Monthly Archives: October 2011

Who Conducts Your MBA Admissions Interview Matters!

Who conducts your business school admissions interview depends on a few things. Where you’re applying obviously matters a lot: Some schools only have admissions personnel conduct interviews, while others rely on a mix of admissions officers, students, and alumni. Where you live also impacts how you’re interviewed — if you’re applying to a school on another continent, that school will normally be more willing do your interview by phone or by Skype.

Every business school’s policy is different, and MBA programs’ policies can change over time. For instance, earlier this year Wharton announced that its alumni will no longer conduct interviews, and that all interviews will instead be conducted by admissions representatives or students (“Admissions Fellows,” in Wharton parlance). So, as you research your target business schools, make sure you’re preparing with the latest information.

With that in mind, here are a few thoughts on what to expect, based on who conducts your MBA admissions interview:

Admissions Officer
These interviews often are the most formal, and the most specific in terms of what the interviewer is looking for. Admissions personnel will usually have a form from which they work, and will make an effort to cover each area before the interview is over. Beware, though, that if the admissions officer doesn’t cover everything in the allotted time and some questions go unanswered, it will be considered your fault. Your main line of defense against this problem is making sure that you don’t ramble. Later on, we will discuss how you can make sure to cover the most important parts of your story.

Some schools, such as Wharton and Kellogg, train their students to conduct interviews. These students will typically work off of the same forms that admissions officers use. While you may hit it off with some students and end up having an informal conversation, many students tend to conduct interviews “by the book” even more so than admissions officers. Schools tend to use the interview feedback they get from students in the same way as the feedback they get from admissions officers. So, you should treat an interview with a student the same as an interview with an admissions officer.

As interviewers, business school alumni have a reputation for being a little more laid back in terms of how they conduct an interview. They will also have some guidelines for conducting the interview, but tend to be more willing to let it evolve into a natural conversation. Remember, though, that they are still evaluating you. Even more importantly, these are the interviews where you most risk not covering everything that you want to talk about. If there are certain messages that you want to convey and the interviewer just wants to talk about the Yankees, know that the onus is still on you to cover those messages. Also, keep in mind that alumni interviews tend to be the least restrictive in terms of time. Many alumni will let an interview stretch on for well over an hour, if you are both enjoying the conversation. Finally, be prepared for a little more variability in your experience. While most applicants report having great interviews with alumni, there are more than a couple of horror stories of applicants being traumatized by weird, rude, or even harassing interviewers. These types of stories are rare, but know that experiences with alumni interviewers will vary more than those with other kinds of interviewers.

Faculty Member
While having a faculty member interview you is extremely uncommon, there are some schools (particularly those in Europe) that might have you interview with a professor. These interviews generally feel like a discussion with an admission officer, but tend to be more academic in nature. Therefore, you should go into the discussion having a good understanding of the academic choices you’ve made in addition to being able to articulate what you want to get out of the curriculum.

So, knowing all of this, how should you prepare for your admissions interview? Although the meat of your preparation will be the same no matter who interviews you, be aware that there will be some subtle differences in your experience depending on who conducts the interview. Again, your preparation will barely be affected, but it helps to know what to expect going in. Go into a Harvard interview with an admissions officer expecting a fairly formal and efficient experience, for example, and you won’t be unnerved when that’s what you encounter.

Today’s advice was taken from our book, Your MBA Game Plan, now in its 3rd edition! And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!


How to Decide Who Will Write Your Letters of Recommendation

Every business school application requires you to submit at least one letter of recommendation, and usually more than one. These letters corroborate your admissions story, providing additional evidence of the leadership skills, analytical abilities, teamwork skills, and maturity that you have highlighted in the rest of your application. The best person to do this is normally your direct supervisor, but what if you can’t get a letter from your boss for some reason?

What most MBA programs want, more than anything, is to hear an assessment of your abilities by someone who knows you well and has been in a position to evaluate you. That’s why your direct supervisor is usually the ideal choice — he or she should spend a lot of time thinking about your performance, making it easy to provide an assessment of you as a young professional. Assuming that person is out of the picture, then you need to find someone else who meets these criteria:

Has your recommender worked with you in the past year?
We frequently talk to business applicants who have a seemingly good candidate in mind, but they haven’t worked with that person for a few years. When you’re a young professional, a few years is an eternity in terms of your development. Ideally, your substitute recommender will have worked with you in just the last year or two, or (even better) still works with you now.

Does your recommender know how to evaluate people in a work setting?
If your recommendation writer has never delivered a performance review in any setting, how will he or she be able to speak about your candidacy with authority? This doesn’t mean that your recommendation writer needs to have managed an entire department for years; the point is to find someone who can deliver a fair, even-handed-sounding (but still glowingly positive!) review of your candidacy.

Does your recommender know you well, and not just as your buddy?
This person must have worked closely with you for some period of time; otherwise, they don’t really know your professional abilities and potential. We wrote “non-social” to make clear that this person needs to be more than an acquaintance, but we stopped short of saying “professional” since this person may come from outside of your job. For instance, if you devote serious time to a non-profit organization, someone who has served as a coordinator there may know you very well and may be a good person to provide a letter of recommendation.

