Tag Archives: mba

The 6 Dimensions In Choosing a Business School

As we exit the dormant months, and minds start to turn to applications season of Fall 2016, I’m starting to get the question: “which schools should I apply to?”

Choosing which business school MBA or EMBA to apply to requires knowledge of each institution, its culture, curriculum emphasis, extramural activities and recruitment opportunities, among many other things. The key parameters to consider are:

1. Fit. You’re paying the money and you’re going to be doing the work, so you want to put yourself somewhere you’ll be happy. Only you will know the answer to whether you want a small or big program, urban or rural, US or Europe or Asia, entrepreneurial or financial, etc. Sometimes it’s okay to knowingly put yourself in a slightly alien environment too, for the growth challenge. Either way, know thyself. Know the school. Choose fit consciously, don’t just apply to the “top” programs and take the highest offer.

2. Brand. Forget rankings. School brand is what matters. That’s what is going to give you your short- and long-term career boost. While rankings bounce around, real brand value of the top b-schools changes very slowly, if at all. If you genuinely don’t know a school’s brand strength, how do you get a sense of it? Every school publishes a list of companies that come to campus, how many graduates they hire, placement rates, and average starting salaries. Quality of recruiting firm and average post-MBA salary is a much better guide to a program’s real prestige than any magazine ranking.

3. Location and recruitment: Location strongly affects the industry orientation of the school and the companies recruiting on campus offering internships and jobs. You will get different exit opportunities in New York than you will in Texas, or Lausanne, Switzerland (IMD). Pick a school with an eye to your exit opportunities.

4. Profile of participants: Make the effort to understand the subtle differences in the type of person each school attracts. INSEAD and LBS both offer MBAs, and there is overlap in the student profile, but there are clear differences. This is true of HBS and MIT, Booth and Kellogg, and everywhere else. Go somewhere where you will more easily make real friends and you will be a lot happier and productive. Better still,  in 15 years, your alumni network will be real.

5. Length, structure, and flexibility: The time it takes to get an MBA can vary from 10 months to almost two years. Longer programs offer more electives, exchange options, and other forms of enrichment including summer internships. If you are younger, chances are you need the time to figure out what you want to do and will benefit from an internship or two on your resume. If you are older, speed of completion may be your highest priority.

6. Electives and options: The core curriculum is effectively the same everywhere and it doesn’t drastically matter where you do it. Electives however, differ significantly from school to school, according to faculty interest and expertise. External projects, “treks,” and exchange opportunities will also vary.

In short, the more you know the better your decision-making will be. Some of the information about schools is easy to find out via the Web. The rest will be more difficult to judge without visiting the campus or talking to current and recent past students.


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!