Tag Archives: Business Week

The recession adds weight to the voice of Career Services in MBA Admissions

Every year is similar in MBA Admissions, but slightly different given what is going on in the economy and the world. This year a key framing condition is the recession. Applicants who get into top schools will have a excellent spread of academic, professional, and extramural attributes. But the economic downturn will make itself felt, and one of the aspects of this was well picked up by Business Week this week in an article which says MBA Career Services departments are getting a stronger voice in who gets admitted.

Says BW: “With company recruiters becoming ever more selective, B-school admissions departments are taking a closer look at how easily candidates will be able to parlay their education into a job come graduation… While admissions officers have always favored these qualities, increasingly—as the job market tightens—they’re demanding them. Admitting employable students on the front end in some cases means shying away from some traditional admissions metrics such as test scores and grades and embracing professional qualifications such as interpersonal skills, proven job performance, and promotions.”

None of this is new. Future employability, quality career continuation, and likely starting salary have always been a consideration in MBA admissions. It’s just a shift to greater emphasis.

Recruiting well out of an MBA is one of the key function a business school offers. They do this for the candidate (it’s part of what you pay your tuition fees for) but it’s hardly altruism. This is because, among the matrices along which MBA schools are typically ranked is “percentage of students recruited on graduation,” and “average starting salary.” In other words the pressure is on Career Services to get these numbers up.

In good times they are willing to take a punt on students who have potential but not much or a record because it’s likely they will get a good offer (in boom times practically everyone at a top-20 school gets multiple offers). But in a bust Career Services knows it will be left with jobless graduates. Not only is it a headache to have them emailing you and endlessly bugging alumni, but it drives down rankings, to say nothing of word-of-mouth reputation.

So while b-school Admissions Services (Adcom) and Career Services are traditionally separate “empires,” in recessionary times Careers want to make sure they get the most recruitable candidates possible. So many schools’ Careers departments are demanding and getting a seat on Admissions Committees, where they can sit in on interviews and evaluate applications.

What does this mean for applicants this year?
Says BW: “The increased attention to job placement could spell trouble for candidates whose essays fail to outline clear career plans. Career switchers, with no work history in what they hope will be their new profession, might be similarly disadvantaged. The same goes for younger students as some schools up the criterion for average years of work experience.”

The way through this is, first, to play up your career progress and future employability (via all inputs: essays, résumé, interview, recommendations, etc.) The second is to have a really convincing, plausible, short-term career plan. Given your work history plus an MBA (from the particular school) can you make Adcom and Career Services believe you will be gainfully employed in a MBA-worthy position on graduation day? If you can do this, you’re one step closer to getting in.

What does the “MBA Oath” mean for MBA admissions? Ways to broaden your ethical platform, for a start

There are many aspects of success in a competitive MBA admissions process that don’t change whether we are in a boom or a bust, whether Wall Street is loved or hated, whether globalization is in vogue or not. For example, evidence of senior leadership responsibility successfully handled will never go out of style in a MBA essay.

But there are also more transient social or business attitudes “in the air” in any year which the applicant should be aware of and ready to address in MBA application essays or interviews, in order to maximize chances of success. These may change every few years. In previous times times, key applicant success attributes have been pointers to future business success, or new venture creation, or raising shareholder value.

This year, in the wake of the financial meltdown and global recession, much of which (rightly or wrongly) is blamed on MBAs, the accent is squarely on business ethics and long-term sustainability of decisions. These issues have been on the rise for a while, but their sudden prominence is demonstrated in the emergence and rapid spread of the “MBA Oath.”

The oath is the brainchild of a few HBS students, but has since been pledged by current and graduating MBAs from most major institutions and has garnered heavy media exposure, for example this story in Business Week and this audio clip in the Economist.

What does it mean for this year’s applicant? First let’s look at the oath

THE MBA OATH http://mbaoath.org

“As a manager, my purpose is to serve the greater good by bringing people and resources together to create value that no single individual can create alone. Therefore I will seek a course that enhances the value my enterprise can create for society over the long term. I recognize my decisions can have far-reaching consequences that affect the well-being of individuals inside and outside my enterprise, today and in the future. As I reconcile the interests of different constituencies, I will face choices that are not easy for me and others.

