Tag Archives | Berkeley Haas

Some Introspection in Advance of Your Application Essays

The business school essays can be intimidating. The questions, ranging from open ended –Stanford’s “What is

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most important to you, and why?” to specific “What are your short and long term goals?”  These essays are hard because admissions officers are looking for the story behind your story. They are looking for ways to determine your character and your personal leadership style – stuff that isn’t quite so obvious from your transcript or your GMAT scores.

I’m writing this blog post at the end of May, when the spring is full of warm weather promise and lengthening days.  Many deadlines for business school applications aren’t even released yet, not to mention essays.  To be honest, with three months until the first school’s first round (HBS, Sept 7, 2016), you really want to do some brainstorming with yourself.

This introspection and brainstorming will help reveal the real you. Not the person you think admissions officers want to see. I recently worked with a student, let’s call her Dora, who had a very strong profile, and in her first drafts of essays, presented a perfect, business oriented go-getter.  I had a long question-and-answer session with her before this draft, and I felt like there was a really interesting person inside.  She made me laugh, made me think about things in a different way, and impressed me with her knowledge of arcane subjects.  But guess what? None of those characteristics showed up in her essays. She was all business in her essays. Miss Perfect Applicant. But no.

Be Authentic. Not Perfect.

Fortunately, she changed it up so that she talked about choices she had made in her life – some easy, and some harder. Admissions committee members want you to understand what makes you tick, which does require going back into your personal history.  Harvard Business School professor and leadership guru Bill George has written at length about authentic leadership, which is based on your own life story. According to George, authentic leaders incorporate their own personal stories. That means talking about where you come from and showing some vulnerability. It doesn’t mean that you need to hang out all your personal secrets, but it does mean that you don’t want to be bulletproof.

It does mean doing the work to get to the honest part, which entails answering tough questions. Those questions are daunting because they ask what makes you tick – for example: What are some of the most challenging choices you have had to make in your life so far? Or, What was one of the biggest things that happened that was out of your control?  These are questions you want to brainstorm on that will help you peel away the layers of who you “should be” to who you are.

It’s hard to be objective about ourselves. Ask friends and family to help you explore your patterns. It’s a process from which most of us shy away; we don’t really want to know the deep dark secrets and we may fear reaching too high.

It’s a risk. But so what? In the words of Talal Khan, HBS 2016, don’t let self-doubt get the better of you.

This is that gnawing feeling inside you, saying ‘But I’m not good enough for this..’ This is all those times when you tried extremely hard and failed miserably, in plain public view. ..On an emotional level, think of the inverse situations – where you had major doubts about your ability to do well, but you went ahead and aced whatever it was you were doing. That arts class. That debating competition. That heroic on sports day. That eternally-un-impressable boss. And add to that, testimony from countless successful candidates, saying that they’ve all felt something similar, at many points, in the application process. So have faith and take the leap!

The Warriors Have Something to Teach You About Leadership


I make no secret about being a Golden State Warriors fan. This is my home town team, and I am proud to admit that I am not just a bandwagon fan.  Sports fan or not, you’ve probably heard about their history-making skill.  You’ll see effusive descriptions about the players’ brilliance – individually and collectively.  And there are hundreds of articles about their gamesmanship.

But I haven’t seen too much about their brand of unselfish leadership.   And that’s something that all emerging leaders – whether in business school or just applying – can learn from.

Leaders who are playing from strength

Here are the things that jump out, and what students of leadership, at all levels, can learn.  Each one of these items are true of the superstars (Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Andrew Bogut, Andre Igoudala), as well as the team as a whole.

* They are masters of their skill
* They work hard, really hard
* They help each other out – all the time
* They don’t showboat (much)
* They play with joy

Each one of those traits can be true of emerging business and organizational leaders.  When thinking about demonstrating leadership in a business school application, most prospective students feel like they are embarking on a competition as fierce as the NBA playoffs.  Most other candidates are already masters of their skill. Let’s assume that you, too, are at the elite level of skill.  And I bet you work really, really hard.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a statistic for assists in your day job?

