Author Archive | betsy

Reflections on an evening with the Harvard Business School Admissions Director

Last night at the high-ceilinged corporate offices of the Gap in San Francisco, Dee Leopold, head of the Harvard Business School admissions committee, held court with about 150 eager and aspiring students. Dee is particularly impressive, not only because she is head of admissions at HBS, but because she has been in this position for nearly 20 years.

The messages were clear, and she laid out a very specific lesson plan for potential applicants.

Dee talked about the three ways the applications board looks at a candidate: leadership, intellectual capability, and social/non-profit contribution.

Leadership, she said, can be as individual as each person applying for admission to the program. Some people are president of every club, some are great with small groups, and some are thought leaders. It’s something that is unique to the individual.

Intellectual rigor and curiosity are easier to pin down. At Harvard, which uses the case method, each student, no matter how “smart,” needs to be able to contribute intelligently to the discussion. In Dee’s words the admissions board members are looking for “givers vs. takers.”

As for non-profit and community activities, Harvard, like every business school, wants its future leaders to be part of making the world a better place. That’s fairly straightforward – they want someone who has shown a pattern of engagement.

Further Takeaways
Years of work experience: The trend of average years of work experience has been falling from about five years to three years. The numbers work out so that about half the entering class will have more than three years’ experience. At an entering class of over 900, that’s 450 students – a sizeable pool. Two years of work experience is the minimum, as evidenced by the new 2+2 program, which requires students to work for two years before entering the MBA program. In the class entering in 2009, only two students came straight from college out of an entering class of over 900.

Recommendations: Like all schools, they want recommendations from someone who knows you well. Dee specifically said she wanted the recommender to be someone more experienced than the applicant. For Harvard, peer reviews are out.

Required Watching
Even if you’ve been to a class on campus to watch student engagement, Dee suggested that the “Inside the Case Method” video should be required viewing for all students thinking of attending HBS. Download it, watch it, and think about how you, too, can contribute in that environment.

http://www.hbs.edu/teachingandlearningcenter/case-method/insidehbscasemethod.html

Finally, in putting together the application, the admissions director reminds students to “execute cleanly”. I interpret that as: no typos, keep to the word limits, fill the forms out right. You know how to put together a professional package. There’s little room for error.

Good luck!

The MBA Tour

One of the ways to clarify your own part in the admissions process is to know which b-school you want and why. Yes, research, research, and more research.
A good way to find out about school programs (and how they are differentiating themselves) is by going to an event like the MBA Tour www.thembatour.com, coming to a city near you! I’ll be attending the San Francisco event on Sept. 27

•MBA Panel Presentations: Cover all your basic MBA application questions before speaking one on one with reps,
•Individual School Presentations: Easily compare schools and match your interests to program options,
•Open Fair: Meet one on one with admission directors and alumni,
•Participating Schools: Wharton, Berkeley, UCLA, Cornell, Duke, Michigan (Global), NYU Stern, Carnegie Mellon, UNC, Indiana, Vanderbilt, Emory, Yale, HEC Paris, ESADE & many more!

USA September Tour 2009
•Houston: Sept 3, Hilton Houston Post Oak, 2001 Post Oak Bvld, Houston, TX 77056
•Chicago: Sept 8, Swissotel Chicago, 323 E Wacker Drive, Chicago, IL 60601
•Atlanta: Sept 10 Hyatt Regency Atlanta, 265 Peachtree Street NE, Atlanta, GA 30303
•New York City: Sept 12, Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers, 811 7th Avenue, New York 10019
•Boston: Sept 13, Taj Boston Hotel, 15 Arlington Street, Boston, MA 02116
•Washington DC: Sept 20, Grand Hyatt Washington, 1000 H Street, NW, Washington DC 20001
•Los Angeles: Sept 26, Wilshire Grand Hotel, 930 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90017
•San Francisco: Sept 27, Grand Hyatt San Francisco, 345 Stockton Street, San Francisco 94108

Visit www.TheMBATour.com for full event schedules and registration

Chicago Admissions Director Nails It

Rose Martinelli, head of admissions at the Chicago Booth Business School, just posted an insightful piece about the MBA admissions process on her blog. Admissions committee members are increasingly transparent about what they are looking for. No matter what school you are applying to: Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Chicago, or any other, her words ring true:

In the midst of all the preparations to apply for business school – studying for the GMAT, researching schools, drafting essays (and trying to keep up with your regular life) — it’s very easy to forget about the importance of taking some time for reflection. Here’s an excerpt:

“There are many tools you can use to help facilitate your self assessment process, but one of the simplest is creating a timeline and inserting points of importance on that timeline (whether good or bad) that were critical to your development. Don’t limit your reflection to work and school alone, but expand it to your interests, passions and community. Once you have completed this, go back and reflect on each point – What did you learn? How have you changed? Etc. The goal is to gain an understanding of your history so that you can build upon it as you pursue the next phase in your life. This process should also help you come up with the “whys” behind your decision to go back to school and which degree may be right for you.”


The Rose Report

The Dreaded GMAT

I’m no fan of the Graduate Management Admission Test, the GMAT. It’s a tricky, exasperating standardized test that sorts MBA aspirants into two categories: Those that have to worry about their scores and those that don’t.

Critics proclaim that the test doesn’t measure success in business or business school and that the format (or content, or delivery, or something…) unfairly challenges certain groups of test takers. I won’t take the other side of that argument, because they may be right.

The Graduate Management Admissions Council, the power behind the GMAT, argues that the test is predictive and does give schools a uniform method for measuring applicants. They also may be right.

Whether admissions officers agree with the results or efficacy of the test, it is here to stay.*

You are the Customer
A number of very good test-prep companies offer materials, classes and/or one-on-one coaching. I strongly urge you to take advantage of their offerings, and I have great news for you: As the potential client, you are in the driver’s seat.

