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Best of the Web: MBA Waitlist Strategies

japanese_girl waitingQuite a few of you are trying now to figure out what to do while hanging out on the waitlist for your top-choice MBA program. It’s a tough position, you just want to get out of purgatory.  First, the good news: people are admitted off the waitlist, even from schools few want to turn down, like Stanford or Harvard.  But then there’s the bad news: it is very difficult to predict.  Admissions officers do their best to figure out how many will turn them down, but the numbers vary from year to year.  Some schools, like it seems Yale in 2017, seem to have a pretty big waitlist. [Anecdote: one student told me that he and five others kept in touch after their Yale SOM interviews. Of the six, two were admitted in Round 1 and four were waitlisted.  My guess is that Yale SOM has enjoyed a spike in applications, but doesn’t really know whether a big percentage of those they admit will say yes. So they are hedging with a robust wait list.]

MBA admissions officers themselves try to demystify the waitlist process.  For example, Kristen Roth, of the Tuck admissions committee offers waitlist advice which is straightforward and to the point. I love her  recommendation – FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS.  If the school doesn’t want to hear from you, don’t violate it, and if they do, be judicious.  Stay focused – and don’t overwhelm them with lots of data points. Keep it crisp.

MBA admissions committees do want to hear about any material changes since you submitted. Promotion or new job, even a coveted assignment might be called material. If you have been elected to a leadership position in an activity outside of work, that probably holds less weight, but it could be useful.  If you have relocated offices to another country, that’s quite significant. Especially if your international exposure is limited.

Students have written “How I did it” articles for Poets and Quants and their own blogs –for example here’s a guy who was waitlisted at four schools. Another link that I like very much is a podcast from a student who lobbied his way off the waiting list into MIT Sloan. It’s a fun story, and you get really excited for the student, Galen Li, and his enthusiasm.

You can also get some ideas from schools who have been willing to do online chats about waitlist strategies, including  the aforementioned MIT, UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business or Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and Cornell’s Johnson School.

Also, you might want to look at this post on “Admissions in the Age of Video” something Chicago Booth seems to favor.

My favorite piece of advice comes from Jeremy Wilson, who was a student member of the Northwestern Kellogg JD/MBA admissions committee. His article, “Playing the Waiting List Game,” is both thoughtful and action-oriented. Please do remember, however, that his experience is from Kellogg only. And it’s a few years old. But it’s really very cool.

Generally, the waitlisted applicants are considered solid candidates, even star candidates. Now is the time to showcase more subtle aspects of your profile. Be ready to articulate your story again, but this time better. Give them a few golden nuggets you may have forgotten to dig out from your past and put in your essays. Also, distinguish how you stand out from the other number-crunching bankers, consultants, or whatever professional you are and how you can add perspective to the classroom.

And be more introspective the next few weeks, so that you’re better prepared to talk about your leadership or entrepreneurial goals. Instead of using industry buzz words, overused resume verbs, and clichéd MBA language, think more deeply about your leadership style and talk more about stuff that motivates you, what you did, how you felt, and what you learned. And if you’re really up to it, try really spilling your guts a bit more and really putting the details out there—always remembering to stay professional of course—because this might just be your last chance.

What Not to Do

I say this with true compassion for those who are waiting. And do not just have an alumni send a letter because he or she graduated from the school. Or did well there. Or is successful now. UNLESS that letter adds value. Sure, OK, if you are waitlisted at the University of Chicago, and the letter comes from David Booth, I take it back. But otherwise, please heed the advice offered by Matthew Moll, Associate Director for Admissions at Columbia Business School: He’s quoted in a ClearAdmit blog as saying, “Be certain that additional recommendations add quality insight to your application.” That is, if the additional information in the letter says something about you that they don’t already know from you LinkedIn profile, consider it material. Otherwise, be careful about just bombarding them with fluff.

