Tag Archives | business school

Resilience as a Leadership Trait in MBA Admissions

resilience as a leadership traitThe essays and recommendations play a big role in MBA admissions, mostly because admissions committees are trying to gauge the candidate’s leadership potential.  When preparing your essays or your briefing sheet for your recommenders, you want to address very specific leadership traits.

Many prospective students ask me what leadership means in MBA admissions.  I completely understand the confusion! The reality is that there is no real textbook definition of leadership, and if there is, but it’s very mushy.  But one element most people agree on as a measurement of a good leader is RESILIENCE.

Executive leadership expert Rebecca Zucker, founder of Next Step Partners, wrote an excellent article on ways to identify and improve your resilience, strategies which “help you prepare yourself so that you will be ready to take on tough challenges, setbacks, difficult experiences or failures when they inevitably happen.”   Here they are in brief; check to see if these are your normal behaviors, or you need a little practice:

  1. Cultivate a growth mindset: A growth mindset looks at setbacks as an opportunity to learn.
  2. Don’t over-ruminate: Reflecting and acting is positive. But morosely wondering “what if”?  leads to unproductive wallowing. Especially stuff that is outside of your control.
  3. Take care of yourself: Be healthy in mind and spirit. Don’t be your own worst enemy.
  4. Seek inspiration: seek out stories of people who have overcome failure. They are everywhere, not just on TED. Or Michael Jordan Nike commercials.

The Resilience Checklist

Rebecca Zucker’s article also includes a resilience checklist – which comes close to helping us define leadership in specific terms that prospective and current MBA students can think about and model. Many of these attributes are similar to those that you will find as part of the MBA recommendations forms.

The full worksheet has 18 behaviors, most of which would work quite well in an essay describing personal leadership in the MBA application.  The first, “I have good knowledge of myself” is probably one of the most important – self-awareness is a particularly useful trait for leaders of all levels, particularly young professionals on a rapid trajectory.

“I am flexible and can adapt to changing situations” might be easier to write about. Businesses are unpredictable. For internal or exogenous reasons, stuff always happens at work, and it’s an asset if you can deal with uncertainty.  If you can incorporate a story of your own personal flexibility in the face of a changing work environment, you’ll be demonstrating resilience and maturity.

“I am able to see multiple perspectives on a situation” is useful for your personal growth; for example, it keeps you from ruminating or getting stuck in a doom loop. But it is also useful for working in teams; small or large there are bound to be as many perspectives on a problem as there are members of the group.

“I am able to ask for help” is a definite statement of strength rather than what looks like a sign of weakness. Digging your way out alone is never pretty (or efficient). You might think that puzzling over a knotty problem and finding the aha moment shows your brilliance, but often the opposite is true.  If you are really in trouble, not asking for help just makes things worse.  At work, if you see that your project is falling apart, get resourceful and find someone who can help you solve your problem.  You might break down a few silos in the process.

It’s Not About You

But sometimes things are just awful, and that’s when personal resilience is about not taking it personally. Lost your job? Had a project taken away? Get a rejection letter from the business school of your dreams?  In all these cases, it’s not necessary that you just put on a happy face. That’s not realistic. But look at contingency plans, your support picture and the longer-term perspective.  The universe hasn’t singled you out of bad news, even though it might feel that way at the moment.

Setbacks, failures, defeats—they are all part of life.  But resilience with grace, humor and grit, that’s what makes a leader.

Read more on leadership and MBA learning:

Some Introspection in Advance of Your MBA Essays

How to Convey Leadership in MBA Essays and Interviews

Leadership and the MBA Application

Using LinkedIn to Research Business Schools

MBA linkedin

Everybody does it. The minute they see the name of someone they want to know more about, they rush to LinkedIn. It’s the world’s database, and so very useful.  So useful, in fact, that to position yourself for business school or your next career step, you need to be LinkedIn savvy.

