Tag Archives | MBA admissions

Be Yourself. Don’t Be Casual. Which Is It?

Be diplomatic

Scott Shrum of Veritas Prep wrote this great article on presentation for the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants newsletter. It’s particularly useful as students start booking their interview slots. Heed his advice!

For years MBA admissions officers have urged applicants to be themselves in the admissions process.  From essays to admissions interviews to interactions at events, admissions officers want to see glimpses of the real applicant, not an act or ideal of what the applicant thinks admissions officers want to see.  We have all heard this advice for years, and most admissions consultants frequently share this same advice with their clients.  “Be yourself,” we say.  “Reveal something about yourself in your application.”  Yet applicants have historically tended to err on the side of being overly formal or being reluctant to share anything that might make them appear less than perfect in admissions officers’ eyes.

This “be real” advice from admissions officers is so common that it was interesting to hear a new theme emerge in June’s AIGAC conference: Some applicants have become a little too informal, particularly in admissions interviews and other face-to-face interactions with admissions personnel.  Panel discussion participants including Christine Sneva of Cornell’s Johnson School, Bruce Delmonico of the Yale School of Management, Mary Miller of Columbia Business School, and Mae Jennifer Shores of UCLA Anderson, discussed examples including:

  • Overly casual dress
  • Unprofessional personal habits such as gum chewing
  • Very informal language, including cursing
  • Frequently checking one’s phone or sending text messages
  • Other unprofessional behavior, such as putting one’s feet up on the interviewer’s desk.

Even more remarkable is that most of the stories told involved applicants meeting with admissions officers in formal settings.  While applicants sometimes wrongly perceive an interview with an alum or a student as an informal discussion and sometimes “let their hair down” a bit too much, it is hard to fathom that admissions officers see this sort of behavior.  (All of the admissions officers at the conference were from business schools, but the lessons they shared are equally applicable to all types of graduate programs.)

It’s like applying for a job

While these stories still represent the exception rather than the rule for all of the schools in attendance, the clear trend is toward this sort of thing happening more than it did just a few years ago.  Whether it is the result of generational trends—many Generation Y applicants have been exposed to less formal work settings than those who have come before them—or some applicants misinterpreting the “Be Yourself” advice, these applicants clearly do themselves a disservice by acting this way.  MBA admissions officers have enough excellent applicants to choose from that any signs of arrogance or immaturity make it far too easy for them to reject an applicant and look elsewhere for talent.

So what advice can an admissions consultant give to help applicants be authentic in the admissions process, yet not come across as overly casual or flippant?  While applicants really should be genuine and reveal a bit about themselves in their interactions with a school, they must remember that applying to an MBA program is not very different from applying for a job—everything about them will be judged.  Just as a job applicant could never put his feet up on an interviewer’s desk and expect to land a job, a business school applicant needs to remember that the admissions interviewer is not just a formality, and that any unprofessional behavior makes it far too easy for an admissions committee to reject that applicant no matter how strong his application is.  When in doubt, an applicant should treat an admissions interview no differently from a job interview.

Ultimately, the best litmus test still comes back to common sense.  If an applicant has to ask whether or not a certain behavior is okay, then the answer is probably “no.”  And, if an applicant doesn’t have the common sense or maturity to even ask, then he or she may not yet be ready to apply.

Around the World: Six Tips from the Trenches

Here’s an article by my colleague and friend, Candy LaBalle, founder of mbaSpain on international student approaches to the MBA admission process

MBA admissions consultants help applicants in everything from choosing schools to essay brainstorming to resume editing. But, when dealing with non-US applicants, we also have to do a little cultural translating. At mbaSpain, I face this reality every day, and, after comparing notes with several AIGAC colleagues, I’ve identified six application areas where cultural awareness is essential.

1. Sell Yourself

Call it branding, positioning, or tooting your own horn, what is second nature to US applicants is often taboo to non-Americans.

“With Middle Easterners, particularly women, I spend a lot of time encouraging them to talk openly about themselves, their accomplishments and initiatives, and their dreams,” notes Tanis Kmetyk, who handles EMEA applicants for Accepted.com. With Asian applicants, she says, “Standing out is not considered a ‘plus’… so helping them to, well, stand out, is important.”

In addition, many foreign applicants believe an MBA application means all business. Rocio didn’t think the fact that she co-founded one of Spain’s most important youth sporting events to be relevant. “But I was in university, wouldn’t the schools rather hear about my banking experience?”

2. Embrace your Failures

“Even physical hurdles that people face (like handicaps) are seen as a weakness in many countries,” says Tanis. We have to push them to realize that the value of that failure, what they learned can actually be a strength for their application.

Some non-US applicants try to avoid sharing failures by thinly veiling achievements. Jaime was determined to tell LBS that his failure to graduate number one in his class (instead of number two) was due to his demanding role as captain of the rugby team! It took a bit of coaxing to help him realize that his initial struggle with leadership was actually a more powerful story.