The Warriors have already made basketball history because they play like a team. Teams have taken on enhanced importance in business school and management practices.  Look up “teams” at the Harvard Business Review website and you’ll find 4,700 articles. Kellogg’s first essay question begins with the statement, “Leadership and teamwork are integral parts of the Kellogg experience.”  Wharton, for example, has pioneered the team-based admissions interview, largely because the “team-based nature is fundamental to Wharton’s identity,” writes Hannah Zheng, WG15 in the blog “Wharton Journal.” Fuqua’s dedication to teamwork is so strong that it defines its culture as Team Fuqua with an underlying culture of supportive ambition.

The Warriors have made basketball so much more fun to watch because of the assist: they’ve taken passing the ball around the perimeter, to a high art.  They aren’t focusing on muscling their way to get under the basket – most of them are too small to win at that game. Instead, they play a kind of poetic, unselfish ball, and handily lead the NBA in number of assists per game. Yes, you hear of stars – Stephen Curry is not of this world. And he too is a great passer—especially when there is another player in a better position to score.

Showboating is the opposite of acting with humility

Bill George, professor of management practice at Harvard Business School and author of seven books on leadership, describes humility as one of the most important characteristics of great leaders.  “They  exhibit humility in their actions and interactions, yet are passionately committed to the success of their enterprises,” he wrote in March 2016 on his website. Despite amazing competitiveness on the court – embodying Berkeley Haas’ defining principle of “confidence without attitude,” the Warriors are no prima donnas.

Off the court, the Warriors act about as humble as a bunch of regular guys. Steph Curry, is almost reserved in his demeanor, and at 6’3”, almost looks like a normal-sized human being.  He’s quiet and private and brings his two-year-old daughter to press conferences.  Draymond Green, the loudest and most passionate of the team, makes a big noise, but even he is not overly impressed with himself.  A lot of that gracious off-court attitude comes down from the top, Coach Steve Kerr. A gracious man, Kerr appears to have an even temper and a wry sense of humor. The dynamics of his organization are so strong that when he was out for back surgery for the first 43 games of the 2015 season, assistant coach Luke Walton oversaw a team that won 39 of them.  And typically, Kerr and Walton credit each other for the team’s success.

This is not what we think of when we think of famous basketball players. But the Warriors seem to bring the best out in each other. And that’s leadership.

Working hard and having fun

The biggest leadership trait this team brings to the table is joy. Their fast pace, their small stature, their theatrical shots, make you think they are having the time of their lives.  In fact, of the four core values, the first one is joy. (The rest are mindfulness, compassion and competition.)  This is a team that has a “silly fine” for team members who do really dumb things. This is a team where Curry laughs with delight when he’s on the bench –and it’s infectious enough to make you laugh too.

That’s the essence of being a true leader– to take it seriously, but not to take yourself too seriously. Oh, they’re competitors, and but boy are they fun to watch. As one sportswriter for ESPN writes, “Joy? Sports aren’t supposed to be about joy. They’re supposed to be about proving yourself through a grueling slog of self-sacrifice. …To the Warriors, though, joy is a weapon, an essential aspect of winning.”

Final lessons

I could write more about learning from failure (see Michael Jordan’s Nike commercial), or about defying expectations (see Steph Curry’s original draft report video – with Drake’s lyrics “know yourself, know your worth”).  But I won’t. Watch a game. Enjoy yourself. And then, go out and break some records. The possibilities are endless.



January 2013 Update

This is embarrassing. I haven’t been on this blog since last November. It’s all for good reasons; I’ve been working one-on-one with my new friends who have applied to some wonderful schools. It’s funny when you have a boutique practice like mine; I get to see all of the top business schools. Of course I get a lot of HBS, after all I went
there and keep up with the school. I also get a fair amount of Stanford GSB applicants — that’s partly because of the work I do down there on writing and resume coaching — and partly because I live in the region. But funny enough, I only got a few Berkeley applications this year, so the regional argument doesn’t seem to hold.

For some strange reason, this year I had a lot of Tuck applicants, and all of the first-round applicants did quite well. In fact, they may all be visiting each other in Hanover next year, for after all, Tuck is very self-selecting. I also had quite a few Duke applications, which made me smile, because the 25 Random Things essay is a lot of fun. If they keep that essay next year, or if you are crazy enough to apply in Round 3, I encourage you to do the Duke application first, because it helps you wrap your brain around some of the things that make you unique.

So it’s been a successful Round 1 — no bad surprises, some great fun surprises, and even some cash money surprises!
For Round 2, let’s see where it goes; right now a few students are finishing up the NYU Stern application, MIT Sloan Fellows is also this week, and Haas’s third round (out of four rounds) is also this week.

