How should I frame my MBA application coming from a family business background?
I have spent most of my career working with my family's business. We've been looking for new opportunities and ways of working, so I thought attending business school would be a great way to build the knowledge and network required.
I wondered whether a family business background is a good fit for top MBA programs, and how I can boost my chances of being accepted?
This week's Applicant Question is answered by Jenifer Turtschanow, CEO of ARINGO Admissions Consulting.
Managing or working in a family business has tremendous value when applying to MBA programs.
Whether you grew up working behind the front desk, launched a grassroots marketing campaign, or you manage the books, there are many hidden lessons and responsibilities that seem mundane, but prove to be quite valuable on your MBA resume and application(s).
Working in a family business builds character, resiliency and leadership and management skills—a perfect combination for an MBA.
You may not find managing a family business on the list of top feeder jobs for MBA programs, but admission committees love candidates with a strong background in family business. Younger generations tend to bring fresh ideas and innovate in ways that their parents could not envision or were too intimidated to try.
Your family business resume
This is what admission committees like to hear about most: how you are moving the business forward. In your resume, you want to ensure that you are quantifying your impact and acknowledging all of your contributions.
For instance, you may have known some of your clients or vendors since a young age, but how have you grown these relationships, negotiated new rates, or helped fill gaps in the supply chain?
If you think about it, most businesses started off as a family business—going way back to farmers. Some families sell or get their business acquired, but others are able to remain closely held and managed, helping them grow.
The best MBAs for family business
This niche sector has a presence on campus at many top programs, including centers and programs dedicated to Family Business education and resources. Here is a short list of schools with these dedicated programs that easily integrate into their MBA curriculum.
- The Kellogg Center for Family Enterprises
- Harvard Business School (HBS) Family Business Club
- Columbia’s Family Business Program
- MIT Sloan Family Enterprise Programs
- Wharton Global Family Alliance
- Cornell Johnson’s Smith Family Business Initiative
- Olin’s Koch Center for Family Business
- UNC’s Family Enterprise Center
In choosing an MBA program that fits your specific knowledge gaps, it is also important to gauge how much time you can spend away from the business.
One-year vs two-year MBA
If you are looking for more in-depth hands on training, two-year MBA programs typically offer concentrations that let you take a deeper dive in functional areas and complete an internship.
Depending on the transition timeline, you may even seek a few years’ work experience to build your skill set and leverage your MBA network to have a better vantage point when you transition to your role in the family business.
On the other hand, a one-year MBA is a quick way to gain foundational business knowledge and management skills and quickly return to the business for practical application.
European and UK schools are particularly good for this model. There are programs in the US that have one-year accelerated full-time programs, like Duke, Cornell or USC IBEAR; however, the most famous for family business is Columbia’s J-term program. If there is no way for you to step away from the business, you can also consider top ranked part-time or online MBA programs.
The best advice for making your family business experience shine in your b-school applications and interviews is to start by writing a job listing to fill your role—better yet, have a colleague write one as well.
This will help you take inventory of what you add to the business with a good balance of confidence and humility.
Next time, you'll have the chance to ask David White, founding partner at Menlo Coaching, anything you want about getting into business school.
David has been coaching MBA applicants on how to get accepted to their perfect school since 2012. His special focus is helping applicants to develop their career goals.
Prior to his work with Menlo, David's 15 year career spanned both startups like Efficient Frontier, and giants like Yahoo and Traevelzoo, in Europe and the US.
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