Does the person in question have enough time to do the job?
This question always applies, even if your recommendation comes from your current boss. Too often, the recommendation writer will underestimate the task, or will simply say, “I don’t have time. You just write it for me and I’ll sign it.” Make sure that your recommendation writer understands the task at hand, and devotes enough time to it. You can help a great deal by providing specific examples of your recent successes that he or she may not remember. Doing that makes the recommender’s job easier, and makes the final product significantly stronger.

It’s critical that your letters of recommendation provide all the clues that schools look for. Not only should your recommendations reflect your most marketable skills and traits, but they should also clearly demonstrate the enthusiasm that your recommenders have about you and your business school candidacy. Find someone who can do that, and you will be fine.

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Duke Fuqua Admissions Essays for 2011-2012

Today we dig into the Fuqua School of Business’ application. There are very few changes this year, so our advice remains mostly unchanged:

Duke (Fuqua) Application Deadlines
Early Action: September 29, 2011
Round 1: November 1, 2011
Round 2: January 4, 2012
Round 3: March 8, 2012

These deadlines are virtually the same as last year’s. Note that, while most schools use the term “Early Action” to indicate that the decision is non-binding, Fuqua considers it to be binding. So, we only recommend applying in this round if you’re 100% certain that you want to attend Fuqua. If you’re waiting to hear back from some other schools before applying to Fuqua in Round 2, you’ll need to at least get the ball rolling on your Fuqua application before you know your fate at those other schools, since you won’t have a lot of time between mid-December and Duke’s January 4 deadline. Duke’s Round 3 deadline is the same as it was last year.

Duke (Fuqua) Application Essays

  1. Describe your vision for your career and your inspiration for pursuing this career path.

    This question carries over unchanged from last year, as do all Fuqua’s other two essays. Overall, your approach to this question will be very similar to your approach to other “Why an MBA?” / career goals questions. While you should save the “Why Duke?” material for Question #3, be as specific as possible about how you see your career progressing over the next ten to twenty years. Do you want to dive right into industry and get your hands dirty? Learn as part of a larger operation and “grow up” as a leader, eventually taking the reins of a division within a large company? This is where you need to show that you’ve at least thought these things through, even if you know that you may change your mind one day. And by “specific” we don’t mean that you must spell out that you will spend exactly four years as a management consultant, then three years as a business development manager, etc. Rather, you must show that you can “tie it all together” and envision a realistic career path for yourself after graduating from Fuqua.

    Also, this is the time to discuss the career choices you’ve made up until now. Even though the essay asks for your “career vision,” don’t miss the “inspiration” part of the question — this is Fuqua’s way of trying to understand the you’ve made up until now. Your biggest potential mistake here is to give the impression of an applicant who’s applying to Fuqua simply because he’s bored or has stagnated in his current job. You always want to look like an applicant who is moving toward something great, not moving away from something bad.
  2. How will your background, values, and non-work activities enhance the experience of other Duke MBA students and add value to Fuqua’s diverse culture?

    This essay gives you a good chance to specifically highlight any strengths or themes that you want to emphasize more in your application. Everything in your background applies: your work experience, your personal life, and your hobbies all make you unique. Some applicants see this and think, “Oh, it’s a ‘diversity’ question. I’m afraid I don’t bring much ‘diversity’ to the table,” but that’s simply not true. All applicants have some things in their backgrounds that make them interesting… Discuss them here! And, do it in a way that demonstrates that you “get” the values that Fuqua prizes — including teamwork, innovation, and a global perspective.
  3. Why Duke? (If you are interested in a specific concentration, joint degree, clubs or activities, please discuss how you would contribute to these in this essay.)

    Duke, like some other top schools that tend to sit just outside the top ten in the MBA rankings, gets a lot of applications from candidates who also have applied to Harvard, Wharton, etc., and the school is quite savvy at recognizing when an applicant is truly excited about Duke. This is your opportunity to demonstrate that you have really researched the program, understand its core values (mentioned above), and really want to spend the rest of your life as a member of the Fuqua community.

    Some applicants will surely rattle of names of classes, professors, and on-campus clubs, to show that they’ve done their homework. For the most part, while this research is critical for you, “showing off” this kind of knowledge usually elicits a “big deal” from admissions officers. Go deeper, and force yourself to answer the question… Why Duke? Some pragmatic components to your response are totally fine — it has strong ties to the health care industry, which is what first drew you to the program, for instance. That’s a completely real, honest response. Then, starting there, move into how you can see yourself thriving in the Duke community. You prefer the school’s teamwork-oriented teaching style since it’s consistent with your undergraduate experience… Every student or alum you have met has raved about the program… That’s just an example, but it’s a more heartfelt, interesting, and effective response than simply rattling off names of clubs, because it’s about you.

