Archive | Inspiration

The Growth Mindset and the MBA Leadership Essays

MBA leadershipI am not a very good athlete, so you can imagine everyone’s surprise when I decided to pick up a new sport. I decided to learn to row – not in a traditional rowboat, but in a long skinny shell with two 10-foot oars. It isn’t that hard, except you’ve got to do a few things right or you end up in the water.

But to really enjoy it, at least for me, I had to accept the fact that I was a novice.  And that meant not expecting myself to get it perfect from the very beginning.  As I found myself cursing my inability to square my blades, I realized that my mind was not allowing me to enjoy what should be a serene, zen-like experience.

Mindset
I was guilty of what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck calls the “fixed” mindset instead of the more constructive “growth” mindset.  Dweck is an authority on things like brain science and learning. In her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” she describes the growth mindset as a far superior method for transforming effort into success.  The growth mindset allows you to focus on self-development, self-motivation, and responsibility for results.  A growth mindset keeps you from saying, “I’m a natural-born loser,” and instead saying, “I need to work harder at this.”  In a growth mindset, people are not afraid to make an error, look silly, or show a deficiency.

The growth mindset represents a key leadership characteristic.  It’s no surprise that since 2015, Kellogg’s MBA program has this preface to one of the application questions: Pursuing an MBA is a catalyst for personal and professional growth. How have you grown in the past? How do you intend to grow at Kellogg? 

Dweck’s decades of research are particularly relevant for people aiming for business school.  The growth mindset resonates on a strategic level, considering the personal leadership attributes sought by admissions officers of most business schools. It also resonates on a tactical level, in studying for the GMAT or GRE.

 

The Strategic: Leading
Business schools seek out people with attributes that will make them leaders who will change the world for the better. They are looking for people who don’t give up and see hurdles as a challenge. They want people who can learn from others to improve themselves and their environment.  I worked with one student, now on his way to Wharton, who appeared on the surface to be an all-or-nothing high achiever. At first, he looked like the “typical MBA,” never a good sign. But later, in his application and interview, he mentioned something both disarming and revealing: he never learned to swim. So as an adult, he decided to jump in.  When discussing his recent lessons in swimming, he said “It is never too late for a fervent beginner.” That’s the growth mindset.

The Tactical: Testing
Standardized tests demand a growth mindset. The computer-adapted tests, which give you harder questions if you answer right and easier questions if you score wrong, can send the fixed-mindset student into a failure spiral that will ruin any chances of a decent score.  The growth mindset, however, allows the student to work toward mastery. To put the time and the effort into learning the material and the process.   The growth mindset allows the student to embrace the possibility that skills can be learned (they can), and that sustained effort (and a good coach) leads to accomplishment.  The person with a growth mindset loves to conquer a challenge, while the person with the fixed mindset demands perfection right away.

There may have been a time when business schools were looking only for people with natural-born talent.  But as the world has changed and management science has evolved, MBA  programs want growth-mindset types in their classes. They want people who are willing to try new things, and are prepared to not be perfect the first time out.  They want people who think of themselves as works in progress.

And that’s why learning a new sport (or skill, or technique, or trick) isn’t so bad. I know I was clumsy and got it all wrong with my first attempt at rowing. But no harm done.  I’ll just keep trying until I get it right.

Whenever that may be.

Interview Tips for When It REALLY Counts

Note: this post is not just relevant for business school, but appropriate for any position in a team-based company.

Welcome to the MBA admissions waiting game. And it’s interview season! The rules for interviewing for a spot in the next business school class are really no different from the rules for interviewing for a coveted job. I reckon that most of you reading this have passed that test several times over, so you are already more than halfway there.

Whether it’s for work or for school, the goal of the interviewer is to figure out what kind of a person you are in the flesh. But there’s a question behind that question too—they want to know how you will fit in. It’s partly about being likeable, but most of all, it’s being able to contribute. Consider the following:

1. The interviewer wants to know how you will be as a learning team member

Are the other members of the team going to be excited because of your industry or academic perspective? Will you be able to add something from a global perspective? From a business success or failure? The interviewer is looking for someone who is going to pull her own weight and make the team stronger.