3. Answer the Question

Getting non-US applicants to clearly tell a story is another struggle. Vince Ricci who runs VincePrep.com in Japan notes, “Japanese storytelling emphasizes context – a long wind-up before the final punchline.” With this approach, they’ll run out of words before they get to the point.

Spanish applicants love to share mucho ruido, pocas nueces (a lot of noise, few nuts). Though it is good advice for all MBA hopefuls to stay focused and answer the question, non-US applicants benefit immensely from the application of STAR: Situation, Task, Action, Result.

4. Commit to the Tests

Standardized tests provide their own cultural challenges. Victoria Pralitch of MBA Consult in Russia says “My applicants see GMAT as just a math test, and our schools in Russia give a great math training, so no need to overstrain. As a result, the percentage of those who pass successfully the first time is not that high.”

“German applicants are typically exasperated about the GMAT requirement,” notes Dr. Marlena Corcoran of Athena Mentor. “They are convinced they are superior candidates, and their less-than-stellar scores on a standardized exam must mean the exam is unfair.”

Other applicants choose to ignore their English test until it is too late. “I have a 720 on GMAT and use English everyday,” Pedro, a very promising candidate told me last November. “I don’t have to prepare TOEFL.” He got a 104 and had to put off his Harvard application for a year.

5. Recognize Extracurriculars

“Most Western Europe governments take care of their people from ‘cradle to grave,’ so community activity here is not at all the same as it is in North America,” notes Tanis.

Maybe our non-US applicants haven’t done typical extracurricular activity, but most likely they’ve played team sports, served on an events committee at work, helped a family member open a business, or participated in some activity that allowed them to take initiative, have impact and show leadership.

Ricardo was convinced he had no extracurricular activity to share. Then I found out that when he was in university, his family went bankrupt. He used his computer skills to make 20,000 euros in an online venture which helped his father get his business back. Talk about impact!

6. Go Beyond Rankings

“I have to educate my non-US applicants about the diversity of schools – many are just focused on the top 10 and it’s frustrating, whether it’s not realistic for them or just there’s a better fit,” says Yael Redelman-Sidi of Admit1MBA.com based in New York.

While a top-ten obsession is typical among most MBA applicants, non-US applicants also face the cultural pressure of attending a brand-name school. Everyone in Spain, China and Brazil knows Harvard, not so many know Babson or Kelley or Tulane. It is our job to mediate their expectations (not all of them can go to Harvard) and open their eyes to other schools that could be a better fit.

The New MBAs Who Are Changing the Definition of Leadership

This article was originally published in Forbes Woman. You can see more at this link.

If someone were to ask which countries in the world have more women than men preparing for their MBA by taking the Graduate Management Admissions Test, you might guess the U.S. or Sweden or even Iceland.

You’d be wrong – in fact, more women than men are taking the GMAT in China, Russia, Vietnam and Thailand.

This represents an amazing trend… not only are hundreds of thousands of women preparing to embark on a serious business careers, but they are coming from some countries that have historically seen relatively few women in executive and leadership roles.

This trend is quite a bit different from when I entered business school in 1980.  A generation ago, my class at Harvard Business School comprised 21% women – a number now which has grown to 36% – still low.  Apple launched its initial public offering with a split-adjusted price of $2.75 (now $351). Charles and Diana were about to be wed, China’s Gang of Four had yet to be tried, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were about to define a decade.

Thirty-one years ago, most women who are now applying to business school weren’t even close to being born. Their parents likely had no inkling that their future female offspring would be sitting at a computer taking an English-language standardized test in hopes of embarking on a career in business. They had no idea that these eventual young women would be stepping into a formal program with the goal of walking out with an MBA.

What has changed, and will continue to change, is twofold: women are starting to look at themselves as leaders, and the definition of leadership has changed. Business schools today are not just looking for managerial potential, but are looking for different kinds of leaders:  principled change-makers who show up in the world.

Much More than Management

But many women still believe they cannot gain acceptance to an MBA program because they think they have not yet held a high-ranking title in their company. Or have not managed a team of subordinates.

“Leadership encompasses much more than managing people,” wrote Rose Martinelli, former director of Admissions at the University Of Chicago Booth School Of Business.” Business schools are now equating leadership with influence, or the ability to motivate others toward a shared goal. Stanford Graduate School of Business’ recommendation form includes a “Leadership Behavior Grid” with traits such as initiative, influence and collaboration, developing others, and trustworthiness. Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business defines leadership as “the ability to inspire others to strive and enable them to accomplish great things.” And Wharton places its leadership programs “at the heart of MBA life.”

Leadership can mean anything from running a classroom to being the idea person in your work team. From standing up for an unpopular position, to organizing a food drive. In a nutshell, leadership is about finding the passion inside and acting on it – and that’s what these amazing women from unexpected countries are doing by taking the GMAT and believing in their own leadership potential.

The Essence of Leadership

Furthermore, business schools are actively searching for what women have been known for traditionally: Emotional IQ.  In a seminal article published in a 1998 Harvard Business Review article, entitled, “What Makes a Leader,” Daniel Goleman attempted to answer the question with the attributes of effective leaders.  Goleman, who popularized emotional intelligence with his book of the same name, wrote, “It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant,” he says. “They do matter, but mainly as ‘threshold capabilities.’ But … emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership.”

