Marketing Tips

I was pleased to be featured in the March 2006 issue of Entrepreneur magazine, particularly because they highlighted my marketing approach to the admissions process. Hopefully, the article serves to further illustrate some of the …

I was pleased to be featured in the March 2006 issue of Entrepreneur magazine, particularly because they highlighted my marketing approach to the admissions process. Hopefully, the article serves to further illustrate some of the techniques we use as we start to craft a marketing strategy for our clients. The relevant text is reprinted below. You can view the full article on Entrepreneur’s website.

Stacy Blackman, 34, remembers well the lessons she learned as an online marketing manager at The Charles Schwab Corp. She launched her Los Angeles-based MBA consulting firm in 2001 to help applicants gain acceptance into the MBA programs of their choice, but after working at the well-known financial services firm for a year in 2002, she realized that marketing financial services was not so different from marketing people.

Blackman’s time at Charles Schwab coincided with the company going through a period of re-evaluation. Although entrepreneur Charles Schwab founded the company on the premise that the stock market should be accessible to all and that prices should be fair and ethical, this core value of the company was coming into question 30 years after its establishment. When held up against glitzier and more glamorous firms serving high-end clients, Charles Schwab, with its relatively low profile, was struggling to keep up. The company decided to stay true to its philosophy, however, and ultimately succeeded in positioning itself as the firm that was affordable and accessible to the common man.

“[Charles Schwab] turned what might be a weakness into [its] key strength,” says Blackman. Using the same philosophy, Blackman turns her clients’ weaknesses into strengths. If a client has been laid off, she puts a positive spin on it by showing his or her resilience, and she paints a bigger picture to artfully explain low grade-point averages. “It’s all in the perspective,” she says.

One key reason for Charles Schwab’s success: its awareness of the prices, promotions and services offered by its competitors. To grow her business and help her clients become successful, Blackman likewise keeps a careful eye on the countless number of applicants vying for acceptance letters. To help her clients differentiate themselves, she pushes them to dig a little deeper–to uncover an experience or skill that hasn’t been repeated by other applicants.

While at Charles Schwab, Blackman witnessed the extensive efforts that were made to get to know customers–to study what they expected from the call center and what types of ads they responded to best. Taking this to heart, Blackman stays informed by networking with admissions officers, students and alumni; researching programs; and maintaining an information database, all of which help her advise clients on how to best present themselves to schools.

“Schools are always looking to diversify their student populations,” says Blackman. “So [the key is] understanding [each] school’s needs and showing that you can be a solution.”

Greasy, Streaky…Annoying

As of January, 2006, scratch paper is no longer part of your GMAT experience. Instead, each test-taker receives an erasable “white board” and pen to be used in lieu of scratch paper. I have been …

As of January, 2006, scratch paper is no longer part of your GMAT experience. Instead, each test-taker receives an erasable “white board” and pen to be used in lieu of scratch paper. I have been hearing lots of complaints about these white boards. As one of my clients complained, “now I have to learn how to write with a special marker, just to be admitted to business school?”

The complaints were well summarized in a posting on the GMAT Club forums:

“What I think contributed to a possible loss of 20 or 30 points in my score was the marker and “erasable boards” I had to use. The boards were just just laminated white grid paper. Two of them. And I was told not to erase my work, but to just raise my hand and request more. I found this extremely frustrating during the quantitative section as it ate into my precious time. It didn’t take long to fill up the paper. More annoying than this was the markers. I’ve always done all my mathwork with a mechanical pencil and found the markers awkward to write with. Even though they were fine-tip. Not only that, but I was only given one marker at a time and I had to replace them about three times just during the math section. The first two markers didn’t write well – they just gave me used markers. Because of the constant replacing of markers and papers, I had trouble maintaining my pace. Needless to say, it rattled me and threw me off for the entire test.”

There are a lot of upset, frustrated GMAT takers creating noise about this issue. Who knows, maybe they will change their policy if the noise is loud enough.

In the meantime, however, here is a suggestion: practice taking the test with the dry erase boards. You can purchase them at stores such as Office Depot. They sell GoWrite!â„¢ Easel Pad With Dry-Erase Sheets. While this does seem like an inconvenience, in this case I believe that fully preparing and replicating the true test environment may indeed require learning how to use a new pen and paper.

