Tag Archives | Wharton

The Growth Mindset and the MBA Leadership Essays

MBA leadershipI am not a very good athlete, so you can imagine everyone’s surprise when I decided to pick up a new sport. I decided to learn to row – not in a traditional rowboat, but in a long skinny shell with two 10-foot oars. It isn’t that hard, except you’ve got to do a few things right or you end up in the water.

But to really enjoy it, at least for me, I had to accept the fact that I was a novice.  And that meant not expecting myself to get it perfect from the very beginning.  As I found myself cursing my inability to square my blades, I realized that my mind was not allowing me to enjoy what should be a serene, zen-like experience.

Mindset
I was guilty of what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck calls the “fixed” mindset instead of the more constructive “growth” mindset.  Dweck is an authority on things like brain science and learning. In her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” she describes the growth mindset as a far superior method for transforming effort into success.  The growth mindset allows you to focus on self-development, self-motivation, and responsibility for results.  A growth mindset keeps you from saying, “I’m a natural-born loser,” and instead saying, “I need to work harder at this.”  In a growth mindset, people are not afraid to make an error, look silly, or show a deficiency.

The growth mindset represents a key leadership characteristic.  It’s no surprise that since 2015, Kellogg’s MBA program has this preface to one of the application questions: Pursuing an MBA is a catalyst for personal and professional growth. How have you grown in the past? How do you intend to grow at Kellogg? 

Dweck’s decades of research are particularly relevant for people aiming for business school.  The growth mindset resonates on a strategic level, considering the personal leadership attributes sought by admissions officers of most business schools. It also resonates on a tactical level, in studying for the GMAT or GRE.

 

The Strategic: Leading
Business schools seek out people with attributes that will make them leaders who will change the world for the better. They are looking for people who don’t give up and see hurdles as a challenge. They want people who can learn from others to improve themselves and their environment.  I worked with one student, now on his way to Wharton, who appeared on the surface to be an all-or-nothing high achiever. At first, he looked like the “typical MBA,” never a good sign. But later, in his application and interview, he mentioned something both disarming and revealing: he never learned to swim. So as an adult, he decided to jump in.  When discussing his recent lessons in swimming, he said “It is never too late for a fervent beginner.” That’s the growth mindset.

The Tactical: Testing
Standardized tests demand a growth mindset. The computer-adapted tests, which give you harder questions if you answer right and easier questions if you score wrong, can send the fixed-mindset student into a failure spiral that will ruin any chances of a decent score.  The growth mindset, however, allows the student to work toward mastery. To put the time and the effort into learning the material and the process.   The growth mindset allows the student to embrace the possibility that skills can be learned (they can), and that sustained effort (and a good coach) leads to accomplishment.  The person with a growth mindset loves to conquer a challenge, while the person with the fixed mindset demands perfection right away.

There may have been a time when business schools were looking only for people with natural-born talent.  But as the world has changed and management science has evolved, MBA  programs want growth-mindset types in their classes. They want people who are willing to try new things, and are prepared to not be perfect the first time out.  They want people who think of themselves as works in progress.

And that’s why learning a new sport (or skill, or technique, or trick) isn’t so bad. I know I was clumsy and got it all wrong with my first attempt at rowing. But no harm done.  I’ll just keep trying until I get it right.

Whenever that may be.

Wrestling with MBA Application Essays

You are thinner, of course

Writing MBA essays can be hard work. If you know anyone who is applying to business school you may have heard them muttering to themselves, “What does matter most to me and why?” (Stanford GSB) or  “What do you hope to gain professionally from the Wharton MBA?”  (or any other school).  They may be victims of an energy-draining syndrome that shows itself every year about this time called MBA essay nightmare.  It’s a regular sinkhole of drafting, pondering, redrafting, questioning, redrafting, wondering if it is getting better or worse, redrafting, and whining.

The essays matter.  Of course the GMAT does too, and, but the real differentiator is the answer to the question behind all those questions, “Why should we admit you to our business school?”

Your answer is going to be as unique as your own DNA. But getting there is quite the chore. You could watch this MBA Podcaster video on YouTube regarding essays (in which I feature with admissions reps from Wharton and Columbia Business School), or you could read on.

Writing is HARD. You aren’t the only sufferer.

I’m going to tell you a secret.  Writing isn’t easy for anyone.  Oh, every so often, someone will tell you that they whipped up their essays the night before the deadline and were accepted everywhere they applied.   Fine.  That person is in the minority.

If you are finding that you are writing and rewriting, and rewriting again, and then stumbling, and rewriting, you are not alone.  Ernest Hemingway was said to have rewritten the ending of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” 39 times. That’s just the ending.  That means he already struggled with getting words down on paper for the first time.  Remember the movie “Adaptation,” where the main character  nearly drives himself crazy from writers block?   That should remind you that lots of people have faced down a blank page.