You need LinkedIn for two reasons – first, you can (and should) manage your own public profile, because you can bet that a LinkedIn profile comes up first if someone Googles you.  Second, you can (and should) use it to do deep research on schools, career paths, and life choices.

Here are five tips for using LinkedIn like a pro:

1. Make Sure Your Profile is Up-to-Date

People will look for you, that’s a fact. LinkedIn, with 500 million users, is the professional networking site.  It’s so expected that you will have a complete profile that at least one MBA program, the MIT Sloan School of Management, requests your LinkedIn URL on its application in addition to your resume.

Tip: Add your picture.  According to LinkedIn, you are 21 times more likely to be viewed if you include a photo. Professional-looking photos leave a more positive impression.

2. Just Click on a School in Someone’s Profile

LinkedIn is an enormous database, and most of it is free. You can get tremendous amount of critical information without even reaching out.  Think Wharton is only for finance? Click on “Wharton” on any grad’s educational profile, and you’ll see an array of information. You can plug in graduation year, say 2015 and check out where that class landed by region, by industry, and by company. Check out how many—and who–ended up in marketing or business development or product management.  Think you want to work in Asia, but not sure that Columbia Business School is the right school for you? You can find scores of recent grads in China, Singapore, and Korea.

3.  Identify Target Career Paths

Advanced search can be your new best friend.  Perhaps after your MBA, you want to work in business development or product management for a company like online game-maker Riot Games.  How have others walked that path? Type “Riot Games” in the company box, MBA in the school keywords, and see what others have done to get to that point.  You might find that the pre-MBA experiences vary from engineering to Peace Corps volunteer.  Encouraging, isn’t it? You might also find that most have brand management experience prior to before working at the computer game company.  Such intelligence will make you a smarter planner, and later, a more effective job seeker.

4. Use the “Follow” Tab for Companies and Schools

Don’t let this feature fool you. It’s not just for companies, but you can also follow a school. If I look up “Tuck School of Business” for example, I can see 89 people in my network – either a current student or a faculty/staff member, and a current Tuck student who went to my undergraduate school.  You’ll also get notified when any member of your network adds that school (or company) to their profile.

And Away You Go!

Like many web tools, LinkedIn offers great value if you know how to use it.  Keep your profile up to date, use the unbelievable resources in the LinkedIn database, and then, go out and make connections for your professional and educational benefit.  It’s a great way to make social media work for you.

On Failure and the MBA Essays

Α while ago, I entered a competition for the best MBA blog. In my day job, I am a graduate admissions consultant, so I thought I would try to get some attention to my blog through this contest. I didn’t win. I didn’t place. I didn’t even show.

It wasn’t for lack of effort. I tapped all my social media friends and contacts as I looked for votes. But I didn’t get enough. It’s not the end of the world, but it never feels good not to win. This lack of success reminded me of my own rejections from college and graduate school. I was mirroring my students when they put their heart and soul into an application and are then turned down. This contest was small potatoes compared to a college or graduate school application.

Beautiful losers

But being a loser isn’t all that bad. I mean, it’s not the first time it happened, nor is it the last. We say to ourselves, “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.” Well, sort of.  I’m in good company with losers. The Atlanta Falcons, Hillary Clinton, and famously Michael Jordan on his beautifully watchable Nike ad.

Losing is part of learning about leadership. It builds resilience, propels you forward, and teaches humility. Here are a few ways how that works: Losing helps build resilience. It means being able to build muscle around not always getting your own way. One of the things that Harvard Business School looks for in prospective MBA students is the ability to handle things when they don’t work out. A few years ago, alongside the required accomplishment essays, the admissions committee asked applicants to describe three setbacks. Nowadays the HBS essay is more open ended, but if you don’t include some setback, they may think you are just trying to impress, and not tell the real story.