The Best MBA Resume Advice Ever

resume typewriter smallYou can find countless articles on general resumes all over the web, but very little on the perfect MBA resume. I did write about it,

walking through a template I’ve crafted after working with Stanford GSB first year students. But my colleague Candy LaBalle, who runs mbaSpain, came out with an outstanding article this morning. She has given me permission to reprint the article here — and I guarantee you will find it specific and helpful.

It originally appeared on Magoosh‘s website, but in my version, I’ve highlighted the parts that deserve mention

Six Steps to a Stellar MBA Resume

If you are applying to an MBA this year, you’ve probably noticed that top b-schools are not asking for many essays. Tuck requires two, Booth asks for a presentation only and Harvard has made its one essay optional. This reduced application content makes your MBA Application Resume more valuable than ever. In fact, HBS and Columbia even allow resumes that go beyond the “one-page” standard.

But, whether you prepare one or two pages, you need to follow some guidelines. Beyond using action verbs, avoiding “I” and having standard fonts no smaller than 10-point, to make your MBA Application Resume truly stellar, follow these six tips:

1: Focus on YOU

If your resume reads like a job description then it is not about you—it is about your job. Instead of focusing on tasks, highlight your achievements, and include details on team size, cultural exposure and quantifiable results.

  • Participate in M&A transactions
  • Advise clients on business strategy


  • Led teams of up to three, on four M&A deals in the energy, telecom and retail sectors, valued up to $5bn
  • Created a cost-analysis model for Chile’s largest telecom identifying 12% in savings; presented model directly to client senior managers

2: Skip the jargon

Adcoms are looking for leadership potential, collaborative mindset and interpersonal skills. Even if you are an aeronautical engineer, focus on your MBA qualities.

  • Coordinated advanced ABC testing to reduce drag on the XYZ series fuselage.


  • Led six engineers from three countries to improve performance on our best-selling plane by 21%.

3: Go beyond your daily tasks

Do you handle recruiting for your firm at your old university? Did you create a new work process that improves team efficiency? Do you organize birthday dinners, basketball games or other activities that encourage socializing outside of the office? These show initiative, impact and interpersonal skills and should be included.

  • Created company soccer team, recruiting players from various departments; team now competes weekly against other company teams

4: Show progression

If you were the only one out of 1,000 applicants to get the position, or you moved from a six-month internship to full-time employment in just 3 months, then say it!

  • Hired as Associate in September 2013 and fast-tracked to Senior Associate 13 months later (average promotion time is 18 months)

5: Highlight leadership

Leadership goes beyond supervising people. If you do lead a group, definitely include that on your resume, but if you don’t, highlight other examples of leadership: managing a project, coordinating client teams, mentoring interns.

  • Created my department’s first online “data warehouse,” reducing research time for projects
  • Trained 14 senior clients to use a new CRM, resulting in higher sales team efficiency

6: Don’t forget the fun stuff

If you play viola, were regional champion in judo, run 10Ks or enjoy juggling, include it!  Hobbies help you stand out from the crowd as well as show commitment, passion and leadership.

  • Founded a dining club that now has 42 members; organize monthly dinners at gourmet restaurants for up to 15
  • Began waterskiing as a child, advanced to national competitions in university, currently teach waterskiing to children
  • Travel constantly, have visited 46 countries on six continents, traveled from Europe to Asia by land only, created a travel blog


Quitting (Gracefully) to Get an MBA

The always insightful Forte Foundation just posted an article on their blog by Tricia Felice, Chicago Booth ’14 about making your exit.  She reminds us all that many applicants are receiving good news about their applications  and will be going on to the next chapter. Indeed, many of
you also asked for manager for a recommendation (and it worked!), so after thanking them for their support, “keep them in the loop about your final decision and timeframes.”

That’s a given.  Your boss and your teammates will have to readjust to your absence, and presumably you are going to take some time to play or even get an internship in a new industry to increase your network and experience before going off to business school.

