Tag Archives | Stanford GSB

Best of the Web: MBA Recommendations

As we come up to the business school application deadlines, thousands of aspiring MBA students are asking their bosses, former bosses, senior colleagues, and even clients for recommendations to business school. It’s tough to navigate, but there are resources out there, and most of them are on the web. Below are some excerpts and links to some excellent, easy-to-follow guidance on how to manage the entire process, from picking recommenders to putting together their briefing packages. If you click and read through all the links, particularly the link to Palo Alto for Awhile, you’ll find actionable advice to that can help you get stronger and ultimately, more helpful recommendations.

Take Admissions Officers at their Word
You can find many opinions about how to strategize MBA recommendations all over the web. But why go for conjecture when you can find real answers from the schools themselves? Admissions officers have come right out on their websites and told students what they are looking for in a recommendation, and I encourage you to take them at their word.

A classic article on this subject can be found on the Stanford Graduate School of Business website. Kirsten Moss, the GSB’s former Director of MBA admissions, offered clear advice for all applicants, not just Stanford. She purports that the recommendation is “about about bringing this person alive. How, if they left tomorrow, would [the] organization have been touched in a unique way.“

Note too, that admission committee members reading your letters of recommendation don’t want everything to be stellar. If all the recommenders say that the applicant is wonderful for the same reasons, or if the student looks like a demi-god, “it loses its authenticity.” says Stanford’s Moss.

Derrick Bolton, Dean of Admissions at Stanford’s MBA program also guides students with ideas to make the letters specific:

You might review the recommendation form and jot down relevant anecdotes in which you demonstrated the competencies in question. Specific stories will help make you come alive in the process, and your recommender will appreciate the information.

And from Harvard Business School…
Dee Leopold, the very experienced and candid ex-Director of Admissions at Harvard Business School, advises that recommenders answer the questions posed, and be specific. Furthermore, “Many recommendations are well-written and enthusiastic in their praise but essentially full of adjectives and short on actual examples,” she explains. “What we are hoping for are brief recounts of specific situations and how you performed.” Her blog is not indexed, so I recommend searching for her posts of August 13, 2012, Aug. 24, 2009 and June 17, 2008.

The always articulate Soojin Kwon Koh, Director of Admissions at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, allays fears that your recommenders must write perfect prose. “We won’t be evaluating your recommenders’ writing skills. We will be looking for content that helps us understand who you are as a professional and … the impact you had within your organization.” She also offers the following four specific tips

1. Choose substance over title (in other words, don’t ask your CEO)
2. Go with professional relationships
3. Make it easy for your recommender (For example, remind them of examples, in context)
4. Provide ample lead time

I’m a fan of Julia Campbell, from the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business, who highlights an important point: make sure the recommender likes you.

Sounds obvious, but you would be surprised how many candidates have letters of recommendation submitted by people who write just a few words (“She’s really great.”), come up with poor examples (“One time we had a problem with a client, and she handled it well”, or clearly just don’t think that highly of you (“She performs equally well when compared to her peers at a similar level.”  You might as well have asked a perfect stranger to write it and it probably would have come out better.

Really Useful and Excellent Resources: 
Several students and former students have chimed in on the MBA recommendations process. One of my favorite applicant blogs, Palo Alto For Awhile, thoughtfully offered a very specific step-by-step guideline for the recommendation process. [One caveat to her recommendations — use first person always when writing a memo for a recommender.  If you write suggested anecdotes in third-person, then it might look like you wrote the recommendation.]

Another generous soul is Jeremy Wilson, who was on the Northwestern Kellogg admissions committee and graduated from the JD-MBA program. He offers some answers on how to ask someone to write a recommendation who is very, very busy. His response is thoughtful, and action-oriented. I especially like his #3, “Highlight Why You Picked Them.”

Indeed, organizing and managing the recommendation process can be a challenge, especially if you are applying to a number of different schools. But it’s a lot like managing a project at work: you’ve got to get buy-in and meet the deadlines.

Ready? Now let’s go and get some professional love letters.

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The Best MBA Resume Advice Ever

resume typewriter smallYou can find countless articles on general resumes all over the web, but very little on the perfect MBA resume. I did write about it,

walking through a template I’ve crafted after working with Stanford GSB first year students. But my colleague Candy LaBalle, who runs mbaSpain, came out with an outstanding article this morning. She has given me permission to reprint the article here — and I guarantee you will find it specific and helpful.

