Tag Archives: MBA goals essay

MBA Adcoms: Do You Know Who You Are Talking To?

To be a successful MBA applicant, one key thing to get clear on is who you are talking to when you write MBA admissions essays.

Getting your head around who your reader is, is a crucial part of creating a winning communication and therein getting admitted.

One iconic profile is revealed in this now-somewhat-classic introduction to a Business Week interview with then-UCLA Anderson Director of MBA Admissions (now UC Irvine Paul Merage School of Business Director of Admissions) Mae Jennifer Shores. See: UCLA Anderson: Admissions Q&A – BusinessWeek.

“The Assistant Dean and Director of MBA Admissions … says she ended up an admissions officer the way most people do—unintentionally. She went to Russia to teach public policy, but was assigned to teach negotiations at a business school at the last minute. After two years, she wanted to continue her Eastern European stay and almost took a job teaching in Kazakhstan. Her graduate school loans, however, forced her back to the U.S. There, Shores’ international and business-school experience eventually led her into the admissions department.”

Every MBA admissions officer is different of course. But what they have in common is that it is unlikely they planned and studied for this career. Most come to it “sideways.” They typically have broad interests, are people-focused, and are good communicators. They have lived life in more than one industry and often more than one country. They are generally not business trained, although many have some background in HR or marketing.

This makes the MBA application essay writer’s job harder and easier. It’s easier to engage an interesting person. Almost anything topic you raise will be “valid” for them.

But it’s harder if all your stories are highly technical, or closely work-oriented or if your ability to reflect deeply and persuasively on your life and career path is limited. You’re not going to interest the likes of Mae Jennifer Shores unless you can extract the human interest and personal journey from your life story.

Embrace Your Life and Career Inflection Points for MBA Admissions

In differential calculus an inflection (or inflexion) point is the point on a curve where the curvature changes sign and therefore shape.

Lives and careers have inflection points too: those moments where, due to events or new insight, suddenly everything is turned around or looks different.

Inflection points can be “achievements” but they don’t need to be. Often they are mixed, bitter-sweet moments of self-understanding and emotional arrival. Communicating these moments is key to convincing Adcom of your unique, personal, individual motivation for MBA study and beyond.

Sometimes when I talk to clients at the profiling stage of their application — when we sift through their past and present scouring for admissions value — they will blow right past an inflection point such as a change of college major, or death of a parent, or visit to the national gallery in Berlin (or whatever it may be) and I have to slow them down to fully explore and capture the value therein.

Due to confidentiality, I can’t tell their stories, but I did notice an example used recently on the Businessweek MBA Journal site where a now-current INSEAD student shares his “road-to-Damascus” moment:

“A favorable USD/GBP exchange rate and good salaries enabled us to enjoy a hedonistic lifestyle in New York, which included fancy dining, live music and sporting events, and parties on most nights. Yet, during all of this, I witnessed an act of kindness that changed the way I view the world and my aspirations. This moment of humanity would ultimately drive me to pursue an MBA at INSEAD.

“Midway through my training in New York, my friends and I went to see a Yankees baseball game. We caught the subway to return home and sat down next to a homeless man named Sam. Two stops later, another homeless man, J, boarded and sat next to Sam. They proceeded to talk and we overheard parts of the conversation. It became apparent that Sam and J had never met before. Then, Sam asked J if he would like to share some dinner, and J gladly accepted. Sam pulled out a tin of Vienna sausages and some dry crackers, which they shared. We watched all this and lumps gathered in our throats. Sam had no wealth and bleak prospects, yet was willing to share his food with a complete stranger. Would we have shared something worth as much to us with another stranger?

“This act of generosity humbled my friends and me…. I was inspired to seek more in life than those parties and materialistic pursuits. I didn’t want to waste my precious time, and I wanted a challenge. I wanted to make my mark on the world.”

Powerful stuff. Note that you don’t need a bleeding heart story to have an inflection point, or to get into business school. But you do need to be sensitive to the real inflection points in your life, which by definition will be highly individual to you, and how they have shaped your aspirations. This is the key to being real and therefore being believed when you share your goals with the MBA Admissions Committee in your application essays or interview.

 

MBA Adcom is not a venture capital firm

I’m sometimes asked for the greatest mistakes applicants make in MBA admissions essays, and at some point I’ll pull together my all-time list. But in the meantime, here’s a mistake that I’ve seen a lot of among clients this year so far: muddling up the demands of MBA admissions and a venture capital pitch.

What I mean is, applicants who are on an entrepreneurial track (including social entrepreneurship) and who are therefore talking about a future creating and building a firm, feel they have to make a VC pitch for their proposed venture. They seek to justify themselves in terms of potential market segments, working capital requirements, time to breakeven, and so on.

Now it is always good for MBA admissions to show detailed, careful thinking. And if your “why-an-MBA” is based on a new business, you need to talk about the proposed venture and its industry-market background in a specific and knowledgable way.

But you don’t need to make “the business case.” Adcom is not a VC firm. As long as the idea is not manifestly absurd, they can’t determine if it will actually work, nor are they ever going to try. This is not their skillset, and not their fundamental concern.

Put it this way: A VC firm will “like” a business idea if it thinks it will get out (a investment multiple of) more money than it puts in. If so, the VC will, to quote Dragon’s Den, “make you an offer,” that is, invest cash for a percentage of the business.

MBA Adcoms are not investing cash. They will “like” a business idea enough to make you an offer (an offer of a place in the b-school) if your venture seems broadly plausible, interesting, ambitious, doing something worthwhile in the world, and worthy of an MBA.

So, while you should make a general case for your new product or service, in reality the venture does not have to watertight. You can include the jumps of ambition and enthusiasm that you would have to scrub from a funding pitch.

But there is a wrinkle: Adcom is like a venture capital firm in one way. It is well known that VCs judge two things: the business idea AND the entrepreneur, because they are investing in the person or management team as much as the project. Even a mediocre idea can be a winner, if put in really competent hands. In this sense Adcom mirrors the VC, asking themselves: (whatever the applicant wants to do…) “Can he do it?” Can she pull it off?”

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