To write those essays, you have to start somewhere, and believe me, your first try doesn’t have to be perfect.  In fact, it can be terrible. Annie Lamott, author of Bird by Bird, a wonderful book on the writing process, life, and everything else, says it is ok to write whatever comes into your mind. “For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous,” she says. “In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.”

Death by Rewriting

Or what if you are looking at an essay that you’ve rewritten two or three times, and it still isn’t going anywhere?  It feels like it is getting worse word by word. Don’t be afraid to stop writing.  Read it first thing in the morning if you are an early person, or right before you go to bed if you are a late person. Or both. Keep your computer or a pen and a printout of the draft by your bed.  Print it out, walk around with it.

If you hate it, talk the essay over with a friend, confidant, or advisor.  Tell them the story without worrying about the words on the paper.  Does it makes sense? Are you excited by it? If not, go back and forth with this other person: have them tell you when they feel your energy.  If they don’t feel your energy at all when you tell them your story, believe me, the admissions officer won’t feel it either.  You may have to start all over.

These are just some quick ideas to remind you that it is perfectly OK for you to feel stuck. This is really, really normal.  Just don’t be afraid to rewrite, revise, and reconsider your own assumptions.  You probably don’t have to go around 39 times, but give yourself permission to work it until it’s right.

Annual San Francisco MBA Admissions Workshop

MBA admissions workshopEvery year in July I organize a workshop for potential applicants. It’s an interactive event — not just me talking, but you helping each other figure out what are the stories and themes in your life that will help you stand out in the competitive MBA admissions process.

The workshop is hosted by the Harvard Club of San Francisco, and has produced successful candidates who have gone on to all of the top business schools: HBS, Stanford, Wharton, Yale, Kellogg, MIT, Booth, Kellogg, Tuck…and more.  Plus, you don’t have to be a Harvard graduate to attend!

I’ll do bit of talking to de-mystify the admissions process, but you will do the work to kick-start your application — not just the essays — and make it shine.

 

At the workshop, you’ll go through exercises to help you identify unique personal and career successes. You will brainstorm ways to tell your own story in an inviting and compelling way. You will join small teams get to know each other, using both the left and the right side of your brain to identify what makes you stand out from just any old applicant.

We’ll have food on hand to keep you nourished, and by the end of the workshop, you will have at least one story that admissions committees can’t wait to read about.

Date: Tuesday, July 12
Time: 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Place: Sandbox Suites, 404 Bryant St (@2nd St), San Francisco
Cost: $25 members, $30 non-members. Includes food

For more information and registration, please click here.

RSVP requested by July 10

How to approach the optional essay

tuck springEvery MBA candidate I talk to asks the same question: is the optional essay really optional?  It really depends.

Wharton, for example has a second essay which they call “optional,” which it is, but it is a free form, “tell us something else we might want to know about the way you so we can evaluate your application.” MIT Sloan has a similar optional essay, with the added advantage that you can submit a one-minute video (or other multimedia project).

HBS only gives you 500 characters to explain any gaps. That’s not an essay, that’s a grab-bag of stuff that might not be covered.

Tuck has a similar optional essay, is somewhere in between. There’s no real word or character limit beyond the 500 words they mention for the other, required essays. So you can theoretically look at it as a bonus essay. But I wouldn’t recommend it.

Here, in Tuck’s own words, is their philosophy on this year’s essay cycle. That is, for the 2015-2016 application season. Things can change, and they often do.   Note that they are making this more of a correctional essay rather than a chance to tell them about your success on a recent deal.  If you haven’t figured out how to tell them about that story in your other materials, then you might want to tighten up your essays, look at your short answers, and perhaps add or refine a bullet point on the resume.

Don’t feel like you have to fill the space, just because we’ve offered it. The optional essay is, however, an opportunity for you to tell us anything else you think we need to know . . . especially the tricky items you’d rather avoid. You might be able to ignore them but the admissions committee cannot.

Having said that, I don’t like to think of it as a defensive exercise. For example, when they give you the chance to talk about resume gaps, you can tell them about a startup you may have pursued, or offer some more details into the meaningful volunteer work you did.

The gap [in employment] itself isn’t necessarily troubling. The bigger problem would be not addressing what you did during that period of unemployment. In this type of situation, we don’t know if the applicant is doing something amazing or if they are sitting on the couch binge watching Netflix. Moral of the story: never make us guess about anything, because we may guess wrong.

And here’s some clarity on career changes, which happen more often than you think.  You do have a chance in some applications to explain “reason for leaving”  your previous job, but if you have made some zigs and zags that might not have been covered in the application, explain here.

