How does Tippie use social media in the application process?

Feb 28, 2012
Tags: Admissions Process, B-School, GMAT, MBA, MBA, School Selection, Social Media

Submitted by Lydia Fine, Associate Director, Recruiting & Admissions

Tippie Full-time MBA at The University of Iowa

You’re getting ready to apply to your chosen list of top business schools. Is this the time to lock down your Facebook profile? To protect your Tweets? Maybe.  If your social media “presence” was applying to B-school, what would it say about you? If you don’t know the answer to that question, you have some work to do.

Googling candidates and visiting their social media profiles is hardly rare; 27% of B-school admissions officers admit to Googling and 22% fess up to checking Facebook and other networks.

Why would a program Google MBA candidates? Two reasons.  First, because employers would.  A recent BusinessWeek article said “Employers have been checking the online reputations of potential hires for years, and because admissions committees are interested in the employability of the applicants they accept, it is only natural they are following suit.”  Reason two: the application tells us a lot about you professionally, but it reveals almost nothing about you personally.  And to the business execs who will hire our MBAs, personality matters. Looking you up on social media provides insight into the person behind the paper. 

So how does the Tippie MBA use your social media presence in the admissions process? We don’t feel the need to check out a candidate’s online presence often. But there are some situations that might prompt us to seek out more information.

  • A resume with an unclear job description or hard-to-interpret work experience. When bullet points in a candidate’s resume are full of jargon and acronyms, we’re left wondering, “What does he/she actually do?” The job summaries on LinkedIn profiles can fill in the holes. This can also help us clarify gaps in work experience, so we’re not making guesses about someone’s work record.
  • When we want to find out more about a candidate we haven’t talked with.  If a candidate hasn’t communicated with our admissions team before applying, or if their application leaves us with questions, we may try to find out more through social media. These situations are rare – given Iowa’s intimate class size, admissions connects with nearly every applicant in some way before they apply. But if we want to get a sense of the candidate’s interests, background, personality, etc. – social media or a Google search is a great way to get insight.
Where do you look for information?  I mentioned LinkedIn, which offers up varying details depending on your common connections.  If the candidate has a public Twitter, we’ll take a peek (for example, this is how we discovered that one applicant, now a first-year student here, had studied pogonology!).  If Google turns up a blog or Tumblr, we’ll take a look there, too. These can give the admissions committee a glimpse of what’s important to each candidate. Last year one applicant took a 10-month trip around the world and posted regularly to a travel blog. We had fun tracking his progress through Asia, Africa, and Europe.

Where does Facebook fit in?  Luckily, nearly all Facebook-users-turned-B-school-applicants have learned that leaving their Facebook ‘Wall’ open for public consumption is a bad idea. And with 800 million user accounts (and counting), even the most unique names are represented multiple times on Facebook (there are even two Lydia Fines!). Facebook rarely reveals anything – except that the candidate had the good sense to block content from the public. 

Have you ever discovered something you didn’t like? Only twice, and that alone isn’t justification to deny a good candidate. But online behavior can clue you in to a person’s judgment – something we assess in the admissions process. 

The line between personal and professional is blurry now, thanks to the permeation of social media in our lives. But the moral of the story is this: do your due diligence before applying to business school. Make sure that “you, online” tells the same impressive story as “you, on paper”.