MBA Interviews | Handling Rejection or the Waitlist

Front and Center (image: Scott Ableman)

by: Grayson Leverenz

The first time I remember failing, I found out who I really am. My music teacher was not impressed by my audition, and passed me over for her performing choral group. My first reaction was to sit in the back of the class and do nothing for the rest of the school year. A second reaction, to sit in the front of the class and sing as well as could, quickly followed. My thinking: I’m going to make her wish she had me.

I followed my second instinct, and was singing with the chorus within a couple of weeks. While MBA programs, internships and post-graduation jobs are far from elementary school choruses, the lesson still applies. If you’ve been rejected (or waitlisted) the first thing you have to do is make your choice. Will you disappear to the back of the classroom or make your stand front and center?

Clearly a rejection differs from a position on the waitlist. If you do not get into your top MBA program, you have a couple of choices. You can attend a school that is lower on your list, or you can strengthen your qualifications and apply again the following school year. Likewise, if you do not get an offer for your first choice internship or job, you will likely have an opportunity for another position that you will love or will at least strengthen your resume so you can go after your #1 company again later in your career.

If you are rejected from a school or job, do not burn bridges. Write to someone you really connected with in the process, preferably the highest ranking person. Maintain a positive tone, and thank them for the opportunity. Close the letter by letting them know you hope to meet them again in the future.

If you are waitlisted for an MBA program, following the steps below may help get you a slot in the class of 2011.

Respond quickly.
Once you’ve decided to make them wish they had you, lay the groundwork and respond quickly. Review your application again to identify the weakness that is most likely holding you back (e.g. GMAT score, years of work experience). Then, identify the strength that offsets that weakness (e.g. communication skills, clear goals), or the path to improvement (e.g. taking a GMAT prep class).

Be respectfully assertive.
When you reach out to the Admissions Committee, you want to show you are serious by being assertive, but you must also be respectful of the committee’s decision. Americans appreciate direct communication; however, MBAs also have a reputation for being arrogant know-it-alls, an impression you do not want to give.

Be respectful by thanking the Admissions Committee for considering your application. Be assertive by reiterating why you are a good fit for the program, and what you will contribute while you’re there.

Tell them you want it.
I know I say this in almost every MBA interview post, but it really can’t hurt. Assuming the school that waitlisted you is your #1 choice, tell them. Admissions Committees want to make offers to qualified candidates that will accept the slots in the program.

Follow up periodically.
After your initial “make them wish they had you” email, follow up on occasion with relevant emails. Prospective students often ask, “How much is too much?” Unfortunately, there is no right answer for that one; you have to do what feels right. The best guidance I can offer is to follow up only when you have new developments that strengthen your application (e.g. a promotion or a higher score on the GMAT), or when something inspires you so strongly you simply have to share it with the committee. This would be something like a television show or article about your field of interest that made you super excited.

Release your slot.
It’s good professional form to withdraw from the waitlist if you accept a slot in another MBA program. This is especially true in today’s competitive admissions environment. For every slot that you may no longer want, there is definitely someone out there dying to fill it. Send a well crafted email thanking the Admissions Committee for the opportunity, and let them know of your decision.

Communicating with professionalism and respect will take you far in this world. It may even take you to B-school!

Click here to purchase the MBA in the USA™ complete interview guide “MBA Interviews: How to Shine in Every Interview Situation.”

Author: Grayson Leverenz

Grayson Leverenz founded MBA in the USA® to help international students build networks, find jobs, and have fun in the USA. Hundreds of global professionals have benefited from Grayson’s intercultural workshops, and she has worked with people from Brazil, China, India, South Africa, South Korea, the UK, and the USA to build effective virtual teams and craft brilliant careers.

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