Tag Archives: interviews

What ‘Angry Birds’ Can Teach Us About MBA Admissions Success

Luckily, back when I applied for b-school there was no such thing as ‘Angry Birds.’ As Oscar Wilde said: I can resist anything except temptation. Even now, my iPhone winks at me…

I resist. But I maintain everything we do and everything we are is potentially of value in competitive MBA admissions. So what can Angry Birds teach us about beating the MBA admit process? Here’s what:

1. Think first and plan your approach. Take time to consider the situation and the various aspects of the challenge facing you. Survey the landscape. Think through and anticipate what the success moves might be.

2. Understand your resources. You have an armory of skills and experiences at your disposal. As yellow birds are good for wood, black birds are good for stone, etc., so you have attributes that are all different, with different capabilities and implications for MBA admissions. You won’t have them all, and it may well seem you don’t have enough. But if you use what is in your arsenal in the most effective way, it will be enough.

Picture: Rovio.com

3. Aim carefully. Targeting is crucial. There is probably a lever that will turn the situation. You need to apply your smarts in unlocking the door in just the right way. A subtle touch can bring the whole edifice down in your favor.

4. Every move you make is important, and the order is important. Everything hinges on getting all parts of your application to count, and to be working together.

5. Timing matters. Anyone who has worked with the white bird or the boomerang bird knows timing is the difference between score and ppft. Timing your impact is everything. So it is in MBA essays and interviews – when you play an important value card can be as important as the card itself.

6. Perseverance counts too. Sometimes it is not about smarts, it is about patience and a thick-skinned ability to drive through obstacles. In the long road to making applications to a number of schools, at times the difference between a winner and loser is strength of will. Your feathers will feel a bit ruffled, but it’s a small price to pay.

7. Emotion and passion helps. Part of what’s compelling about Angry Birds is they are… angry. Outrage and revenge is part of the narrative and, like it or not, part of what grabs and holds user fascination. You don’t necessarily want to be angry in MBA admissions (you can be) but it is in your interest to create resonance with Adcom at an emotional as well as intellectual level.

8. It’s okay to turn to others for help. Just like you go on Youtube (or pay Rovio) to see how to clear a level or grab a golden egg, you can turn to others who have been-there-done-that. Tap into the broader wisdom in advancing your application and you greatly cut your head-butting time waste and increase your chances of success.

9. If at first you don’t succeed, there’s the “do-over” button. How many essays have I seen that are complete flops to start with? Truly, an uncountable number. “Redo,” I say. “Try this, add that, adjust here, adapt there.” And voila, a few iterations later I’m reading a knock-em-dead essay.

10. Don’t sweat the small stuff. If you try to 3-star every level of Angry Birds you will fail the big stuff, which is your MBA application. So put down your phone and get back to work!

 

What does the sign on your desk say?

Everyone knows leadership is a key theme in MBA applications. One way or another, the b-school graduate is going to be a leader. Therefore showing evidence and understanding of, and aptitude and appetite for, the demands of leadership is central to succeeding in MBA admissions selection.

Because of this, as an admissions coach, I’m always on the lookout for insight into leadership and how to communicate it, and I found some by Paul Thornton at a blog called Great Leadership.

Thornton says business and political leaders often have a motto or plaque on their desk or office wall that encapsulates their leadership attitude. His article is below. I repost it here in full on this blog, in order to be able to ask the question: as an MBA applicant, what is the sign on your desk, or what will it be when the time comes?

More specifically, if you can distill the essence of your leadership attitude or style or motivation in this way, it makes an excellent basis for telling Adcom about it in your essays or interview in a way that will get you noticed… much better than serving up worn-out phrases about leadership as “motivating people” or “making a difference” or other standard waffle that will shift you only sideways into the bundle of applications about to be dinged.

Here is Thornton’s text:

“As a leader, what should the sign on your wall or desk say?

W. Clement Stone began as a shoeshine boy and became a multimillionaire. He credits his success to three words: Do It Now. He required everyone who worked for him to write those words on index cards and post them in their work area.

