In case you haven’t seen it, Diversity Magazine recently published their issue with the top 50 best places to work for diverse managers and women. I generally don’t read these for the actual ranking of the employers but rather to get an idea of what the diversity landscape looks like at different companies. It’d be nice if we ever reached a point where these types of ranking were no longer necessary.
Yesterday, on twitter, a reporter from U.S. News was asking to speak to current business school students and recent business school alumni to ask a question. He didn’t say what the question was but I was intrigued by idea of talking to someone from U.S. News, so I responded.
He called me within 3 minutes of my sending him my phone number and the question he wanted to ask was with regards to this article from the New York times about Yale’s business school, which I hadn’t read at the time of our conversation.The question was this: If you would’ve have found out that your school lost $15-20 million over the last decade as the NYT article discusses in the case of Yale, and does this news discredit their ability to run a successful business program?
Not having read the article, my answer was my decision would not have necessarily been changed, no it does not discredit their ability to run a successful business program. I came to this conclusion based on 3 things:
1. I had zero idea how they lost the money, was this a function of risky investments or some sort of gross negligence. Even after reading the article, it’s unclear what exactly happened to result in such massive losses.
2. Experts in the classrooms weren’t necessarily part of the administration team. What I mean by this is that I’ve seen cases where service providers (e.g. accountants/consultants) are so good at servicing their clients that they sacrifice in their personal/internal situations. I don’t know if this was the case at Yale, but it doesn’t seem that far fetched.
3. Yale is still one of the most power brands in academics. Even with this news coming out, I can’t imagine a situation where an individual having Yale on his or her resume for undergraduate or business school would ever be at any sort of disadvantage. The fact is, whether people admit it or not, they give much more credibility to institutions they know, and everyone knows and respects Yale.
Now that I’ve gone back and read the article, my initial stance hasn’t really changed as none of the root causes were revealed in any sort of detail. For some reason I am surprised, though, that there are people that specialize in restructuring business schools. I’ll be watching this case closely to see how things develop.
What are your thoughts? How Would this impact your decision?
|It’s good practice to answer the question that was asked…|
Once you’ve gotten through step 1 and step 2 of the business school application process, you’ll probably be sick of even talking about business schools. That is, of course, unless you get that much anticipated invitation to interview for your dream school. Then, suddenly all fatigue will fade and you’ll find it difficult to talk about anything other than business school and your upcoming time to shine, but don’t be alarmed. These symptoms are completely normal.
Most schools, especially the full-time programs, only interview a subset of the overall applicant pool, so if they’re bringing you in, they must like you quite a bit. It’s important to remember, though, that an interview doesn’t equal automatic admission.
Again, a business school interview should be no different than how you would prepare for a job interview. In fact, admissions officers are looking for many of the same characteristics as any future employer. Here’s 5 of those key characteristics for you to keep front of mind:
The admissions officer wants to feel like you only have eyes for the school he/she represents. This means you want to have high energy in your voice and explicitly state how excited you are for the opportunity to be interviewing for a spot at their school. This will only work, though, if you can do this in a genuine fashion, which brings me to the next point.
While interviewers love to hear how much you love their school, professing your love only helps your case for admission if you are able to communicate your affections in a way that doesn’t come off as rehearsed. There are few things worse than sounding like a robot in an interview. It basically makes you look like you can’t think for yourself and that you’d be lost without your script.
In order to have a successful business school interview, you should have an initial vision of why the interviewing school is the best option for you to execute your MBA goals. If you sound like you’re not sure the school can help you achieve your goals, it’s a turn-off. If you hesitate to say that the interviewing school is a key element to your vision, it’s a huge turn-off. Likewise, if give the impression that you generally aren’t a “visionary person”…turn-off.
Even if you’re not 100% sure your vision will remain the same over the next two years, painting the picture for the interviewer and getting him/her to buy into the latest iteration of your vision goes a long way. The most effective leaders I’ve worked with are able to develop a blueprint or roadmap to reach a certain goal and adjust as necessary as circumstances change. If you can apply that approach here, then you’re already ahead of the game.
