Admissions teams have many tools to understand an applicant’s readiness for the academic rigors of a graduate management program with test scores, GPA, and years of work experience, but many report they struggle to understand how well an applicant will “fit” into their program.
Most programs use a combination of essays, interviews, and letters of recommendation to understand "fit," but reviewing these common application components can be a bit subjective and opens decisions up to the possibility of bias in application decisions.
GMAC set out to understand what faculty and admissions teams meant by “fit”, and our research found that, broadly speaking, “fit” is typically looked at in three ways:
- How employable will this candidate be upon graduation?
- What impact will this applicant have in the classroom?
- How well do their motivations align with what our program offers?
As we continued our research and began to unpack the three "fit" questions, we found admissions teams, faculty, and employers were looking for similar soft skills (emotional and intrapersonal skills) in their candidates, students, and employees. These soft skills relate to how people manage their work, meet challenges, and work with others.
These findings were consistent with previous GMAC research that identified the skills critical for success in a graduate management program and were similarly reflected in research conducted by the Financial Times, and predictions made by The McKinsey Global Institute.
For example, GMAC's 2019 Corporate Recruiter's Survey1 found that 50 percent of recruiters ranked 'working with others' as the most important skill for MBA graduates to have.
In addition, a survey conducted by the Financial Times2 highlighted that 80% of the most important skills sought by top employers of MBA graduates were soft skills. Specifically, those businesses were most interested in an applicant's ability to:
- Work in a team
- Work with a wide variety of people
- Build, sustain, and expand a network of people
- Manage and prioritize their time.
McKinsey also estimated that by 2030, there will be a 26 percent increase in work requiring soft skills3 that include advanced communication and negotiation skills, interpersonal skills and empathy, and leadership and management skills. This has become even more prevalent with pandemic and McKinsey states that compared to last year (2019), the percent of companies prioritizing Interpersonal and Empathy skills has risen by over 20 percentage points.
Based on these findings, we partnered with admissions leaders from around the world to launch the Soft Skills Assessment. We have heard from both candidates and schools alike the many benefits that a soft skills assessment can bring to the admissions process.
“The framework is closely aligned with what we look for during evaluation and fits with our school’s mission to develop the whole person.”
- Full-time & Part-time MBA Admissions Professional
Ana Kyper, GMAC's Senior Director, GME Prep and Readiness, shared an additional perspective: "As we've tackled the challenges that 2020 has brought to both business and education, the need to be able to connect, empathize, and maintain an open mind have taken on a heightened level of importance both in and out of the classroom."
How do soft skills translate to the admissions process?
"Through our research and interview process, we gained a greater understanding of how a soft skills assessment can be used in the admissions process," said Anthony Donatelli, GMAC's Director, New Product Development. "Not only do admissions leaders believe that a soft skills assessment can help improve their ability to find the best fit candidates, they also agree that adding it to their admissions process can improve diversity of thought in the classroom."
The soft skills assessment also provides admissions teams with an approach to gain objective candidate insights, while also improving consistency and removing subjectivity during candidate evaluations.
A look at GMAC’s Soft Skills Assessment
Considering feedback from faculty, admissions leaders, and corporate recruiters, we identified and validated competencies critical for success in a graduate management program and the workplace. Those competencies measure foundation skills like how an applicant sets goals, works with others, and makes decisions.
"We know that standardized testing is changing, and the Soft Skills Assessment incorporates many testing innovations," said Kyper. "With convenient, on-demand delivery, candidates can take the assessment anytime, anywhere, on a computer or a mobile device, in only 45 minutes, with no prep."
Following the assessment, GMAC delivers a summary report and interview guide to the school, highlighting the candidate's strengths and weaknesses.
"One of the key deliverables for participating schools is the interview guide," according to Donatelli. "The report takes the guesswork out of preparing for an interview, providing interviewers with a standard approach to quickly understand a candidate's potential strengths and weaknesses and uses the 'situation, behavior, and outcome' framework to not only bring consistency to the interviews, but to also help interviewers know what questions to ask, and how to ask them. This helps interviewers and admissions teams gain deeper candidate insights in a systematic and consistent manner."
The report also includes scoring rubrics that provide interviewers with additional guidance on how to interpret each answer, bringing quantitative rigor to a generally qualitative process.
What candidates are saying
We have received positive feedback from the candidates who completed the assessment, with over half agreeing that the assessment captured characteristics that would have not been measured otherwise4. 40% of those surveyed would add this assessment to existing application requirements. In addition, 42% of those surveyed would be more likely to apply if the GMAC Soft Skills assessment was required by their targeted school
Based on candidate feedback, we added a candidate report that includes their top strengths and provides feedback and tips to further develop those strengths.
Candidates told us that this report gave them objective insights into their strengths that would be useful in writing their essays, as well as preparing for interviews.
If you are interested in learning more about the assessment and incorporating it into your admission process, contact us today.
- GMAC Corporate Recruiters Survey, 2019, n= 1,202.
- FT, What employers want from MBA Graduates…, 2017, n=48.
- Skill Shift and the Automation of Work, McKinsey Global Institute, 2018.
- GMAC Candidate reaction survey, October 2019-March 2020, n=407.