Over the past twenty years I have collected and analyzed many of the quotes leaders post on their office walls or keep on their desks. Many of these quotes are the guiding principle they followed to achieve success. Here are my top 15.

1. “It can be done!” —Sign President Ronald Reagan kept on his desk in the Oval Office.

Leaders are optimistic, upbeat, and positive. Reagan was known for his optimism and the ability to express ideas in a clear, eloquent, and quotable fashion.

2. “No Whining” —Sign on the desk of James Parker, former CEO, Southwest Airlines.

Victims wine and blame others. Leaders may get discouraged on occasion but never play the victim role.

3. Bill Gates had a picture of Henry Ford in his office. It was there as a reminder to not do what Ford did. Ford didn’t listen to his customers. He knew his customers wanted the option to buy cars painted other colors besides black. This “fatal attitude” caused him to lose market share to upstart General Motors.

4. “The Buck Starts Here!” —Sign on the desk of Donald Trump.

Leaders see opportunity and take action. Non-leaders only see the status quo and sit still.

5. “Be brief. Be Brilliant. Be Gone.” —Former sign on the office wall of Mark Goodman, CEO, Twist Image.

Leaders who are clear and concise are more credible and more brilliant.

6. “Start Talking and Get to Work” —Sign in the office of Alden Davis, former Business Effectiveness Consultant, Pratt & Whitney Division of United Technologies Corporation.

Leaders spend a significant amount of time talking and listening. Advocating, proposing, nudging, selling, questioning, listening, probing and digging are what leaders do.

7. “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” —Antoine de Saint-Exupery”—Sign above the desk of Michael S. Hyatt, CEO, Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Michael states, “Leaders remove the clutter so their big ideas stand out.”

8. Hatim Tyabji, former chairman and CEO of VeriFone, Inc. —On his office wall there was a poster that consisted of twelve blocks, each with a photo of an Irish setter. The first 11 blocks show the dog standing, not responding to a command to “sit.” Finally, in block twelve, the Irish setter sits. “Good dog,” reads the poster.

Hatim states, “That is the essence of leadership. I can’t get disillusioned when I say ‘sit’ and nobody sits. So I just keep repeating the message. Leaders must be clear, consistent, and repetitive. Keep repeating the message until it sticks.”

9. “Be Realistic, Demand the Impossible” —Sign in the office of T. J. Rodgers, founder and CEO of Cypress Semiconductor.

Leaders are demanding! They expect more than others think is possible. Leaders believe most people have underutilized talents and abilities.

10. Strive for Excellence. Signed photographs of Frank Sinatra, Mohammad Ali, Albert Pujols, Ted Turner, and Donald Trump are on the office wall of Jim Stovall.

Jim is president, Narrative Television Network and author of The Ultimate Gift.

Jim states, “These are people who I’ve worked with and respect. They remind me to always strive for excellence.”

11. “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.” John le Carré —Sign in the office of Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., former CEO of IBM.

Seeing the problem, touching the part, talking directly with employees and customers provides a reality you don’t get sitting in your office. We want to see our leaders directly involved in the problem like Louisiana Governor Bobby Gindal has been involved in the Gulf Oil Crisis.

12. “Prove Your Groove.” —Sign on the office wall of Peter H. Reynolds CEO/Owner, FableVision Enterprises.

Peter states, “It means don’t just say it—do it. Show us your passion in action. Leaders use the media, storytelling, and technology to foster the development of each person’s potential.”

13. “Just because it worked once, doesn’t mean it will work again!” —Sign on the desk of Shaun Coffey, CEO, Industrial Research Ltd., New Zealand.

Shaun states, “Every situation is different, and this is particularly so when dealing with change. People are different, and people change. An intervention that has been spectacularly successful may not work in a new situation. It may not even work in the same company/organization again because the people will have changed as a result of the experience. Keep changing your tactics, staying aware of how people are responding. Attack from different angles. Look for signs that something isn’t working, and try something else—don’t get stuck in your ways.”

14. “The time is always right to do what is right.” Martin Luther King Jr. —Sign on the office wall of Michael Jansma, President GEMaffair.com.

