Category Archives: Application Tips

What Burning Man and B-School Have in Common

As part of our month-long anniversary celebration, I’m highlighting some of my favorite blog posts from along the way that I think will really resonate with applicants who are gearing up for submission this fall.  …

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As part of our month-long anniversary celebration, I’m highlighting some of my favorite blog posts from along the way that I think will really resonate with applicants who are gearing up for submission this fall. 

Enjoy!

I’m devoting today’s post to Burning Man, the late-summer ritual that draws over 60,000 participants to the Black Rock Desert in Nevada every year.

For the uninitiated, here’s how Burning Man works: Each year, participants build an entire city from scratch and live in it for a week. People work together to build elaborate camps and villages—their themes and functions varying widely. You can find open mic lounges, yoga and meditation spaces, collaborative art installations and just about anything else imaginable.

While Burning Man is unique on many levels—it is the self-described “annual art event and temporary community based on radical self-expression and self-reliance in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada”—one of its most fascinating rules is that nothing can be bought or sold, with the exceptions of ice and coffee. No one receives any financial compensation for his or her efforts.

95598535_e4c4d53f1a_zThen, at the end of the week, all the camps are burned or completely dismantled. One of the rules of Burning Man is to leave the desert exactly as you found it.

On the surface, it would seem that there is very little overlap between the cultures of Burning Man and business school. The former’s participants are largely stereotyped as hippies and artists running off to escape the constraints of society for a week, while MBAs are seen as leaders of the types of industry and societal structures that Burning Man participants are trying to flee.

However, a closer look reveals that there is more in common between the two than one would think. In fact, aspiring MBAs can learn valuable lessons from the Burning Man community:

1. Self-sufficiency is key.

Because Burning Man has no vendors (there’s no money, remember?), attendees must make sure they come in with ample provisions for the week—food, water, gear and clothing—enough for 100- degree days and near-freezing nights. Participants must be prepared for anything.

Similarly, many MBA grads describe the time they spent in B-school as the two most intense years of their lives. Admissions committees are well aware of this. When reviewing applications, they will look for candidates whose stories demonstrate resiliency. They will also want to ensure that you have a realistic understanding of the drive and dedication it will take to succeed in their program.

2. Your leadership skills will be tested.

Time and again, aspiring MBAs tell me that one of the main reasons they want to get in is so they can improve and refine their leadership skills. Burning Man is nothing if not a week-long leadership intensive.

Consider this: How can you get people to work for you when you can’t offer them the usual forms of compensation like money and promotions? How can you get them to build something that will be completely dismantled at the end of the week?

The camps and projects that succeed at Burning Man have one thing in common: leaders who clearly express their vision and create a positive shared experience for their fellow participants.

3. Teamwork is key.

At the same time, it’s important to know when to step away from leading and become part of the team. That’s essential to the Burning Man experience, where the point isn’t simply to build your own structure but to participate in others’ camps and villages as well.

Understanding the importance of collaboration and teamwork is vital to growing and learning at B-school.  Make sure that your application contains examples of your ability to play both roles—leader and team member—effectively.

4. Creativity counts.

At Burning Man, people express their creativity through their appearance and by being problem solvers—for example, figuring out how to anchor installations against high desert winds. While you won’t have too many opportunities to wear tutus and animal costumes at B-school, you will be asked to apply creative thought to problems.

The admission committee will look for evidence in your essays and your interview responses that show you have a unique perspective that will add something new to the classroom.

5. Be an individual but participate in the collective.

Every year, Burning Man has a theme. Participants can interpret these themes however they like, and part of the fun is seeing the variety of installations and spaces that spring up according to themes like “Rites of Passage” and “American Dream.”

Like Burning Man, all MBA programs have their own unique culture. The key for your application is to speak to the individual attributes that make you a great candidate, conveys your understanding of the school’s culture and reveals how you will be a great fit there.

