We’ve finally made it to the fifth of the 10 tips for MBA admissions. The first advised you to start early, the second, to take inventory, the third to connect with your inner rock star, and the fourth to explore career paths. In the next tip, I suggest that you perform service.
I prefer using the word “service” rather than “extra-curricular” or even”volunteer.” The first definition that comes up on Dictionary.com is, “An act of helpful activity; help; aid. To do someone a service.” Doing service means that you are helping someone or something; it’s broader than volunteering, although you could perform service through volunteer activities. If you are already involved in those activities, then my only recommendation is to stay involved, keep an open mind and an open heart as to how you can be even more effective.
But not all of us are joiners. Some of us would rather not get involved in large organizations, perhaps because we feel we can better make a difference one-on-one. And that’s service. Or what about those of us who have not done much in the way of outside activities since our undergraduate days, but may have shown the ropes to every new employee who came across your path? Or have you helped make your neighborhood a better place to live? That’s performing service too.
Sometimes we forget what performing service might mean. I knew an applicant who worked for a sporting goods manufacturer, and hadn’t done any “official” volunteer activities in years. He was a generous person all the way around, and it showed in the way he lived his life. As we were talking about one of his career essays, we discovered that his previous job, which required that he do sports demos and run workshops for urban kids, was a great example of the way he made his own difference. Instead of doing volunteering after work, he was performing service on the job: he was showing off the sports equipment, but also giving the kids attention and support for a healthy activity, which in some cases, lead to new interests.
Getting Out of Ourselves
As he remembered those days, a big smile broke out across his face. He was reveling in it. What had gone from a fairly lugubrious discussion about career trajectory had turned into a fun reminiscence. That’s because giving back makes us feel connected to our communities and to our world. Performing service bring an additional dimension to our ambitious lives. It shows us something about the world and about ourselves that we may not have figured out when formulating macros for spreadsheets or putting together the latest PowerPoint presentation.
Even if you haven’t had a strong pattern of service, there’s no reason why you cannot start now. I’ve heard people ask if starting now is too obviously a ploy to round out their business school application. To that I say, “So what?” You can’t go back and change what you’ve done, so you might as well get started now. At worst, the experience will be neutral, and at least you’ll be helping out. At best, who knows what could happen?