Category Archives: MBA Essay Resources

Why A Bad Boss Can Make For A Good MBA Admissions Essay

Unless you are independently wealthy or have been lucky enough to work for yourself all your life, chances are you’ve had a bad boss or have a partner or friend who has had.

You know the type: the boss who sets stretch tasks and but witholds the team resources to achieve them. Who talks about you taking more responsibility and the micromanages you. Who offers a grunt when you ace a project, but chews you over for 20 minutes because of a minor error. Who takes credit up the chain for great work you do, but won’t cover for you when deadlines slip…

I wrote about this here on this site years ago, and  was reminded of it again due to leadership sites I follow. At the time, my client had been doing everything right, killing himself to complete complex operations-IT projects, plus studying nights for an MS degree and managing a young family.

His boss committed all of the above evils and more. She would casually set him ‘by-close-of-business today” tasks late in the day, interfere in carefully nurtured team relationships he had built up over months, use fear of termination to crack the whip… and the list goes on.

At the first possible moment, he quit. Yay.

Listening to this phase of his life, I could at least offer some consolation. After the event, what he had was fabulous experience for his future role as a manager and leader, all of which would play well in an MBA admissions essay.

Why? Because if you have experienced having your motivation sapped, having to walk on eggshells around an idiot who controls you, having to grind your teeth in frustration at not being able to implement an obvious innovation — that is, if you have been poorly managed yourself, you have excellent insight into what not to do.

And therefore, reversing all that a bad boss does, you have a good idea what kind of leader you should be, and therefore are likely to be.

And for MBA admissions essay or interview purposes, your bad-boss story is a “proof event” showing you have been through real learning about management and have developed insights into how to handle people under you, and are therefore ready to manage effectively when your turn comes.

How To Get Your Company On-board With Your MBA? Good Tips From The Judge School, Cambridge

I came across a little gem for getting company buy-in and maybe even financial support for your MBA, on the Cambridge Judge School site.

View the specific Judge School page here, alternatively the fuller pdf document, which remarks “even if you’re not sponsored you’ll need to secure your employer’s understanding and support.

“Therefore, in preparing to join an Executive MBA programme one of your priorities will be to seek support from your employer, possibly financial support, but definitely the support to allow you to commit the time required.

“You’ll need to demonstrate how your employer will benefit from you gaining an MBA.”

The text is oriented towards EMBA applicants, and obviously references Cambridge Judge specifically, but the observations are widely relevant to managing employer perceptions anywhere, for all forms of MBA, at any business school.

Note also that many of the topics overlap with those you need to attend to in writing good MBA admissions essays.

Some highlights from the text:

Know your company

This is your opportunity to demonstrate to your employer that you have thought about the value of an Executive MBA from the company perspective.

Areas you might like research or discuss with your employer:
 Has your organisation ever sponsored employee education in the past? What is their policy on this? Do any of your competitors sponsor Executive MBA’s? Have any senior managers taken an Executive MBA or similar course? What benefits did previous employees gain from their Executive MBA? What were the benefits to the organisation? How might your colleagues/ line managers/ subordinates support you? How can you obtain buy in from your manager as well as HR?

Know your chosen programme

There are a number of Executive MBA programmes available – it is important that you are able to show why you feel the Cambridge Executive MBA is the right programme for you and your organisation.

You therefore will need to be able to address the following questions:
 Why is the Cambridge Executive MBA right for you personally and professionally? How do you expect to benefit from the programme (improved performance, networking opportunities)? Which courses are going to make your more effective in your current role? Which course will directly benefit your employer? What individual project can you carry out that will help you/ your organisation? How will the Cambridge reputation add value to your career and organisation?

Know yourself

This is probably the most important section for you to consider as a complete understanding of your motivation for undertaking the Cambridge Executive MBA will be vital when discussing the programme with your employer and may influence the type of support you require.

Why is this the right time for you to start an Executive MBA course? How will taking this course improve your performance? How will you balance work, study and the other aspects (family/partner) of your life? How do you plan to make use of your personal and professional development?

Interview with an MBA Admissions Expert, redux

This is an old – in the venerable sense! – interview that I did with Karen Schweitzer, which I was reminded of through a link from her 50 Free MBA Application Resources ‘about’ education piece. Footnote: I’m no longer with the World MBA Tour – that was a while ago.