Image credits: Flickr users Bexx Brown-Spinelli (CC BY-ND 2.0) and Aaron Logan (CC BY 2.0)

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Weigh Being a Generalist, Specialist in Business School

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News. After the Great Recession hit in 2008, business schools started ramping up their menu of specializations to meet the demand of students eager …

generalist or specialist mba

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.

After the Great Recession hit in 2008, business schools started ramping up their menu of specializations to meet the demand of students eager to differentiate themselves as experts in a given area.

This expansion into concentrations has become a way for schools to innovate while they educate the next generation of business leaders. It has also become a way for them to distinguish their own MBA programs from other top business schools.

Unlike a master’s degree in finance or accounting or other specialty, an MBA is by definition a generalist program, which exposes students to many different disciplines – both hard disciplines like finance and soft like organizational behavior.

If you’re contemplating business school, think about whether you’d prefer a general management approach or one that offers majors or concentrations. Choosing to be a generalist or specialist at business school depends heavily on your end goals.

Advantages of being a generalist: Business schools want to fill their classes with students who will not only get hired after graduation but eventually run the firm.

Most applicants see business school as a way to grow as a leader and advance their career. The degree imparts a strong foundation of general business knowledge, allowing students to gain a greater understanding of how various departments operate.

Although students typically come to b-school with a clear career goal in mind for after graduation, an MBA program is actually an excellent time to explore a variety of subjects and experiences that may ultimately redirect your path. For long-term flexibility in the global marketplace, career-switchers need a breadth of courses to prepare them for the myriad management responsibilities they will encounter in whichever sector they end up.

The only potential drawback to a general MBA is that you may not acquire the depth of knowledge required for a particular position. However, that broader know-how and wider range of career opportunities that come from earning an MBA at a top program is almost always worth it.

Advantages of being a specialist: MBA specialization is a good move for individuals who know exactly what they want to do with their career and who want to build a stronger skill base in that area.

If you already know that you’re interested in an area like digital marketing, real estate, business analytics, social innovation, health care and so forth, then earning an MBA with a concentration can make you even more marketable. Recruiters like to see a strong focus on a particular field or functional area.

In today’s competitive job market, having that specialization on your resume, bolstered by a supporting internship or extracurricular activities, will help you stand out from the crowd. Students who specialize can also grow their niche network during the MBA program and then be ready to hit the ground running on day one.

Drawbacks of being a specialist: While specializing in a certain area of business is fine, know that it can be limiting.

One could even argue that you should just earn a degree in that specialty instead. Depending on the career path you have chosen after graduation, by specializing you could inadvertently pigeonhole yourself and narrow your job prospects, especially if you’re a career-changer.

A recent Harvard Business Review article detailed how Tulane Assistant Professor Jennifer Merluzzi and Columbia Business School Professor Damon Phillips studied the records of almost 400 students, who in 2008 and 2009 graduated from top U.S. MBA programs and then entered the investment banking field.

Among their findings, the researchers discovered that, “specialists were definitely penalized by the market. Not only were they less likely to receive multiple offers, but they were offered smaller signing bonuses. In some cases the specialists earned up to $48,000 less than their generalist peers.”

The classroom experience may also differ notably for specialists. Instead of classes with individuals who have multiple, diverse perspectives that enrich a traditional MBA experience, participants in the same specialization will likely have similar backgrounds and professional experiences from which to call on.

Ultimately, when you’re running a company, chances are you won’t be pulling together the financial models or balancing the books. Understanding those aspects is important, but you don’t need to be a master – ideally you will hire others to do the deep dive.

My friend and executive at a Fortune 100 company, who has thousands of employees reporting to him, once explained his role to me. He said, “I know what needs to be done and I get people to do it for me.”

Whether you choose to pursue a general or specialty MBA, pay close attention in all of your classes – even the areas you would plan to outsource when you have the budget.

