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If you weren’t in London last week…

We just wrapped up a successful admissions seminar in London, but I’d hate to limit the insights to Londoners. So, here are the top takeaways that I shared with attendees, most of whom are looking at applying to B-School within the next year or two.

Define your personal brand NOW. If you remember nothing else from this post, remember this. Personal branding is absolutely the key to a successful application. The reality is, top schools reject most of their applicants. To be in that select few, you cannot be content with being one of many. You must develop a unique personal brand, encompassing your goals, values, skills and actions. Begin with careful introspection- what are your strengths? What are your passions? How do you approach and solve problems? What are five adjectives that describe you?

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Prepare well for the GMAT and don’t take it more than twice, if possible. Test scores do matter, and being a “poor test taker” is not always a proper excuse. Study and prepare well in advance of the GMAT, so that you can get your best score the first time. If you have to take it again, try and limit yourself to one retake. Put yourself in admissions officials’ shoes- if you were comparing one student who scored a 740 on the GMAT the first time, and one who scored a 740 after seven tries, which one would you take?

Know your audience- who are the gatekeepers? Each school has a slightly different process, but the first read for most applications will be around 15 minutes. Think about that as you write your application- how can you make a positive impact quickly? Make sure each story that you tell and each example that you give is relevant, concise, and impactful.

Speaking of impactful… don’t make your resume a job description- focus on achievements. Too often, applicants’ resumes simply list the responsibilities of their position without providing insight into what they have achieved in that position. Whenever possible, use specific achievements and numbers to show your personal contributions to your employer. For example, “Responsible for the finances of five clients, each realizing a 15% or more revenue increase for 2013” reads so much better than simply “Manages finances for five clients”.

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Secure your recommenders at least two months in advance of deadlines. The best recommendations take time, and cutting it close will not do you any favors. Over the summer, prepare a list of potential recommenders and get in contact with them to see how they feel about your application. If any seem lukewarm, move on to other options, and always have one or two people as backup options. I know that many of your peers will have written their own recommendations, but I advise against this whenever possible. Both I and admissions officials can spot an applicant-authored recommendation right away. Spend time talking with your recommenders about what you want to convey in your application, and reminding them of stories and examples, but let them write the letter in their own voice.

If you have any further questions or want to discuss your application specifically, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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