You’ve got 30 minutes to show your stuff. Your interviewer is channeling those three or four other study group members, those who have earned their way into a very competitive school, and want to know what you bring to the table.

2. Create a portrait through vignettes

You’ve got to tell stories. I like to think of these stories as vignettes – brief scenes, as in a movie. According to Wikipedia, a vignette is a “short impressionistic scene that focuses on one moment or gives a trenchant impression about a character, an idea, or a setting.” You are telling stories that give a “flash” impression of you. Another definition of vignette is a portrait; you are filling out the portrait of yourself that you began with your essays.

What kind of stories are you going to tell? It’s ok to tell some of the same stories that were in your application. But tell them in a way as if you were talking to your three or four classmates. Tell them, with specific examples, why you will work smoothly together, how you will help them with their thinking about a problem, tell them how you will help them succeed.

3. Make it Stick

Stanford business school professor Chip Heath and his brother, Dan, a fellow at Duke’s Fuqua Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship, wrote a book called Made to Stick. This book, about how ideas gain traction, made it very clear that people have to “get” your message. And what’s the biggest recommendation? Tell stories. Tell stories that are concrete, with a real problem and a real solution. And who is the hero? You.

4. Stay humble

Granted, you are telling stories about why you are great. (P.S. You are!) But don’t overdo it. You’ve done some great things, and you can add to the party, but your classmates will be turned off if you show up like you are too cool for school. UC Berkeley comes out and says that they their students possess confidence without attitude. I think they are onto something.

So tell them sticky stories (without being arrogant) about what you will bring to the classmates of this very competitive business school.

Piece of cake.

–Betsy Massar

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

Use Your Summer Wisely

 

It’s summer in the northern hemisphere, which means time to get a little more organized about the admissions process. It’s a wonderful time to learn about schools. A little counter-intuitive, when students are out of classes and campuses are an empty husk of their former fall-to-springtime selves. But guess what! Many students are taking summer jobs and may be coming to your neighborhood. You can meet them for coffee, or just call them up and gab.

I could lecture you on the benefits of talking to students and recent grads about their experiences, but instead I will just repost this paragraph from a classic Tuck student’s contribution to the Tuck Admissions Blog. He’s closer to the ground than I am, and he says it probably more articulately.

Students are your greatest resource to find out more about the schools you are thinking about applying to or attending. MBA students are busy but almost everyone loves to talk about themselves and their experiences, and to feel helpful. So many of my classmates frequently have conversations with prospective students about life at Tuck, career planning, academics, etc. I pursued the ‘official’ route of visiting campuses (which, by the way, was the single most effective way of determining where I wanted to be) but didn’t make anywhere near as much use of current students, or even alums and faculty, as I should have through informal routes. If you have an idea of what you want to do after school, or what kind of clubs you want to get involved with while you are at business school, get in touch with people at your target schools to discuss their experiences. And feel free to ask them almost any questions, within reason.

Students and recent grads can help you get the feel for a school in a way that an admissions committee member cannot. They can tell it to you straight, and they can give you the good with the bad. You can see the fire in their eyes, or passion in their voices. You can tell if you want to sit next to them in class.

They won’t tell you what to write in your application, but knowing more about the school from real people will help you in figuring out whether you are the right fit. If all goes well, these conversations will inspire your campaign to get into the right place for you.

Ready? Set? Make the call.

You Really Want to Read this Article Now

Believe it or not, the admissions deadlines for 2016 entry is fast approaching. I’d rather think about relaxing during the summer and taking a break.  But MBA programs are releasing applications for the next cycle, and it makes sense to start your campaign for getting into your top choice business school.

To get you going, I’m offering just a few tips to get you going as you launch the application process.

1. Consider first round.

Whether it less competitive or not, the admissions committee has a blank slate for the class. Better they pick you because of you, rather than search for someone to fill a hole and it happens to be you. For portfolio managers out there, you know what I mean – if the portfolio is partly built, you tend to look for either non-correlated securities or to fill a certain area where you need exposure. MBA classes are built similarly.