The F Word: Failure

That’s why admissions officers often say they are looking for both awareness and maturity. A key factor in high achievement is bouncing back from low points,” writes management guru Rosabeth Moss Kanter in Harvard Business Review’s “Failure Issue.” Losing means you’ve taken risks. You really cannot live without taking risks. As

Staff photo Jon Chase/Harvard News Office

J.K. Rowling told the Harvard graduating class of 2008, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.“

Talk to most entrepreneurs, and you’ll hear the same theme: you cannot innovate without taking risks. And taking risks often means falling on your face. “Failure is not a badge of shame, it’s a rite of passage,” says Tony Hsieh, Zappo.com CEO and author of the inspirational book, Delivering Happiness.

Learning Humility

Humility is one of the not­ so­ obvious components of great leadership. The real leaders aren’t arrogant bombasts, but people who are gracious and, humble. Just ask Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr. Mike Krzyzewski, the winningest coach in NCAA men’s basketball, and the force behind Duke University’s Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership and Ethics, shows and teaches humility, in the face of great wins and embarrassing losses. Many leaders already have ego, and that’s ok, but, as Coach K writes in The Gold Standard, “Ego and humility are not mutually exclusive. You can have both. You should have both.”

When you think about it, losing does not always have to have a bad ending. Sometimes losing is simply a matter of the way you look at things. Sure, I didn’t win the best blog award, but when I went back and looked at the numbers, I came in fifth. That meant that I was in the “Top 5.” In my business, that is, the business of MBA admissions, the top five includes Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Chicago, and Columbia. Not bad company, I think.

 

More on leadership and the MBA:

The Growth Mindset and the MBA Leadership Essays 

How to Convey Authentic Leadership in MBA Essays and Interviews

The Classic: Leadership and the MBA Application

Apply Now or Later? Business School Age Range

“When should I apply?”  “Am I too old to apply to business school?” Those are often the first things students ask when planning their MBA application process.  The highly personal answer depends on both strategic and tactical considerations.

The Decision is Part of Your Career Strategy

 

The “when” question is strategic because an MBA application requires asking yourself big questions about your career and where you want to go next. Often these decisions depend on the experience you already have. If you are looking at full-time programs, that means you have to figure out whether you have enough experience to convince an admissions committee that this is the right time to leave your current job and take on the hard-core leadership and managerial training to set you up for the next phase.  Remember, the admissions committee is trying to determine your value added to your future stakeholders: classmates, faculty, and alumni.

But I Hate My Job!

That’s among the worst reasons to apply to business school. It’s really better to apply from a position of strength. Sometimes you just need one more year to gain more work autonomy, or you might want to switch functions to round out your experience, or even push yourself in a completely different direction. If you are not sure now is the time , then you are probably not ready.

Is there a target number of years? Not exactly. Most schools publish their average age and years of experience on the class profile page.

HBS histogram

HBS range of years of experience

You’ll see that over the past 10 years, Harvard Business School’s students matriculated with a range of 41-54 months of full time experience.  And there’s a standard deviation of a about year  around that, giving you a plenty to work with.

If you are on the young side, think hard about the quality of the challenges and emotional intelligence you’ve demonstrated to influence outcomes. Remember, your teammate may be an astronaut, a West Point-educated Tesla employee,  a prize-winning athlete,   or just a high-performing consultant. Do you bring enough maturity, self-awareness, and resilience   to add to your teammate’s experience? It’s quite a tall order, and that’s why admission to the top schools is so competitive.

You’ll note that I’m not writing too much about someone with many years of experience. In that case, your question is not “when?” but “if?” If you think you are on the “more experienced” side, then don’t wait.  For a good, balanced perspective on the “too old” question, take a look at  Wharton’s (now defunct) Student2Student forum (answers saved at the link).

Round 1, 2, or 3?

The decision about Round 1, 2, or 3, is more of a tactical one. I’m writing this article in the first week of January, so chances are, if you are reading it in early 2017, you probably have already missed Round 2. However, if you are thinking of next year, all things being equal (and they never are) I recommend Round 1. You’d rather have an admissions reader who is fresh and not looking to fill a gap in a class that’s already half-full. Furthermore, as a practical matter, Round 1 lets you enjoy the holiday season more, and your family with thank you for that.

