Tag Archives | admitted

How Focused Do I Have to Be In My Career Goals?

Over at Wall Street Oasis, I’ve been running a Q&A forum, answering all kinds of questions from specific application tips, to queries about career goals. Yesterday, I received and answered a question on career focus that seems pretty typical, so I thought I would repost it here.

Q: I am going to business school in order to alter my career path, and believe I want to end up in the financial services/investment management GettyImages_91805592industry. However, I am not 100% committed, and intend to explore other possible industries/roles. Is it okay to admit that I have not planned out my exact post-MBA path in the essays?  Thanks!

A:  Let me tell you that you are thinking about it exactly the right way. It helps a lot when you are writing applications to be able to envision a future in a specific career. It helps you wrap your brain around the idea of what you want to be when you grow up, or even what you want to do REALLY. Harvard used to have a question, long since discarded, about your “career vision” and I like that.

The reality is that careers are fluid, and every business school worth its ranking in the top 10 will tell you that students change their minds about careers all the time. That’s because you are bumping into such great new ideas about yourself and about what’s out there that it’s impossible to march forward as if you had blinders on. In fact, a business school would be doing itself a disservice if it encouraged you to stick with the plan.

The other thing is that industries and functions change all the time. If you like financial services because that’s been your background, great, but we all know that it’s very fluid — remember the job market in 2009? But it’s also somewhat flexible. You could change functions within the industry, or use your financial skills in another industry, or you could go abroad, or you could invent something new. Or you could work for someone who invented something new (Sofi.com?). Who really knows.

So see if you can imagine a path, and if it isn’t the one that works out, that’s ok. They don’t audit you. Promise.

Q: Should I believe you on the audit part?

A: OK, some schools do compare going-in goals with actual jobs landed (see the charts in these slides from Wharton)

But they don’t take your diploma away, if that’s what you are worried about.  In all honestly, there are too many variables, including macro ones, that will influence your career choice upon graduation. Also, some might choose a career in consulting, say, in the short term, to get to somewhere else in the long term — there are many variables. You just don’t want to look clueless going in, at least on the surface.

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!

Fewer Words = More Power

Now that most top business schools have released their essay questions for for the entering class of 2013, there’s a lot of talk about the reduced essay word count. It started with Harvard Business School’s announcement on May 22 to reduce the essay portion of the application to two 400-word responses.  Now many other schools, such as MIT Sloan, Kellogg and Chicago Booth have reworked their applications to require fewer words.

Respect your reader

To that movement, I say, it’s great for the student because it mirrors reality. In my last article, I encouraged MBA applicants to consider their audience. That is, figure out what their needs are when reading you application package. Now, let’s take that best practice one step further: respect your reader’s time and attention.

Remember, leadership communication is about influencing your decision maker. At work it could be your boss. In a publication, it could be an unknown reader. In a new business pitch, it could be a potential investor. In admissions, it’s usually one reader with a stack of file folders and a 20-to-30 minute window.

These shorter essays will help you, no, force you, to write in a clearer way. I have no doubt that you can tell a story or two in a 400 word essay. Each word just has to carry more weight. And don’t forget to answer the question.

In your future career, you will be writing memos, or more realistically, emails, that clearly represent your ideas and support your recommendations.

You’ve got 30 minutes
Remember, your admissions reader has the same amount of time and limited attention span this year as she did last year.  That’s right; your essays will get the same amount of mindshare as they always did.  So a shorter essay actually helps you focus.  In the application process as well as real life, MBA students need to get to the point quickly and succinctly. So the application now requires a higher level of communication skill.

Fewer words will give your writing more power. Lots of words, or extraneous, random stories, often get in the way. A clean structure, and illustrative support for your key messages, will allow you to make your point with elegance.

Fewer words will require you to put more effort into the upfront work of figuring out what you want to say as well as how you want to say it.  Aspiring MBAs will need to work smarter to get their messaging across, and that will be helpful in the classroom, in the job search, and in their roles as leaders.

HBS Admissions Director Speaks Out on Application Process

There are those who revere her and those who fear her–but one thing is certain about Dee Leopold, director of Harvard Business School admissions—she tells it straight. After the May 22 announcement that HBS would modify its

You could wear this on your blue blazer

admissions process, Dee made herself available to answer questions. She granted an exclusive interview with Poets & Quants and immediately scheduled a webinar to explain the new process. I’ve posted highlights of that webinar below.

In short, the new HBS application reduces previous years’ essay requirements and asks interviewed students for a written reflection within 24 hours of meeting the admissions representative.

During that webinar, Dee spent a few minutes explaining the reasoning for the new process, admitting that it was not a “cataclysmic change.”  The rest was straight talk, including some great nuggets for what you need to know about HBS and getting in.  This director of MBA admissions has always been direct about what it takes to get into Harvard Business School.

Here are a few nuggets that I found insightful and worth remembering as you consider Harvard Business School during the coming application season.

GRE vs. GMAT:   Harvard does not prefer one or another. “I think both tests are adequate indicators of what standardized tests can tell,” says Dee Leopold.  Note the phrasing – she careful not to endorse either test as a measure of intelligence. She simply notes that because they use standardized tests as an application requirement, either the GMAT or GRE is fine.

She also notes that the overall score is not the most important, but the quantitative and verbal sub-scores matter more.  For example, in the case of someone who has demonstrated an affinity with analytics in their coursework and jobs, “We want to look at their GMAT verbal score because maybe they haven’t had much practice in terms of writing or reading long passages. The absolute flip side would be for someone who had not had any quantitative work in college or had not had quantitative work on the job,”

GPA:  At Harvard, like most business schools, admissions directors care about your transcripts. “Your GPA is just a number. We spend an awful lot of time looking at the courses you are taking. Have you challenged yourself? Have you taken some risks? I would hate to think that people would be simply courting the perfect GPA and not really maximizing the opportunity to take some risks.”

