Article by Ben Feuer, photo by The Stoe

Entrepreneurship is a growing sector of business worldwide, and many entrepreneurs are looking at MBAs, eMBAs, or other high-level masters degrees to help round out their skill sets, meet new people and encounter new opportunities. These applicants face a unique set of challenges, but also bring a unique set of strengths. In this guide, we'll deliver all the essentials, covering how to stand out.


Areas you're likely to be strong.


1. Hands-on leadership. As an entrepreneur, you've likely had two or more direct reports, overseen budgets and dealt effectively with vendors and lawyers, all strengths the investment banking crowd can't usually claim.  Use these hands-on experiences in your essays and talk to your recommenders about highlighting them as well. But don't just say that you were a leader, say what kind of a leader you were. Be descriptive and make helpful distinctions for b-schools so they can separate you from the pack.

2. Crisis Management. You've probably faced some seriously hair-raising situations where your entire business was put at risk, and come out of them the other side. These make great stories for your essays, but only if you know how to put them in the proper context. It's not enough to simply explain what happened -- you have to help us re-live the experience with you, and walk us through your decision process as a leader, almost like a case study.

3. Visionary goal-setting.  The most exciting thing about entrepreneurs is their capacity to dream big. So don't come to the table simply saying, "I'd like to be a management consultant," even if you do want to be one!  Find a visionary, exciting, empowering way to look at this career change. You're an entrepreneur, a maker, a trend-setter -- don't just be 'another X', be the first, smartest, or best XY.


Areas you're likely to be weak.



1. Volunteering, extracurriculars and non-profit work. Entrepreneurs are often busy, and are usually too focused on succeeding in their business to worry about backup plans. So when their first idea doesn't pan out and an MBA starts to look more attractive, they haven't done all the groundwork b-schools like to see as far as service and community engagement go. If you're in this boat, you have to start engaging with organizations immediately. Look for places where you can offer meaningful skills and help on a high level -- the usual one-off events, mentoring and tutoring are only slight improvements over having nothing at all. Can you fundraise, work on strategy, or develop deeper relationships with streams of volunteers or key donors?

2. International exposure. Diversity is a key element of the mix these days at top business schools, and international diversity is a very important factor in class balance. A student without meaningful foreign exposure risks seeming uncompetitive in today's market. Applicants with time to develop their candidacies should look into forging new relationships abroad, exploring business opportunities or collaborations overseas, or simply take a foreign language immersion course or an extended service trip for a month or two.

3. Comfort discussing failure. Since most entrepreneurs applying to b-school are failed entrepreneurs (no shame, just saying), it's really important to be able to show that you have learned from your mistakes and found ways to bounce back, stronger than ever, in your next proposed venture.  Don't avoid your failure, don't apologize for it, and don't blame others for it. Instead, take a powerful, full-responsibility stance on what happened, and show how you have grown and rebounded after what was probably an emotionally draining experience.

If you bear in mind these basics and incorporate your own set of strengths and weaknesses, you'll be well on your way to success in the application game. But if you're more than a year out from your MBA application and looking for ways to make yourself a stronger candidate, contact us about our leadership action program, and we'll get an expert to help plan your next few pre-MBA career moves.