Last time, I promised to show you how to increase your chances of admission by having firm, clear goals. One of the key reasons for this is to demonstrate fit. This phrase is widely used, but not generally understood. To illustrate, let’s take the case of a common applicant who wants to enter the world of management consulting. And let’s say they are aiming high – to get an offer from McKinsey, Bain or Boston Consulting Group. But they might also be kicking around some other ideas and (I’ve seen this) investment banking seems like an equally interesting idea. The best place to start – is a JOB DESCRIPTION for each goal. Sounds simple, but this is what’s called thinking from the end. Ask yourself, what excites me about this job description? When it comes to the qualifications – what do I have now, and what do I need? How will an MBA help me get what I need to become qualified? Which programs are best suited to doing that? Rather than spend $200K guessing what might work, posting stuff on GMAT Club asking for advice from other applicants who might be equally in the dark, go to the end user here. Who are you trying to sell this education to? Who is going to help you pay off loans, and help you establish a positive net worth? I would recommend that the applicant contact the MBA recruiter (yes, this is a real person) at the MBB office where you want to work post MBA. Ask about where they recruit, because each office recruits locally, to some degree. Also, find headhunters and independent recruiters who tend to place applicants for top consulting firms. And lastly, of course, network with people who are doing what you are thinking about doing. Who have been in your would-be shoes. To do this, I am a big fan of the advanced search feature on Linked In. You can identify the parties mentioned above by school, employer, etc. In this situation, you will probably want to send some “inmails.” I’m not trying to sell Linked In here, but get premium, it’s free for 30 days, and this is your life, after all. Don’t be pinching pennies when it comes to identifying and landing your dream job, one that won’t feel like work, and will help you feel good about Monday morning. Because this is the goal, not attending business school Business school is a means to an end, and that end is to get you into a job that makes you happy (however you define that.) Some might say it is to find a better paying job – however I have seen too many people get that better paying job and then use money to try to make themselves happy, when they could have just achieved it directly. Write a letter to these people that is easy for them to answer. Please do not write something like, “Tell me what management consulting is all about.” That is abstract, unfocused and you would not want to be on the receiving end of that email. They would be thinking, this joker doesn’t really get that I work 80 hours per week and have no time for games. I recommend that you work with a career coach and put together a kind of cover letter, stating the specific information you are seeking (how to select schools, in this case) and then put together a list of 10 questions where the answers will be more than yes/no, but won’t require the recipient to delve into the depths of their psyche. Not everyone will respond, but if you put together an effective email (edited by someone like myself) you WILL get responses. This always seems to shock my clients (quote, “just to be clear…you’re telling me to email the former Prime Minister of Australia?!” but many people out there DO care and would like to help others sidestep mistakes (and loans) that could have been avoided. In certain circumstances, my clients have decided NOT to attend b-school and to instead attend a school of public policy. Or just focus on how to achieve their goal in a different way, from their current position. I am thrilled, frankly, that this process saves my clients potentially wasted years and several hundreds of thousands of dollars. So, after getting the qualitative input on the job itself, you think – would I be OK with being away from home Monday through Thursday? How would my wife and dog feel about that? Do I enjoy having to interview employees about what they do? Do I like Excel well enough to build models? Is this my thing? If it isn’t, you might take Kellogg or Tuck off your list o’ schools. But if it is, review their employment stats reports. You might discover such and such school is a big feeder for Deloitte but less so for MBB – would that be OK? If so, move on to subscribing to their You Tube channel and watching You Tube videos and video “podcasts” to find out more about the culture there. Take note of the values they state, explicitly or implicitly, and in your essays, write about how those values resonate with you, and give examples of how you’ve modeled them in your life. Reaching the adcom on the level of common values is a much deeper connection than most make – and it is effective. It makes you memorable.
