Every time somebody asks me about profile-building for applying to an MBA program, I get reminded of the book: “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life.”  The book is about a girl named Opal Mehta, whose parents are hell-bent on making sure that she gets an admit to Harvard. Unlike most of us, who start thinking of applying a maximum of 3-4 years in advance, Opal was preparing for this since the age of three or something.  So by the time she is ready to apply, she is fluent in four languages, has attended a number of leadership seminars, has undergone music classes of all kind and in addition, has a matchless academic record. 

In sum, she has a perect profile for admission to anywhere. As expected, she sails through the admission-interview impressing the dean at every stage. But Opal is stumped when she is asked “What do you do for fun?”. She has no clue what fun is, because there’s nothing that she has done because she loves it. Everything was fed to her keeping the unidimensional Harvard path in mind. The dean asks her to go back and apply in the next cycle. Sure enough, she goes back, learns to live life and lands an admit in the next cycle. 

The bottomline: You do need to have a good “profile” to get in. But if the profile means bullet-points on your resume without any real passion for any of the activities, then it may actually contribute negatively to your application. 

I follow and advice a very simple rule for profile-enhancement: “Identify your passions/strengths, follow them; Identify your weaknesses, address them”. Keeping this rule as the base, here’re some other quick tips for “profile-building”.

  • Strengths: Think of it, what are the things that you are really good at. Are you a terrific classical singer? Then, what about initiating a SPICMACAY chapter? Or were you the college  tennis-champ, who does not get to play now, because there’s no good partner to play with at office? Try talking to company HR and initiate a tennis-club at office. Get a coach for training employees after office-hours or maybe if you are good enough, volunteer to be a coach yourself. 
  • Passions: What is that that excites you? Did you always miss having a strong alumni community in your undergraduate days? Perhaps, now that you are an alumnus, it’s time that you start working towards it. If you are passionate about your alma-mater (like I am), you must be in touch with at least some of the current studnets and some of the alums. Use this and work towards improving alum-institute interaction. (I did, though this still is a work in progress.)
  • Weaknesses!! Everyone of us has some and we shy away from situations that may expose them. But  I always believe that first step to identify a weakness is to identify that it exists. Second step would be taking conscious steps towards addressing that. So if being on stage gives you heebie jeebies, then starting a Toastmasters club may be a good idea. This would not only help you overcome stage-fear, but would also give  you a lot of leadership opportunities. 
    /* As an aside, I would like to mention that I rate Toastmasters right next to my undergrad-institute in list of organizations that have changed my life. If you’re interested in starting a club/knowing more about it, leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you. */
    Similarly, if you are somebody having zero international experience (and have no realistic chances to add to that) and you feel that your school is concerned about cultural sensitivity, consider picking up a foreign language. (This was the feedback given by Tuck to a friend, who apped last yr.)
  •  Extra-curricular leadership, not just activities: If you closely see the examples that I have stated above, each one of them involves some initiatives, some leadership or some organizational opportunities.  Being just another member of the local NGO doesn’t count for a lot, but leading the membership-drive or organizing a fund-raising program for the same NGO surely means something. 
    Please note that leadership is not synonymous with holding offices. Everyone of us has seen lots of Presidents, chairpersons, who hold the post just for the tag and have nothing substantial to show for. At the same time, each one of us has seen dedicated people, who work tirelesslly without holding any post. If you can be the latter and do your job well, the offices would follow you automatically. 
  • How does the school benefit: You may have a great story about how you were passionate about a certain activity and how you followed your passion giving you great personal and professional heights. But the story would look incomplete if you don’t fit in the last piece: How does the school gain out of your passion? 
    This is also a great opportunity to showcase your homework about the school. Tell them how your passion fits in the activities of a certain club or if it doesn’t, how do you plan to start a new club for that. If you are a techie, who feasts on new technologies and ideas, tell them how you would contribute to the activities of Technology-club. 
    An example of the same from my application. : I researched and found that Tuckmasters (Toastmasters club at Tuck) is now defunct. So I offered to work towards the rejuvenation of the club. This homework found some appreciation in the telephonic interview that I had with them. 

Finally, a word on ethical aspect of profile-building. Many applicants feel that profile-building just for the sake of MBA applications is a bit manipulative and unethical.  I’d agree with this if your profile-building steps strictly fall under the category of “just for the sake of MBA applications”. A quick test for this would be to ask yourself: Would you still be doing it if you already have the admit from your dream-school? If the answer is “yes”, go ahead and build your profile; you actually have a passion for your passion. But if your answer is a clear “no”, you will be just another Opal Mehta and you may not be as lucky to get a second chance.
But what if you are in doubt? In that case, I would still encourage you to go ahead with your profile-building activities. At least, you would be getting some opportunities and exposure, which may actually ignite your passion for that activity. In any case, you are still doing a better job than those losers,  who cook up stories in their essays just by buying off some certificates.

So wish you all: Happy Profile-building! Happy apping!!

9 Responses to ““Profile-building” for MBA applications: some quick tips”

  1. FYI – The book that you mention, How Opal Mehta… is an outright cheap rip-off of McCafferty’s books Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings

    http://pointblank.wordpress.co.....ot-busted/

  2. Really good post. Would be interesting to see a rough suggested timeline attached to this entry.

    Also, you forgot to mention the very interesting ethical scandal surrounding the “Opal Mehta” book – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaavya_Viswanathan. The author, a Harvard undergrad, was accused by the Harvard Crimson of plagiarism (it’s pretty blatant)…

  3. missionmba says:

    Thanks PA4W.. Good to know that you liked the post.

    I know about the controversy around the Opal-Mehta book. But found that irrelevant with respect to my topic. I have not even read that book. It’s only thru reviews that I got to know the crux of the story and I felt that the approach by Opal’s parents mirrors the one followed by many applicants.

  4. It’s a bit relevant because Ms. Viswanathan wrote the book while she was desperately trying to get into Harvard undergrad, which hits nicely on the ethical issues you raise at the end of the post.

  5. rishab says:

    Hey !

    congrats for emory admit !
    Your blog has been a great source of information and has provided some direction to my convoluted efforts of pursuing an MBA abroad.

    I am writing here to solicit advice/help to start my own club.

    looking forward to ur response.

    Cheers!
    R

  6. Shivashankar says:

    Fantastic article!

    Communication and Stage speaking are actually some of my strengths. I’d love to start a chapter of “Toastmaster” to aid others in building the same attributes. Please get back to me on this one

    Thanks.

  7. theertha says:

    The sugestions uve given are very good, just wanted to know if incase say for example i m learning music and i hav a passion for music is it necessary that i hav to give music exams and get certificates and prove it to them….

  8. gaurav sharma says:

    Hey!!

    Thnks a lot for writing this. This will surely serve as a guide to how to start building a good profile.

    I do want to ask you whether there are some other opportunities to build our profile, if i am a graduate and cannot actually take part in the school or college extra-curricular activities.

    Looking forward to your response.

    Bye.

  9. […] our profile? any ideas NGO is one. any other? I found a great blog post on this topic here: “Profile-building” for MBA applications: some quick tips My journey to a B-school…… I particularly like the idea starting your own alumni club, or getting more actively invovled in […]

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