Demonstrating Leadership When You Only Have a Few Years of Experience

If you’re in your first few years of work after college, the challenge of meeting the “leadership potential” threshold for the top MBA programs can seem daunting. You may have just barely started to feel comfortable with the job you were hired for, so how are you going to show the admissions committees that you have what it takes to be a leader and stand out?

The Wall Street Journal had a fabulous article on this point yesterday titled “How to Gain Power at Work When You Have None”.  In the article, the author contends that even young employees can gain unique opportunities (ah hem – for leadership) and an ability to influence an organization by creating strong networks and developing expertise, often in the areas that are either new, overlooked or frankly, uninteresting to others in the organization.

The key for your applications is being able to point to your ability to make an impact and lead, even if your leadership was in less structured or formal ways. This is best presented through at least one great example of how you have taken the reins at work and proactively solved an issue, helped a team or client succeed, or developed a better way to do something.

Let’s consider a past client of mine who we’ll call Leslie. Leslie had three years of experience when she applied; and she’d worked exclusively for a large consulting firm. Though consulting roles lend themselves to leadership opportunities, Leslie needed to differentiate herself from the GIANT pack of consultant applicants, which she was able to do through one large leadership opportunity that she’d had. The year prior to Leslie’s application, her case team was faced with an analytics task too large for Excel (the program of preference for her team). So, she took it upon herself to go learn how to use advanced analytics platforms like Tableau. She then leveraged those tools not only for her specific project but also to launch a training for the entire, global firm. This had far reaching implications for her company and made a big impact! How did Leslie get this opportunity? Simple – no one else wanted to do it but she could see that it needed to be done. The case team was super busy, so the idea of adding another thing to their plates was daunting. So, Leslie stepped-up to the plate and did it. This story made for a really compelling essay where she was able to describe how she saw a need, proactively put in the time to develop solutions, and has made a big impact on her company for years to come. Learning a new piece of software may not seem huge on its face, but when you consider all of the context above, it’s a great demonstration of leadership!

Stories like these can truly make an application and help distinguish a candidate from the thousands of other qualified individuals who are applying. Take a look at the WSJ article and see if anything stands out to you that you could be doing in order to strengthen your leadership stories this year!

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