I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Felice when she says, “I personally don’t think the the standard two weeks is enough. The earlier the better.”  Yes, even if it means some people might consider you a lame duck. It’s a risk work taking.  The author also gives you some tips for planning your handoff and keeping it professional:

“Leave the company happy with you and your work.  Present your plans to your boss when you discuss your departure.  … Also consider how you pass off clients to your successor or co-workers. Keep it professsional. Craft a professional letter of resignation to make your end date official.  …This letter is also a wonderful time to recap your appreciation for the company and leave the door open for a future relationship with the company.”

The author also brings up the idea that you might continue to work for your company while you are in business school. Call me opinionated, but I think that’s a choice of last resort if you are going full-time. Business school – your whole experience, including your classmates and friends, is a selfish mistress.  And the more you put in, the more you get out.  Also, if you can afford to spend two years away, make the internal break so you can open yourself up to new experiences – experiences you didn’t even know you were lacking.

So hat tip to Tricia Felice, the Chicago Booth program and the Forte Foundation, for helping students world over leave their jobs with professional elegance.  Onward!

What You Can Do NOW to Boost Your MBA Application

With deadlines for MBA applications about six months away, you might think there’s not much you can do to prepare right now other than take the GMAT or GRE. Even if you’re planning to apply to schools next year, you may think that your profile as a candidate is already set in stone.

But the truth is, you can always improve—and whether you’re a few months or years out, you’ve got time to plan your campaign and enhance your application. Admissions officers are looking for several key things—ability to handle academic rigor, career progression, and leadership potential. “Virtually every MBA program looks for students who exhibit intellect and leadership,” writes Derrick Bolton, Director of MBA Admissions at the Stanford Graduate School of Business

Here are three concrete ways you can demonstrate your potential to admissions officers—and even beef up your future employability, too.

 Take Undergraduate Quant Classes

Because business schools are very quantitative, they want to know that you can do the work that’s required. Plus, potential employers will be happy to see that you can handle numbers as well.”We want to be sure that you will be able to handle the rigor of Tuck’s quantitative program.” says Pat Harrison, associate director of admissions at Dartmouth’s Tuck School.

You might think your GPA, that C+ in economics, or the fact that you’ve never taken calculus will doom you—but that’s not the case. You can take an online calculus or business statistics class from any number of accredited universities now, and use those grades on your business school applications. In many cases, accredited, graded courses can mitigate a less-than-perfect undergraduate record.

Another option is a specialized pre-MBA program, like the Tuck Online Bridge program, which offers courses in a number of disciplines, including managerial economics (statistics). If you’re just trying to beef up skills and don’t care about a grade, take a look at MBA Math, which offers very practical lessons in financial math, statistics, accounting, and microeconomics.

Demonstrate Your Career Progression
Admissions officers and potential employers are looking for people who have moved forward and will continue to advance in their careers. Chicago Booth’s evaluation criteria includes “track record of success, resourcefulness,and sense of personal direction.” Success doesn’t necessarily mean title advancement—rather, it’s about taking on an increasing level of responsibility. And not just when it’s offered.

Naturally, if your boss assigns you to spearhead a new product, run with it. But if that opportunity isn’t handed to you, you can volunteer to mentor new employees on your team, or develop an outreach program to educate internal clients about your group’s initiatives.

You can also ask for additional assignments that might teach you about a different part of the company. As long as your boss doesn’t think you’re leaving your current assignments unfinished, see if you can broaden your experience. Ask to join an existing firm-wide committee, or simply offer your services when you see someone else feeling overwhelmed.

These are little things that can expand your influence within your current position and propel you to a promotion, whether it’s official, unofficial, or even into another company. And even if you don’t get that promotion before you turn in that b-school application, the extra responsibilities and your initiative will reflect well on you.

Expand Your World
You can also look outward to the community to increase your leadership experience. “Our students…have to be seen as people who are creating value in society,” said Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria.  I’m not suggesting that you merely add to your list of extra-curricular activities—the way you are involved in an activity can tell an admissions committee member more about you than can a lengthy list of organizations. So, look at what you’ve already been involved in and where you can deepen your leadership role and have a greater impact on your organization.

