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Show Emotional IQ, Leadership in MBA Applications | US News

Graziadio student, Lara Lemley, quoted in U.S. News article

October 5, 2017  | 3 min read

Stories of overcoming adversity and achieving success in difficult circumstances are excellent fodder for an MBA application.

MBA admissions experts and students say the reason these stories of challenge and resilience are so important is because they provide proof that a b-school applicant possesses two traits vital for business success: emotional intelligence and leadership potential.

Why MBA Programs Value Emotional IQ

Emotional intelligence is how you pick up on, evaluate and regulate emotions, which includes empathy and self-awareness. And experts say this is crucial for future executives, since it allows them to motivate and mobilize a team to work toward a common purpose.

While the majority of MBA admissions committees look for emotional intelligence and leadership traits in prospective students, a few schools – such as the Yale School of Management – have previously experimented with adding an emotional intelligence assessment as part of the admissions process.

New York University's Stern School of Business also recently added a required emotional intelligence recommendation to its application. Applicants must now submit an EQ endorsement from someone who knows them well and can describe a moment where they displayed emotional intelligence.

Isser Gallogly, associate dean of MBA admissions and program innovation at Stern, says the school added this admissions requirement because it believes emotional intelligence is what separates mediocre business executives from exceptional ones. Gallogly says a business venture cannot thrive unless the individual in charge not only has a good idea but also knows how to execute that idea.

"If that person does not have the emotional intelligence to sell that idea, to drive that idea, to move it through organizations to effect change, ultimately they're not going to be successful in business," he says.

Stern hopes to identify and recruit the aspiring executives with the most emotional intelligence. "So for us," says Gallogly, "we look at IQ plus EQ as the equation of what we're looking for in students, and this is something we've been looking for since time began at Stern."

How to Show Emotional Intelligence

To highlight emotional intelligence, Sean Killeen, an MBA student at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business, says he pulled from his experience assisting the New York State Governor's Office of Storm Recovery with rebuilding New York homes destroyed by Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.

Throughout the MBA admissions process, Killeen emphasized the challenge of reassuring and supporting homeowners who were skeptical that the government would answer their requests for help.

Erin Skelly, a graduate admissions counselor at IvyWise, says applicants can show their emotional intelligence by giving "personal anecdotes or examples in an interview, demonstrating self-awareness via the personal statement or essay or indirectly by asking a reference to specifically discuss these skills in the letter of recommendation."

She says they can't just say they have these skills – "an applicant should always have specific examples showing these skills in action."

How MBA Admissions Officers Define Leadership

Beyond emotional intelligence, leadership is another key trait prospective b-school applicants need to demonstrate. MBA admissions officers say the best measure of candidates' leadership potential is whether they have consistently made a significant, positive impact on organizations where they worked.

Whitney Kestner, director of admissions at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business, says one way she assesses applicants' leadership potential is by looking at their resumes. She likes to see evidence that they have progressively increased their level of responsibility at work.

But Lara Lemley, a student at Pepperdine University's George L. Graziadio School of Business and Management, notes that leadership examples can come from other life experiences. An active community service volunteer, Lemley highlighted service leadership in her MBA application.

"I think community service is definitely a critical component to the application process because it shows you believe in something, like you don't only believe in yourself but you believe in something outside of yourself and you want to work towards making that better," she says.

Many experts say they also see leadership potential in applicants who set ambitious goals, demonstrate follow-through on their promises and take responsibility for their mistakes. For the latter quality, experts advise applicants to describe the lessons they've learned from their failures rather than make excuses or cast blame on others for failures in their careers.

"We care a lot about your approach to commitments, your follow-through on commitments," says Bruce DelMonico, assistant dean of admissions at the Yale School of Management.

"Actually, our essay is about your biggest commitment," he says, "and we definitely want to get a sense of not just what you're committed to but how you demonstrate that commitment and how you follow-through on those things you claim to be committed to."


DelMonico notes that it's also vital for MBA applicants to demonstrate that they have an "appetite for leadership," meaning that they are willing to volunteer for challenging leadership positions. Ideally, he says, applicants not only raise their hands for leadership positions but are also repeatedly chosen for these positions, which indicates that they command respect.

Authored by Ilana Kowarski