Category Archives: MBA Adcom

Get Wise: MBA Admissions Is The Final Exam

MBA Admissions Strategy: From Profile Building to Essay Writing (McGraw-Hill Education) is now out in 3rd edition, 2017. With regular updates to track a fast-changing industry, the book has been #1 or 2 seller in category since first published in 2005, widely valued for its “straight shooter, what-you-should-know style”. To celebrate, here are the first few paragraphs…

With ever-more business schools offering the MBA degree worldwide, and online options quickly getting better, there has never been more ways to get an MBA. But business education is an area where brand really matters. Graduates from the top-25 or so elite programs start higher, progress faster, and have much more senior and interesting careers. Whatever the degree costs, those exiting the elite institutions reap many times the investment in their lifetimes. It’s dumb not to aim as high as possible.

Of course, everyone else knows this too, which is why MBA admissions at the top level is so competitive. Figures vary with the economic cycle, but on average across the most competitive programs, about six of every seven applications fail.

But, here’s the quick and dirty secret: nobody fails at elite business schools. Every year, in every program, everyone graduates­, possibly excluding a handful of extreme cases where a student has had serious adjustment or disciplinary problems and was excluded early. In other words, every candidate who is admitted will graduate because they were admitted. In fact, the better the school’s reputation, the less exams or grades appear to matter. If you were good enough to get in, you’re good enough, period.

In other words, while MBA degree failure is very unusual, MBA application failure is the norm. What this means is the MBA application is, for all practical purposes, the final exam. Admission is the only real hurdle between the candidate and an elite MBA qualification, and the fast-track career good fortune it commonly represents.

But real people pass it

Part of business school culture, one quickly learns, is that the MBA is not an “academic” degree. Smart people are required, of course, but you will repeatedly hear how the most intelligent people don’t make the best managers or business leaders. This explains why admissions is often refused to “brainiac” academicians and those with 750+ GMATs, and offered instead to candidates with diverse experience, personality, talent, and drive. Admissions committees (Adcoms) reward dynamic people who have a track record of real-world impact, particularly if they have meaningful plans for the future.

This means that anyone of appropriate age, with respectable undergraduate results and standardized test scores and a good professional record, has a realistic chance of getting into an elite business school, assuming they also have the strategic and competitive understanding of what in their background is valuable for admission and the ability to communicate their case clearly and powerfully.

Yes, the top business schools have their pick of Olympic medalists and Senators’ sons, and there’s nothing much you can do about that, but every year many thousands of very ordinary people are accepted too, because they applied well. Which is to say, they found and compellingly communicated the valuable attributes in their background and connected these closely to the needs of business schools and the preferences of admissions officers.

Getting in is a little bit about pure intelligence or family luck, and a lot about procedural and organizational smarts. The tools and techniques of admissions matter enormously. You don’t need to be a celebrity. You just need to be credible and to apply well.

‘What Question Should I Ask In My MBA Admissions Interview?’

As your MBA admissions interview starts to wrap up, you will be asked if you have any questions for your interviewer.

Asking if you have any questions has two functions. First, it elegantly signals time is almost up. Second, it elicits your questions for her examination, and they are definitely part of the overall interview test.

What questions you ask says a lot about your personal, social, and organizational judgment. They are tricky to get right.

On the one hand, you want to use your questions to sum up and refocus your interviewer on your strengths, goals, and resonance with the MBA program you are being interviewed for.

On the other hand, your question has to be a real question, and not only that, must target an area the interviewer can reasonably be expected to know about.

Generally, keep questions at a senior level: ask about the school’s approach, emphasis, or opportunities. Don’t seek  perfunctory information about library access or gym facilities.

Definitely don’t ask questions the answers to which are available on the Web or in the student guide, or anything you should know already or could easily find out yourself.

If you are talking to an admissions officer, you can pick an element of the program or extramural opportunities, and seek to know more how this may fit with your expertise or goals.

By way of example, assuming you bring experience in HR you may say something like: “Given my extensive experience in applying the ‘balanced scorecard,’ will there be scope in the management accounting electives for me to continue to broaden my specialization in employee evaluation?”

If you are talking to an alumnus from five years ago, your question could be how the school’s brand holds up in a particular part of the job market, or something  based on where in the world you are sitting.

Don’t ever ask your interviewer to judge the business school or MBA program in the marketplace, or compare it to others, or to “sell” the school to you, as in: “can you give me three reasons I should come here?” Believe it or not, it happens.

Do not, under any circumstances, ask the interviewer to give you an on-the-spot assessment of how you did. Their professionalism demands they do no more than shake your hand, bid you farewell, and not let on whether you aced or flunked.  Show your professionalism by expecting this.

Excerpted and adapted from Avi Gordon: MBA Admissions Strategy – From Profile Building to Essay Writing, 3rd Edition. McGraw Hill Education, Open University Press. Available April 2017

 

MBA Admissions: About You. About More Than You

The military style of management is usually best avoided in MBA admissions because it is not subtle or complex enough for civilian organizations.

MBA Admissions  committees are interested in your leadership style with respect to how you are able to motivate people without resorting to chain of command. To go up to someone’s desk and scream in their ear is hardly going to work in the office. In business, pulling rank usually does more harm than good.

However, occasionally there is something to be gleaned from the military, and here is a video worth two minutes of your time. It features Eric Greitens, a former Navy SEAL, now  Governer-elect of Missouri.

In it he describes his epiphany during ‘Hell Week’ when it dawned on him: “This isn’t about me. This test is about my ability to lead and be of service to the people who are in that tent right now.”

Here’s the point from an MBA admissions perspective:

A lot of applicants describe corporate hazing of one type or another. That is, the 80 hours a week worked, vertical learning curves ascended, all-nighters pulled, jet-lag endured, and so on — in terms of personal gain. “I suffered, I showed perseverance and came though it, and learned a lot, and now I’m a better and stronger person.”

That’s okay as far as it goes.

But the real admissions jackpot comes from being able to see it and frame it in cohort terms. How the pain was all about bearing the load with and for the rest of the group, towards achieving goals for the group.

That is, how your effort was about more than just you. Therefore implying what you will do with your MBA will also be more than just about you.

In this regard, note how often MBA admissions instructions from Adcoms conspicuously remind you how leadership is about collective responsibility.

Here’s one from MIT Sloan a few years back: “We seek to enroll well-rounded individuals with the following characteristics:

  • Success in your professional endeavors (whether you are well into your career or a college senior)
  • Ability to collaborate to accomplish a common goal
  • Drive to inspire others to achieve success
  • Vision to seek alternative solutions to existing challenges
  • Pursuit of meaningful goals.”