This is a tricky one, because your vision needs to be communicated with confidence but not so confident as to leave the interviewer thinking you have an overinflated ego. It’s definitely a challenge to walk the line between confident and cocky but it’s by no means impossible.
5. Communication Skills
Business schools are in the business of churning out leaders – people that will take on top roles in both the public and private spaces. A key quality of every leader I’ve seen to date is that you have to be comfortable talking to people, and that comfort needs to show during the interview. Oh, and don’t forget communication includes both speaking AND listening. You don’t want to be the person that appears to be focused only on producing the perfect answer to each question. Engage your interviewer and have a “normal” conversation and you’ll be just fine.
Anything else others would add to this list?
Note: As I was editing this post, I came across another interesting article about MBA interview mistakes. Check it out.
|Go big or go home|
The second, and most critical, part of the business school application process is the essay portion of the application.While preparing for the GMAT is important, the essays are where you get the chance to show your personality and how you would fit within a given school’s culture. You can think of the essay like a cover letter when you’re applying for the job.
The ultimate purpose of this exercise is to get an invitation for an interview. You can test like a champ and be as charming as anyone in an interview, but if you aren’t able to write compelling essays, your odds of being admitted are significantly reduced. So how can you make sure your essays will not miss the mark?
I’ll start with the easiest part – make sure you answer the essay question completely. For example, one of the questions when I was applying to Kellogg was:
“Why are you interested in pursuing your MBA while continuing to work full time? Why have you selected an evening program and what do you feel you can contribute to it?
If I wrote an essay that only addressed why I was interested in pursuing my MBA while working full-time and why I selected an evening program then I’ve completely missed part of the question – the part asking what I can contribute to the program. Not addressing all aspects of an essay question shows a lack of attention to detail at best and an inability to follow simple instructions at worst. Neither of those are qualities a top business school is looking for in its students.
The next thing you want to do with your essays is tell a good story. I can’t emphasize this enough – people love a good story! Whether it’s in school or in work, this always holds true. I have seen first hand that being able to tell a good story can be the difference between winning and losing a client. In this case, the client is that top tier b-school you have your sights set on, so take this seriously.
The final thing you want to do with your business school essays is be creative and make sure the story you tell is uniquely yours. You can achieve this through subject matter of your eassy (try to write about something your reader hasn’t seen before) or by telling the story in a way that has your personal spin on it. If possible, try to do both. At the end of the day, your essays should reflect your character and give the reader a reason to remember you. If will shift things in your favor when it’s time to decide between you and a comparable candidate. Every little advantage counts.
Now that I think about it, I guess it’s not that different from writing a blog. If you tell a good story that’s identical to that of 1,000 other applicants (or bloggers) and told in exactly the same way, its much more difficult for you to stand out. Another way of saying it is if you don’t impress me on paper, why would I want to interview you in person (come back to your site)? The answer to this should be pretty clear at this point…
So the moral of the story is: poorly written essays = no interview = no b-school admission = game over, thanks for playing.
|Studying only the easy question will set you up for a rude awakening on test day!|
I was recently speaking to one of my younger colleagues considering an MBA, partly because he has a vision for how this will help his professional development but mostly because he thinks it will “work out” in the long run. If you know anything about me, you understand that I like to make decisions based on reality (or at least feasible projections) and cringe at this sort of whimsical justification of such a large investment…
We started talking about what would be most helpful to someone gathering facts on the topic of applying to business school. He suggested that in addition to discussing how to determine if the MBA is the right move, I also spend some time discussing how to improve your chances of getting in once the decision to go for the MBA has been made, so here we are.
Once you’ve gotten through figuring out if going back to get your MBA is the right decision for you and whether or not you want to go the part-time or full-time path, which is a decent amount of work in itself, the real work starts. That is to say that you have to actually apply to business schools. The application process consists of 3 fundamental components: GMAT, essays, and interviews, which I will discuss in individual posts. Since the GMAT is the first step in the application process, that seems like a good place to start. I studied strictly using the Official GMAT review book, which you can buy here.
|Your New Best Friend|
Studying for the GMAT is as easy as 1-2-3 where “1” is taking the diagnostic, “2” is studying the right thing, and “3” is doing as many practice questions as needed to convince yourself you know what you’re doing. For what it’s worth, I did my GMAT prep over the course of about 3 weeks*, so I’m not just making this up for my own amusement.
