Category Archives: USC Marshall Advice

SBC Scoop – Challenging Resume Remedy

Work experience is a large aspect of any MBA application because past performance is often a good predictor of future achievement. May came to us as she started thinking about applying to MBA programs. In …

Work experience is a large aspect of any MBA application because past performance is often a good predictor of future achievement. May came to us as she started thinking about applying to MBA programs. In the first meeting we reviewed her resume and I needed to ask dozens of clarifying questions to understand her career path. Clearly, May needed our help creating a compelling and concise story for her MBA applications.

May had grown up living all over the world as her family followed her military father’s career from Japan to Germany to Washington, DC. As a result, May was incredibly skilled at adapting to new circumstances and built relationships easily. Other great aspects of her candidacy included a 700 GMAT score and a 3.4 GPA.

May’s resume was organized chronologically and demonstrated a vast array of interests. For example, I could see from May’s resume that she was involved in a sorority, starred in several student theater productions, was an officer in the Asian-American culture club and The Film Society, and was part of a fashion show project while she was in college. I also saw a college internship at Morgan Stanley.

Post college May’s resume displayed far less clarity. Her most recent experience was as an office manager at a gourmet food importing company. Before that she had worked in sales for a high-end jewelry brand. I saw that she had worked for two years after school in Los Angeles at a law firm, and had also starred in two pilot projects for television networks ”“ seemingly in the same time period. The overall picture was not clear in any way from the document May presented, and I was concerned her career goals might be as cloudy.

My clarifying questions helped me understand a bit more about May’s path. Her internship at Morgan Stanley had taught her a tremendous amount about banking and analysis, and also taught her she was not a good fit for the business. Through a connection she was able to audition for a pilot in Los Angeles, which led to a small part. Though the show wasn’t picked up, May was intrigued by Hollywood and wanted to take the time to try building an acting career. To support herself she took a job within a law firm. After two years as a struggling actor May knew she needed a change. A family friend ran the jewelry retailer, and May was offered a lucrative sales job. She enjoyed helping to build the business and was able to close several interesting deals with celebrities and wardrobe stylists based on her past connections. Ultimately May wanted to be more involved with running a business, and found an opportunity to manage the office and run a fledging business development group at a growing gourmet food importer.

Now May wanted to obtain an MBA from a school in California while she continued to work at the importer, with a goal towards ultimately taking over general management of a similar business or starting her own.

We started to unpack the common aspects of May’s background to strategize the best way to present her in her UCLA, USC, Berkeley-Columbia and UC-Irvine executive MBA applications.

During our discussion it was clear that May did an excellent job of building connections with people. Every single career opportunity post-college had been the result of a conversation with a friend or family member. As an actor, May had honed her skills as a relentless networker, and she brought these skills to the business development part of her current job. I could see the common thread of building and leveraging relationships in her entire resume. Then we needed to compose the story that showed how she had moved from acting to office managing. The challenge of her resume was that May had not only moved functions, she had moved across four separate industries. We parsed her experience down to key transferable skills: sales, communication, management and leadership. When we held this list up to each position, May was able to articulate the parts of each job that utilized those skills. She then composed the bullets of her resume to correspond. Finally, we worked on a summary paragraph at the top of her resume to tie the experiences together.

Most candidates don’t need to spend as much time on their resume as we did with May, but defining a clear strategy to explain her confusing background was the basis of several other aspects of May’s application. When we tackled her career goals essay and her interviews, May was prepared to communicate clearly and concisely about her key skills and talents.

The approach paid off, and May continued her education within the USC EMBA program.

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Tuesday Tips – USC MBA Essay Tips

The USC MBA program offers a southern California location and strong local reputation, a variety of programs and the resources of a large and prestigious university.  USC MBA’s program is flexible and innovative, offering many …

The USC MBA program offers a southern California location and strong local reputation, a variety of programs and the resources of a large and prestigious university.  USC MBA’s program is flexible and innovative, offering many joint degree programs and options for students to attend the program on a full or part-time basis.

Describe in a brief essay (do not exceed 250 words per section – 750 words maximum):
a) your post-MBA short-term goals (immediately after graduation)
Your short term goals should be a transition to your long term goals.
b) your post-MBA long-term goals (3-5 years after graduation)
c) how your professional experience, when combined with an MBA degree, will enable you to achieve these goals


This is a standard career goals essay along the lines of Wharton and Columbia. The major twist to this essay is that the USC MBA allocates specific space for each sub question, asking applicants to be brief and sure to answer each section.

Ideally this essay builds on itself, and you are able to discuss your short-term goals as a transition to your long-term goals, explain your long-term goals and then return to your background and how it has set the stage for your goals and your MBA degree. Though the USC MBA does not specifically ask why you want to attend Marshall, you should incorporate the reasons effectively within your short- and long-term goals discussion.

When discussing your career progress thus far focus on key focal points in your career that relate logically to your MBA and, ultimately, your goals.

2) Complete one of the following three statements. Do not exceed 250 words.
a) “My most significant accomplishment to date is”¦”
b) “People may be surprised to learn that I”¦”
c) “I am considered a leader because”¦”

If you choose to describe an accomplishment, think about the accomplishment you choose and what it says about your values and goals. Be sure to explain why this accomplishment is your most significant.

