MBA Essays: No NGO, Non-profit, social work experience?

After taking their GMAT test and scoring a 700+, many MBA applicants start thinking about the rest of their MBA application components and that’s when they start realising about the (most perceived) gaps and flaws in their otherwise bullet-proof armour. Then they resort to last-minute workarounds to cover up those shortcomings. And the results can be far from what you expected.

That’s the issue of approaching the MBA admissions as a checklist process. Let’s do a role-play. You are doing a status-check on your MBA application.

GMAT score: Done, 730 [smirk on the face]…I’m such a stud
TOEFL: Done, piece of cake [smirk still on]
Extra curriculars: Some sports work in college days…aah..how I miss the cheerleading…and the cheerleaders! [smirk expands to a silly grin now]
NGO / non-profit exposure: Damn…never thought about this. But I’ve still got 6 weeks before the Round 1 deadline. Hmmm…so what can I do to make the best use of that time. Let me list down a few easy, sasta and tikaoo options that won’t completely mess up my social life.
– Some fund-raising for a local charity (4-5 hours spread across 4 weekends)
– Organising a one-day outing for the orphanage kids (10 hours on 1 weekend)
– Teaching 2 days a week in the evenings at the municipal school in the neighbourhood (2 hours X 2 days/week X 6 weeks)
– All of the above if I can figure out a schedule that doesn’t conflict. Three for the price of 1, not bad!

Now put yourself in the Adcom’s shoes and imagine what they might be thinking as they browse through your application. Let’s continue the checklist approach here as well:

Academic Performance: decent
Professional work-experience: Average
GMAT test score: Good, but not great considering the competitive Indian pool
Non-profit / NGO work: Superficial, forced and downright ridiculous!!!

Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by resorting your CV to window dressing. If you haven’t been involved in any social causes, don’t try to force it in at the last moment. It can turn the attention away from the good things about your profile and the implications can range from the mild (just a minor distraction) to the severe (why is this guy trying to portray an image that’s more of a facade than his real self?).

If you have already been involved in a cause that you truly believe in, talk about it in your apps. If you haven’t don’t think of ways to fix it at the last moment. Focus on the other aspects that make your profile unique.

Let us know what social causes you’ve been involved in, for how long and in what capacity. Don’t worry, if you share your ideas as comments here, others can’t and will not copy it. Why? Coz it’ll appear superficial on their CVs, but not on yours. So feel free to post your thoughts.

Compare your part-time exposure to what someone in a full-time non-profit job might do. For reference, here’s someone who shares about her experience in an Indian NGO.


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Sameer Kamat //
Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Connect with me on Google+ | Twitter | Facebook | Linkedin

36 Comments

  1. Ashish Sharma says:

    Well my employer has a group that does charitable activities. I have been involved with following activities: spending a day with deaf and dumb kids(on a weekend;once in 2-3 months), teaching children of sex workers(few continuous weekends twice a year) and conducting drives(thrice a year) for collecting clothes, toys and stationary items for orphanage.
    How will that sound to adcom?

    • Sameer says:

      Ashish, from your comment it isn’t very clear how long you’ve been doing this. But on the face of it, sure, sounds like something you could talk about. View it in the context of your overall work-ex and then take a call on how to present it.

  2. Saurav says:

    I have not been involved with any charity directly, but I am an animal lover and I adopted a dog and after raising him for more than 1 year I had to give him away to a lovely family. Reasons were multiple, I moved into an apartment and he was having trouble adjusting, plus our long working hours were not helping. Since then I have wanted to join an organization realted to animals but have not managed to do so, but I plan to do it very soon. Will this reflect poorly on my application? I can totally ignore this point and go about the app without these details as well.

    • Sameer says:

      Saurav,

      Taking your story forward, if your personal experience had made you join the organisation (to continue doing what you did), then I’d have recommended including it in your applications.

      In the current state, I’d keep that story out of the apps and focus on the other strong stories.

