Tag Archives: MBA Adcom

‘Fast-Thinking’ in MBA Admissions and How to Manage It

Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman’s best-seller Thinking Fast and Slow (Farrar, 2011) documents how decision-makers arrive at decisions, either instantly without a lot of mental hard work — “fast thinking” or by “slow thinking” which means full analytical process.

Fast thinking is going on when you have a “first impression” of someone, and of course when an MBA Adcom member forms a first impression of you.

On a similar theme, Blink (Little, Brown & Co, 2005) by Malcolm Gladwell, makes a further claim — that instant judgments oftentimes produce better, more accurate, conclusions than those made by way of exhaustive analysis.

Whether “blinking” provides a better basis for decision-making than formal analysis or not, the point is fast thinking and slow thinking are both at play decision-making, whether the decision-maker is aware of it or not.

The implication for MBA admissions is that, while b-school Adcoms everywhere would assert that they rigorously analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each applicant, there is also considerable “fast thinking” involved in how they choose.

Note that Adcom essay readers and committee members are not seeking to make an “impressionistic” judgment. In fact the opposite is true. But they will be picking up impressions at every turn. After all, they have to make a big call, fairly quickly, about a complex situation (you and your future prospects) and they don’t actually have that much analytical material to go on.

Fast thinking is the way the MBA admissions committee will get its working impression of your personality, motivation, determination, charisma, team orientation, and overall prospects, all of which will precede and then run in parallel with their more formal analysis.

Before Adcom even gets to fully considering your grades and scores, performance metrics, and work history, they will have formed an impression from the first things they see. It’s hard to know what they will see first of course, but very often it will be the file data and/or resume.

An impression will form almost immediately and build through the course of considering your application, as they continue to absorb first impressions about each part of it–the essays, particularly their erudition and tone; the tone and warmth of recommendations and interview report, and so on. (The interview itself is of course another first-impression decision situation.)

Managing fast thinking:

The best way to deal with fast thinking is to realize it is there, and always will be, and provide ways for admissions officers to use this mode in judging you.
• Expecting snap judgments about your motivation, take care that everything you submit is carefully checked and complete.
• Expecting snap judgments about your pre-MBA work experience, take care to get the highlights high up in the essay.
• Expecting snap judgments about your professionalism, take care that any correspondence you enter into (by phone or email) is scrupulously professional, and so on.
Play to the first-impression mode first, and follow this with data and detail that corroborates the impression.

What’s Your USP for MBA Admission?

There’s a debate in the MBA Admissions community as regards the benefits of applicants “selling themselves.”

On the one hand, some say the applicant is as one among dozens of cereals in the supermarket aisle, and so has to work to actively pitch herself to the Admissions Committee to stand out as a valuable admissions “package” and thus be selected.

Others say the applicant should not do a sales job. Any form of selling takes away from the authenticity of his voice, which is what Adcom really wants to hear.

As in many things, the truth is somewhere in-between. You can’t afford to be naive. Companies spend millions on marketing and sales because it works. Admissions to elite schools is very competitive, and if you pitch an admissions message that is tightly designed and produced to meet and beat Committee expectations, that will advance your admission chances.

On the other hand, if you come across like a used-car salesman with a greasy handshake and a cheesy grin, that’s obviously not going to help you at all. If you’re going to sell yourself in any way, you must sell yourself as an authentic, reflective voice imbued with “humble confidence” in your leadership skills; as a manifestation of ambition-with-integrity; as a persistent force for innovation; and so on.

If you can package yourself this way, then selling yourself will work for you.

And when selling yourself, don’t forget what is perhaps the very essence of a market proposition that works in the world — a unique selling point (USP.)

In other words, just as a venture capitalist will ask the entrepreneur of a new product: “what’s its unique selling point?” which is to say, what’s so different about this vs. all the other competing offerings in the market, such that the consumer is going to buy one? So you should ask yourself: “what’s my unique selling point for elite MBA admissions?” What is going to make Adcom pick me?

Two things come together in a USP: uniqueness and value. Uniqueness is what’s different about you compared with the general applicant: the things in your personal and professional experience that are uncommon. Value is what the Committee sees as valuable in you: what you will contribute to the program and the b-school, both while at school and in the future.

I’ve blogged at length in preceding posts about candidate uniqueness and candidate admissions value, and these topics are also handled in my book. My point here is to say: look for ways to run uniqueness and value together, and if you do, you’ve found your USP.

 

Digging Deep for MBA Admissions Value – Take Karate for Example

I’m often, … no correction, always telling MBA applicants to extract the full MBA admissions value from what they have in their bio, and what they have done. Doing this is the only way to present as more valuable than the next applicant to the business school in question; that is, the only way to get admitted in a competitive system.

Easier said than done of course. So the question comes back: How do I do that? And this is a fair-enough question.

How to do it, as I’ve written at greater length in my book, has to do with (a) understand the full dimensions of MBA admissions value associated with what you have done and/or achieved; (b) understanding what is valuable to Adcoms, which is to say what is valuable in the b-school environment and in MBA careers, and (c) being able to connect “a” to “b” in a clear and compelling way.

That’s the theory. Here’s an example. (Note: nothing works in MBA admissions communications as well as an example.)

Let’s say you have been involved in JKA karate for much of your early life, achieved your “black belt” at the age of 18, were reasonably successful in competitions during high school and college, but now just keep your hand in at the dojo as a part-time instructor. Is it valuable or not?

Of course it’s valuable. Karate is a recognized development activity. It takes youth through a structured and disciplined and group-oriented series of challenges. Also, no question that having spent this much of your life on the activity, it has to get some airtime in your application.

More pertinently, which parts are valuable? What do you say? Is it valuable to say you can fight people and easily knock them down. Of course not. That’s a red flag. Is it valuable to say you can defend yourself in any situation? That’s not going to hurt your application, but it won’t help. Adcom doesn’t rate people on whether they can physically defend themselves — it’s not something that counts at business school or with the careers office or recruiters or in the business world for MBA graduates.

The value is in the discipline you learned, in the experience of setbacks and perseverance; in participating well with competitors and competition; in learning to manage adversity; in being part of a structured environment, and in learning to structure and manage your time (e.g. going to the dojo 5x a week on top of everything else.)

There may also be value to be had in the psychic development karate offers: exposure to alternative (oriental) philosophy, mindfulness, inner peace and self-reliance, and so on. If you are now a coach or trainer or mentor of the next generation, there is obvious admissions value in that.

There may be more. The point is, there is lots to say that points to a valid admissions “value claim” for you as a person and professional going forward. Once unearthed, you choose which parts to emphasize, and you move onto the next value activity, approaching it in the same way.