It originally appeared on Magoosh‘s website, but in my version, I’ve highlighted the parts that deserve mention

Six Steps to a Stellar MBA Resume

If you are applying to an MBA this year, you’ve probably noticed that top b-schools are not asking for many essays. Tuck requires two, Booth asks for a presentation only and Harvard has made its one essay optional. This reduced application content makes your MBA Application Resume more valuable than ever. In fact, HBS and Columbia even allow resumes that go beyond the “one-page” standard.

But, whether you prepare one or two pages, you need to follow some guidelines. Beyond using action verbs, avoiding “I” and having standard fonts no smaller than 10-point, to make your MBA Application Resume truly stellar, follow these six tips:

1: Focus on YOU

If your resume reads like a job description then it is not about you—it is about your job. Instead of focusing on tasks, highlight your achievements, and include details on team size, cultural exposure and quantifiable results.

  • Participate in M&A transactions
  • Advise clients on business strategy

becomes

  • Led teams of up to three, on four M&A deals in the energy, telecom and retail sectors, valued up to $5bn
  • Created a cost-analysis model for Chile’s largest telecom identifying 12% in savings; presented model directly to client senior managers

2: Skip the jargon

Adcoms are looking for leadership potential, collaborative mindset and interpersonal skills. Even if you are an aeronautical engineer, focus on your MBA qualities.

  • Coordinated advanced ABC testing to reduce drag on the XYZ series fuselage.

becomes

  • Led six engineers from three countries to improve performance on our best-selling plane by 21%.

3: Go beyond your daily tasks

Do you handle recruiting for your firm at your old university? Did you create a new work process that improves team efficiency? Do you organize birthday dinners, basketball games or other activities that encourage socializing outside of the office? These show initiative, impact and interpersonal skills and should be included.

  • Created company soccer team, recruiting players from various departments; team now competes weekly against other company teams

4: Show progression

If you were the only one out of 1,000 applicants to get the position, or you moved from a six-month internship to full-time employment in just 3 months, then say it!

  • Hired as Associate in September 2013 and fast-tracked to Senior Associate 13 months later (average promotion time is 18 months)

5: Highlight leadership

Leadership goes beyond supervising people. If you do lead a group, definitely include that on your resume, but if you don’t, highlight other examples of leadership: managing a project, coordinating client teams, mentoring interns.

  • Created my department’s first online “data warehouse,” reducing research time for projects
  • Trained 14 senior clients to use a new CRM, resulting in higher sales team efficiency

6: Don’t forget the fun stuff

If you play viola, were regional champion in judo, run 10Ks or enjoy juggling, include it!  Hobbies help you stand out from the crowd as well as show commitment, passion and leadership.

  • Founded a dining club that now has 42 members; organize monthly dinners at gourmet restaurants for up to 15
  • Began waterskiing as a child, advanced to national competitions in university, currently teach waterskiing to children
  • Travel constantly, have visited 46 countries on six continents, traveled from Europe to Asia by land only, created a travel blog

 

Leadership and the MBA Application

Guess what.  Six months from now we will be at the beginning of October. Shocking, isn’t it, that those of you who are thinking of applying to business school in the first round have only six months to figure it all out. You’ve got a lot of tactical moves ahead of you, like the GMAT and visiting potential schools while they are still in session (I recommend spring; everyone is happier), and impressing your recommenders with your leadership skills.

How Admissions Officers View Leadership

Your biggest goal in the MBA admissions process is to demonstrate leadership. Business schools may have leadership classes, workshops, or what Stanford calls “Leadership Labs,” but the schools are not working with blank slates. Admissions committees want to see candidates with great leadership potential. This potential can be demonstrated through a record of traditional leadership activities, such as president of your undergraduate student body or manager of your unit at work. Or just a team leader on a visible project. But then there’s another kind of leadership, and its a lot more nuanced than just a title on a resume.

“Leadership encompasses much more than managing people,” wrote Rosemaria Martinelli, former director of Admissions at the University Of Chicago Booth School of Business in a blog post.  Business schools now equate 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.”

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 clothing drive. In a nutshell, leadership is about finding the passion inside you and acting on it.

The Essence of Leadership

Business schools are actively searching for students with high emotional intelligence. In a seminal 1998 Harvard Business Review article, “What Makes a Leader,” Daniel Goleman attempted to answer the question with specific attributes of effective leaders. Goleman, who popularized the concept of emotional intelligence with his book of the same name, wrote in the HBR article, “It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant….They do matter, but mainly as ‘threshold capabilities.’ But…emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership.”

Goleman’s model of emotional intelligence has dramatically improved the global discussion of leadership. In his research of nearly 200 large, global companies, Goleman found that

while the qualities traditionally associated with leadership – such as intelligence, toughness, determination, and vision – are required for success, they are insufficient. Truly effective leaders are also distinguished by a high degree of emotional intelligence, which includes self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill.

