Getting Admitted to a Top Executive MBA Programme

by mba

Your place at the top

Martin Ferrari is an MBA/EMBA admissions specialist and Founder & Manager of Ferrari & Co. An MBA graduate from Suffolk University in Boston, Martin has been helping over 300 candidates get into the best MBA and Executive MBA programmes in the US, Europe and Asia since 2009. His approach to admissions is to help build candidates’ profiles so that they can present an open-minded, ambitious, and unique perspective to the schools.

What career goals can Executive MBA studies meet?

The EMBA meets a very broad spectrum of business leadership aspirations, from candidates who need guidance to take over the family business to those who want to do a complete career change and senior managers who are selected to do an EMBA by their employer before taking on bigger responsibilities. That said, a majority of candidates use the EMBA as a catalyst for career change or as a means of progressing towards more strategic responsibilities. I have even helped some candidates who had an entrepreneurship project and felt they needed the backing of an elite school such as INSEAD, LBS or HEC to achieve their ambition objectives.

What makes someone eligible for admission to an Executive MBA programme?

It’s a question of being the right person for the right career objective at the right time. “Right person” means that the candidate has the profile that EMBA Admissions Committees (AdComs) look for: at least 7 or 8 years of management experience working on a few innovative projects with multi-cultural teams in a dynamic environment. Perception is everything, and how you present your experiences matters a lot. Over the years I’ve helped many candidates from all walks of life get admitted by shining a light on their best profile. “Right career objectives” means that the candidate’s goals are both ambitious and realistic, because AdComs want to be reassured the candidate is capable of reaching that goal and not get stuck halfway, which would be very bad publicity for the school. Finally, “right time” means that the candidate is at a strategic point in their career where they need to do an EMBA to get ahead. Apply too early or too late and you won’t be able to leverage the benefits of the programme.

What are the milestones to a successful EMBA application?

It all starts with strategic planning, which is something I do with every candidate I work with. First, a candidate should prepare an up-to-date and accurate CV and make sure that it projects their best profile to the AdCom. Moreover, some top schools will do preliminary interviews before candidates apply, and in my experience candidates often find themselves sending in outdated CVs. This provides misleading information to the admissions teams that may undermine your application. For example, if you send a CV that says you only have 4 years of experience to any top EMBA schools such as HEC, INSEAD, or LBS, you will immediately be considered ineligible to apply.

Next comes the test: many schools will offer candidates a choice of taking the GMAT (which I don’t recommend for EMBA applications as it is too difficult) the Executive Assessment (a shorter, watered-down version of the GMAT) or their own in-house executive test (usually a case study). If you are applying to several schools then the Executive Assessment is the best option; otherwise go for the school’s in-house executive test. Then comes the letters of recommendation: candidates should make sure they ask for them well in advance because people always choose to go on vacation at the worst moment. Once the letters are sent, that’s one less thing to worry about. Next is the application and the essays, which take time and a lot of self-reflection, so candidates should never leave them to the last minute. Finally, to cross the finishing line candidates must go through an interview with alumni or AdCom members who will have the final say.

How do business school AdComs assess the quality of the professional experience for Executive MBA admission?

The first element that AdComs look at is the adequacy of the connection between the candidate’s profile and career objectives, and the recruitment goals of the school. Then comes an assessment of how likely the candidate is going to succeed in his/her career goals and the benefit for the school of having an alumnus in that field. Finally, the interview will help the AdCom determine the degree of emotional intelligence of the candidate as well as the likelihood that he/she would accept an offer from the school. AdComs know that candidates apply to several schools at once and they don’t waste time on candidates who are clearly using the school as a backup. Candidates should do their best to convince every school they are applying to that they really want to get in.

For applicants already in senior positions, who are the best recommenders?

Unless candidates are company CEOs, they will have someone above them, and even in this case they can ask a member of the board of directors for a recommendation. If the employer is paying for a portion of the tuition, then it is important that the manager involved in making that decision writes the letter. In my experience it is best that the second letter of recommendation is written by a former employer or, better still, by someone who can attest to the candidate’s involvement in community outreach programmes (the director of a volunteering organisation, a charity, a school, a sports club, etc.). It takes some time but I always manage to find the right recommenders for the candidates I guide.

Why do some business schools require an employer endorsement?

It makes sense for the AdCom to make 100% sure that the employer not only knows their employee is applying to the programme, but that they will give them time off from their work schedule to attend classes. If this is not the case, then the employees can find themselves unable to participate in the programme if their employer forces them to stay at work when they should be in class. IMD’s employer endorsement form is one of the most explicit in this regard, asking for a written commitment from employers that they will not prevent their employees from attending class.

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