You know that you need to be strategic when describing your work experience in MBA applications. Admissions Officers use criteria that may surprise you.

  • Seniority & Responsibility

To assess your level of seniority the committee looks for concrete indicators that you have reached a certain level, and they look beyond your job title. Do you supervise people? Lead projects? Interact with important clients? Deliver high profile presentations? Are you responsible for initiatives that are critical to strategic and financial growth? How much post-college, full-time experience do you have?

  • Progression

Committees look at traditional markers like promotions, raises and accolades. These signs are especially important in regimented fields like banking and consulting that tend to follow fixed promotion tracks. Schools also understand that some organizations are flat, and do think about growth more holistically. Are you getting more responsibility in terms of the role that you play on certain projects? Are you getting increased visibility within the organization? Is your function primarily clerical or executional, or more analytical and innovative? They also want to see that you are developing new skills, and it’s always good when you evolve from a tactical position into a broader strategic one.

  • Collaboration

The ability to work well with other people can be even more important than sheer intellect as an indicator of future success. Business schools know this, and admit people who can learn from and collaborate with their colleagues. They look for indicators that you can lead as well as contribute to a team from a subordinate or peer role. They also like to see evidence that you can work well cross-functionally and with people from different cultures.

  • Red Flags

Officers are also concerned about red flags, like job-hopping, stagnation, or long unexplained periods of unemployment. If you have any of these issues, it can be helpful to explain them in an optional essay.

  • Relevance to future plans

Schools evaluate your work experience in context. So, if you say that you want to go into consulting it’s important to highlight transferable skills, like your ability to multitask, perform under pressure and communicate clearly. Likewise, if all of your work experience is in marketing and you want to switch into investment banking be sure to emphasize your quantitative and research skills. They want to see that you can sell your qualifications to an employer, and that you can succeed in your postgraduate career.

  • Pedigree

To some extent schools do note the pedigree of your employer. If you work for McKinsey, Google or BlackRock they know that you have made it through a rigorous hiring process, and assume that your professional and interpersonal skills are of a certain caliber. (The schools will also hold you to a somewhat higher standard in terms of your professional sophistication, so it’s good to understand that they will have high expectations.) This is not to say that you can’t get into a top business school from a completely unknown firm – you definitely can. You may just have to work a bit harder to establish your credentials.

Applicants have many tools to help convey that they have the right professional credentials to excel in business school. Leverage your resume, your recommendations, your interview and your essays to tell the schools what they need to know.