The diagnostic is often overlooked by eager test-takers but it provides you information that you won’t be able to get in any other way. By spending some time answering a few questions up front, you learn exactly which topics should receive the bulk of your study effort and what information you’ve magically managed to maintain since your undergrad days. This will save you lots and lots of time down the road. Now isn’t that something you might be interested in?
2. Study the Right Thing
This point is what you do once you have taken the diagnostic. The idea is not to dismiss the diagnostic as useless but rather to take that information and shape your study plan. So what does that mean? For me, it means if I did well on a topic on the diagnostic test, I could skip actual studying and go right to practice questions. If I didn’t do well on a particular area (aka data sufficiency), I made sure to read up on those topics before even looking at any of the practice questions. What this does is equips you with the foundation to reason through questions where you may not be 100% certain of the answer, a skill that I cannot highlight enough for a multiple choice exam. Test taking services everywhere will tell you that process of elimination will often leave you with the right answer.
3. Lots of Practice Questions
This is the part where people so often miss the mark. I have to warn you – my approach on this point may seem a little unorthodox at first but hear me out. In a review guide that is organized from least to most difficult, almost EVERYONE I’ve encountered using this same review guide has started at the beginning of the book with the practice questions, but not I. In fact, I maintain that the best approach to getting work in is to start with the most difficult questions and work your backwards. You do this until you start getting all of the questions right and then re-review the questions you got wrong to make sure that you clearly understand whatever the mistake was that you made. Do not – I repeat – do not just glance over the text book explanation and say “yeah, that makes sense.” If you do that, it will be your kiss of death when you go to take the exam and realize you didn’t understand as well as you thought you did.
If you can successfully answer the more difficult questions and fully comprehend the logic behind them, there is no reason to believe you won’t be able to do the simple questions;however, the converse is clearly not true. I’ve found that many self-studiers want to feel like they’re making immediate progress and give themselves some positive feedback, which ends up with them spending far too much time on questions they’re already confident they know how to do. This can still result in a positive outcome if you have unlimited amounts of time to study or can take time off from work to study, but how many people really are living in this scenario? I’m guessing not many. Besides, who wants to take time off to study?
That’s it for now. Feel free to ask more detailed comments in the questions.
Next up, business school essays.
NOTE: I’ve made the assumption that if you’re trying to pull this off, you have strong self-discipline and will study at pretty much every opportunity: commute to work, lunch break, even when you go for those extended restroom breaks…it’s that serious. If you already know that you’re the type of person that gets distracted every time the wind blows or falls asleep anytime someone mentions the word “study,” then this isn’t for you.
*tested in the 93rd percentile
In one of my first posts on determining if business school is the right move, I talked about some of the issues students need to consider before going back to school, specifically the full-time business school student. As promised in that post, I want to spend some time sharing my top reasons for pursuing a part-time MBA.
Part-time MBA students can get their MBA without sacrificing the professional development that goes along with leaving to the workforce for two years. Oh yeah, and the income that comes with continuing to work full-time is also a benefit.
Fewer Required Courses
This seems to vary by institution. For example, at the Kellogg School of Management (the best business school in the world in my humble opinion) and the Hass School of Business, part-time students are required to take fewer courses to graduate than their full-time counterparts. On the other hand, the Stern School of Business and the Booth School of Business do not reduce the required coursework for their part-time programs. All of these are top-notch programs that simply have
The idea behind reducing the coursework (at least at Kellogg) is that you will compensate for that discrepancy in coursework by continuing to learn in the workplace since full-time employment is a requirement for the Part-time program.
