Tag Archives: Chicago-Booth GSB

Reinvent Management to Get Noticed in the ‘Creative’ MBA Essay

Some schools, notably Chicago Booth, UCLA Anderson, and NYU Stern, ask for open, creative essays where you set the agenda and can submit (within reason, per guidlines) whatever you think is important. The test is (a) how you deal with unstructured situations, (b) whether you have any creativity/imagination ,and (c) what your broader communication skills are like.

It’s a heaven-sent opportunity to get yourself noticed, but only, of course, if you can do something notice-worthy. Of course this essay prompt causes more unhappiness among applicants than any other.

As an applications advisor, I find myself thinking about new and different ways to tackle these questions. The only sure principle is “pop” — can you stand out? As Adcoms keep telling us, it’s not about evaluation (almost everyone who applies is “good enough.”) It is about selection. If you pop and you’re not in a heavily oversubscribed applicant category, your application becomes hard to turn down.

Here’s one way to pop — a management innovation competition. As the Website blurb says:

“The Management Innovation Exchange, a project aimed at reinventing management for the 21st century, and HCL Technologies, a global IT services provider, are offering more than $50,000 in prizes for the best new game-changing management ideas. The HCL MBA M-Prize competition is open to all current graduate business school students and will honor “the best new idea for making organizations more adaptable, more innovative, more inspiring, and more socially accountable.

“One of the people involved in all this is Gary Hamel, director of the Management Lab at London Business School, the author of seminal management books including Leading the Revolution, and one of the most influential management thinkers around. This is what he had to say in a statement:

“Organizations around the world today are challenged to change in ways they have never imagined. Collectively and individually some of the world’s leading management thinkers and progressive CEOs are pushing themselves and their teams to answer the fundamental question: How do we invent ‘management 2.0?’ The HCL MBA M-Prize is not an intellectual exercise or a theory. We are looking for ideas we can test and make work in a real organization. We are looking to reinvent the future of management and let MBA students’ ideas play a critical role in making it work.

‘In addition to a $50,000 grand prize, the winner gets to lead a real-world management experiment, in effect testing the winning idea at a real company. There are also three additional prizes for the best management “hacks”–which the organizers describe as “a bold new idea or radical fix aimed at redistributing power, unleashing human capability and fostering renewal in organizations.”

“The deadline for submissions is Feb. 28. Ten to 15 finalists will be selected by April 15 and the winners will be announced on the MIX site on May 1. Entries will be judged on clarity of thought and originality, potential for impact, feasibility of implementation, and popularity.

“A bunch of the entries have already been posted on the M-Prize web site. One involves giving rank-and-file employees a say in big company decisions, such as mergers and acquisitions. Another proposes an internal market for management talent–allowing employees to choose their own supervisors and rewarding the best. A third suggests an online social network to solicit money-making ideas for the company, and giving a cut of the proceeds from any viable idea to the person who thought of it.

“Not a bad start, but only a start. Surely there must be hundreds of really smart ideas for fomenting the next great management revolution bubbling up in b-school. What’s yours?”

(Yes, it’s open only to current b-school students. But there nothing to stop you telling Adcom what your entry will be next year…)

What Chicago-Booth expects in its application essays, in their own words

MBA Studio’s mantra is, “when Adcom talks, listen.” Don’t just hear. Really, really listen because these are the people who are choosing the few and dinging the many. The Chicago-Booth 2011 MBA application essay questions were posted on July 7, along with a post from Rose Martinelli, Chicago-Booth’s Associate Dean for Student Recruitment and Admissions, explaining the thinking behind each, including the new “blank pages” essay:

“Our essays continue to be a wonderful way for us to learn about what makes our applicants unique and determine if they are the right fit for Chicago Booth.  Here is some insight as to what we’re looking for in each essay.”

1. The Admissions Committee is interested in learning more about you on both a personal and professional level.   Please answer the following (maximum of 300 words for each section):
a. Why are you pursuing a full-time MBA at this point in your life?

b. Define your short and long term career goals post MBA.
c. What is it about Chicago Booth that is going to help you reach your goals?
d. REAPPLICANTS ONLY: Upon reflection, how has your thinking regarding your future, Chicago Booth, and/or getting an MBA changed since the time of your last application?

“These short essays will require you to know yourself.  You will need to understand where you have been and where you are going.  Before you begin drafting the responses to these essays, take some time for self-reflection.  Why do you want to return to school?  Why is the MBA the right degree for you?

“We know that many of you will use your MBA experience to help you figure out what kind of job to pursue next.  Even though your future career plans may not be clear at this time, you should still be able to discuss your goals and how they relate to obtaining an MBA.

“For our reapplicants, question 1d is where you can tell us what, if anything, has changed since the time of your last application.  What has occurred in your life or career that has either reinforced or changed your goals?  What lessons have you learned or how have you grown since you last applied to Chicago Booth?”