Image credit: EIO on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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Tuesday Tips: The University of Texas at Austin McCombs 2017 MBA Essay Tips

University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business is a globally recognized MBA program, located in the center of technology and creativity that is Austin. Programs like McCombs can provide an especially strong regional …

mccombs school of businessUniversity of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business is a globally recognized MBA program, located in the center of technology and creativity that is Austin. Programs like McCombs can provide an especially strong regional network if you are currently in Texas or plan to settle in Texas after your MBA.

When approaching these essay questions think about the reasons you are pursuing an MBA, particularly at McCombs. Thorough school research will help you come up with specifics, by taking to current or former students, visiting campus, or attending admissions events.

Essay 1. The University of Texas at Austin values unique perspectives and cultivates a collaborative environment of distinct individual contributions. It is the first day of orientation. You are meeting your study group, comprised of five of your classmates from various backgrounds. Please introduce yourself to your new team, highlighting what drives you in your personal and professional life.

Select only one communication method that you would like to use for your response.
• Write an essay (250 words)
• Share a video introduction (one minute)

For an open-ended essay with a creative option (the video) it can be daunting to think of a topic. Rather than focusing on how you are going to communicate, start thinking about what you want to communicate to the McCombs admissions committee by introducing yourself to your new study group.

The best essays will dive deep into your motivations and aspirations, perhaps getting into your cultural background, formative moments in your life and friends, family and colleagues who have influenced you. To identify one or two key stories you may want to tell, think about those pivotal moments of change in your life.

For many people the transition from high school to college and from college to work led to personal change. Others had formative childhood experiences or experiences that led to shifts in perspective like travel or living outside your home country. Any one of these moments could be a good way to illustrate who you are and what motivates you.

Once you have identified the content of your essay you can decide how to present it. A video could give you the opportunity to add elements of emotion, such as humor, that are harder to convey in writing. A video also allows you to include graphics, photos or other visual elements. If your story fits better into a written narrative you may choose the written essay instead.

Essay 2. Based on your post-MBA goals and what drives you in your personal and professional life, why is the Texas MBA the ideal program for you and how do you plan to engage in our community? (500 words)

This essay is your opportunity to demonstrate strong fit with the Texas McCombs program. As part of your homework before starting this set of essays you have learned as much as possible about the school, now you can bring in your own aspirations and goals to describe what you plan to be part of.

Some of the unique opportunities at McCombs include the Venture Labs, supporting your entrepreneurial dreams, and The MBA+ Program, with opportunities to work with influential companies through a variety of touch points. Austin is another unique benefit to the program that you may want to discuss in the context of your background and goals.

For example, perhaps you are interested in working for a major technology firm to learn product manager skills that you will then take into starting your own business. While at McCombs you can test ideas with the Venture Labs, and also consult for major companies like Adobe or HP to learn how large companies work. These experiences will certainly give you an advantage as your build your post MBA career.

Don’t forget the personal – Texas McCombs has an active and engaged student culture with many student organizations you may be interested in joining.

Optional Statement: Please provide any additional information you believe is important and/or address any areas of concern that will be beneficial to the Admissions Committee in considering your application (e.g. unexplained gaps in work experience, choice of recommenders, academic performance, or extenuating personal circumstances). (250 words)

This optional essay provides space for you to add your own context to any information that may hinder your admission prospects. For example, if you have a lower than average test score, any grades below a C on your transcript, academic probation or a significant resume gap, you can explain here. Keep your explanation concise and factual, and focused on context for the issue rather than excuses.

Stacy Blackman Consulting can provide personalized, strategic guidance for your Texas McCombs MBA application. Contact us to learn more.

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Tuesday Tips: Michigan Ross Fall 2017 MBA Essay Tips

Michigan Ross is a program that emphasizes learning both inside and outside the classroom, and is seeking candidates that are intellectually curious and able to accomplish their goals. Ross is also a close-knit community and …

Michigan Ross MBA admissions

Michigan Ross is a program that emphasizes learning both inside and outside the classroom, and is seeking candidates that are intellectually curious and able to accomplish their goals.