Leaders consistently stand up for their values and beliefs. It’s not a once in awhile thing.

15. “Leaders should be able to Stand Alone, Take the Heat, Bear the Pain, Tell the Truth, and Do What’s Right” Max DePree —Sign in the office of Brian Morehouse, coach of women’s basketball at Hope College, 2006 Division III National Champions.

Brian states, “That quote covers everything a leader needs to do as they approach their day in terms of courage, integrity, focus, and perseverance. And, it closely meshes with my coaching philosophy which is –Do the right thing every day, every play, on and off the court!”


The business school campus visit, and how the HBS Director of Admissions writes about it

Keeping up with Adcoms’ blogs as I do (and I suggest MBA applicants do too) my eye stopped on this recent post by Dee Leopold, Director of Admissions at HBS.

It offers two things: First it clears up some of the shibboleths of who’s noticing what in your b-school visit and how it is weighed in admissions. (What is true of Harvard is broadly true of other schools too.) Second, just as important, it’s worth noting as a writing sample. Here’s the text:

“Lots of questions on the road from prospective applicants about visiting schools.

Answer: We always welcome visitors to campus. It’s beautiful here and we have lots to show you. Do you need to make a pilgrimage in order to send a signal to the Admissions Office? Absolutely not. Visiting campus has absolutely no impact on how your application is reviewed. It may have a gigantic impact on how enthusiastic you are about US – that’s where the value-added comes into play.

Are we going to ask you to sign-in to an information session? Yes. Do we use that list in the evaluation process? No. So why do we ask you to do it? To track whether these sessions have any impact on whether an attendee chooses to apply to HBS or not, i.e. standard market research. If we found out that no one who attended an info session chose to apply to HBS, you’d better believe that we would make some changes!

When may I visit classes? This is the tough question. For those applying in Round One, it’s not possible to visit a class before the October 1 deadline. Why? Our first year students begin classes in early September. Our first priority is for them to get settled into the classroom. We have limited seats designated for visitors in each class – and we could fill them every day of the year. The faculty likes for the first few weeks of the first semester to be “students only.” We rely on the students in sections to be hosts for our visitors – and they really aren’t ready to do that right away. Class visits will begin in mid-October; information about the sign-up process will be posted on our website.

Applying to business school(s) is expensive and stressful. The last thing you need is to make it a scavenger hunt in which you need have “visited campus” checked off the list.

So…the message is: We welcome you to visit HBS – but don’t think of this as a “command performance.”

The takeaways and more:

(a) Visiting is good because it will create in you a much sharper appreciation for the school and its particular form of MBA offering. It will help you refine your list of target schools, and make your applications essays more naturally enthusiastic and therefore convincing. But visiting is not a formal requirement and is not weighed by Adcom in deciding whether to admit or ding you.

Where possible, register your visit with Adcom. Note that campus visit programs only start when MBA programs begin (after Labor Day) and some programs like HBS delay class audits to allow new MBA cohorts to bed themselves down without distractions.

Use your time with admissions and/or school marketing reps wisely, that is, to ask pointed questions about particular aspects of the program or the school that are relevant to your career progress, so that you come away with specific information that will help you make the right school-choice decision, and then help you motivate this convincingly in your essays and interview.

By the way, the formal visit program will only take you so far. To go deeper into the school’s culture, get talking to students. If you walk up and say “Hi, I’m a prospective applicant, may I ask you about your experiences at this school so far …” it is likely you will get a friendly and informative response.

(b) I’m aware it’s dangerous to offer HBS blog text as a writing model because applicants will mimic this style. Do NOT do this. But it has elements worth noting. It’s informal-formal, like recorded speaking. There are no mistakes, but the copy is not stiff and overly “written.” In this way Dee comes across like someone you’d like to meet. Also note the the rhetorical question-and-answer style. It doesn’t always work, but when it does it is a superb device for getting information across quickly and clearly. Overall the text has a crisp, to-the-point feel, but it is not rushed or clipped.  Your MBA admissions essays are not a blog, but information-laden crispness that suggests you are worth meeting is exactly what you are looking to achieve.