Want to stay on top of news from Fuqua and other top-ranked MBA programs? Be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Yale SOM Application Essays and Deadlines for 2011-2012

The Yale School of Management has released its MBA application essays and deadlines for the Class of 2014. Yale has made some tweaks this year, and we’ll dig into each of them below. Here are the school’s deadlines and essays for the coming year, followed by our comments in italics:

Yale SOM Admissions Deadlines
Round 1: October 6, 2011
Round 2: January 5, 2012
Round 3: April 12, 2012

Yale’s Round 1 and Round 2 deadlines are virtually unchanged, but Yale has pushed back its Round 3 deadline by almost a month this year. Perhaps the school recognizes that very few North American MBA programs have deadlines past late March, and wants to keep its doors open for as long as possible so that strong candidates don’t have to turn to European programs (which tend to have later or different deadline cycles than U.S. programs). We still advise that you aim for Round 1 or Round 2, but this is a subtle signal that Yale truly does consider applications that come in after Round 2.

Yale SOM Admissions Deadlines

Short Answers

Please answer each of the four (4) questions below with a short paragraph of no more than 150 words. This is an opportunity to distill your core ideas, values, goals and motivations into a set of snapshots that help tell us who you are, where you are going professionally, and why. (600 words total)

  1. What are your professional goals immediately after you receive your MBA?
  2. What are your long-term career aspirations?
  3. Why are you choosing to pursue an MBA and why now? (If you plan to use your MBA experience to make a significant change in the field or nature of your career, please tell us what you have done to prepare for this transition.)
  4. The intentions of our students to engage in a broad-minded business school community and to connect to an eminent and purposeful university greatly influence the Yale MBA experience. How do you plan to be involved in the Yale SOM and greater Yale communities?

These super short questions carry over unchanged from last year, with the exception of #4, which is new and replaces a more straightforward “Why Yale?”-type question. These essays really challenge you to be succinct and get right to the point in answering the school’s questions. But, that’s okay. Each of these “micro-essay” questions covers a topic that you should be well prepared to answer by now. Yale just wants you to cut the fat and get right to the point, so the best thing you can do is answer these questions head-on. Career switchers should take special note of the additional instruction in Question #3. In this economic climate, Yale SOM, like all schools, is especially interested to know how well you will do in the post-MBA job market. Career switching is fine, and is even a great reason for pursuing an MBA, but you need to show that you’ve done your homework and are realistic about your intended career. The new question (#4) is a little wordy and “highfalutin” in our opinion, but at its core, it’s still a “Why Yale?” question that asks you to demonstrate that you have done your homework on Yale and are passionate about the program.

Personal Statements

Choose two (2) of the following topics and answer them in essay form. Please indicate the topic number at the beginning of your essay. (500 words maximum)

  1. At the Yale School of Management, we believe the world needs leaders who:

    – Understand organizations, teams, networks and the complex nature of leadership;
    – Understand markets and competition in different contexts; and
    – Understand the diversity of economies throughout the world and the relationships between business and society.

    What experiences have you had that demonstrate your strength in one or more of these areas?

    This question is new this year. It asks you to demonstrate at least one of the following: teamwork, leadership, a global outlook, and a philanthropic, “do good” bent. At first glance it looks like this questions asks you to pack A LOT into your (approximately) 250 word response, but keep in mind that it asks you to demonstrate your strength “in one more more” of those areas. We recommend picking one story from your past that adequately describes at least one of these traits, and then telling it in the Situation-Action-Result (“SAR”) format that we always write about. No need to get too ambitious here… Simpler is better!
  2. What is the most difficult feedback you have received from another person or the most significant weakness you perceive in yourself? What steps have you taken to address it and how will business school contribute to this process?

    This question carries over from last year. We like this one because it gives you a chance to really show off your self-awareness. Applicants are understandably uneasy about discussing their weaknesses and failings, but being able to show how you maturely and constructively handled tough feedback — and then how you put that feedback to use in a later situation — is a terrific thing for your candidacy.
  3. Imagine yourself meeting your learning team members for the first time in Orientation. What is the most important thing your teammates should know about you?

    This question is new this year, and is similar to the “Introduce yourself to your future classmates” essay prompt that other schools (most notably HBS and Ross) have used. Think of this essay as the quintessential “elevator pitch.” You have just a couple of paragraphs in which you can highlight what the admissions committee absolutely must know about you. This is not an exercise is seeing how much information you can cram into approximately 250 words. Instead, your challenge is to distill down your candidacy to no more than a couple of key points. What do you think are your most memorable experiences or attributes? How do you want to be known by your classmates? It will be interesting to see how applicants tackle this one, but we recommend erring on the side of being less formal — friendly, written in the first person, and maybe even a little humorous. That tends to work better (when done well, of course) than many applicants realize.
  4. Required for Reapplicants: What steps have you taken to improve your candidacy since your last application?

    This question says it all when it comes to describing what every top MBA program looks for in reapplicants. Ideally you will have at least one or two significant achievements or experiences that will bolster a weakness that may have kept you out of Yale last year. The most obvious examples are a big promotion at work, a higher GMAT score, or strong grades in some post-college coursework, but anything that demonstrates leadership, teamwork, maturity, or innovation — if one of these was a weakness in admissions officers’ eyes last year — can help your candidacy.

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