Ross is also a close-knit community and fit with the program is important to demonstrate in the application process. Visiting Ross or learning about the program through current students, alumni or faculty would be helpful before starting this set of essays.

The Ross admissions blog is an excellent resource for tips to approach these essay questions, and gives you a window into what the admissions committee is looking for.

Essay One: What are you most proud of outside of your professional life? How does it shape who you are today? (up to 400 words)

Last year Ross permitted either a professional or personal example for this essay. This year, Ross Admissions Director Soojin Kwon explains: “The motivation for adding “outside of your professional life” (to Q1, which asks what you’re most proud of) was to get to glimpse into the personal side of you. We’ll already have your resume and rec letter to give us a sense of your professional life. Besides, would you want to read thousands of essays about the time someone was a project manager and completed the project on time and under budget? (I hope you said “no”). Me either. (I’m going to assume you said “no”).”

Some of the personal attributes most valued at Ross include community engagement and interpersonal, communication and teamwork skills. When you consider topics for this essay you may want to write about an important extracurricular moment, a challenge you overcame, or an event in your life that highlights something unique about your background.

For example, if you have a track record of club leadership through college and afterwards that can be compelling evidence of your community engagement and leadership skills. On the other end of the spectrum perhaps you have spent time outside your home country for school or work and that has shaped how you approach your life and decisions.

Take note that this essay is really about getting to know you as a person, not as a collection of accomplishments. Your values and personal life will ideally shine through, as you explain what is most important to you and why.

“Why” is a crucial part of this essay, along with how your values have impacted your life. Finally, make sure that your values, as expressed in this essay, are aligned with how you want to be perceived by the admissions committee.

Essay Two: What is your desired career path and why? (up to 250 words)

Michigan Ross is interested to hear what you plan to do after your MBA and what is motivating that decision. Both traditional and non-traditional MBA goals are welcomed as long as you are sincere about the path you plan to take.

This essay is straightforward and Ross is not looking for extra explanation. Ideally you can describe your career path in a sentence or two and use the remainder of the space to elaborate.

Answering “why” you chose your career path is crucial. As you describe your career path make sure you explain what has led you to pursue it, and why it resonates with you. The answer doesn’t need to be elaborate or dramatic, but it should be convincing and real.

The question doesn’t ask “Why MBA?” or “Why Ross?” but you may want to address both questions. If Ross has unique resources that will help you achieve your goal, this is a great place to describe how you will use them.

Optional Statement: This section should only be used to convey information not addressed elsewhere in your application, for example, completion of supplemental coursework, employment gaps, academic issues, etc. Feel free to use bullet points where appropriate.

Take it directly from the Ross admissions director: “The optional essay should only be used if there’s something in your background that requires a brief explanation. It’s not the place to submit an essay you wrote for another school, or to tell us how much you love Ross.”

Think about anything that may raise questions while reviewing a resume, transcript or recommendations. Typically the kinds of gaps that raise questions are significant gaps in employment (more than a few months), anything below a C on your college transcript (particularly in quantitative coursework) and low test scores.

Stacy Blackman Consulting has worked with successful candidates to Michigan Ross for over a decade and can offer comprehensive strategic advice every step of the way. Contact us to learn more.

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Confessions of an MBA Consultant: White Spaces

As part of our month-long anniversary celebration, I’m highlighting some of my favorite blog posts from along the way that I think will really resonate with applicants who are gearing up for submission this fall.  …

why

As part of our month-long anniversary celebration, I’m highlighting some of my favorite blog posts from along the way that I think will really resonate with applicants who are gearing up for submission this fall. 

Enjoy!

I’d rather listen to Celine Dion on a loop, I think to myself, knowing there has to be a torture less painful than listening to a business school applicant recite his resume line by line.   Getting to know a new client is ordinarily a pleasure, unless he or she drones on about “what” they’ve done rather than why.

“Minnesota,” says today’s candidate, Alan.   “Mendota Heights actually,” he explains. “It’s a suburb of…”

“Minneapolis,” I chime in.

