One of the questions I typically ask admissions officers is what are the common application pitfalls that befall engineers when applying to business school. Often the responses reveal how engineers succumb to conventional stereotypes. My goal in this blog entry is to identify these stereotypes and offer ways to debunk them so as to distance the applicant from the rest of the engineering herd. My next blog entry will do a deep dive into the application and reveal specific application mistakes that are illustrative of the overarching stereotypes discussed below.
First I will speak of a stereotype that is mostly an over-generalized misconception: engineers are often perceived to lack the softer skills that are essential to leadership.
While an engineer’s quantitative ability can be plainly observed through course work and professional experiences, their ability to communicate with others and to lead teams requires an introspective approach. Applicants should focus on sharing stories that demonstrate their leadership potential and their collaborative approach to solving problems. Though some engineering problems can be solved in isolation, applicants should be selective in choosing the most illustrative stories to make best use of the allotted word count. In addition to professional experiences, these stories may include volunteer work in which the applicant has served as part of a leadership team for a non-profit organization and brought about real change through motivating and guiding his peers.
Stereotypes can also be more firmly grounded in truth and the following two stereotypes are probably more relatable than that discussed earlier. Engineers typically have less managerial experience than applicants from other industries. Engineers typically don’t have the high accelerating career paths that other candidates may benefit from. Let’s explore these in a little more detail and how an applicant can mitigate against these stereotypes.
Opportunities for managing others are very for younger engineers especially those working for larger organizations. While other applicants may point to an impressive title in their resume as indication that they have strong managerial skills, an engineer may not be able to do so. With that said, this can easily be mitigated against. When looking for stories that illustrate leadership potential, admissions officers are vastly more impressed with an applicant being able to motivate and lead a group of peers as oppose to a supervisor delegating tasks to subordinates. If you can show that you can lead a group of individuals without a formal supervisor role that will squash any doubts as to your leadership potential. If there is a scarcity of professional stories that demonstrate your leadership potential don’t underestimate the meaningful leadership experiences derived from your extracurricular activities.
While an engineer’s responsibilities may grow, the associated job titles may not. While it may be nice to have a fancy job title to insert into a resume, ultimately you will be evaluated on how your responsibilities have evolved as a function of time (f(t) if that helps). While you may not be able to speak about managing a 200 million dollar portfolio or a new job title, you can speak to increased responsibilities in recognition of your previous accomplishments. If you haven’t been extended opportunities, create them! Start a club at work, volunteer for new assignments, network with individuals from different programs and departments. Be pro-active.