From professional exams to simply putting pen on paper, an honest self-assessment can help an MBA applicant target career choices and business school goals
Who am I? That's the existential question that faces many college undergrads for sure. But MBA applicants are likely to be asking that question for a whole different purpose, which is career direction. And the answer, in many cases, lies with self-assessment tests.
MBA students hear a lot about self-assessment tests as they begin the recruiting process in the fall of their first year. But there's a case to be made for aspiring MBAs to begin this process when they first start applying to graduate business schools (BusinessWeek.com, 9/23/2007) and to continue it throughout their careers.
"With the admissions process, the more you know yourself and the career track you're heading on, the better you'll be at answering the [application essay] questions," says Graham Richmond, co-founder and CEO of Clear Admit (BusinessWeek.com, 10/18/2007), an MBA admissions consultant based in Philadelphia. He adds that knowing oneself will not only make you a better applicant, but also a better student who will be able to take advantage of all the MBA program has to offer from the very start.
A Range of Tests
But just how does an MBA applicant get started on the road to self discovery? There are many tools available—from personality and self-assessment tests to sessions with a professional career adviser or admissions counselor. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and Keirsey Temperament Sorter-II are among the personality tests you can consider. And CareerLeader (BusinessWeek.com, 9/28/2004) has a common self-assessment test for entering MBA students to take.
You can purchase some of these tests online and take them from the comfort of your home. Prices vary, depending on the test and how involved you'd like to get. For example, the cost will increase if a professional walks you through the results. The Keirsey Temperment Sorter (KTS-II) is free to take at www.keirsey.com. After you take the test, you receive a no-cost summary of your results. You can then purchase more in-depth reports on your specific temperament, which range in price from $4.95 to $19.95. To take the MBTI online, you can go to mbticomplete.com, where the full assessment with written reports costs $60.
Many of the self-assessments are multiple choice and ask for your opinion or approach to a particular problem or situation. The results usually offer detailed information about your personality and the types of work environments that would best suit you. Some of these tests offer suggestions about specific careers in which you might do well.
The only way for these tools to work, however, is if you forget about what you think your answers should be and instead respond honestly. "A self-assessment tool will only provide results based on what you provide as input," says Edward J. Kim, vice-president of Enterprise Services for Keirsey.com in Irvine, Calif., in an e-mail. "So it is imperative that you represent yourself as you are in order to find results that can be helpful."
Many of the tests tell you a bit about who you are and offer suggestions on the types of work at which you would excel. Kim also advises people who take these personality and self-assessment tests to speak to a trained professional about the results, so that you truly understand what they mean and how you can use the information to create a career plan.
Hate tests? You might be able to assess yourself all by yourself. "What's important is to recognize who you are and how you've changed," says Rosemaria Martinelli, the associate dean of Student Recruitment and Admissions (BusinessWeek.com, 10/31/2006) at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. Martinelli says you just need a journal and a pen to conduct a self-assessment. Applicants, she suggests, should make a time line of their career and assess their skills and the high and low points of their professional life.
You can ask yourself questions such as the following:
What projects have I worked on that I enjoyed?
When did I excel on the job?
What kind of work has given me satisfaction or a feeling of accomplishment?
When was I happy? If I have not been happy at work, why?
When I failed, what did I learn?
What are my strengths and my weaknesses?
What are my interests?
Then, after you've done some careful analysis of where you have been and what you have learned, consider your skill set, what you're good at doing, what you enjoy doing, your personality type, and where you would fit in. Use the discovering you've made about yourself to match yourself to jobs that require the skills and personality traits that you possess. Martinelli adds that you should make these assessments periodically throughout your career and refer to the past journal entries often to make sure you're on the right track.
For MBA applications, remember to focus on why the MBA degree can help bring you to the frame you'd like to see next in your career time line. You should be assessing yourself and what you can bring to an MBA program, but also what an MBA program can bring to you and your career. You will need to express this information eloquently in your application essays.
If you decide that you'd like to switch careers—as many MBA applicants do—self-assessment comes in hand. You will have to make a strong argument to the admissions committee that this change is feasible. In other words, you'll have to show them you have what it takes to switch from one field to another. You'll have to show how the skills and personality traits you have will help you transfer what you already know to the career you'd like to have post-MBA.
Self-assessment is not limited only to inner reflection and conversations with yourself. You should talk with other people, too. Richmond suggests contacting people in the industries that interest you to find out what life on those jobs is really like. You can even try getting in touch with alumni from the schools that interest you, he says, to ask them about their careers and try to determine which track is right for you.
The final step of this self-assessment process is applying what you discover to your application. Refrain from writing what you think the admissions committee wants to read. Instead, be honest and share what you have discovered in self-assessment. Let readers know exactly what you discovered during self assessment—what kind of person you are, what kind of leader you'd like to become, and how the MBA will help you get there.