Tag Archives: mba interview

What does the sign on your desk say?

Everyone knows leadership is a key theme in MBA applications. One way or another, the b-school graduate is going to be a leader. Therefore showing evidence and understanding of, and aptitude and appetite for, the demands of leadership is central to succeeding in MBA admissions selection.

Because of this, as an admissions coach, I’m always on the lookout for insight into leadership and how to communicate it, and I found some by Paul Thornton at a blog called Great Leadership.

Thornton says business and political leaders often have a motto or plaque on their desk or office wall that encapsulates their leadership attitude. His article is below. I repost it here in full on this blog, in order to be able to ask the question: as an MBA applicant, what is the sign on your desk, or what will it be when the time comes?

More specifically, if you can distill the essence of your leadership attitude or style or motivation in this way, it makes an excellent basis for telling Adcom about it in your essays or interview in a way that will get you noticed… much better than serving up worn-out phrases about leadership as “motivating people” or “making a difference” or other standard waffle that will shift you only sideways into the bundle of applications about to be dinged.

Here is Thornton’s text:

“As a leader, what should the sign on your wall or desk say?

W. Clement Stone began as a shoeshine boy and became a multimillionaire. He credits his success to three words: Do It Now. He required everyone who worked for him to write those words on index cards and post them in their work area.

Over the past twenty years I have collected and analyzed many of the quotes leaders post on their office walls or keep on their desks. Many of these quotes are the guiding principle they followed to achieve success. Here are my top 15.

1. “It can be done!” —Sign President Ronald Reagan kept on his desk in the Oval Office.

Leaders are optimistic, upbeat, and positive. Reagan was known for his optimism and the ability to express ideas in a clear, eloquent, and quotable fashion.

2. “No Whining” —Sign on the desk of James Parker, former CEO, Southwest Airlines.

Victims wine and blame others. Leaders may get discouraged on occasion but never play the victim role.

3. Bill Gates had a picture of Henry Ford in his office. It was there as a reminder to not do what Ford did. Ford didn’t listen to his customers. He knew his customers wanted the option to buy cars painted other colors besides black. This “fatal attitude” caused him to lose market share to upstart General Motors.

4. “The Buck Starts Here!” —Sign on the desk of Donald Trump.

Leaders see opportunity and take action. Non-leaders only see the status quo and sit still.

5. “Be brief. Be Brilliant. Be Gone.” —Former sign on the office wall of Mark Goodman, CEO, Twist Image.

Leaders who are clear and concise are more credible and more brilliant.

6. “Start Talking and Get to Work” —Sign in the office of Alden Davis, former Business Effectiveness Consultant, Pratt & Whitney Division of United Technologies Corporation.

Leaders spend a significant amount of time talking and listening. Advocating, proposing, nudging, selling, questioning, listening, probing and digging are what leaders do.

7. “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” —Antoine de Saint-Exupery”—Sign above the desk of Michael S. Hyatt, CEO, Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Michael states, “Leaders remove the clutter so their big ideas stand out.”

8. Hatim Tyabji, former chairman and CEO of VeriFone, Inc. —On his office wall there was a poster that consisted of twelve blocks, each with a photo of an Irish setter. The first 11 blocks show the dog standing, not responding to a command to “sit.” Finally, in block twelve, the Irish setter sits. “Good dog,” reads the poster.

Hatim states, “That is the essence of leadership. I can’t get disillusioned when I say ‘sit’ and nobody sits. So I just keep repeating the message. Leaders must be clear, consistent, and repetitive. Keep repeating the message until it sticks.”

9. “Be Realistic, Demand the Impossible” —Sign in the office of T. J. Rodgers, founder and CEO of Cypress Semiconductor.

Leaders are demanding! They expect more than others think is possible. Leaders believe most people have underutilized talents and abilities.

10. Strive for Excellence. Signed photographs of Frank Sinatra, Mohammad Ali, Albert Pujols, Ted Turner, and Donald Trump are on the office wall of Jim Stovall.

Jim is president, Narrative Television Network and author of The Ultimate Gift.