So often applicants think about other aspect of their application (school selection, resume etc.) prior to considering their MBA goals, and I really feel this is a classic case of the tail wagging the dog. THE EQUATION To write a persuasive application, it’s critical that you have those goals honed and refined. Background + MBA = Post-MBA Goal. So in order to solve for “MBA” part here, you need to figure out the right side of the equation. Then, take Goal + Experience = Long Term Goal. Hopefully this long-term goal will stir the adcom on both an emotional and analytical level. THE PITCH Consider this: schools invest more money in you than you pay in tuition. So while many consider this process to be shopping for an MBA program, in fact, your application should be likened to a pitch. Think Shark Tank. Why should they invest foundation dollars in you vs. someone else? They are more likely to choose the applicant who has carefully considered why they are applying to the school, and what they are trying to make manifest by going there. Successful Shark Tank applicants rarely walk into the room presented a with few different “options” for potential products, or a generic, half-baked idea. They don’t say, well, give me the money, I want to explore first, and see what sounds good to me once I get there. That would be a ridiculous way to approach starting a business, a sure plan for financial ruin. Yet, business school applicants do this all the time. THE PAYOFF Check this out. For the admissions committee, in this case, *YOU* ARE THE BUSINESS. You are the business they are investing in. Show them you have a business plan for business school. Show you have a strategy and specific tactics to carry out said strategy. This doesn’t mean that you can’t engage in big, blue-sky thinking. Schools like to see a big vision. One of my recent Wharton Lauder admits has a goal of establishing a consultancy in Africa that will allow Africans to effectively increase the percentage of arable land, solving part of the hunger crisis, and make the agriculture market a viable means of economic growth there. THE EXAMPLE So, big vision is encouraged, however, you need to connect the dots. Background + MBA = Goal. In this case, he had visited Africa, traveled extensively, and has a masters in Engineering. All he needs is a business education – knowledge if marketing, finance – mentorship, and an understanding of the competitive landscape there. The Lauder program allows students to spend time abroad doing these things, so this is a fit. What Wharton-Lauder offers matches what he needs to achieve his goal. But we couldn’t establish that fit with crappy, fuzzy, generic goals. So my message is this – set MBA goals first, to show how your Background + MBA = Goal. Demonstrate how YOU will leverage the opportunity – a key reason for adcom to admit you. Once you do this, the process of writing your applications becomes far easier, you gain momentum, and the passion and precision shines through. THE EXERCISE Next week, I’ll post a blog on how to identify these goals. It starts with your values. There is a huge amount of freedom that comes with making decisions based on your values. For me, it’s important that I work with clients who allow me to be authentic, honest and in a sense, playful. We can laugh together. These things reflect my values. When I sense a fit on this level, it is likely to be a good match. So this is a great guiding principle for selecting new clients. Complete this exercise to find out yours.
HAVE A PLAN
Hopefully you are nearing the of this research process, but if experience serves, many of you are just beginning. Have a focus. Don’t just walk into the process waiting for something to jump out at you. This is a bit like going into the grocery store without a list. You forget about why you went in there and walk out with everything that seemed cool and interesting at the time. Yet nothing to make for dinner.
You Now + MBA = Goal
Think about what needs to happen in B-school for you to become a viable candidate for your post-MBA career goal. Let that sink in. You now + MBA transformation = You + post-MBA job. What do you need to get done? That might mean learning a 2nd language, mastering a specific industry, or getting people leadership experience under your belt.
THE FIT FACTOR
Once you have done the networking and research on your career goal, and evaluated what you need to get out of b-school to get there – think about what you need out of business school. FIT is paramount. Yes, fit means finding the recruiters you want to talk with at the school but applicants grossly underestimate the importance of fit in other ways. Six years after obtaining my MBA I went to work for Wells Fargo corporate marketing and everyone thought it was such a great job. I left a job where I was happy leading large team, for more money and the illusion that I would be happier working for a hot, elite company. However, this was against my own inner guidance. Also, I reflected upon the words of a corporate recruiter who said the Wells Fargo culture would be way uptight and stifling for me.
“BRAND” won’t make you HAPPY
I am someone with a high need for individual expression, but Wells Fargo recycles a very regimented, lock-step marketing calendar year after year. I had to tiptoe around corporate leadership – as was asked to cater to them as if I was an inferior being. The job was more about rules than creativity and when I explored other jobs within the company, it was more of the same. To sum it up: I was miserable. And the only person dressed up for Halloween. Rankings are nothing more than journalistic fodder. Review employment stats and alumni placements. Take a close look at instruction type. What works best for you? What is the feeling you get when you’re on campus? Or when you watch student-created You Tube videos? Pay attention to that. Do you feel a sense of expansion or contraction? What commonalities do you notice among alumni that you speak with? Do they all seem serious, playful, creative or formal? Spend time learning about your values and choose in accordance with those make sure you are happy and successful in b-school.