Therefore I promise:

  • I will act with utmost integrity and pursue my work in an ethical manner.
  • I will safeguard the interests of my shareholders, co-workers, customers and the society in which we operate.
  • I will manage my enterprise in good faith, guarding against decisions and behavior that advance my own narrow ambitions but harm the enterprise and the societies it serves.
  • I will understand and uphold, both in letter and in spirit, the laws and contracts governing my own conduct and that of my enterprise.
  • I will take responsibility for my actions, and I will represent the performance and risks of my enterprise accurately and honestly.
  • I will develop both myself and other managers under my supervision so that the profession continues to grow and contribute to the well-being of society.
  • I will strive to create sustainable economic, social, and environmental prosperity worldwide.
  • I will be accountable to my peers and they will be accountable to me for living by this oath.

This oath I make freely, and upon my honor.”

**

MBA applicants should take all this on board very carefully, and look for past experiences that resonate. Adcoms won’t be looking for these words and phrases exactly (to use them verbatim would be an amateurish mistake) but it’s certain that they closely agree with these statements in general, and will be looking harder than ever for people who appear to understand this side of business administration and who will stand up to ethical tests through their careers. Remember Adcoms have taken plenty of stick too for filling classes with greedy self-profiteers, and are under more pressure than ever to pick a better kind of person.

Some of the Oath is just the usual good-citizen catechism: serving the greater good, demonstrating integrity, pursuing work in an ethical manner, balancing interests of shareholders, co-workers, customers and the society (triple or quadruple bottom line), not advancing ones own narrow ambitions, upholding the law, reporting accurately, and being accountable.

At a minimum it is important for MBA applicants to endorse this framework, or not seem to run foul of it. But this is common stuff. Other attributes of business and management ethics are perhaps less well known or defined, and here an MBA applicant can really score using the principles revealed in the Oath. Note that the Oath also sets these ethical goals:

  • bringing people and resources together to create value no single individual can create alone
  • creating value for society (not just self or company)
  • developing other managers under your supervision
  • appreciating the far-reaching and long-term consequences of decisions, and acting accordingly
  • pursuing sustainable economic, social, and environmental prosperity (not just fast or big prosperity)
  • distributing benefits of prosperity worldwide

This is a good starter list of ethical attributes that many applicants will miss, but which provide subtlety and differentiation for applicants who understand them, and who can find evidence of them in their personal and professional history.

Duke-Fuqua admissions tips that carry weight for any application

Business Week this week interviews Duke Adcom Director Liz Riley Hargrove. The principles shared are common to all good schools, but also give a current sense of what Fuqua is “looking for.” As BW summarize it: “applicants with a propensity for teamwork who are ‘leaders of consequence.'”

Admissions-relevant highlights are extracted here:

Can you describe the Duke culture?

“It can be defined as a collaborative leadership culture. The foundation of our program and the day-to-day learning experience has often been described as “Team Fuqua.” Most of what the students will do in their MBA program will be done in some sort of team dynamic. But we also expect in this environment that they will take risks and hone their leadership skills.

“Students are involved in many aspects of the administration and running of the school: serving on the admissions committee, preparing first-year students for the job-search process, serving on the curriculum committee. Really, if you choose to enroll at Fuqua, you’re accepting partnership status. And that’s a partnership that I think differentiates Duke from a lot of other business schools—the amount of responsibility and impact that students are able to have here.”

Who wouldn’t be a good fit for Duke?

“This could be a really tough environment for people who aren’t used to working in teams. If you have perfectionist, individualistic tendencies, this could be a very frustrating experience. We expect our students to work in teams with their classmates to solve problems, and we expect that they’ll negotiate through conflict and difficult conversations.”

What are some common mistakes people make in the interview?

“In many instances, the students who don’t do well in their interview haven’t done their research to understand why they want to attend Duke. And oftentimes, instead of answering the questions, they’ll drive the interview or frame every response with what they want the interviewer to know. Have a good understanding for the story that only you can tell.

“It’s critical that your interviewer walk away understanding three key concepts: why you want an MBA, why you want one from Duke, and what you hope your contribution will be.”

Full Text: Duke Admissions Tips – BusinessWeek.