Jim states, “These are people who I’ve worked with and respect. They remind me to always strive for excellence.”

11. “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.” John le Carré —Sign in the office of Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., former CEO of IBM.

Seeing the problem, touching the part, talking directly with employees and customers provides a reality you don’t get sitting in your office. We want to see our leaders directly involved in the problem like Louisiana Governor Bobby Gindal has been involved in the Gulf Oil Crisis.

12. “Prove Your Groove.” —Sign on the office wall of Peter H. Reynolds CEO/Owner, FableVision Enterprises.

Peter states, “It means don’t just say it—do it. Show us your passion in action. Leaders use the media, storytelling, and technology to foster the development of each person’s potential.”

13. “Just because it worked once, doesn’t mean it will work again!” —Sign on the desk of Shaun Coffey, CEO, Industrial Research Ltd., New Zealand.

Shaun states, “Every situation is different, and this is particularly so when dealing with change. People are different, and people change. An intervention that has been spectacularly successful may not work in a new situation. It may not even work in the same company/organization again because the people will have changed as a result of the experience. Keep changing your tactics, staying aware of how people are responding. Attack from different angles. Look for signs that something isn’t working, and try something else—don’t get stuck in your ways.”

14. “The time is always right to do what is right.” Martin Luther King Jr. —Sign on the office wall of Michael Jansma, President GEMaffair.com.

Leaders consistently stand up for their values and beliefs. It’s not a once in awhile thing.

15. “Leaders should be able to Stand Alone, Take the Heat, Bear the Pain, Tell the Truth, and Do What’s Right” Max DePree —Sign in the office of Brian Morehouse, coach of women’s basketball at Hope College, 2006 Division III National Champions.

Brian states, “That quote covers everything a leader needs to do as they approach their day in terms of courage, integrity, focus, and perseverance. And, it closely meshes with my coaching philosophy which is –Do the right thing every day, every play, on and off the court!”

The MBA interview is a 3rd date – time to take it to the next level

We’re in MBA interview season, and its been gratifying to see how many R1 clients have come back with interview invitations so far. So, a few observations, hopefully non-obvious ones, on managing MBA interviews. I’ve written a whole additional chapter in my book (2e, 2010) on MBA interviewing, and I’ll be adding a few more thoughts here in the next few weeks.

The first thing is to be ready, willing, and able to go “to the next level.”

In some of the top-tier programs you can choose to be interviewed, but in most it works the other way. They tell you if they want to talk to you. They are saying: “So far, so good. Let’s go to the next level.” You, the applicant, have to meet them there.

Sometimes (depending on the school’s policy) the interview is “blind,” that is, the interviewer has seen nothing but your resume. This means you have to deal a bit more in background-catchup information. Sometimes they have seen your essays, and sometimes your whole file. The point is, whatever the interviewer knows about you going in, your job is to go beyond it.

If she comes out of it thinking, “this person just told me what was in his essays or just repeated what was on her resume,” then you have failed.

Think of the interview as a third date. (In the analogy, your application was the second date; first date was when you visited the campus or met school promo people at a tour venue.) So now there you are on date three. Things are hotting up. You are wooing them successfully so far; they are clearly interested in you. Would you on date three just say again what you said last time? That would be inviting, like, “hello, who is this dork?”

How do you go beyond? First establish what your interviewer knows. It’s fine to ask if she has seen your essays/file — it’s a perfectly professional question. As far as possible, don’t repeat that stuff. But, more importantly, it is time to go beyond the facts of your bio, career, achievements and get to deepening their understanding of you. Tell stories that shed even more light on you as a person, your motivations, your choices, why your goals matter to you; enhance their understanding of the value you bring to the program; give a motivated sense of how great your future is, which they could be part of … third date stuff.

By the way, they are not ready to dim the lights and go to the bedroom. Nor should you be. They are still checking you out, and you are still checking them out. When they send you an admit package, then let the love-fest begin. Expressing interest is fine, but expressing undying adoration for the program, its professors, its reputation and so on, at this stage would be like taking your clothes off in the restaurant.