“Right, Minneapolis. Then I went to Penn undergrad.”   He stops, bites his lip, then continues.   “Well, after a year at…” he says rushing and apologetic. “Then I went on to a mid-level firm in…”

Chicago, I guess to myself, without looking at his resume.

“San Francisco,” he says.   Same thing, I think.   “So?” he asks.

“So what?” I reply.

“So what are my chances of getting in to…?”

EVERYONE WANTS TO KNOW IF THEY CAN GET INTO THE SCHOOL OF THEIR DREAMS

“Harvard and Stanford,” I interject, knowing full well this kid isn’t planning on going home with an MBA from the University of Burbank.   In more than ten years as a B-school admissions adviser, I’ve been asked thousands and thousands of times some version of: “What Are My Chances? Am I Going To Get In? What’s It Going To Take?”

Much of the time, even top candidates like Alan are not going to get in. Not because they are unqualified or didn’t deliver when it comes to their GPA and GMATs, but because they are clinging to the notion that a perfect score will make them the perfect candidate. They believe they are “what” they’ve done, not why.  As Alan’s adviser, it’s my job to get him ready. That means it’s my job to tell him the truth.

BUYING A WINNING LOTTERY TICKET IS THE ONLY THING WITH WORSE ODDS

The truth is, the only thing with worse odds than admission to Harvard Business School is buying a winning lottery ticket. With the competition being so fierce, you have to be more than a resume.

Sitting in front of Alan, the banker from Minnesota, I know nothing more about him than when I didn’t know him at all. He didn’t need to take three airplanes to meet me only to tell me what I could find out on a Google search and neither does the dean of admissions of any graduate school.

We want to know who you are, not what you did. You’re not being asked to talk about yourself for any other reason than to help a school learn why you made the choices you did. What those choices were is hardly relevant.

THE REAL STORY IS NOT IN THE WHAT OR THE WHEN; IT’S IN THE WHYS

By skipping over the “why’s”: why did Alan leave his first choice university, why did he choose a West Coast firm instead of the more typical Manhattan bank, why B-School when it sounds like he’s already doing just fine, Alan relegated himself to being just a bunch of categories on a piece of paper: Background. Education. Work Experience.

But what about the transitions that got him from his education to his work experience? These transitions give a director of admissions insight into how you think, what kind of student you’ll be and, more importantly, what kind of impact you’ll have on the world of finance post B-school.

Again, I ask Alan the question he’ll get asked over and over by every interviewer: “Tell me a little bit about you.”   “Mendota Heights,” he repeats. “It’s a suburb outside of Minneapolis, but my parents wanted me to go to …”

I stop him.

FILLING IN THE WHITE SPACES

“Tell me about the white spaces,” I say.

“White spaces?”

“Yes,” I say. “Tell me about the white spaces on your resume,” repeat, as I take his resume, tear it up and throw it in the trash.   He smiles, finally understanding what I’m getting at.

AN MBA CANDIDATE COMES TO LIFE

By learning that Alan graduated at the top of his class from Minneapolis’ most prestigious private boy’s school as a son of one of the teachers, I get a picture of a hard driving outsider, determined to succeed. By learning that he left his first choice university because it was just too small for this small town native itching for more, I see a future leader willing to take risks.

And by choosing to get his work experience at a West Coast firm, I learn of Alan’s desire to think out of the box and not just “follow the pack.”   By telling me why, Alan becomes so much more than another set of scores on paper. He becomes a well-rounded candidate who stands out in a crowd.

It’s very rare that you’re going to have the highest GPA from the best university with the best GMAT score. And if you do, there’s probably going to be someone who rates as well, if not better “on paper.”

Like Alan, you are not just your resume. You are the white spaces in between.  You are the transitions that got you from A to B and that will get you from B to B-school.  So celebrate who you are, if you want an admissions director to do the same.

Photo credit: Eric at Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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