Category Archives: MBA Interviews

Super Bowl advertisements and soul of the MBA admissions applicant

It’s Super Bowl time. For me this mostly means Augusta (and Spring!) is just around the corner. But the football is always watchable and, as everyone knows, it’s as much all about the half-time show and of course the ads – which I believe for Super Bowl XLIV cost more that $2.5m for a 30-second slot.

Anyway, all this reminds me to share one of the profiling tools that I use with MBA admissions clients when required. The issue is always the same: to get an applicant to identify their core message, focus it sharply, and tell it in a compelling way.

So I tell applicants: ‘craft your own Super Bowl ad.’ If you were given the opportunity to advertise yourself in a 30-second slot on TV, what would you do and say? Let’s say Adcom members from HBS or Wharton or whichever is your dream b-school are watching. How would your ad go? What would it say? Remember it is appearing in ultra-competitive company, with other ads that are funny and wicked and purposeful and memorable in various ways. So how would yours stand out?

The time limit forces a focus on what’s essential, and the advertisement format demands an ‘angle,’ a point of unique interest. You wouldn’t just go ‘my name is Sam and I was born in Reno, and blah, blah, blah.’

I ask MBA applicants to ‘storyboard’ it as if it were a real advertisement (it doesn’t take long, it’s only a 30-second slot after all.) Start with the first image, then the next. What is happening onscreen? What music is playing (why?), is there a voiceover and what is it saying, what text is on the screen? And so on, moving through the ad to its close.

You have seconds to pitch yourself. It’s costing you a fortune to be there so you can’t waste a word. You don’t need to (you could never) capture everything important about yourself. But you must capture and entice the viewers, and leave them with some unforgettable images and a message sandblasted on their brain.

Then if you can transfer the essence of your Super Bowl ad to your MBA essays and interviews (elaborating stories, and adding proof) your communication will pack the punch it needs.

The iPad launch and the evolution of the MBA applicant ‘type’

Last time I spoke about applying for an MBA like Steve Jobs would, by which of course I mean not ‘as if’ you were Jobs, but going about it in the way he would — staying true to yourself and your motivations. Anyway, speak of the devil, the Apple iPad is out and I, like millions around the world, have been drawn into the media extravaganza surrounding its release. So I find myself watching Jobs doing the promotion keynote.

There is Jobs in his blue jeans and sneakers and polo-top, just being completely his geeky self, and it inevitably makes me think about what ‘the image of success’ is these days in the business world, and how it’s changed.

Now, make no mistake, these launches are rehearsed and choreographed and fine tuned for mass marketing appeal – a bit like yesterday’s ‘State of the Union’ address come to think of it. Because projecting an image of success is important. And it is as important in MBA admissions as it ever has been. But Jobs is the poster boy for how that image is has changed. Bankers in dark suits and power ties loosing quantum fortunes and asking for taxpayer handouts somehow ain’t it right at the moment.

I think of the issues I have (and I know other MBA admissions coaches have the same problems) in getting applicants to free up and be themselves, and go beyond being trying to be a ‘square’ or a ‘suit’ in their applications. Why be another young guy in banker dress trying to get himself taken seriously, when the image of business success is currently so … not that.

I know Jobs is in the media-entertainment-electronics industry and a finance guy or even a mainstream consultant couldn’t dress like this – or not yet anyway. And I’m certainly not suggesting that anyone go to an MBA admissions interview in blue jeans. At your MBA interview you do need to show you can play the game.

But there is still plenty of room in what you say, and what you plan to do, and how you present yourself across your MBA application, to show what makes you ‘you’ and therefore unique. It’s definitely what Adcom wants. And chances are it’s what you really want too.