2. Chicago Booth is a place that challenges its students to stretch and take risks that they might not take elsewhere. Tell us about a time when you took a risk and what you learned from that experience (maximum of 750 words).

“You’re probably wondering, “What kind of risk do you want me to discuss?”  To be honest, we’re not looking for one kind of risk in particular.  It can be a risk related to your professional, academic or personal life.  It can be a risk that resulted in either a positive or negative outcome.  We want to hear about a time when you challenged yourself and what you learned from that experience.  How has that experience influenced your future actions?”

3. At Chicago Booth, we teach you HOW to think rather than what to think. With this in mind, we have provided you with “blank pages” in our application. Knowing that there is not a right or even a preferred answer allows you to demonstrate to the committee your ability to navigate ambiguity and provide information that you believe will support your candidacy for Chicago Booth.

“Earlier this year, there was some discussion as to whether we would continue using the presentation as part of our evaluation process.  With the presentation proving to be such an important tool in helping us determine who is a good fit for Chicago Booth, we decided it was necessary to include in our 2011 application.  However, this year, we are giving applicants even greater freedom to decide what information they want to convey in the presentation.

“Since we’re providing you with “blank pages,” what you decide to address in your presentation is up to you.  Look at the other aspects of your application.  Are there messages or activities that you have not yet been able to communicate to the committee?  If so, then the presentation will be an opportunity for you to provide us with this type of information.  After reviewing your presentation, we want to have a better understanding of who you are and how you think.

“Also, please remember that it is the content – not the design – that should be the focus of the presentation.  We understand that not everyone is a design guru.  So, whether it’s through photos, images, graphs, or just words, the goal is to communicate your messages as effectively as possible.”

So what is Rose saying? The essays tell her and her committee who among the applicants is unique, and why so, and (conversely) whether they will fit in. They demand you know yourself well, that is provide evidence of genuine self-reflection. They value risk-taking and the self-insight it brings. Like many other programs these days, Chicago-Booth doesn’t expect you to have a career blueprint, but does expect you to have thought carefully about your goals, and therefore why you need an MBA now.

When it comes to the blank pages essay, Martinelli hasn’t said much, at least not yet. The core of it is clearly contained in the term “navigate ambiguity.” My take is Chicago-Booth wants to see what the applicant can produce in unguided, unstructured situations. Are you just good at following instructions (such as essay prompts); or are you even more capable? That is, can you determine and select compelling material to share with Adcom without any specific guidance. Can you set the agenda rather than merely follow it?

The pros and cons of social media networking for MBA applicants

Part of the holy grail of a good application to business school is to show why the particular nature of the b-school you are applying to fits with you and what you want out of your MBA. That is, each program has a slightly different ‘signature’ in terms of curriculum, type of students, faculty interest, clubs and extramurals, internship-recruitment opportunities, alumni network and so on, and the task is to show that you understand what that signature is and why it fits with you.

You won’t get a lot of help from looking at the glossy brochure or the school’s glamor Website. That won’t make you enough of an ‘insider.’ The only way to know enough about a program is to get inside it for a while — by interacting with people who are there, or visiting the campus and talking to people who are there.

Social media networking forums have created new options for doing this. You can connect with or ‘follow’ current students or clubs via their blogs or tweets, or their identities Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. If there is a Stanford club entertaining Steve Jobs, it will be on someone’s blog. If Wharton students are on a trek, someone will have uploaded video to YouTube, and so on. Following this assiduously and interacting (politely) where appropriate will give you a window into the nature and culture of the program you are targeting in a way that just was impossible to imagine a few years ago. Beware, quality is mixed to say the least. You will get many perspectives from parties with vested interests that are not aligned with yours. Use them wisely. But overall this is the way to go.

Some admissions officers blog too, and currently Adcoms in general are rapidly revamping their own marketing (seeking to find and attract great applicants) to include social media. More and more authentic and useful insight in each school from the school itself is being offered in this way. See, for example, Chicago Booth Adcom director Rose Martinelli’s very personable blog, The Rose Report. You can follow, interact, and absorb the school’s culture in this way. (Again, be appropriate. Don’t, for example, use a blog comment facility to ask about your own personal application…)

But the downside of social media is this: If you can find and know them in this way, they can find you. Be careful about what you say online and what you have said. I’m not saying that Adcoms “google” an applicant or routinely look them up on identity sites to find out more about them or corroborate what they put down on the forms. They probably don’t. But they very well might.

Expect Adcom to treat you in some ways like a potential employee or client. It’s well known that these days prospective employers or prospective clients, or anyone who wants to look you up on the Web, can and will do so. And when they do they may find that beery and not-altogether-clean bachelor party photo on MySpace. Or they may find a Doostang profile that doesn’t adequately match what you’ve told them. And it’s quite hard, once something is out there on the Web, to take it back.

So be smart about it. Use social networking to get inside a program to research and develop your ‘fit’ argument. Be scrupulous about what is out there under your name, make it consistent with your application platform, and try to take down unprofessional material where you can.