to learn and grow as a professional.The Four Dimensions comprise two continua, one sliding scale between Performance and Behavior and one between Capability and Smarts, as visualized below.

Performance        < ––––––––– >     Behavior

Capabilities          < ––––––––– >     Smarts

The notion is that at the four corners, an employee or job candidate is exhibiting skills and actions that are beneficial to an organization. He or she is maximizing performance (accomplishing tasks, meeting targets, delivering results), exhibiting exemplary behavior (engaging colleagues, stakeholders, and customers with grace, maturity, and caring), applying a set of capabilities (performing financial, budget, or cost analyses, creating strategic and/or marketing plans, drafting contracts, etc.), and displaying a set of smarts (a capacity for fresh thinking, problem-solving, and innovation, an ability to adapt to new situations, acquire new skills, and grow as a manager and organizational leader).

The reason that the Four Dimensions appear on two sliding scales is that it’s often tempting to focus too much one dimension at the expense of another. For example, some professionals predominantly care about performance and fall short of good standards of behavior – their only goal is to deliver results, meet revenue targets, make deals, etc., and they base all of their self-worth and couch their value to the organization in terms of how they’ve performed, in a narrow sense, even if that means they’ve failed to give credit to their peers, abused their authority over direct reports, failed to mentor and develop less experienced colleagues, and/or dealt unfairly with suppliers, partners, and customers, etc.

Of course, it’s also possible, on the Performance and Behavior sliding scale, to go too far in the other direction, to focus too much on nurturing staff members, helping colleagues, supporting internal programs and initiatives, and in the process fail to deliver the critical results needed to meet the bottom line and fund an organization’s continued existence and growth.

As categories, Performance and Behavior are about what a person does, whereas Capabilities and Smarts are about who or what an employee or a candidate is. Tune in for next week’s column for a description of the continuum between an MBA job candidate’s Capabilities and Smarts, as well as for a prescription of how to integrate all Four Dimensions to promote your candidacy and offer employers a well-balanced picture of your accomplishments, abilities, and future potential.

Ivan Kerbel  – bio:

Ivan Kerbel is the CEO of Practice LLC, an educational services firm that conducts an intensive, annual pre-orientation program for newly-admitted MBAs, The Practice MBA Summer Forum.

Ivan served previously as Director of the Career Development Office at The Yale School of Management and as a Sr. Associate Director at Wharton’s MBA Career Management office. He is a Wharton MBA alumnus and a former management consultant at Katzenbach Partners, a New York City strategy consulting boutique. Ivan can be reached via LinkedIn.