I’ll be writing more about these five components in the coming weeks. Indeed, these traits are a little touchy-feely.  But then, so is business school admissions.

How to Prepare Early for Your MBA Application

rooster squareMy friend and colleague in the admissions consulting business, Linda Abraham, recently published an article in the great Poets & Quants about early preparation for your business school application.   It was a clever article, highlighting, most of all, GMAT prep, which you definitely want to take care of now.

But say you’ve got that part out of the way, how can you be productive? How can you start early and make it count? Linda suggests also clarifying your goals – and I’ve written about that too in a blog post entitled “Benefits of Starting Your Business School Campaign Now.”

Network while studying for the GMAT

If you want to prepare early for your MBA application, talk to people who are in your company or in your networking circle who have some knowledge about careers, goals and the MBA experience. A lot of times it makes sense just to practice articulating your questions – just to make sure you are on the right track.

Networking can be fun, as long as you do it in the right spirit, and that is to be genuinely interested, rather than trying to force someone to advocate for you. I’ve seen that attitude (shouted down, of course) at Wall Street Oasis; you want to be as much of a giver in the networking relationship as a taker.

Visit Schools during Spring Term!

But here’s the key, and the easiest one to do now, especially in the spring. Go visit schools! There’s simply no reason why you shouldn’t take a few days while you have time to check out target schools.  You won’t be so rushed yourself, students will all be in better moods than they will be in the fall, when the first-year students are like deer-in-headlights and the second-years are recruiting like mad.  If you start thinking about visiting now, by the time you act the weather will be better and you’ll find students much more welcoming than they will if you try to squeeze your trip in between the summer and the October deadlines.

The other thing you can do is to get yourself on great work projects. Your resume is as important as your GMAT, in MBA admissions land. You want to be on interesting projects where you challenge yourself and get some leadership experience, even if that doesn’t mean running the team. You can still be a leader on the team, by going above and beyond, and really contributing to the bottom line and to the ultimate goals. And to others’ success as well.

Go Global

And, don’t just go to Thailand for a vacation; see if you can get yourself on an international assignment or at least on an international team. There’s nothing like working across time zones and cultures to test out your communications skills and ability to give and receive feedback in a global environment.

Think about it this way – with the huge number of students from all over the world applying, you want to be able to show that you are able to excel in a diverse team, and that you can add value to recruiters, who are increasingly looking for candidates with international experience and exposure. Why else would HBS have FIELD, or GSB have GMIX?

Don’t Just Sit There

The business school application is a process. Right now you get to work on yourself and on your goals – you get to wrap your brain around the idea of you as a business leader. Not just someone who checks the box to get the MBA, but someone who really wants to make a difference in the world.

 

 

 

Stanford GSB Debunks MBA Application Myths

 

Students who are applying to business school are rightfully nervous about their chances for getting in. And there are some urban myths that certainly go around the blogosphere about interviews, campus visits and chances. Thankfully, the admissions office at Stanford Graduate School of business has taken on the job of myth-buster, at least according to the GSB.  This is from their admissions blog post of November 8, 2013:

LET THE MYTH BUSTING BEGIN

— by the Stanford Graduate School  of Business Admissions Team

MYTH 1: The interview has a lot of weight so if I blow the interview, I have blown my chances of being admitted.
THE TRUTH: There is no specific weight assigned to the interview; the interview is one part of a comprehensive process. A positive interview does not guarantee admission, while a less than favorable interview does not, by itself, preclude admission. The written application, including the essays and letters of reference, is a critical part of the evaluation process. The interview is a key source of supplemental information.

MYTH 2: I received my interview invitation early in the round so it must mean I have a better chance of getting admitted.
THE TRUTH: The timing of your interview invitation reflects only the order in which your application was reviewed (and the order in which your application was reviewed doesn’t mean anything, honest!). Applications are not reviewed in any particular order, and applicants are not ranked.

MYTH 3: Visiting campus before or after I’ve submitted my application is an important way to demonstrate my interest in Stanford and increase my chances of being admitted.
THE TRUTH: Visiting campus does not affect your chances of admission whatsoever. Think of it this way – we wouldn’t want to bias the process towards only people with the proximity, time, or resources to visit. You may wish to visit if it’s helpful to your research and decision-making process about schools. Of course, we always welcome visitors! But we also understand that for some of you that may not be feasible. If you have only one chance to visit, save your time and money and come after you’ve been admitted for Admit Weekend, where you’ll meet students, alumni, faculty, and your future classmates.