Tag Archives: social media

MBA Essays: Your Bud Becomes a Jack, but Nothing Changes

So, July 1 it is, and the 2014 MBA admissions season is definitely now upon us. Having been in this industry for 11 years now, I feel it might be useful to open this season’s posts with a few short thoughts on the fads and fashions in MBA admissions, and how while lots of things change nothing fundamental changes.

Let’s start with what doesn’t change, which is that an MBA from an elite school is, for most, a dramatic career boost both in terms of opportunity and earnings. What also stays exactly the same is that the incremental relative career boost from an elite school (global top-15, more or less) is far greater than merely a good school – and everyone knows this, including recruiters.

Therefore what also doesn’t change is that elite schools are massively oversubscribed by admissions-seekers, and so MBA Adcoms are forced to screen out most of the hopefuls (which is of course exactly what they want. This is how they create “classes of the best,” which attracts recruiters for top jobs, an obvious reinforcing cycle.)

What does change is how Adcoms go about screening. But even this has not changed much over the years. File data, GMAT (or GRE) score, MBA resume, recommendations, extra-murals, and allied personal and professional boxes to check stay effectively the same from year to year (with some test score and general achievement inflation, undeniably).

The application element that is constantly in motion is the way MBA Adcoms ask you, the applicant, to talk about yourself via essays, or what stands in for the essays.

Time was you had to write a long description about yourself —something like the INSEAD application remains to this day. But then two things happened. First it became not-so-clear that applicants were doing their own writing, which led to Adcoms shortening the writing obligation.

Second, technology got more sophisticated, allegedly offering multi-media or social-media ways of capturing the quality of an applicant, which also led to lower word counts on average, while the more adventurous admissions committees such as those at Georgetown McDonough or Chicago Booth experimented with offering the opportunity to submit PowerPoint presentations, tweets, audio uploads and the like. NYU has long invited creative expressions of self, but famously had to draw the line when they were faced with two-week-old sushi…

The jury is out on how well this alternative communication works, not least because it judges applicants’ “flashness” with social- or multi-media rather than what Adcom really needs to judge, which is how good a b-school player, and subsequently how great a manager you will turn out to be.

Don’t let the tapering off of overall essay text-length obligation lull you into a false sense of security. As I’ve written in my book, and here on this site in previous posts, the essays play a singular role and this is not usurped or ursurpable. Essays package you for the admissions committee. They bring your file factoids to life. They provide the juice that gets the committee to notice you specifically from among a mass of competitors who present similar file achievements and scores.

So less bulk doesn’t mean less important. In fact, less space makes the essays harder. Now more than ever, every single word matters. Think of it like exchanging a beer for a tot of Jack Daniels. Less space, not less kick.


The pros and cons of social media networking for MBA applicants

Part of the holy grail of a good application to business school is to show why the particular nature of the b-school you are applying to fits with you and what you want out of your MBA. That is, each program has a slightly different ‘signature’ in terms of curriculum, type of students, faculty interest, clubs and extramurals, internship-recruitment opportunities, alumni network and so on, and the task is to show that you understand what that signature is and why it fits with you.

You won’t get a lot of help from looking at the glossy brochure or the school’s glamor Website. That won’t make you enough of an ‘insider.’ The only way to know enough about a program is to get inside it for a while — by interacting with people who are there, or visiting the campus and talking to people who are there.

Social media networking forums have created new options for doing this. You can connect with or ‘follow’ current students or clubs via their blogs or tweets, or their identities Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. If there is a Stanford club entertaining Steve Jobs, it will be on someone’s blog. If Wharton students are on a trek, someone will have uploaded video to YouTube, and so on. Following this assiduously and interacting (politely) where appropriate will give you a window into the nature and culture of the program you are targeting in a way that just was impossible to imagine a few years ago. Beware, quality is mixed to say the least. You will get many perspectives from parties with vested interests that are not aligned with yours. Use them wisely. But overall this is the way to go.

Some admissions officers blog too, and currently Adcoms in general are rapidly revamping their own marketing (seeking to find and attract great applicants) to include social media. More and more authentic and useful insight in each school from the school itself is being offered in this way. See, for example, Chicago Booth Adcom director Rose Martinelli’s very personable blog, The Rose Report. You can follow, interact, and absorb the school’s culture in this way. (Again, be appropriate. Don’t, for example, use a blog comment facility to ask about your own personal application…)

But the downside of social media is this: If you can find and know them in this way, they can find you. Be careful about what you say online and what you have said. I’m not saying that Adcoms “google” an applicant or routinely look them up on identity sites to find out more about them or corroborate what they put down on the forms. They probably don’t. But they very well might.

Expect Adcom to treat you in some ways like a potential employee or client. It’s well known that these days prospective employers or prospective clients, or anyone who wants to look you up on the Web, can and will do so. And when they do they may find that beery and not-altogether-clean bachelor party photo on MySpace. Or they may find a Doostang profile that doesn’t adequately match what you’ve told them. And it’s quite hard, once something is out there on the Web, to take it back.

So be smart about it. Use social networking to get inside a program to research and develop your ‘fit’ argument. Be scrupulous about what is out there under your name, make it consistent with your application platform, and try to take down unprofessional material where you can.