If you’ve been tutoring at-risk youth, for example, you might create and implement a strategic plan to bring on more volunteers to your group. Or if you’ve been raising funds for an annual 10K, you could develop relationships with corporate sponsors who may be able to help year after year. These types of activities can illustrate your initiative and long-term planning skills, and can be incorporated into the stories you tell in your essays.

As a business school applicant, you always have the potential to learn and grow—even in the months before you apply. Continuing to add to your portfolio of skills and achievements as you’re selecting schools and studying for the GMAT will show a propensity toward mature leadership—and that’s something admissions officers can’t wait to read about.

What is the Best Business School for a Career in Finance?

Because I worked for Goldman Sachs right out of business school, later worked in investment management, and now consult with companies like BlackRock, lots of people ask what MBA program they should attend if they want a career in finance.  And they also wonder if they should go to graduate school at all. For the purpose of this article, let’s assume you want to pursue an MBA.

Riches can be yours!

Here’s what it does not depend on: rankings.  Rankings have something to do with what business school or finance degree you might want to research, but they won’t tell you whether it’s the right program for you.   And rankings are all over the place.  A few months ago, I wrote a blog post on this subject with lots of quotes from the Assistant Dean at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. Tuck has been ranked overall #1, #6, #7, #14, #18, depending on who you talk to, and encourages students to look beyond the actual listing.

Figuring out the Right Path

So which of the top schools might be better in corporate finance, or M&A, or hedge funds, or private equity? Is Wharton better in finance than Harvard, or is Stanford the best way to get a job in venture capital?  There are a lot of opinions all over the internet – and many of them are simply wrong.  So what should you believe?  You’ve got several ways to figure this out.

1.  See who is recruiting at your target school.  Not everyone gets a job on campus, but take a look at the recruiting list for any school. You can usually find it through their employment report. Here is Columbia Business School’s  employment report, for example. The list of recruiters starts on page 10. Or here’s UC Berkeley Haas’ list of companies that have come on campus.  Examine it carefully. You might not find some of the big New York PE shops, but you’ll find Cambridge Associates, which for you, might be an even more likely stepping stone into venture capital, private equity, or hedge funds.

2.  Visit the schools and/or talk to students about their experiences. With LinkedIn and Facebook, you must know someone who knows someone.  Many schools put student contact information right on their website, for example, see this list of student ambassadors from Michigan Ross or NYU Stern. Others, like Harvard Business School, present interviews of students—who are all easy enough to find if you look hard enough.

3.  Investigate clubs at your target business school. Columbia’s Private Equity and Venture Capital Club has its own website, and don’t be fooled by the log-in.  Just jump to club officers, and you’ll have plenty to work with.  More interested in Chicago? Booth doesn’t just have a finance club, it has a  corporate finance club, an investment banking club, a PE club, and and even a distressed investing and restructuring club.

4. Talk to actual people in your target industry and find out what paths they took. While the big guys in the PE industry look like a straight shot from Morgan Stanley M&A, venture capital, hedge funds, and other investment firms might have a more circuitous route. Hey, Mitt Romney came to the private equity business by way of management consulting, so why can’t you?

5. Network.  This is essentially the same as item #4, but it’s so important that I am mentioning it again.  Because you want to hit the ground running once you get to business school, it makes sense to start building your contacts now. Brian DeChesare, an expert on breaking into Wall Street, encourages prospective financiers to “network like a ninja” because, “even if you’re at Harvard you can’t rely on on-campus recruiting.”  And even if you get an interview through on-campus recruiting, you want to have friends who can help you actually land the job and do well there.

And in the meantime, have fun with the process. You’ll learn a lot and meet lots of people. And it’s definitely more enjoyable than signing up on e-Harmony.

–Betsy Massar

Don’t forget to check out our new book Admitted: An Interactive Workbook for Getting Into a Top MBA Program