This USC MBA essay is an opportunity to choose the statement that fits best with your overall application strategy. You will have the opportunity to highlight the areas you most need to explain, whether your accomplishments, differentiating yourself, or describing your impact as a leader.

Option b) is clearly a way to tell the adcomm something about yourself that will set you apart from other applicants. If you are someone who has a standard career background and competition that may be similar, this is your opportunity to bring up something interesting or diverse in your background. Perhaps you have an unusual hobby, have made an impact on the community in a special way, or have an interesting family heritage.

Option c) is a great way to highlight your leadership skills. If you are someone who works as an individual contributor, or in a technical role, this is a great opportunity for you to tell a story that demonstrates that you lead in other informal ways. Think about how you may lead a group of peers, or lead in a community setting.

3) Answer two of the following questions. Do not exceed 500 words per question.
a) The USC MBA Prime Program prepares students for doing business in a global economy. Describe a cross-cultural experience that challenged you. How did you meet this challenge and what did you learn from this experience?
b) The USC MBA program has garnered national acclaim for its emphasis on community outreach and service. How have you impacted your community?
c) We all experience significant events or milestones that influence the course of our lives. Briefly describe such an event and how it affected you.

Think about how to answer the two remaining essay questions in the context of your overall application strategy. If you focused on a community service example in 2c, you may want to answer a) and c) in this case.

Choosing option a) is a great way to highlight any global experiences or perspective you have. Be sure to research the USC MBA Prime Program and be ready to explain why the program is appealing to you as part of the question. When you describe the experience that was a challenge, stay positive and clearly explain what you learned and why the experience was significant.

Essay choice b) is another opportunity to research the USC MBA while demonstrating your fit with the Marshall community and your own accomplishments in community service. When describing your community involvement focus on the impact you were able to make. An extra bonus would be to describe how you will make a similar impact at Marshall.  To learn more about the program you should visit the school, attend admissions events or interact with current or former students.

If you choose to answer c) remain positive and focus on the shift in perspective you may have experienced that has led to subsequent life choices. This is an ideal opportunity to show introspection and a point that may have led to greater maturity in your life.
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USC MBA Essay Tips

Describe in a brief essay (do not exceed 250 words per section – 750 words maximum): a) your post-MBA short-term goals (immediately after graduation) Your short term goals should be a transition to your long …

Describe in a brief essay (do not exceed 250 words per section – 750 words maximum):
a) your post-MBA short-term goals (immediately after graduation)
Your short term goals should be a transition to your long term goals.
b) your post-MBA long-term goals (3-5 years after graduation)
c) how your professional experience, when combined with an MBA degree, will enable you to achieve these goals

This is a fairly brief USC MBA essay. So be concrete, specific, and concise. At the same time, leave room for the purpose and meaning behind your goals. Though you should try to stick with 250 words per section, focus on answering all three questions within the overall word limit.

The short-term goals section is usually the shortest part of the essay. You could have a few paths that would lead you to your long term goals. Just explain why these options will help you transition from your MBA to your long term goals.

For the long-term goals, expand on beyond the simple statement of what you want to do. Explain the meaning behind these goals. Think broadly about yourself as a leader – what do you hope to change; how do you hope to impact the world. This could mean sharing a bit on how you came to these goals. Schools want to understand the WHY behind your decisions (past and future), so explain why these goals result in your making the impact that you are seeking to make on the world.

Finally, in articulating how your professional experience combined with MBA will prepare you, do not just give an extended version of the resume. Instead, try to draw out the skills and characteristics you’ve built. Keep the focus on your qualities that have developed and then discuss what you still need from business school to fill in the gaps, take you to the next level of leadership, etc.

2) Complete one of the following three statements. Do not exceed 250 words.
a) “My most significant accomplishment to date is”¦”

This is an excellent opportunity to present your values. This does not need to be a work accomplishment. Try to think about what is truly important to you in life. Be succinct but focus less on the details of the accomplishment and more on WHY you view this as an accomplishment.

b) “People may be surprised to learn that I”¦”
Here you have the opportunity to round out your application by discussing a surprising aspect of your background or mitigating a red flag. This essay can be humorous or poignant, just be real. Show the USC MBA your self-awareness, resiliency, and passion for living a well-rounded life.

c) “I am considered a leader because”¦”
Self-awareness is a hallmark of maturity. Give a genuine assessment of yourself and how others see you in a leadership context. Certainly you should articulate your strengths but don’t shy away from reflection on areas in which you hope to develop your skills.

3) Answer two of the following questions. Do not exceed 500 words per question.
a) The USC MBA Prime Program prepares students for doing business in a global economy. Describe a cross-cultural experience that challenged you. How did you meet this challenge and what did you learn from this experience?

With this essay you can show your critical thinking, sensitivity, and self-awareness. You want to provide a surprising experience when you found yourself out of your element and learned something about your assumptions. Show how you changed as a person by learning from others.

b) The USC MBA program has garnered national acclaim for its emphasis on community outreach and service. How have you impacted your community?
Quality of service is more important than quantity in answering this. They are not looking for a list of your activities but rather a thoughtful reflection on the impact you have made on others.

c) We all experience significant events or milestones that influence the course of our lives. Briefly describe such an event and how it affected you.
This is obviously a great chance to address an aspect of your personal background that may distinguish you. Remember to remain positive. Briefly state the event, then focus on your actions and the lessons learned.

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