Perhaps the most interesting difference in choosing to go to the Part-time MBA program is the fact that you can tailor your coursework around the needs of your job/company. For example, I was working at a global consumer goods company that always invested in derivatives. Once I became responsible for consolidating North America financial results, I wanted to better understand how derivatives were structured so I enrolled in an investments class and an international finance class. When you are able to see the value like this immediately, it makes it easier to prioritize things you may not have prioritized otherwise, like studying perhaps…
Instant Professional Network
While going to business full-time allows you to develop a network with your colleagues that will go onto leadership positions in their respective business endeavors, it may take more time to realize this than when you’re in the Part-time program. Similar to how you going part-time means you won’t forgo career advancement for two years, you may also reap the benefits of your classmates continuing to advance their careers. I’ve seen multiple instances where classmates have changed jobs in the middle of the part-time program because of a connection made with a classmate.
Ability to Handle Multiple High Priority Tasks
By successfully completing an MBA program while maintaining your career progression, a potential employer immediately knows that you can take on multiple demanding tasks at a time to achieve a desired outcome. Honestly, people respect the fact that you were even brave enough to try going back to school while working full-time. And if you have a baby in the middle of the program like I did, it makes for a great story.
People always love a great story.
This decision really applies to any sort of post-graduate academics pursuits, but I will focus on the MBA since that is the choice I had to make and where I have the most firsthand experience.Here are a few key questions to answer as you go through the process of determining if business school is the right move:
1. Why are you considering going back to school?
As simple as this question is, many people don’t have a clear understanding of why they want to go back to business school or the benefit they expect to receive from obtaining an MBA. Many companies focus in organic growth and place little emphasis on having an MBA. If you have been frequently promoted and are considered a high performer then going back to school may not be the right choice for you.
That being said, if you are looking to get to the next level (and/or senior leadership positions) within your company and all of the people currently holding those positions have MBAs, it may be a sign that you should start looking for some quiet places to study.
On the other hand, if any of the examples below explain your reasons for why you want to pursue business school, I’d recommend you focus your attention elsewhere.
a. I’m not sure what I want to do with it
b. I think it’d be good to have
c. My parents think I should go back to business school
d. All of my friends are doing it
I think you get the idea so I will move on to the next question.
2. Who is going to pay for it?
With the rising cost of education, gone are the days of deciding on schools without taking finances into consideration. The debts that many students incur are life-changing and if you don’t have a clear vision of what this means and how you will generate a return on your investment, you can cause yourself some unnecessary financial strife down the road.
If you have any an employer or sponsor that is going to help share the burden of you graduate education, you need to be sure that you understand what will be required of you in exchange for that support (e.g. 2 years of service following completion of graduate coursework) and determine if it’s an acceptable trade-off.
3. Where are you going to go?
There are some different schools of thought on this topic and I will share my view. If you are going back to business school you should be targeting a school generally considered to be a top 10 program and definitely not consider any schools outside of the top 25.
A large part of the value you get from business school is outside of the actual education you receive. It’s the network that you build with classmates and alumni as well as the school’s reputation when they see that institution’s names on your resume. These are the qualities that are going to play the biggest part in accelerating your career or allowing you to change careers if that is your goal, and this benefit is significantly less when you don’t attend a top school.
I’ve always been frustrated that this how is the world we live in works, but I’ve come to grips with it and focused on using what I know to my advantage. The sooner you make a similar shift in mindset, the sooner you can identify the most effective strategy to reach your career goals.
4. What are you going to do once you have the MBA? Immediately following graduation? Five Years after graduation?
This is the last and most important point you want to consider when determining if business school is the right move for you. The way you want to think about this is there is no reason to take on tens of thousands of debt and give up 2 years of work experience/progression only to return to a similar position at the same company (or any other for that matter) for marginally more compensation. Even if you aren’t 100% sure what you want to do, you should have a strong feel for the potential outcomes and how they would impact you professionally and financially.
Pursuit of an MBA should be a strategic move to accelerate your career, with an action plan to achieve tangible returns on your investment. Of course plans change as you encounter new information along the way, but by taking a step back and challenging yourself with each of the questions above, you can make a more sound decision on business school and proactively shape the roadmap for your future before its too late.
Note: Post was written considering only business school full-time. Part-time students have some additional considerations that I will address in a separate post.