Emotional intelligence is what separates good leaders from great ones.  And business schools want to see people with the raw material to produce nothing less than great leaders.  “We educate leaders who make a difference in the world,” proclaims Harvard Business School’s mission page.

Women are training up, getting their technical chops in order, and are ready to take the next step. They will both influence and be influenced by what is being taught in the leadership component of MBA programs all over the world. And you can bet that when this generation of female leaders matures, we’ll see business and enterprises become even more diverse, more embracing of new ideas and creativity than we can even imagine now.  The world is ready.

Round 1, 2, and 3 deadlines

Round 1

Application Deadline

Kellogg School of Management 09/24/10
Harvard Business School (interview) 10/01/10
The Wharton School 10/04/10
Johnson School of Management – Cornell 10/05/10
Stanford University 10/06/10
Columbia Business School 10/06/10
Yale University 10/07/10
University of Michigan – Ross 10/11/10
University of Chicago 10/13/10
Haas School of Business – Berkeley 10/13/10
Tuck School of Business – Dartmouth 10/13/10
Darden School of Business 10/14/10
Anderson School of Management – UCLA 10/20/10
Carnegie Mellon – Tepper 10/25/10
Sloan School of Management – MIT 10/26/10
Fuqua School of Business – Duke Univ 11/01/10
McCombs School of Business – Austin 11/01/10
McDonough School of Business 11/01/10
Stern School of Business – NYU 11/15/10
Kenan-Flagler Business School 12/03/10

Round 2

Application Deadline

Johnson School of Management – Cornell 11/09/10
Tuck School of Business – Dartmouth 11/10/10
Haas School of Business – Berkeley 12/02/10
Kellogg School of Management 12/15/10
McDonough School of Business 01/01/11
Carnegie Mellon – Tepper 01/03/11
The Wharton School 01/04/11
Sloan School of Management – MIT 01/04/11
Fuqua School of Business – Duke Univ 01/04/11
University of Chicago 01/05/11
Columbia Business School 01/05/11
University of Michigan – Ross 01/05/11
Anderson School of Management – UCLA 01/05/11
Darden School of Business 01/05/11
Stanford University 01/06/11
Yale University 01/06/11
Kenan-Flagler Business School 01/07/11
Harvard Business School 01/11/11
Stern School of Business – NYU 01/15/11
McCombs School of Business – Austin 01/14/10

Round 3

Application Deadline

Tuck School of Business – Dartmouth 01/03/11
Johnson School of Management – Cornell (R3) 01/04/11
Haas School of Business – Berkeley 01/20/11
University of Michigan – Ross 03/01/11
The Wharton School 03/03/11
Carnegie Mellon – Tepper 03/07/11
Fuqua School of Business – Duke Univ 03/08/11
Stern School of Business – NYU 03/15/11
Yale University 03/17/11
Kenan-Flagler Business School 03/18/11
Johnson School of Management – Cornell (R4) 03/22/11
Kellogg School of Management 03/24/11
Darden School of Business 03/30/11
Harvard Business School 03/31/11
McCombs School of Business – Austin 04/01/11
McDonough School of Business 04/01/11
Stanford University 04/06/11
University of Chicago 04/13/11
Columbia Business School 04/13/11
Anderson School of Management – UCLA 04/13/11
Sloan School of Management – MIT NA

MBA Deadlines for Round 2 Mostly Behind Us

It has been a crazy few weeks — application deadlines for the most popular application date “Round 2” have come and gone with one significant exception: Harvard Business School.

Indeed, the flagship MBA program has offered potential candidates an extra two weeks beyond Stanford GSB, Wharton and Columbia. Kellogg’s deadline is January 14, and NYU Stern, which used to be later in the month, moved its deadline up to January 15.

Dee Leopold, Harvard Business School’s director of admissions, put a note up on the admissions blog about HBS’s deadline. She offers some handy tips on essay word limits (don’t go way over, but don’t stress over a few extra words), recommender word limits (roughly one page of text, but HBS won’t cut it off if it goes over), and she tells us that it doesn’t matter whether you submit today or a few minutes before the deadline — all applications are considered equally.

Note that this is not true for all schools — Chicago comes to mind as an exception to this rule; Rose Martinelli has indicated that sending earlier in the round is helpful to her team. And then there are the schools like Columbia, which offer a rolling admissions schedule.

Having said all that, if your application was not ready by Round 2, it’s not the end of the world. I know of a woman who applied to Stanford, and only Stanford in Round 3, and got in. And I can guarantee you that her resume did not read like a joint winner of the Nobel Peace and Physics prizes.

Here’s the link to the HBS admissions FAQ.

Harvard Business School Director of Admissions Blog

Remember, proof, proof and reproof where you can. And once you hit send, make sure you go out and celebrate!

Best of luck to all of you. If you have any questions, feel free to email me. The more 85 Broads we get into business school, the better.