Tag Archives | MIT Sloan

How to Convey Authentic Leadership in MBA Essays and Interviews

Many aspiring business school applicants wonder how to present themselves as authentic leaders before an admissions committee. They worry they don’t have a fancy title, they don’t have direct reports, or they haven’t thrown themselves in front of a land mine to save their fellow soldiers. Those are great examples, but there are thousands of students who are admitted to top programs who have none of those attributes, and easily viewed as leaders by their communities.

I’ve encouraged people to look at Daniel Goleman’s classic article about emotional intelligence, “What Makes a Leader;”  it is a helpful framework. In so many words, MBA admissions officers are coming out and saying that they look for emotional intelligence in a candidate.

Leadership guru Bill GeorgeStill, it’s hard to apply the principles directly. It’s not that believable to say, “I’m a great leader because of my empathy.”   Bill George, professor of management practice at the Harvard Business School, focuses on “authentic leadership,” has been writing about this topic for over a decade, and articulately revisited the basic tenets in a recent article,  “Authentic Leadership Rediscovered.”

Here are my takeaways from that article that will help you with interviews, and writing your essays or personal statement

  1. Authentic leadership is based on your own life story. According to George, authentic leaders incorporate their 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, for example, in the answers to Stanford’s “What is Most Important to You and Why,” the HBS “Introduce Yourself” prompt, and Columbia’s “Pleasantly Surprised” essay (specifically referring to CBS Matters).
  1. Authentic leaders embrace failure. Bill George calls it a “crucible moment,” and we’ve all had them. Business school essay prompts aren’t focusing on failure as much as they used to, but they are looking for change and growth from being tested.  Kellogg, for example, in one essay asks you about challenges you faced, and in another asked you how you have grown in the past.  Again, this doesn’t mean you have to write only about how you’ve crashed and burned, and risen like a phoenix, but it does mean that you want to show some resilience as well as a sense of humor about yourself.
  1. Authentic leaders are not perfect. Nor do they know everything. One of the things business school teaches us is how to make better decisions.  One of the ways to do that is to ask for help. In most business school essays which ask for an accomplishment, such as MIT Sloan’s “Tell us about a recent success,” because you can’t know or do everything, it’s likely you asked for support, and in doing so, you had to convince others to join your cause.
  1. Authentic leaders support and develop others. Look at the principles of Team Fuqua, in particular, “supportive ambition… because your success is my success.”  This is wedded into Tuck’s definition of leadership,  “helping others achieve great things.” And UCLA Anderson’s focus on shared success gets at the same idea. To quote Bill George from his book, True North.  Only when leaders stop focusing on their personal ego needs are they able to develop other leaders”

Bill George is not the only management guru who focuses on character-driven leadership. Wharton’s Adam Grant, also takes a broad view of leadership, in his book “Give and Take” he shows that those who elevate others are more effective leaders than “takers.”  Just look at the subtitle of his book, “Why Helping Others Drives Our Success.” 

As you look for ways to illustrate your leadership, take a look at the current best-practice thinking on leadership. It’s surprisingly personal, and as a result, shouldn’t require you do gymnastics in your interviews or essays to demonstrate your leadership character.









What MBA Schools Think of Admissions Consultants

aigac conferenceIt’s natural for MBA students to worry, and indeed they do. One thing they shouldn’t worry about is the use of an admissions consultant. Well, at least an ethical and professional admissions consultant, that is.  So here it is in black and white from one top school: Tuck.  They say it’s really OK. In their words,

Reputable consultants have experience in MBA programs and a broad understanding of the variety of schools out there. Consultants can also assist on the path to reflection and discovery.

See? Nothing to worry about.

Not exactly. Tuck, and every other school I know of is very clear: the work has to be yours. If someone you pay can help you make that hard work more focused, and less stressful, GREAT! If they guarantee they or their method will get you in, RUN! And if they offer to write anything for you, “HANG UP!”

Also, not every admissions consultant will be the right fit for you. I (Betsy of Master Admissions) have one style, and my colleague Candy of MBASpain, has another. And the many experienced consultants at the big firms, like MBA Exchange, have a range of different skills and offerings. It depends on what is right for you.

That’s what Tuck is saying here — the right consultant can help. Read what they say in their own words here. We had a terrifically productive day with the admissions committee at Tuck in June. And we stay in touch with them regularly, to understand what’s new with the school and its value proposition.

Tuck is not the only school who has met with admissions consultants and hosted us. The list is robust, in Boston alone we saw MIT Sloan, HBS, HKS, and had conversations with visiting admissions officers from Wharton, Columbia, Yale, Darden, Texas, UCLA, Babson, LBS, INSEAD, Haas, and more I am forgetting. We’ve been hosted by Stanford GSB in Palo Alto and by Chicago Booth virtually. So yes, if you do it right, admission officers “get it” that using a consultant may just make the difference for you.

Deadlines and Some Inspiration for Those About To Write Essays this Weekend

This is embarrassing. I have been so incredibly busy with deadlines — HBS Round 1 was this past Monday — and metamorphosisalready interview invitations will be sent out Oct 9 and Oct 16. That means you actually COULD apply to Round 1 for other schools if things didn’t work out for you at Harvard. I’m guessing there will be more applicants because of the “easier” and more user-friendly admissions process. I write “easier” in quotes because the open-ended essay format gives people almost too many choices!

Next up is MIT Sloan (Sept 24), which is cool because you can do a one-minute video for the optional essay. Don’t believe me? Check out what the admissions office says about it all at by clicking here.

