By Auntie Evan & Uncle David

The other day, Uncle David came to me in puzzlement. “It’s amazing how different Michael and Scott are. They’re both Econ majors from Bowdoin, both have great grades and GMAT scores, and both work for top consulting firms. Yet, when we tell Michael he needs to take on a leadership role in his extracurricular activity, he complains about how he doesn’t have enough time. Scott, on the other hand, with the exact same job, gets excited when we brainstorm ideas for him to take on leadership roles outside of work. Scott even delivers his Extracurricular Action Plan days before it was even due. Scott just naturally gets that there is a difference between being a ‘member’ and being a ‘leader’.”

For all Michael and Scott’s similarities, there is one big differentiating factor—and Uncle David and I realized that difference was at the heart of how these two candidates took on life. They were, by and large, competitive college lacrosse players (or very active in some other team sport). People who works in teams, especially athletic teams, don’t come up with reasons for what they can’t do, but instead figure out what they can do.

So we came up with five attributes that great team athletes all have in common, making them great MBA candidates (and frankly, law, medical, and graduate candidates of all types):

  1. They are willing to be coached. Top college coaches are known for two things: They love their athletes, and they are not afraid to get right up in their athletes’ faces. Any lacrosse player who threw a tantrum when his coach yelled at him would get laughed off the team. They carry this willingness to be coached—and knowledge that coaching is an act of support, not criticism—into all things, including their MBA applications.
  2. They don’t make excuses. When a lacrosse player misses the ball, he doesn’t point a finger at the guy next to him—or blame the weather, the stick, his hangover, or his dying grandmother. He takes responsibility. For MBA applicants, this means they study for their GMAT even when their brother is getting married, they know when their MBA programs are holding events in their town, they know when their recommenders are available and create talking points for them, and they don’t blame their not filling out their MBA applications until deadline week on a pressing project at work. And they certainly don’t complain about not having the same opportunity as their friend who works at a “better company” or has a supervisor who “likes him more.” Competitive MBA candidates create opportunities rather than waiting for them to come along. 
  3. They don’t take no for an answer. Just because a lacrosse player lost last week’s match—or even multiple matches—he doesn’t give up the stick. Likewise, when these guys score 40 points lower than they expected on the GMAT, they don’t throw their hands up, they schedule a new test. They hire a private tutor. They don’t go out for drinks the week of the test. On a campus visit, when the receptionist at admissions says, “No one can see you now,” they sit down with a magazine and wait.
  4. They don’t get upset when you tell it like it is. When a teammate tells another teammate that his stroke is veering to the left, a top player says “thank you” instead of “how dare you.” The best players will take that a step further by asking for help. As MBA applicants, they seek feedback on their essays, resumes, short answers…and practice interviewing.
  5. They gather a great support network. Great lacrosse players don’t go to their football and basketball friends for feedback on their game. They go to other lacrosse players. And as MBA applicants, they don’t seek feedback from every Tom, Dick, and Daddy. They go to the right person with the right skills—one person whose opinion they respect. The person whom they know will tell the truth about the spinach in their teeth. Getting that person behind you is much more helpful than going to a friend who’s getting their MBA, or even a former admissions officer who may know how to recognize a strong application, but doesn’t necessarily know how to produce one from scratch.
Of course, lacrosse players don’t have a corner on this market. Girls, the same goes for field hockey, basketball, and even cheerleading; boys, this goes for football or ballet. The lesson here is not that you have to have been a lacrosse player. You just have to think like a college, professional, or Olympic athlete. They know how to be coached, they know how and when to listen, they know when they’re out of bounds. And most of all, instead of complaining or whining when things are difficult, they take to heart the immortal words of Nike, and they “Just Do It.” 

-Auntie Evan and Uncle David

For more guidance on being a kickass candidate, check out Chapter 3 of The MBA Reality Check