2.  Make sure your GMAT scores are up to snuff.

The last thing you want is to have to deal with studying for a very annoying standardized test and project-managing the rest of the application. I am a strong believer in taking a course or hiring a tutor. Feel free to email me for specific suggestions.

3. Use your summer to talk with first-year and graduating MBA students.

You have a wonderful chance to ask the dumb questions and get a feel for your fit with each school.  If you are thinking of switching careers, find a between-years student or recent grad and ask how it has worked for them so far. The clearer your game plan for the next few years, and how it connects with the future, the better.

4.  Research by reading and watching everything published by the schools.

Let the school market to you. A college classmate of mine actually tells business schools how to market their services to prospective students. MBA programs pay good money to consultants and brand managers to make sure that what they are saying about themselves represents the school’s unique selling points.

5. Start thinking about your recommenders.

You want to make sure you have buy-in from the people who will help you the most. I’ve written about this a lot, including an article in Poets & Quants – and here’s the original blog post on wrangling recommenders, which culls the best advice from admissions officers and other experts.

If it makes you feel any better, applications for medical school are due in June.  Just think…you’ve got several months more!

And if you will be in Palo Alto, CA in July, I’m facilitating the Dartmouth & Harvard Clubs’ MBA Admissions Workshop.  Save the date of July 14 for a fun and interactive few hours that will help you clarify and organize your plans for the upcoming applications.

Storytelling to Demonstrate the Real You in B-school Essays

As you sit down to draft your first essay, you might want to think about telling the story of you.  That’s the most effective way to stand out from the rest of the pack and show just how interesting you are.


Tell Stories

Whether you are writing essays, crafting presentations, or getting ready for an interview. Why do stories work? Because they demonstrate behaviors, and show in a few words a whole lot about a person’s character. Michael Lewis, author of Liar’s Poker and Moneyball, and possibly the best business writer on the planet, has been called “a genius at showing how small anecdotes revealed larger truths.”
In business school applications and interviews, telling stories brings those bullet points on your resume to life. But as an applicant, you not only have word limits, but you don’t have a lot of time to get and keep a reader’s attention.

A Story Without a Challenge is Not a Story
I have some good news! All you have to do is follow a few storytelling rules. The most important is that you’ve got to include some kind of challenge.

Most stories in the world are based on myths, and the hero who goes out to slay the monster is one of the oldest. Screenwriters love this tale; many of your favorite TV shows, movies, and video games are based on this theme, which was articulated by Joseph Campbell, a comparative mythologist. In his many writings, he talked about the archetypical hero, an everyman who is challenged and changed by his adventure. Just look at Luke Skywalker, or Katniss Everdeen. But if you look deeper at the model, you can notice the way challenges force heroes to grow and change; you can even find it in characters ranging from Piper Chapman in Orange is the New Black to Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones.

Set It Up and Explain the HOW
Even the littlest success (or failure) in your career history can turn into a story.  Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Take a bullet point from your resume, for example
Revamped a sales memorandum within three days for major client on sale of its stake in a European software firm; attracted 28 bidders.”
A. Identify challenge: Overhaul an important document for a very important client in a short period of time.
B. Demonstrate tangible results : Made company attractive to bidders, client happy, your boss happy.

Step 2: Explore HOW you arrived at results. This is where it gets interesting:
A. Took the time to figure out a plan (skills: ability to strategize, think through a problem)
B. Pulled in a SWAT team to help – for example, other analysts to run numbers or set up charts and visuals. You may have cajoled, offered pizza, or traded tasks. (skills: teamwork, influence, follow-through)
C. Was able to understand what senior partners needed in the sales memo (skills: managing up, anticipating requirements)

The Twist
In line with most challenges, you probably had a twist which made the story even more interesting. For example, in the middle of the process the stock market crashed/a tsunami hit/a subcontractor blew up. You and your team stayed focused and arrived at the result needed.

Meanwhile, as you go through the exercise, remember to keep yourself likeable – keep in mind that your reader is looking for self-awareness, where you acknowledge your own doubts and foibles. Keep it real, keep it humble, and you will absolutely win the hearts and minds of your readers.