I’m tee-ing up some other blog posts to make up for lost time, so stay tuned. Also, if you’ve got a burning question, feel free to email me, or check out my forum on Wall Street Oasis.

Happy New Year, Western and Lunar

Admissions in the Age of Video

It’s official.  Your camera-ready self is the ticket to getting into business school.  At least at the Chicago Booth School of Business. In the competitive world of MBA admissions Chicago Booth had a brilliant idea, and they are rolling it out for their wait-listed candidates.   They are asking those prospective waitlisted students to put together 90-second infomercial about themselves.

Says Carrie Lydon, Associate Director of Admissions at Chicago Booth. “Often candidates would like to introduce themselves via a face-to-face conversation, and a video provides the opportunity to create a personal connection …In terms of the content–it is entirely up to you.”

What a great way to see just how articulate a student will be in the classroom (cold calls, anyone?) How well-thought-out is their argument asking the committee to “pick ME!”? How sincere, how grounded, and most of all, how believable is the candidate?

But students should be aware that it’s not just an advertisement for themselves. It’s new information. Here are five tips for selling yourself on video:

  1. Have something to say: Use the 90 seconds to actually make a case for yourself, It’s not about how much you want it;  it’s about how and why you are a great fit for the school.
  2. Be organized: Identify the two-to three specific things you want to convey in your message and clearly articulate them.
  3. Talk to the admissions committee directly: the people watching the video want you to connect with them.
  4. Rehearse:  It’s a performance, and you’ve got to be prepared.
  5. Be confident, but not arrogantSounds easy but so hard.  Take a tip from the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business value of “confidence without attitude.

And here’s the great news, Master Admissions can help you put your video together.  We can help you put together a grounded, sincere video of YOU being YOU. We can help you be effective. We advise on the important non-verbal communication, tone of voice, and your ability to speak from your best self.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “What you are speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”

Want more information? Contact me at Betsy@masteradmissions.com and we’ll make it happen!

Authenticity, the Real You, and the MBA Application

self-exploration or self-excavation?

Here’s how to get into your top-choice business school: be yourself. If you are struggling with MBA essays, the last thing you want to hear are those two words, but that’s the secret. I know it seems like a cliché, but admissions officers say over and over that they want to get to know YOU in the essays. Allison Davis, Associate Director of Admissions at Stanford Graduate School of Business wrote those very words in a blog post, even calling them “corny, but true.”

Get Real
The only way for you to do that is to show your authentic self. Not the person you think the committee wants to read about. I guarantee this one fact: YOU are more interesting than that mythical person. They want to read about your successes and foibles. I recall an admissions officer from Berkeley’s Haas School of Business remark that he loved reading the stories where people learn from mistakes or failure. Those stories show a lot about a person’s true character. Remember, every business school class is made up of human beings, and the more you show who you really are, the more you will stand out from the crowd of generic applicants. No kidding.

Dawna Clarke, Director of Admissions at Tuck, blogs about the importance of showing the “real you.”  She reminds applicants that the admissions process is designed to facilitate self-reflection and should help you to genuinely understand yourself—something you take with you regardless of where you get in.  Clarke writes:

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is to be yourself. It goes without saying that the best thing you can do is walk away from your business school application experience knowing you put your best in front of the admissions committee for consideration. Regardless of the decision outcome, you’ll have no regrets and, hopefully, you have learned a little about yourself along the way.

When your authentic voice comes through, it makes your application credible and demonstrates confidence.  Says the Stanford Graduate School of Business admissions website (look under the heading “Personal Qualities and Contributions”):

In a world that often rewards conformity, the Stanford community thrives only when you share your individual experiences and perspectives.  As a result, the strongest applications we see are those in which your thoughts and voice remain intact.

To understand how you will contribute to and benefit from the Business School community, we want to know about you: your experiences, beliefs, your passions, your dreams, your goals…most Stanford MBA students have excelled by doing ordinary things extraordinarily well. It is what you make of an experience that matters to us, not simply the experience itself.

You may be thinking, oh, I am just another cookie-cutter engineer/investment analyst/consultant/IT specialist.  But you aren’t. You are you, the real you. The more authentic “you” that shows in your application, the better your chances. Promise.