      • Saurav says:

        Yes it will, cause I am going to join this weekend :)
        But I dont want to do it just for the sake of the Apps, how can someone like me show it in the app and not get frowned upon. Because I know, even if I would have been in Adcom’s position, I would look at such a thing suspiciously as well.

  3. Sonal says:

    I need to include my experience of working at an NGO for the hearing impaired and have no clue how to go about that, any suggestions on how i should present this? help on any sites. please

  4. Sameer says:

    Sonal,

    The last thing to do is to look at websites for readymade templates to use. Quick and easy solutions never work. Figure out how to structure you story around some or all of the following:

    – What is the cause that the organisation is involved in?
    – Why did you get associated with this specific cause?
    – What is your specific role in the organisation?
    – How much time do you spend with the organisation?
    – What skills has the exposure given you?

    Try to keep it objective. No tear jerker melodramatic stories in there for effect. Also, see how this connects with the rest of the application.

    Hope that helps.

  5. Sudipto says:

    I have 7 years of work experience, which includes 4 years of leading different teams. I think my resume is quite good from the professional standpoint. However, I have zilch of community and social service record. The last I had anything close was in the university. I think its too late to force fit anything now. But, wouldn’t I be anyways rogered for not mentioning anything in this area. Please suggest!

  6. Sameer Kamat says:

    Sudipto,

    You will be rogered (to borrow your term) more intensely if you push in general bullet points just to fill in the gap. So the choice is up to you. Focus on the strengths and stop worrying about what you don’t have. And Mr Roger will hopefully let you off lightly for not having taken steps to change the world.

  7. raashi says:

    I’ve worked with an ngo that deals with educating the under-privileged. I’ve worked for 60 hours and hav a certificate that proves the same.
    Can i include this on my resume?

  8. Sameer Kamat says:

    Raashi: Sure, you could. I only hope that you aren’t doing this just to impress someone (like the admissions officer). Also, quality scores over quantity. So what you’ve done in those 60 hours is far more important than the number itself.

  9. Subin says:

    Sir,
    I have organised many clean up campaigns in Bangalore along with my friends but I don’t have any certificate.But I do have an MLA and a Mayor here to vouch for me just to prove that I have been into this social activity since 2 years.I have conducted 10 clean up campaigns in various parts of the city.So how should i include this in my application?Is it necessary to have a certificate for the same because I was not part of an NGO ,rather we joined hands and organised the clean up campaign.Please tell me how I must proceed with this social work in my application

  10. Sameer Kamat says:

    Subin: In most cases, bschools won’t ask you for a certificate, unless they have reason to doubt your claims.

  11. Neha says:

    Well, how about this –

    “I have done a lot of philanthropic work when I was a student way back in school and college days and might as well have certificates to prove it. But then ‘to do something big’ bug caught me. And I have been away from any such type of work since quite some time. But this hasn’t stopped me from helping people around me, whether it is my ailing granny, counseling colleagues who always end up calling me, or feeding the stray dogs in my colony everyday.”

    Hi Sameer,
    Tired of a monotous IT life, I now want to do something that would bring a change. My focus is more on the elderly population of India who in this nuclear family era are being ignored. I feel a special bond whenever I meet any elderly person, something that is within. Honestly speaking, I have had no time to work for a NGO not even Helpage India, the one very famous here. But I want to call it quits and do something that is very close to my heart. Having earned enough in 7 years of IT experience, money is not something that fascinates me but I would like to sit somewhere where I can really make a difference. I think MBA in the appropriate stream would be the right way to do it. Could you please help me to chalk out the right stream and the right institute I should target?

  12. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Neha: To be honest, with due respect to all that you’ve done informally, the opening spiel may not be very impactful. Primarily because, any other applicant could say that and Adcoms have no way to judge which one is real.

    The rationale for the MBA also isn’t clear. If you’ve had enough of the corporate world, why would you need an MBA to help out others?

    Question to ask yourself – are you sure you aren’t chasing the wrong options?