THE HOW PIECE
Getting down to the nuts and bolts. I personally find it unimaginable to pick a b-school site unseen, this is a lifetime affiliation, and that is like getting married at first sight. I urge you to make the campus visits happen. However, if you are living in the middle of Zambia, like one of my clients, it might not be an option. I would encourage you to take full advantage of social media, You Tube in particular. Locate the student-produced videos that give you a snapshot of what it feels like to be there. School culture varies widely. Most student-run organizations have a Facebook presence; reach out, take an interest. Set up a “school research” email and sign up for school newsletters, You Tube videos, etc. Connect with alums on Linked In. Find out what you need to learn to position yourself for that ideal job. Some schools actually have formal networking opportunities. For example, in the summertime, you can reach out to speak with Haas MBA students who are completing their summer internships. Which brings me to an important point – sign up for online admissions events as much as possible, and any in-person events in the city where you currently live. So in a nutshell: Admissions events, in person and online. Alumni interviewing. You Tube. Facebook. School newsletters. Linked In. Campus visits if at all possible.
USING WHAT YOU’VE GATHERED
Now, what to do with this research? Well, once you’ve shortlisted schools, look for activities that will help you become a strong, viable candidate for your post-MBA goal. Strategically identify the activities best suited to bring about the +MBA transformation for you. As for the applications. Go more deep than wide. Discuss a few things in depth in your applications rather than packing in a bunch of random crap. I’ve read hundreds of essays and believe me, discussing a dozen clubs you plan to start on campus in a 500-word essay makes you look like an unrealistic idiot. You will have to spread your time between classes, recruitment, networking, clubs, externships, mentorship, speaking events, the list goes on. Take note of the fact that nothing irritates the adcom more than having to read essay after essay, regurgitating the course catalog or a list of student organizations. They know. They are aware. You want to mention these but only after giving them CONTEXT – meaning – your GOAL. Please remain steadfast in your awareness that they are READING THE APPLICATION TO LEARN ABOUT YOU. Not learn about the school or it’s offerings. Good essays are personal, and specific.
THIS IS A PITCH
My advice would be for you to research schools the way you would research a business plan, because it’s really quite the same! The business of YOU is in full-swing, which assets do you need to build? Remember that the schools are investing dollars in you, so your goal is to look like an investible opportunity. It’s Shark Tank and the product you are pitching is you. Showing that you’ve done your homework will help you develop a consistent, solid plan to present. The goal is to inspire adcom to give you a seat, because you would leverage the opportunity and make good use of their money. You would be a great addition to their community and reflect well on the program. Good luck to all of you, wishing you a transformational MBA journey.
If it’s one thing that drives me nuts, it’s someone who says they are “going to business school to figure out what they want to do.” THAT IS DUMB. And incidentally, also very EXPENSIVE, because it’s a waste of your precious TIME. Get clear on your career goal first, so you can pick a program that will help you achieve it. Then leverage your time in business school to achieve said goal. Believe me, when applicants try to conceal their lack of direction, and BS their way through, it comes through loud and clear in their essays. It’s impossible to hide. And the essays are painful to read. Business schools want to bring in students who will be successful, make them look good, have a positive impact on endowments. It’s difficult for students achieve greatness if they have no direction. This is why business schools ask you – hey, applicant, how do you plan to spend your time at our school ? I heartily recommend that you do the introspection work….with a coach if necessary… to construct your career plans before attempting to draft your applications. Do the inner work first. The application essays should be a manifestation of this process, not be the beginning of it. I often hear, “I just want to get into a school and then I’ll figure out the rest when I’m there.” OK. Let’s say you get into a school. Without clear intentions, you will be caught in a tidal wave of courses, clubs, classes and recruiters. Not to mention speakers, internships, externships…you get the picture. Instead of tapping into your heart’s desire, it’s more likely that you’ll be thrown about the sea, shipwrecked, 20 months having slipped through your hands and all you have to show for it is a huge bill. I will end with these words of advice from one McCombs MBA student to an applicant:
“I didn’t realize how busy I would be! I knew that business school was going to be challenging but the first few months really tested my time management skills. Looking back I was amazed at how much we all accomplished in the fall term. Advice I would have for that is to think about what you want to get out of business school before you get here. Do you want to focus on recruiting, social, academics? And are you okay with priorities shifting as you progress in the year?”