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Effective Practices

Honing Your Recruiting Messages for Women and Men

What is it that attracts applicants to business school? What reservations do they have about going to graduate business school? What lifestyle issues drive their behavior?

Perhaps not surprisingly, the answers to these questions depend on the gender of the applicant. The better you understand gender differences, the more effectively you can construct compelling messages that will bring the right applicants your way.

GMAC® recently conducted a survey of people in various stages of pursuing a seat in business school who signed up on our mba.com website. The mba.com Registrants Survey told us a lot about the decision process prospective students go through on their way to the MBA. This information could be helpful as you think about focusing your recruiting messages as well as how you market your services and program offerings.

We found that women’s reasons for going to business school are both professional and personal. Their professional ambitions are coupled with a strong desire for personal accomplishment. They go to business school to—

  • remain marketable
  • gain a sense of personal satisfaction and achievement

Men's reasons for attending business school are more focused on gaining professional advantage. Men are more likely to say that they want a graduate business degree so they can—

  • prepare to start their own business
  • build upon a nonbusiness undergrad degree
  • get valuable experience before reentering the job market or
  • switch industries

But male or female, today’s aspiring business school student is a sophisticated consumer, and you should develop your communications accordingly.

When planning your communications—online, print, and face-to-face—make sure they reflect the different reasons men and women consider business school. For instance, rather than simply promote the career benefits of an MBA, you may wish to talk about how your school or program can help students reach new heights of career success and personal satisfaction.

Messages that portray both the professional and personal value of the MBA may help to get women thinking more seriously about applying to and enrolling in your program. An added bonus: Generational studies have shown that these types of messages, as well as messages that speak of the socially redeeming value of business careers, may inspire younger prospective students to consider an advanced degree in business.

Address Applicants’ Concerns Head On

Women are more concerned than men that business school might—

  • be intimidating and too stressful
  • cause them to postpone doing other things that are important to them—for instance, getting married and having a child
  • require more work experience than they have (It is true that, on average, women enter business school at a younger age than men, that they take more time out of their careers than men, and that they tend to come to business school with less work experience than their male counterparts.)
  • limit the time they can spend with the important people in their lives

Men cite fewer potential barriers to attending business school than do women, and those they do cite tend to focus on cost. Men worry more about—

  • the financial cost of business school
  • the investment of time it will require
  • job opportunities they might miss out on while in school

What does all this mean for your communications and outreach? You may want to emphasize—

  • the community of likeminded individuals students will find at your school
  • the network they will build
  • features of your campus that are family-friendly
  • flexible scheduling that can make it easier to be a parent and a student or an employee and a student at the same time
  • financial aid and scholarship opportunities
  • the long-term value of an MBA 

B-School Unmasked: Show Would-Be Students It’s Not as Scary as They Think

Our research shows that most people come to the business school decision process with some fears about how hard, stressful, costly, or otherwise scary school will be. You stand to gain from showing prospective students that there’s nothing to fear.

One of the best ways to make business school seem less daunting is to demystify it by introducing potential students to people who have gone before them. You could do this through in-person contacts, through your website, or through your print and online publications.

Personalized messages and peer-to-peer marketing can be especially effective with women (who seek a “personal touch” in their pursuit of information about business school), and with the generation just starting to graduate from college, which is wary of being marketed to but receptive to “straight talk” from real people.

Put Costs in Perspective

Most people are aware of the costs associated with business school—both opportunity and financial costs—but women (and underrepresented U.S. minorities) are acutely aware of the financial costs, because they tend to carry more educational debt prior to business school than males or the general population.

To address both men’s and women’s concerns about the financial costs of business school—

  • make sure your earliest communications with prospective applicants talk about financial aid and scholarship opportunities
  • highlight any services your school or program offers that make it easier for students to balance work with business school, such as employment services for “trailing spouses”  or flexible program design and scheduling
  • talk about the fact that the typical MBA graduate gains U.S. $20,000 in salary from pre- to post-MBA employment
  • emphasize the long-term career and salary advancement opportunities afforded by the MBA

MBAs are ultimately big-picture thinkers, so don’t hesitate to talk to them about the MBA degree as a long-term investment in their future.

He Said, She Said: What’s Tops in Men’s and Women’s Lives

For all the recent talk about the erosion of the family and research that shows the imbalance of family responsibilities, both men and women say spouses and kids are their top priorities in life. With regard to every other possible priority, there are significant differences along gender lines.

Men place a higher priority on—

  • career and work
  • wealth and politics
  • public life

Women put more emphasis on—

  • relatives
  • financial security
  • friends and acquaintances
  • free time and relaxation
  • religion

What does this tell us? Some of the traditional messages about what the MBA means may work very well for male potential applicants, but not as well for females.

Instead of talking about an MBA in terms of—

  • a leadership role
  • money
  • power

think of speaking about it as an opportunity to—

  • make a difference in society
  • be a pillar of community
  • change the culture of management
  • help businesses and individuals achieve success
  • improve your lifestyle

Such messages would speak not only to the concerns of women but also to the concerns of the rising generation of potential business school students, which is characterized by a strong social conscience.

Also, women may respond better to messages about achieving financial security than about pulling down a huge salary; to them, money may suggest comfort and independence more than power and success. This notion may help you frame your discussions of the return on investment in an MBA degree to appeal to people in search of improved quality of life in addition to increased salaries.

To address women’s need for interaction with friends, relaxation, and spiritual pursuits, you may wish to broaden the focus of your marketing messages when you talk about your school environment. Emphasizing the community around the business school as well as the community of the business school may make women feel more comfortable about being able to “have a life” when they go back to school.

The Future May Be Upon You

You may not have direct contact with your applicants of 2007 yet, but they may be thinking about business school already, even reading your website. The mba.com Registrants Survey showed that 41% percent of potential applicants  take two years or longer to make the decision to go to business school and start applying. That’s a long time to think, and a long time in which to absorb effective messages from schools such as yours.

Are you ready for the next generation of business school students? The mba.com survey also showed that people as young as 18 are already considering business school. It may be time for you to start thinking of younger prospective applicants when you craft your marketing messages, design your outreach initiatives, forge alliances with undergraduate institutions, and design your print and online communications. How interesting would your school or program seem to a 20-year-old looking at your website today? Would he or she find the information needed to become a well-prepared applicant when the time is right?

Never Hesitate to Talk about Quality

One result we’ve been pleased to see throughout our survey research is that people who are truly interested in getting an MBA want to be challenged. They are go-getters, up-and-comers. They want the degree, but they are willing to work hard to earn it.

No serious candidate was ever scared away from the MBA by talk of high standards. Your marketing messages, though they may speak of convenience and community, should also speak of the quality education you have to offer and the excellence that the MBA degree implies. Who could argue with that? 

Take a Closer Look

Visit www.gmac.com/surveys and read more survey results that can provide insight into applicants’ decisions and behavior. For more information, contact us at research@gmac.com or 1-703-749-0131.

Results of a follow-up to the mba.com Registrants Survey will be posted on gmac.com in the coming months and announced in Graduate Management News.

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