And then it gets really intense:

Oct 1 – Michigan Ross and Wharton
Oct 2 – Columbia Early Decision, Cornell, INSEAD, Stanford GSB
Oct 3 – Booth
Oct 4 – London Business School
Oct 7 – Carnegie Mellon Tepper
Oct 9 – Tuck Early Action
Oct 10- Georgetown
Oct 11- Cambridge
Oct 15- NYU Stern, UT Austin, UVA Darden, USC Marshall
Oct 16- Berkeley Haas, Kellogg
Oct 18- UNC Kenan-Flagler
Oct 21- Duke Round 2 (sort of)
Oct 22- UCLA
Oct 25- Oxford

So buckle up and for perspective watch this video for some inspiration and a shot of some humility too.

Writing about Career Goals in the MBA Application

So, what do you want to when you grow up? That’s the spirit behind the goals essay questions on business school applications.

The sky’s the limit

This prompt is partly about your ability to plan logically and partly about your ability to envision a wild future. Some schools even make their desire for you to think big quite clear–Stanford GSB asks, “What do you want to do REALLY?” Others ask about your professional objectives (Wharton), or more specifically about your short and long term goals (Columbia Business School).  Harvard Business School, even with its reduced word count, still asks why you want an MBA.

You should get used to thinking coherently about the question. Surely, the managers who will write your letter of recommendation for business school  want to see a sense of your purpose.  Yet on the application, you don’t have to spell out your specific, minute-by-minute goals.  You simply need to imagine yourself on an upward trajectory, and where that will lead.

You probably have been going through some introspection as you think about what it means to “be yourself” in a business school application. It’s important to try different ideas on for size. Business schools all know that you may very well change your mind—they are not going to take your degree away if you shift focus. Throughout the application process and later at school, you may shift all over the place – and that’s all right. Certainly, if you go through a transformational experience such as an MBA program, you will be introduced to ideas and experiences you didn’t know were out there.  Look no further than Chicago Booth’s focus on the word “Transform,” to appreciate that it’s ok to change.

Try Explaining it to a Non-MBA
As an experiment, imagine you are having a conversation with your favorite high school teacher. Write down a few sentences explaining to her why you want to go to business school, and describe your broad long-term goals.  Or, if that doesn’t work, ask yourself some questions like the ones below.

  • If the MBA or business school did not exist, what path would you take?
  • What have you always dreamed of doing?
  • What have you not done that you wish you had done?
  • If you could change the world in one way, how would you do it?

Here’s another way to get at it: Reflect on what earning an MBA would bring to your professional life and do for you personally. Give yourself time. Then jot down your thoughts envisioning the future, the potential and possible fruit of your labor.

Having encouraged you to project forward, I should point out that not every school asks about your goals. MIT’s Sloan School’s application looks only to your past behaviors to predict your future performance. “Your essays and cover letter should focus on what you have already done, your past performance, rather than what you want to do. We do not evaluate you on why you want an MBA or what you intend to do with it afterwards, but do want to get to know you and your interests better,” they say on their website.

Just when you thought you were getting the hang of it.

Hoop Dreams and the March Madness of Admissions

Waiting to get admitted is enough to drive a person mad. So mad, that it’s a wonder that the admissions process didn’t grab the name “March Madness” before college basketball did. The expression goes back to 1939, but it has only been used in relation to the NCAA basketball tournament since 1982. (North Carolina over Georgetown by a point).

As an admissions professional, I see many similarities between the two–not just the anticipation, operatic emotions, and decisions rendered in March and April. They are both magnificent, if not dangerous, obsessions. I’ve listed five major similarities below, and a bonus of one big difference. Disclosure: my experience is mostly with the competitive world of MBA and professional graduate programs, but with a little imagination, we can all stretch it to college admissions, job hunting, and anything else with beautifully unpredictable results.

1. Competitive strategy
Like the NCAA basketball tournament, you have to compete to get into the school of your choice. There are more contenders than spots.  Not all talented entrants even qualify.  That’s because the league they come from might be semi-professional, like the ACC or the Big East.   It’s kind of like being a mediocre analyst at McKinsey – you know you are playing with the big boys, but you might not get invited to the Big Dance.

2.  First-round washouts
These days, most selective MBA programs require an invitation-only interview. That means that you might know pretty early on that you’ve been disqualified.   Some highly-seeded teams fall out early – Duke surprised everyone this year.  Still, I’ve seen people who have been dinged without interview from Harvard but got into Stanford.  It’s never rational.

3. The Gamble
Face it. You’ve got some money and pride riding on the outcome: You spend months of time and energy studying for the GMAT or GRE, you have to beg your boss for a recommendation, and if it all works you get bragging rights for a lifetime.  Well, at least until September.  The good news is that you are vindicated, even if everyone else thought you were crazy.

4. Being an expert makes no difference
You can parse the rankings all you want, argue that Kellogg is more prestigious than MIT Sloan or the other way around. That the Economist is crazy to rank Harvard behind … UVA?  No one is objective; not fans, not referees, not players.  Admissions committee members are similarly not entirely objective; they are human too! Like basketball, admissions is much more an art than a science.

5.  You’ll never know until you try
If you don’t play, you can’t win.  And if you lose, you can lick your wounds; but if you want it, you’ll keep trying. You may fire your coach and change your strategy, but you’ll get back on the court. You could be the next Cinderella team. Keep your eye on the ball and you could be in the Final Four before you know it.

Oh, there are some differences. In the case of admissions, you probably never take time away from work to work on an application or check its status, as you might for an exciting game. You probably never talk about it ad infinitum with friends and family, or go out for beers after its all over. And naturally, you don’t fork over $150,000 if you win. Last time I checked.

— Betsy Massar