Your Waitlist Plan of Attack

While the waitlist may mean additional agony, it is usually an opportunity to further market yourself to the admissions committee. It is important to “follow the rules”, so make sure you understand your school’s waitlist …

While the waitlist may mean additional agony, it is usually an opportunity to further market yourself to the admissions committee. It is important to “follow the rules”, so make sure you understand your school’s waitlist policy. Some schools ask that you refrain from submitting additional materials, but most schools not only allow, but encourage, updates and additional information.

If additional materials are encouraged, what is appropriate? While each case is unique, the following is a list of things to consider:
1) Is your GMAT score below the school’s average? If so, consider retaking the exam.
2) Did you make any contacts within the admissions commitee? Now is the right time to reach out to these individuals and ask how you can improve your file or fill in any blanks.
3) Reiterate your interest in and commitment to the school through written communication.
4) Do you have someone who could write a recommendation and provide a new perspective on your abilities and personality?
5) If you have any changes to report related to personal or professional experiences, write a letter outlining these updates.
6) If you have not yet interviewed and an interview is offered, seize the opportunity!

Again, every school has a slightly different policy, and each individual situation is unique. For help on your personal waitlist strategy, contact us at info@stacyblackman.com.

Waitlist Agony

When you receive a waitlist notification, you are not quite sure how to feel. It is not an acceptance…and yet there is still hope. You are in agony – the waiting continues. The first thing …

When you receive a waitlist notification, you are not quite sure how to feel. It is not an acceptance…and yet there is still hope. You are in agony – the waiting continues.

The first thing to do when you are waitlisted is congratulate yourself. While it probably is not the answer that you were hoping for, you should know that far more people are denied admission than placed on the waitlist. If you are waitlisted, you are still in the running, and your application has passed an important hurdle.

The waitlist has a lot of unknowns associated with it, even for the admissions committees. Until they know how many applicants will accept their invitations and until they start to understand the makeup of the class, they really do not know how many people will be admitted from the waitlist and who those people will be. In most cases, the waitlist is not technically ranked. Again, the admissions committee is looking at the class composition and trying to make sure that it is a well rounded group. As their class begins to take shape, they can make more waitlist decisions.

While hoping may mean continued agony, a good number of individuals are admitted from the waitlist, so do not give up hope, and try to consider this a positive outcome, at least for the time being.

Common Interview Questions

The interview is the most unpredictable portion of the application process. While it is important to prepare, it is virtually impossible to predict what you will be asked. Every interviewer is different and even the …

The interview is the most unpredictable portion of the application process. While it is important to prepare, it is virtually impossible to predict what you will be asked. Every interviewer is different and even the same person may differ depending on “mood” that day. That said, all you can do is your best, and there is a set of questions that you absolutely must be prepared for.

Make sure that you have outlined answers for the following questions and that you practice out loud:
“Why do you want to go to business school?”
“Why do you want to go now?”
“What are your career goals?”
“Why do you want to attend our program?”
“Walk me through your resume.”
“Name three personal strengths and weaknesses.”

Beyond that, you should have a handful of personal stories prepared. The questions should be flexible enough to serve as examples for a range of questions about teamwork, leadership, creativity, failure, facing challenges and more. If you have this group of stories prepared and ready, you can access them as needed to answer any unpredictable situational questions that arise.

To learn more about interview formats for particular schools, feel free to contact us for interview prep services at info@stacyblackman.com.

STAR

When I was at Kellogg going through on campus recruiting for my summer internship, I learned about an interview technique called the STAR method. I consider it to be one of the most useful frameworks …

When I was at Kellogg going through on campus recruiting for my summer internship, I learned about an interview technique called the STAR method. I consider it to be one of the most useful frameworks for effectively answering interview questions and pass it on to all of my clients.

The STAR technique can be applied when asked “situational” questions.
“Tell me about a time you…”
“Tell me about a time you failed.”
“Tell me about a time you came up with an innovative solution.”
“Tell me about a time you managed a difficult project.”
“Tell me about a time you led a team.”

STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result.
The power of the STAR method is that it allows you to formulate a very complete answer, but keeps your answer organized and keeps you from rambling on and on…a common occurence in interviews.

For example:
Situation – “Product A was losing market share to a new competitor.”
Task – “I needed to create a plan to regain our lost share.”
Action – “I led a team to implement tactics A, B and C.”
Result – “We regained lost share, plus 10%”
And then you stop.

Often, the interviewer will probe further, asking for very specific details related to your story, so you need to be prepared. But just start with the basic elements of your story – STAR will help you get there.