  13. Anush says:

    Hi,
    I have 1 year and 3 months of professional experience and want to start working full-time for an NGO.
    I want to apply to Bschools this year for the year 2015,
    do u think its a good profile or should i do something technical ?
    Thanks

  14. Neerav Mehta says:

    Hi,
    I am an IT Professional and working with Art Of Living( NGO) for last four years. This organisation conduct meditation events and courses, and the money collected from these events goes to hospitals, schools, and other community service projects of Art Of Living. I was actively involved in organising courses, events, concerts, education drives for Art Of Living. Now sparing time from my Job I am working for two new projects of Art Of Living.
    Now what proofs B Schools expect me to submit to support my NGO experience. Will a reference from Sr. Teachers of Art of Living will do?

  15. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Anush: That info is too less for us to chew on, buddy.

    @Neerav: They won’t ask for proof. But if you can get that reference letter, it’ll be good to keep as a backup.

  16. Neerav Mehta says:

    Hi Sameer,
    I am targeting for ISB.
    Could you please evaluate my profile:

    Academics:
    GMAT Score: 720
    X: 86%
    XII: 76%
    IIT BHU Electronics Engineering
    CGPA: 7.08

    Work Ex ( 4 years)
    2 years with Investment banking firm ( Sr. Technology Associate)
    2 years with an IT Startup (Sr. Software Engineer)

    Cleared CFA Level 1 & 2

    Community Service Experience:
    Actively working for The Art Of Living (NGO) for 4 years and has participated and led few community service projects.
    Worked with Kaashi Utkarsh during College days to teach poor children.

    Extra Curricular:
    Actively involved in the construction of my new house, and dealing with suppliers, contractors, vendors, onsite labour.
    Organising team event, philanthropy events for my firm.
    Managing my blog where I regularly post recipes for food I try.
    Involved with the Space Apple paragliding club.

    Hobbies:
    Cooking, Travel

    Short Term Goals:
    Sales/Marketing position with a startup IT Firm, responsible for the sales, advertising, branding of IT Products.

    Achievements:
    Secured 1st Position in Open Hardware Competition at IIT Kharagpur.

  17. Sameer Kamat says:

    Neerav, we have a dedicated thread on our forum for free MBA profile evaluations. Please post there.

  18. asmita says:

    Hey..this page has exactly what i need..i scored average marks during graduation but i have worked in an ngo for animals for a year and currently im working for an ngo teaching under privileged kids english.i scored 730 in my gmat.what are my chances of getting into a good college?

  19. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Asmita: Quite an unusual profile. And the high GMAT score doesn’t hurt!

    We can’t talk about chances on the blog. Check out our MBA MAP product.

  20. delhi_jj says:

    Gmat : 680 .
    Degree : engineering(first class+distinction) | work ex : 10 months(Business analyst trainee)+2 yrs( NGO)
    Female.

    I am finding one thing hard to connect..pre mba work ex and post mba job prospects.How should I convince that an MBA is a good option for me?almost all jobs are in consulting/finance/marketing.I intend to remain in social sector.Does that dim my chances of getting a seat in B -school?Please help.

  21. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Delhi_jj: A small proportion of bschool grads do target post MBA jobs in the social sector. So it doesn’t dim your chances. But you will have to justify the huge expense you are planing to incur (MBA cost) and whether your post MBA salary can absorb it.

  22. Ayush says:

    Hi,
    I haven’t taken my GMAT yet, still working on it…but i intend to start working on my complete profile already. I have been involved with this NGO in the micro-financing sector for over 2 years now, but i wont be getting any certificate or something for my contribution. Do you think a mere mention of it in my CV would help me without me really having a proof of my involvement with the same!?
    Thanks in anticipation.

  23. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Ayush: That’s fine. You don’t need a certificate to prove everything you’ve done. But be ready to provide them with details if they ask for them, to demonstrate the credibility of your claims.

