Managing the ‘Blink’ factor in MBA Admissions

By Avi Gordon, Founder of MBA Admissions Studio

There’s a book called Blink, by New Yorker Magazine writer and celebrity author Malcolm Gladwell, about the power of “first impressions.” Gladwell says the decisions we make in the first few seconds during which we appraise information and make instant judgments oftentimes produce better, more accurate conclusions than decisions made by way of exhaustive analysis.

Whether or not this is true—and there are many who dispute the theory— first impressions certainly provide an important and ever-present basis for decision-making (whether the decision-maker is aware of it or not.) The implication for MBA admissions is that, while b-school Adcoms everywhere assert that they rigorously analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate, there is still also considerable “Blink” involved in how they choose one applicant over another.

Note that Adcom essay readers, interviewersand committee members are consciously seeking to avoid making impressionistic judgments. They aspire to neutrality, process and rigor. But they will be picking up impressions at every turn and these will heavily weigh on their admissions decisions. After all, they have to make a big decision, fairly quickly, about a complex situation (you and your future prospects) and they don’t actually have that much formal stuff to go on.So the Blink factor counts for a lot in MBA admissions.

Before Adcom even gets to the point of fully considering an applicant’s grades and scores, performance metrics, and work history, they will have already formed an impression from the first things they see.

It’s hard to know what they will see first of course, but very often it will be the file data, resume or cover letter. (During the interview, the interviewer will form her own Blink impression, which will be reflected in her report.)

As they look over your file, an impression or “instinct” will form almost immediately, and they will continue to absorb first impressions about each part: the essays, particularly their structure and erudition; the tone and warmth of recommendations;and lastly, onto making Blink judgments about your personality, motivation, determination, charisma, team orientation and overall prospects.

These impressions “battle” with rational analysis in the mind of the Adcomreader, becoming progressively reinforced or eroded by evidence. You can make a poor first impression and slowly win them over with reasons to admit you. But better to get the Blink factor on your side to start with.

The best way to deal with Blink is to realize it is there, and always will be, and provide ways for admissions officers to use this mode in judging you.

Expecting snap judgments about your motivation or professionalism, take care that everything you submit is carefully checked and complete. Expecting snap judgments about your pre-MBA work experience as a 23-year-old, take care to get the depth of it high up in your essay. And so on through your application.

First impressions count. It’s always easier to confirm a good first impression rather than try to erode a bad one.

By Avi Gordon, Founder of MBA Admissions Studio
Let Avi & Team help you make the best first impression on your business school applications. For a free evaluation of your application, email contact @ and visit
Listen to more from Malcolm Gladwell on our podcast “MBA Must Reads”

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