Karen: How soon should potential MBA students start preparing for the admissions process?
Avi: About 9 months to a year prior to submission deadline – giving time to research the process, research schools, line up recommenders, do the GMAT etc.

Earlier start is good, but it’s not a simple case of the earlier the better… the candidate needs to get immersed in the application process. Certainly s/he doesn’t want to dilute the process over years and years. That’s a recipe for a lukewarm application. Generally applicants should be wary of spending too much time on their application research and production – some do – at the risk of having their career stall and missing the key workplace award or promotion that would help them shine in front of Adcom.

Karen: Should prospective MBA students submit applications to several schools or are they better of concentrating their efforts on one or two favorites?

Avi: Both really. Favorites should be carefully targeted, no holds-barred. But the applicant should also be street-smart in recognizing that competition for top schools is intense, and any one favorite school acceptance may not emerge. In my experience the ideal number of applications is 4-5. Less means the randomness of random dings is not taken out the equation.

More starts to dilute the energy of the applicant and recommender, and take too much time (ref answer above).

Karen: In your book, MBA Admissions Strategy, you mention that nearly everyone under 35 with respectable undergraduate transcripts and a good professional record has a realistic chance of getting into the finest business schools. Some prospective students don’t share this optimistic view. I get a large number of emails from individuals who feel that poor GMAT scores or attendance at a less prestigious undergraduate school can hurt their chances during the admissions process. What advice can you offer these students?

Avi: In my experience a less prestigious U/G school is a very minor factor, and is entirely a non-factor if there is some concrete reason (normally funding) why the applicant went to “Buckwheat State” and not Harvard College. What counts more is how the applicant performed academically at whatever institution they were at. But even more than that, business schools heavily weigh what a candidate has done between college graduation and MBA application. A good professional record trumps college level branding. (This is different to Grad & Law & Med schools, where applicants apply younger and with less or zero work experience, so college brand is all adcoms have to go on.)

As to GMAT, yes, it is true a minimum threshold GMAT is necessary. If one is not in the high 600s, an application to a top-10 school will stall. But the GMAT works on a threshold principle – the applicant needs a high enough score to relax Adcom about his or her academic ability. After that they start asking other questions – about leadership, team skills, career arc, etc.

Footnote to this is that, believe it or not, a GMAT score can be “too good” – anything above about 760 is problematic. This is because the applicant starts to look like a genius and questions will be asked about whether that person will make a good manager and leader. B-school is a professional place with the aim of turning out people who will survive and thrive in the cut & thrust of real world business. That’s what recruiters want. So Adcom looks carefully at apparent geniuses and dings them if it appears they may be better suited to PhD program and research career.

Karen: What are four attributes every admissions committee wants to see in an MBA student?

Avi: See my book, Chapter 2 “Attributes that Count” for a list of 22 such attributes. It’s hard to say which 4 count the most. I think a clear success record is definitely up there; along with personal integrity; being a team player that mixes well; and leadership experience and potential. But there’s no privileged four. I strongly believe in all 22.

Karen: How important is it for applicants to show that they possess these attributes?

Avi: The key here is “show”. So many applicants claim they possess attributes. That’s worth nothing. The attributes have to be shown by telling proof stories – that is, anecdotes of the candidate in action, acquiring or living the attribute.

Karen: What are the three most common mistakes that an MBA applicant can make, and how can these mistakes be avoided?

  • Trying to be a typical MBA applicant – leading to a generic and therefore low-value application.
  • Inability to see what is precious and valuable in their past activities, from Adcom’s point of view.
  • Wasting precious essay space with sentences and paragraphs that do not deliver or prove profile value.

Karen: Is there any additional advice that you can offer students who are trying to develop an MBA admissions strategy?

Avi: Candidates should balance their energy between the major blocks of an application, which are: (a) GMAT, (b) File essay questions & long essays (c) Recommendations (d) Interview. I assume their college record is set. In having helped hundreds of applicants get into top schools, the application strategy weakness I see most is candidates who are willing to spend an unbelievable amount of time and energy, not to mention money, trying to get their GMAT score up one notch, while neglecting the rest.

As mentioned, the GMAT operates on a threshold principle – more is better up to a certain point – then more is irrelevant. And the balanced good application beats the unbalanced excellent/patchy application (and remember, they don’t want brainiacs). They are looking for people who appear good on all fronts. Someone who looks like they will continue to be good on all fronts. This is what I call the “CEO-in-Waiting” image.