Tag Archives: mba

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!

 

Unemployment Setback Can Set You Apart for MBA Admissions

As things roll towards R1 deadlines I’ve been seeing quite a few unemployment stories used in the setback/failure essay slot, for example in the HBS “Tell us three setbacks you have faced” essay.

This makes sense. Unemployment is a real setback. And it’s understood by Adcoms that many applicants have been laid off for no fault of their own through the Credit Crunch and global recession.

But there is a better and worse way to talk about unemployment. I see a lot of copy that goes something like this: “I was going along great in my career – then suddenly my whole department was laid off – I was totally in shock and despair – but I didn’t get downhearted – I sent out thousands of resumes – eventually I landed a good position – I learned to persevere and how important it is to have a network to rely on.”

I’m simplifying of course. But this is a reasonably accurate schematic of what I see, and at a surface level there is nothing wrong with it. No red flags. But there’s nothing there that will get the Adcom reader to notice the applicant either.

So, do you say: “I was laid off – I thought the world had ended – I moved back in with my parents and sat in a darkened room for a month”? Of course not. Telling the truth is recommended, but “too much information” also hurts you.

The path through this (and through any situation where you are likely to share the same base story with many applicants) is to demonstrate individuality not in the story, which is by definition common, but in your response and depth of reflection.

The best unemployment essays will use the experience to shine light on personality. Going beneath generically “keeping on keeping on,” what did you specifically do to motivate yourself? Even in hard times, there are events that are funny or cute or somehow emblematic of the situation or of you. What were they?

The positives to exploit are not just connected to perseverance. You can make points that have to do with creativity – how you didn’t just work hard, but worked differently.

Unemployment also forces unstructured free time. How did you fill it? Talk about volunteering, talk about courses you took sharpen your skills and keep yourself in circulation. But again, everyone will talk about that. So don’t forget the whimsical. If you fell in love with two puppies and took them for slippery winter walks in the hills around Vancouver, that’s worth saying too.

* See also ‘I’m unemployed, does this mean my MBA application will be dinged?’ http://t.co/BMpftjT

HBS augments case method teaching: a call to ‘doers’

Harvard Business School this week announced first moves toward its long-awaited curriculum reform in an email from Dean Nitin Nohria and Senior Associate Dean Youngme Moon to incoming students. The essence of it is: HBS is creating a new required first-year course called “Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development” (FIELD), and will provide greater modularity and student choice in the second year.

By all accounts the reforms are not huge, and not as extensive as those undertaken by Wharton, Stanford, Yale, Haas, and other major programs recently. It appears that HBS’s strategy is to introduce reforms in a incremental, rolling way.

But there is a radical kernel in the FIELD program, something HBS applicants should note. According to the deans’ statement, the course will focus on developing substantively meaningful small-group learning experiences that are “experiential, immersive, and field-based.”

Elaborating on this, Brian Kenny, chief marketing and communications officer for Harvard Business School, was quoted as saying: “For most of the last 100 years, we have been exclusively using a case study pedagogy. We’re recognizing that the case method needs to be supplemented with experiential things that allow students to balance knowing with doing.”

In other words, “doing” is moving up the list of what’s crucial at HBS. They are looking to graduate “doers” rather than merely “knowers.” Of course Harvard will claim they have been doing this all along, but part of the enduring criticism leveled against business schools, particularly in the wake of the Credit Crunch, is that “book learning” is not enough to make a good business leader.

The case method is in itself a hybrid between a straight textbook learning and the real world, and this is what made it powerful in a world where some other b-schools taught more rote style. But the world has moved on, and “experience” and “immersion-fieldwork” have become central to what all serious b-schools consider valuable in formative management education. Of course, the case method will still be at the heart of the Harvard’s teaching. But there is a clear manifesto to nudge the case method further towards the real world by augmenting it with immersion.

How does this affect admissions? Quite simply, HBS is looking, more than ever, to turn out graduates who are ready, willing, and able to roll up their sleeves and immerse themselves in their leadership projects. So you-the-applicant should look to show where and how you have successfully navigated “immersion” projects in your past, what learning experiences you will immerse yourself in while at HBS and in your near-term future, and how the FIELD experience will help you do it better.