Kaplan, Manhattan GMAT, Princeton Review, Veritas, and the super-tutors at Inspirica are just some of your options. There are other specialized companies in different locales (India sports a slew of cool tutoring programs), and you can find freelance consultants in most major cities.

Because the test and its outcome (not to mention the financial and time commitment) are so important, you should put on your consumer hat and look for the best deal for you.

Finding the Right Trainer
A few days ago, I accompanied an aspiring MBA applicant to a free class given by one particular vendor. A few things struck me about my prospective learning experience. At first, I couldn’t understand the teacher because he talked too fast. But I figured I could get over that, and I eventually figured out how to follow his verbal pace. But the problem was that he was such a great test-taker—and so were all the other potential instructors—that I felt like my teacher was a different species than me.

Frankly, I am intimidated by people that test off the charts. I am never going to be like them. My brain works in a different way. What’s plain as day to them is not plain as day to me. They’ve never had the personal experience of looking at a problem and drawing a complete blank.**
I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that a teacher doesn’t have to score a perfect 800 to help a student get what they want. You may want the people who develop the tests to have gotten a perfect score; that’s great. But I don’t know if the person in front of me teaching my class, or tutoring me one-to-one needs to be such a genius.

I recommend attending a number of free seminars, and even if you are in a major city with lots of test schools, go online and see how a virtual course works. You are the consumer. You have a choice and not every teacher is the right fit for you. Remember, test companies are businesses competing with each other. It is their job to tell you why you should work with them. You are the client, and you have every right to find an instructor and a course structure that fits your style and your needs.

You have to find a teacher that speaks your language. Someone that knows what your goals are. The teacher I saw kept talking about scoring in the 99th percentile, or about 780. If that’s what sells prep courses, I can understand the emphasis on near-perfect scores. But you don’t need to get a 780. In fact, you may not need to break a 700.

Just Get it Over the Net
Schools publish average or median scores, but as anyone with a rudimentary understanding of statistics knows, those numbers don’t tell you the whole story. Look at the middle 80% of what students are getting. For example, the middle 80% at Chicago was 660-760 (ranked in the top 5) and the middle 80% at NYU Stern was also 660-760 (ranked top 10). The middle 80% at the University of Washington was 640-750 (ranked top 35). Get the picture?

You simply need to do well enough so the GMAT isn’t an issue. I like to think it’s like tennis: you need to get it over the net. You want a good, solid score. The goal, especially for those of us who aren’t great test-takers, is to figure how to make it so the whole process doesn’t intimidate you. You don’t need a scary-smart teacher. The test is intimidating enough as it is.

Like everything else with the MBA application, it’s better to start early so you are, as Milton Friedman would say, Free to Choose. Some classroom courses are given only every two months, so if you want to take the test before October, you may need to sign up for a course before it gets away from you. GOOD LUCK!

* Some schools now accept the GRE, or Graduate Record Exam, in lieu of the GMAT. In either case, students can benefit from prep courses and/or tutoring.
** I took the test awhile ago, and since graduating from Harvard Business School (got slightly below the median for my entering class), completely forgot everything I had to learn for the test. So it was as if I was starting afresh when I went to the prep class.

It’s All About Differentiation

Silicon Valley’s career guru, Patti Wilson has published her mid-year Careerzine. I’ve excerpted some of it below; it’s perhaps a bit on the “realistic” side, but has some good tips, such as to work on “career differentiation”. This is true in job hunting, applying to graduate school, and managing your current career if you are working for someone else or self employed.

Patti writes:
It is hard to know with certainty who to believe any more, but more importantly it is even more difficult to plan and prepare for contingencies and do adequate career management. My approach is to hope for the best but prepare for the absolute worse. Be ready to hang on as if you had to tough it out for 5+ years while you look for your dream job.

Silicon Valley vs. the US Economy

The difference between Silicon Valley and the rest of the US economy, aside from a state budget run amok, is that the tech bubble bursting and the massive blood-letting of companies and jobs between 2000-2003 seems to have mitigated the damage this time around. It simply is not as bad as other regions. Companies are hiring and laying off people. Green jobs are growing here as is bio-tech/bio-pharma. I have heard that the salaries of local MBA grads of our top schools are higher this year than last. On the other hand, people are more precarious than during the tech bust as there is less to nothing to fall back on. Many have seen their 401k plans lose 40% or more in value and the home equity was already used up in refinancing to get through the last crash.

What’s Next?

Now that’s the $64 question and if the dollar devalues, it will be the $100 question. Advice I have been giving my clients is to be prepared to last it out for however long it takes. With increasing fierce competition on a global scale, you must commit your resolve and effort to “career differentiation”. Yes, I know that’s a mouthful, but personal branding is so overworked. And do you really know how to brand yourself? Or what you would look like if you were?

Being able to answer to “what makes you different?” is really how you can articulate your unique value proposition to the world. And knowing what makes you different takes reflection, effort and the long view. You have to look forward down the road to see where you are headed because recognizing your distinct path in part makes you different.

The tools are there: social sites, blogs, video, podcasts, and wikis. To not understand them, and make the most of them is to your detriment as they give you the edge to show the world how, why and in what way you are different as visibly as possible. And that in itself can determine your success.

So, spruce up your Linkedin profile, get on Facebook, Twitter and then explore the more esoteric vertical social sites to find more ways to be connected and visible to everyone.

Career Security

Yes, career security does exist in these tough times. It is in the power of the collective and the collaborative. It stands to reason that if consultants are competing for every project then they are better off collaborating on all projects. If we are all striving to be different then helping everyone be their personal best will only help you stand out too. If you can take the long view and look down the road, you can change the future.