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.
In 2019 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 in their candidates, students, and employees. These soft skills tended to relate to how people manage their work 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.
Based on what we found, we partnered with admissions leaders from around the world, to launch a pilot Soft Skills Assessment. During the pilot period, we delivered over 1000 reports and heard from both candidates and schools alike the many benefits that a soft skills assessment can bring to the admissions process.
Ana Kyper, GMAC's Senior Director, New Product Development, 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.”
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 a consistent approach to gain objective candidate insights, while also improving consistency during candidate evaluation.
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 critical 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
During the pilot, 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.
Also, based on their feedback, we added a candidate report that includes their top strengths and provides feedback and tips to further develop those strengths.
Source: GMAC Soft Skills Assessment, Candidate Report Except, 2020
Candidates also told us that this information can be useful in writing their essays as well as preparing for interviews.
This fall, we’ll continue to collect data as more schools begin to administer the Soft Skills Assessment to their candidates.
If you are interested in learning more about the assessment and how you can participate in our pilot and incorporate it into your admission process, please 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.