Tag Archives: MBA Admissions

‘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.

 

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!