This does not mean that Round 2 is an overly-tough round. Thousands of students apply and are admitted in the second round. Many have skipped on the first round because they haven’t done enough personal reflection to make sure their story and purpose are clear. Others wanted to take the GMAT score again, and for others, life got in the way. All of these are great reasons to postpone to Round 2.

Wrangling Recommenders

Recommendations are often overlooked when considering your tactical timing. I call this wrangling recommenders. You’ll need to brief and rally your recommenders to make sure they do the very best job for you. It is your job as project manager of your application to take this part of the application seriously. You will want them fully on your side, and the whole process WILL cost you some political capital. And no, you cannot write your own recommendations and just have them tweak and sign. That’s wrong.

Am I Crazy to Apply Round 3?

Finally, it’s come to this: the Round 3 question.  I personally know or have worked with students who have gotten into every top school in the country that has a third round. (MIT does not). The odds are against you, but if your tactical timing is right, then it may just work. As Dee Leopold, head of Harvard Business School admissions says,

“We like Round 3 enough to keep it as an option. Although we have admitted about 90% of the class by this time, we always – ALWAYS – see enough interesting Round 3 applicants to want to do it again.”

Yes, it is a little on the late side, and if you are just starting to think about taking your GMAT, you probably should delay until next year. But! If you are already in the process, and ready to go, you may not be as crazy as you think.

The choice is always yours. Whenever you decide to apply, make sure you execute well. That probably means you shouldn’t rush. Business school is a big decision and a bigger commitment, so you should apply when you feel you are presenting your best, true self.

This prompt is partly about your ability to plan logically and partly about your ability to envision a wild future.

On a Great One-Page Resume

You use a cleaner font, I’m sure

Got questions about your MBA resume for your application? You are not alone. Everyone who has applied to an MBA program or for any job worries about their resume.  How on earth do you fit your entire life story into one page?  And what a challenge that someone actually thinks you can!

Your resume has almost nothing to do with your real life. It’s about your professional life, and it’s about your achievements.  I have heard MBA admissions officers and career advisors say that the resume is not a list of job duties. It is a record of your accomplishments.  That means you don’t need to put in the stuff that bores even you.

For example, I had a client who worked for a financial startup, so she wore many hats on the job. She created new financial tools, traded securities, and established deep relations with new and existing clients.  She also handled the monthly newsletter, which took a lot of time, but didn’t represent her highest talent.  So we cut it.  She’d already shown achievement in her other, more productive areas of her job, so she emphasized the best part: influencing the organization in tangible ways.

Follow the Rules, It’s Easier
Remember, you have three-to-five bullet points per job, and anything longer than two lines per bullet becomes too dense for the reader, so put in the highlights: your tangible, measurable accomplishments, using active verbs and concise language.

Still, the resume has one place where you can show your individuality – the “Additional” section. Everyone reads that stuff. Promise. You have two or three lines to talk about interests, skills, and all that other stuff. Any hobby is fair game – I’ve seen everything from canine agility to financial system reform.

A few rules to follow:

Avoid acronyms and industry jargon

  • Don’t try to make the reader learn new acronyms for your company. They don’t have time to figure out what RMD or HSDRC means

Try to keep bullet points to no more than two lines, if possible

  • Anything longer is too dense and the reader just skips it

Don’t feel like you need to use up four or more bullet points – three is fine

  • You can include only two or fewer bullet points for part-time jobs and internships

Use 12- or 11-point type, depending on the font you choose.

  • 10-point type can be too small. Anything else is ridiculous
  • Leave a one-inch margin all the way around

Place education at the bottom if you are working full time and career is the most important

  • If you are a current student, education leads the resume

If you held a leadership position in a non-profit, be sure to include it

If you are interested in a free resume template based on the work I have done as a resume coach at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, please email me and I’ll send it along.