The interview: Dee was very specific about your prospects if you are chosen for an interview. If you get as far as an interview, you have a better than 50% chance of joining the class. “We like the interview to be a not a slam dunk, but neither do we want it to be such a long shot.”

Indeed, the post-interview essay is new, and meets a specific need in the evaluation process.  “In our MBA program there is an emphasis on reflection. We think that leaders and managers need to learn to step back a bit to absorb what they’ve experienced and to be able to put it in writing,” said the admissions director. She also gave the rationale that you will be asked to write on the job with an equally short turnaround – not months and months like the regular essays allow for.

Age: “The average age is around 27… No one comes to Harvard Business School straight from college.  There is no right number of years and months of experience, some people are ready after two years, and there are some people for whom the optimal time may be 10-20 years later.”

Recommendations: “We would like to see one from your immediate supervisor, but this is a judgment call for you.” Further, if the potential recommender has been able to give you constructive advice, “then that’s a pretty good choice.  However, your piano teacher, or family friends who have simply watched you grow up are not the right ones. (Betsy’s note – questions about MBA recommendations  come up regularly – and the answer is always the same.)

Financial aid: “We are a need-based school and we have just as much money available for the last round admitted as we do for the first. We do not have merit fellowships. We are need-blind when we make our admissions offers.”

MBA Resume: “I truly believe that a resume for someone at your career stage should be one page.”

Deadline: We don’t do anything until the deadline. (First round, Sept 24) Then we then look at everything; as soon as that deadline passes, it is game on. There is no correlation whatsoever between when you submit your application and when you are invited to interview.

2+2: If you not get in to this “tiny” program, “there is no stigma about reapplying later…we hate to think that you might go away and never think of yourself as a candidate for HBS.”

So with the first round deadline only three months away, time are you ready to apply?

Want to get into b-school? Be yourself!

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “authentic?” My bet would be that you don’t automatically think of an MBA student. But someday, you just might.

Why? The top business schools are not only looking for applicants with academic potential, but they’re seeking out a new breed of leader—­someone who’s passionate, collaborative, and wants to make a difference in the world. They want applicants with more than good grades, impressive scores, and a letter of recommendation from the likes of Bill Clinton. They’re looking for people who can use their hearts and souls when making business decisions—leaders who are authentic.

Many applicants shudder at the thought of revealing themselves in a business school application (“what if I look imperfect?”). But believe it or not, that’s OK! If you try to be the person you think schools want to read about, you’ll end up sounding just like every other candidate out there. So, take a look at these do’s and don’ts that will help you show business schools your true self—and your leadership potential.

Do: Be Yourself

It’s corny, but according to Mary Miller, Assistant Dean of Admissions at Columbia Business School, it works—and it’s exactly what admissions committees are looking for. “Be yourself,” she advised in a BusinessWeek interview. “We’re all unique individuals; we all present ourselves in a unique way…After you read 10,000 applications, it’s pretty easy to pick out who really shares themselves.” So do some self-exploration before you start writing. Figure out your own motivations and influences to get in touch with the genuine you.

Don’t: Presume You Know What They Want to Hear

Don’t model yourself after admitted applicant “essays that worked.” Admissions readers are wise to the templates that are out there, and they’ll take away from your own authenticity.

Instead, write what you want people to read in your application essays. As Director of Michigan Ross MBA Admissions Soojin Kwon Koh says, “the uniqueness comes when you answer questions using your own experiences and your own points of view developed through your unique way of processing experiences. An off-the-shelf approach is a sure way to distinguish yourself—in a negative way.”

Do: Learn By Doing

Of course you can take Myers Briggs or Enneagram tests to determine your leadership style—but the best way to develop it is to go out and make things happen. Take on a new responsibility at work, join a non-profit steering committee, or mentor someone who could benefit from your expertise—and use those experiences to talk about your leadership potential. Take note of how you work with others when you are faced with challenges and actively seek feedback on ways to improve.

Don’t: Be Like the Tin Man

Harvard Business School Admissions Director Dee Leopold claims that the best candidates have a “Wizard of Oz” combination: brains, heart, and courage. We all know plenty of smart, gutsy people—some of whom have risen to the top of their organizations. But many are missing a crucial ingredient: heart.

Authentic leaders show heart, which comes in the form of their dedication to their purpose, and their commitment to their values. Throughout the application process, don’t be afraid to reveal your passion—it’s this quality that makes someone a leader worth following.

Do: Stand Proud of Your Success

It’s OK to be excited about your accomplishments—in fact, you should showcase them in your essays and interviews. Tell stories to illustrate your experiences and potential. . Just don’t forget to acknowledge the contributions of your teammates and supporters too. . Success is something you should be proud to share, but chances are, you didn’t get there alone.

Don’t: Brag

While showing pride can be an asset, don’t get carried away—you can be gracious about your accomplishments without boasting. Dwell on your accomplishments too long, and you risk sounding like what cynics call the “typical MBA,” not a future leader. Also, don’t be afraid to own up to your mistakes. Nobody’s perfect, and admitting that you’re fallible can demonstrate maturity.

As you begin to prepare your essays and applications, you may think your own stories aren’t so interesting. In reality, the opposite is true—the more genuine you are, the more interesting your stories become. That authenticity will improve your chances for admission, and pave the way for success—in business school and beyond.

This article originally appeared in The Daily Muse.