  24. Piyush says:

    HI Sameer,

    I have worked for 26 months in IT domain (US based MNC). Since i wanted to improve my managerial skills and interaction with people i decided to switch to Social Sector. I worked for an International NGO(environment based) for around 3 months in campaign awareness team as a Fundraiser.

    I have also worked for a NGO related to rural development in microfinance field for about 5 months full time.But I dont have certificate for that. Apart from that i had also been involved in various extra co-curricular activities during my college.
    I am a bit worried how to connect these DOTS of diverse fields to justify for an MBA.
    Please help.

  25. Anurag says:

    What about people who have took up working in a ngo full time. I am considering MPA/MBA dual. What is the requirement then?

  26. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Piyush: Adcoms would be curious to know the reason behind the abrupt career transition. A short full-time stint in the NGO sector doesn’t really help in building strong managerial skills. It takes time. Your post MBA goals (which you haven’t talked about) would play a crucial role in connecting the dots.

    @Anurag: Your experience is no longer just an extra-curricular. It’ll be treated like a regular, full-time job.

  27. Prateek Saxena says:

    I support environmental issues. While in college, I was in the founding team of Urja, an energy conversation initiative launched by the chancellor. After graduation, I have not been physically involved with any NGO. But I have been donating a good amount of money every month to Greenpeace for more than 2 years now(graduated 3 years ago). As a next step, I’ve decided to volunteer with them and am attending the next meeting. Hopefully I can carry it from there. This is all personal and I and have no other motives behind doing this.
    Now, talking from the B-School app point of view, can I put this information in the applications? Please keep in mind that I am applying mostly to APAC region B-Schools which have round 1 deadlines in the Nov-Dec-Jan period.

  28. abhishek says:

    i hav worked in NGO for 2yrs but dey only provide me experience letter stating that i worked for this date to this and i worked in all this porject … but not provided me any salary slip . is it ok ? as i was paid in cash

  29. Rahul says:

    Hi Sameer,

    I have been actively involved with an NGO since last 1.5 years. I work as a Head of Operations for one of the biggest initiative by the NGO and it turned this NGO into a financial independent organization. However, this is not a full-time job for me.

    My question is: When schools ask about “Professional Experience” or “Profession Feedback”, can I talk about my experience and circumstances that I faced at this NGO? Is NGO work considered as “Professional” experience, given that I spend 25-30 hours a week working with the NGO?

  30. Aman says:

    I am currently working in an IT Company as a Business Trainee. I always wanted to be a member of NGO and wanted to involve myself in activities like teaching poor students, Fund Raising and Organizing Events. Could anybody please share the List of NGO’s who employ full time candidates/freshers ? And will this work in NGO be counted as professional work ex by B-schools? I am very confused , I want to leave my job as this job is frustrating and there is nothing to learn. I am Bsc Comp Sc graduate from University Of Delhi (2015 passout) But, I am scared to leave my job and join full time NGO . I am in a dilemma. Please help.

  31. shiva says:

    Hi I have been involved in a NGO which is a spiritul cult organisation.Can I still mention about that in my resume having said that it is related to hindu religion?? I have been doing several activities from my childhood like cleaning the environment,scribing and reading for the visually challenged and teaching for kids in the slums.Can i write about this or will it become a negative point as it is related to religion? My organisation generally dont provide any certificates.If we can mention this,then how do i prove my case?.Will a letter from the head mentioning my services suffice?Thanks in advance

  32. Piyush says:

    What if i Dont have certificates to back up my Service for society ? How negative impact can it produce . Any suggestion as what to be done to avoid that circumstances

  33. Prateek Pawar says:

    iam currently pursuing my btech from DTU(formely delhi college of engineering). iam in 2nd year(3rd semester) and my stream is polymer engineering .i have scrutinized my stream and made a conclusion that i will never become a polymer enginner. i want to study abroad and the only option left to me is gmat . Plz give me suggestion on how to pursue with the gmat preparation?which ngo to be joined?which certification to be achieved?how should one can join an ngo? iam a beginner . plzz help .

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