Major Career Changes: Things that might seem obvious to you are not necessarily obvious to us. Because you’ve probably been thinking about this switch for a long time, the reasons for the change may seem clear to you, but if you don’t explain them to us, we’re left guessing. Remember, we don’t know you beyond what you tell us.

These are good rules of thumb for schools that are clearly not looking for a second (or third) essay about you and your fit in the school.   Don’t give up an opportunity to shed light on your application, but no need to gild the lily either.

More from Tuck’s excellent admissions blog here.

What You Wish You Had Known Before Applying to Business School

Wharton banner 2

A student I worked with, let’s call her Jennifer, was recently admitted to Wharton (really) and waitlisted at her first-choice school, UC Berkeley. She was also a reapplicant, and has learned While waiting, she agreed to offer advice from the trenches, of one who succeeded in the process. She discusses four issues: staying committed to the goal, receiving feedback, waiting (lists), and financial matters. This is very useful stuff!

 

STAYING COMMITTED
I am so glad that I reapplied. I was rejected from the four top business school programs I applied to three years ago (all without an interview). While it stung to get so little traction in the business school process, I did not take it as a sign that I wasn’t “meant” for business school. Instead I tried to understand the weaknesses in my application and knew that I would try again and do it better. I have learned so much in the application process and am very happy I have even more experience that I can bring to business school when I attend.

RECEIVING FEEDBACK
Get feedback! Make sure the people you are asking have something valuable to add to the process and take the time to listen — better to find two people who will give you great feedback than send your materials to 10 people and listen to no one.

Also, be strategic in your decisions about who you want to use for help in the application process, and seek out those people early on. Make sure you really WANT someone’s feedback before asking for it; I have been on both sides of the equation. Recently, a friend asked for feedback on his essays. I spent a lot of time on his essays and when I returned them it seemed that he hardly looked at my suggestions. He was giving me the essays because he thought that was what you were supposed to do, but had little interest in following up on the suggestions or incorporating feedback.

WAITING FOR DECISIONS AND THE WAITLIST
In terms of my advice for people who have been waitlisted or general feedback for students after they have applied: the most valuable thing I’ve done in my application process is turn every moment I have been frustrated into an opportunity to do something. When I found myself going crazy waiting for one program to get back to me while another waited on my decision, I brainstormed a list of all the things I had accomplished since I applied and wrote a letter to the school where I was waitlisted explaining those accomplishments. I created a campaign fueled by waiting and (sometimes) panic and created something productive. I am so glad I did this, because the time you spend sitting anxiously waiting and checking MBA chat forums is, in the end, not useful (though I did that too).

FINANCIAL ISSUES
Given the calculus course I am taking and other requirements, I have completely neglected to begin financial planning and thinking about the costs and consequences of my decision. I wish I had done this in a systematic way earlier, not only so that I would be better prepared and informed about my choices and responsibilities, but also because finances are an important part of my final decision (for instance, I am trying to make a decision about two programs that cost vastly different amounts of money). Now I am finding myself overwhelmed at the process of tackling everything right now. If I had to do it again, I would start planning and filling out financial aid information earlier and getting the advice of students, faculty, family and others about their tips on going through the process.

This story has been updated since Jennifer graduated – from UC Berkeley Haas, her first-choice school. She turned down Wharton to go to Haas, and has had notable success with the start-up she launched during business school.

This story has been updated since Jennifer graduated – from UC Berkeley Haas, her first-choice school. She turned down Wharton to go to Haas, and has had notable success with the start-up she launched during business school.
Read more at http://www.85broads.com/blogs/betsy-massar/articles/mba-admissions-what-you-wish-you-had-known-before-you-applied-to-business-school#fY1KkXjopQ8d4EK3.99
A student I worked with, let’s call her Jennifer, was admitted to Wharton and waitlisted at her first-choice school, UC Berkeley. While waiting, she agreed to offer advice from the trenches, of one who succeeded in the process. She discusses four issues: staying committed to the goal, receiving feedback, waiting (lists), and financial matters. This is very useful stuff!
Read more at http://www.85broads.com/blogs/betsy-massar/articles/mba-admissions-what-you-wish-you-had-known-before-you-applied-to-business-school#fY1KkXjopQ8d4EK3.99
A student I worked with, let’s call her Jennifer, was admitted to Wharton and waitlisted at her first-choice school, UC Berkeley. While waiting, she agreed to offer advice from the trenches, of one who succeeded in the process. She discusses four issues: staying committed to the goal, receiving feedback, waiting (lists), and financial matters. This is very useful stuff!
Read more at http://www.85broads.com/blogs/betsy-massar/articles/mba-admissions-what-you-wish-you-had-known-before-you-applied-to-business-school#fY1KkXjopQ8d4EK3.99