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Book Excerpt: Five Overarching Attributes Fundamental to a Strong MBA Candidate

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Welcome back to our 10-part series, in which we share an excerpt from the recently published book Becoming a Clear Admit: The Definitive Guide to MBA Admissions, with added commentary from its author, Alex Brown.

In this third part of the series, we look at the five overarching attributes that are fundamental to a strong MBA candidate.

Book Excerpt: 

Five Overarching Attributes

Schools seek out individuals with specific attributes that they consider to be predictive of success both during the MBA program and beyond, once students graduate and progress in their careers. Highlighting these attributes within the application can help you distinguish yourself from other candidates and bolster the overall strength of your candicacy. These attributes can be organized into five overarching categories:

five overarching attributes

Intellectual capacity and effectiveness predict a candidate’s potential; ambition and passion amplify that potential; and values determine the behavioral boundaries within which that potential is unleashed.

It is important for someone to have high intellectual capacity, but if the person is not ambitious, that intellect may not be maximized for positive gain in the long run. Similarly, someone who is effective but who lacks values might be more prone to engage in nefarious business practices.

While candidates can gain acceptance to top programs without optimizing each of these areas, focusing on all five categories can help you maximize your chances of appealing to admissions committees.

There is frequently overlap between some of these categories. For example, an effective person will generally have strong intellectual capacity, and having strong intellectual capacity increases the likelihood of being effective. Similarly, a passionate person generally is going to be more ambitious, especially around the issues about which she is passionate.

Author’s Commentary:

I am most proud of this part of the book. Schools seek candidates with specific attributes, and I wanted to design a framework that helped illustrate and organize those attributes into meaningful categories.

The framework is unique to this book, and I strongly believe the organization can help candidates think about what is most important with regard to the experiences they have had and how to effectively present those experiences to an admissions committee.

Through several rounds of review, my understanding of how each of the five overarching attributes interplay with each other evolved. In the end, categorization into “potential” attributes, attributes that “amplify” that potential, and the all-important values attribute that provides appropriate “behavioral boundaries” seemed to make perfect sense.

Effectiveness ultimately became a “catch all” attribute for anything that determines potential but is not directly related to a candidate’s intellect. To demonstrate effectiveness, candidates can highlight leadership and teamwork experiences, global experiences, entrepreneurial experiences, learning experiences and experiences in which they were challenged in some way. I include communication skills as part of this attribute, since they improve effectiveness in any of the aforementioned kinds of experiences. I also address the importance of emotional and cultural intelligence.

Potential is great, but if a person lacks passion, that potential might be misdirected or underutilized. Similarly, a person needs to have ambition to want to make a difference in the endeavors he chooses. The book uses examples to highlight the nuanced differences between passion and ambition.

The values attribute was the one I had most the fun addressing. Sadly, the business world presents plenty of examples of misaligned values. As top business schools seek to play a greater part in addressing the big global issues facing the world, this attribute has become increasingly fundamental in terms of how admissions committees evaluate candidates.

Having spent a lot of time working on this framework, I now find myself analyzing leaders—and others—through this lens. I have concluded that it is actually quite useful beyond MBA admissions. Even the athletes of the Olympic Games highlighted some of the traits critical to being a successful leader, including work ethic, focus on goals, persistence, dedication and, more broadly, passion and ambition. Unfortunately, a few athletes fell short on the values attribute.