Category Archives: Application Tips

Military MBA Applicants: It’s Not About You…Until Now

In the second of our new series of guest posts directed at military applicants, army veteran and Cornell MBA Peter Sukits shares candid, actionable advice for military veterans considering a transition to a full-time MBA program. …

In the second of our new series of guest posts directed at military applicants, army veteran and Cornell MBA Peter Sukits shares candid, actionable advice for military veterans considering a transition to a full-time MBA program.
Pete is an aspiring career coach, author and finance professional living in Cincinnati, Ohio. He served for five years as a commissioned officer in the United States Army, and deployed to Afghanistan in 2009. After separating from active duty, he earned an MBA from the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University.
Through the process of transitioning, he learned many valuable lessons in the areas of expectations, mindset and preparation when undertaking the shift from military to academic and civilian life. We look forward to sharing his advice with you here.

With service in any branch of the military comes several unwritten rules. Many of us former commissioned and noncommissioned officers especially, know this – it’s just part of the culture.

  • On a training exercise, you don’t eat until all your soldiers have eaten.
  • You give credit to your soldiers at all opportunity when you are praised for doing a good job.
  • You don’t talk about money. You don’t talk about medals. Period.

All of these rules have a common theme – it’s not about you and your accomplishments. It’s about the unit. It’s about the mission. It’s about your soldiers. In your evaluation reports, your main successes are predicated upon how your team accomplishes its mission. If the team fails, you fail.

Former Army officer and Rhodes Scholar, Craig Mullaney put it very succinctly in his book The Unforgiving Minute about his experience in Ranger School. It was stressed to him that he wasn’t there for an award or a career booster. The skills he was learning, and the experience he was going through was for the benefit of his future soldiers.

In the military realm, you’re rewarded for selflessness and ostracized for self-promotion.

advice for military mba applicants

Sukits in Afghanistan

In my humble opinion, this is one of the single most difficult concepts with which newly separated veterans must come to grips. Once you have made the decision to enter an MBA program, you’ve shed the weight of your subordinate unit off of your shoulders, and are focused on improving yourself and beginning a new career. To do that, it’s going to take a lot more than great academic performance and experiences to achieve your new goals.

You need to make sure people know about your great academic performance and experiences.

Maybe it’s because a career path in the military is structured and almost preset, or maybe it’s because everybody wears their “resume” on their uniform. For better or for worse, there is no need to sell yourself while serving. So naturally, this will be an area where at best you will need some practice, and at worst…an area that will make you cringe in your desert boots.

As I found out very quickly, the art form, or “soft skill”, of selling myself, which flies in the face of the environment I had just left, is essential for success in business school and the business world. You need to be able to communicate your experiences to your classmates, your recruiters, your interviewers, your mentors etc. Anyone that has a vested interest in seeing you succeed needs to know what makes you, you.

No, it’s not what your team did. It’s what you brought to the table personally that ensured mission success. For the first time in a long time, it’s about you.

Your opportunities to practice and implement this skill will come in many forms. Primarily, job and admissions interviews will require to literally trace your career for the past several years – that famous “walk me through your resume” question, among others. These will often be the “make or break” events that will secure you admission or the position.

Likewise, networking is key in your MBA journey (more specifics on that topic later). Often times, the people you are looking to connect with at a career event, at a cocktail reception or at a company visit, won’t know you at all and they will not have seen your resume. This is not to say that you need to blow your horn so loudly that security needs to escort you out. But they need to get a picture of what you’ve done and what your intentions are.

Where to start? It’s going to be uncomfortable at first. One of the best things that my colleagues and I have done is literally write down what you are going to say to someone. Write down your answers to interview questions. Write down how you’ll introduce yourself to a recruiter. Write down the words you will say to a 2nd year you’re looking to meet. Then, say it. Then, say it again. Practice with people. It’s going to sound awkward at first, but eventually you’ll get used to it. By the time the real thing comes around, you should be in a position where you’re able to effectively market yourself without coming across as rehearsed, and without feeling arrogant.

Tasks to Prospective Students:

  • Take every opportunity to interact with potential classmates. If you know any veterans that are already in business school or have gone, reach out to them for mentorship. They can help you navigate this challenge and coach you along.
  • Immerse yourself as much as you can in the culture of the school you’ll be attending (if you’ve decided on it). What is the reputation of the student body among companies? Learn how you can position yourself for success among your future classmates.
  • Take your Officer Evaluation Report (OER), or NCOER and rewrite out all the things you accomplished in your most recent rating period. You can also do this with your academic record. Even if it is just a simply list of statements. Frame the statements entirely in terms of what you have done, nobody else. Practice getting used to telling folks about this. The idea is to get comfortable in this frame of mind.

It’s about you now, and that’s a great thing, because you have a lot to bring to the table. All you need to do is embrace the new challenge.

Posted in Application Tips, General | Tagged , , , , ,

3 Reasons Future Entrepreneurs Need an MBA, and 1 Exception

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News. If you’re planning on launching your own company, you don’t need to go to business school, right? Many would-be entrepreneurs think that a …

entrepreneurs and the MBA

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

If you’re planning on launching your own company, you don’t need to go to business school, right? Many would-be entrepreneurs think that a brilliant idea alone will take them to the top, just as it did for the MBA-less Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

The reality, though, is that for every super successful entrepreneur who eschewed the MBA, there are scores more entrepreneurs with MBA degrees who have changed the world, such as Nike co-founder Phil Knight, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman or Warren Buffett, who grew Berkshire Hathaway from a textile manufacturing business into the world’s fourth-largest public company.

An MBA program can’t teach you to feel more comfortable with taking risks or to be more passionate about your idea, and it won’t give you a constant thirst for new projects – those are some of the innate qualities a successful entrepreneur has.

However, an MBA program can teach you how to turn a good idea into a good business. If you have startup fever, here are three reasons you should go to business school first and one time you may not need that MBA.

B-school is the best incubator for budding entrepreneurs. MBA programs have always prepared students to launch and manage their own businesses. But over the last decade, the number of courses, centers and contests dedicated exclusively to entrepreneurship has mushroomed.

Business school has become the safe place to test out your most creative, outrageous and ambitious ideas without the pressure and fear of failure if that company or those ideas don’t work. In fact, failure is just as valuable a learning tool as success, because it offers students the chance to find out what went wrong and refine their business models to nail it next time out in the real world, when the stakes are much higher.

You’ll have teachers and mentors guiding you along the way as you search for that big idea that will change lives. You’ll also see all sides of the entrepreneurial experience, find out what it’s like to collaborate to execute your vision and ultimately have a better understanding of whether entrepreneurship really is your calling.

B-school offers the best environment to build your team. Entrepreneurial success requires teamwork, strong business relationships and a network of classmates who can provide introductions or advise on various areas, as well as seasoned professors who can weigh in on business dilemmas as you build a plan. In fact, good relationships with your professors can translate into a lifelong pipeline of talent connecting graduates with current MBA students.

Even if – like the majority of applicants – you don’t plan on pursuing a joint MBA degree, you can still take advantage of interdisciplinary studies in other areas that interest you. As a part of the greater university community, top-tier business schools often offer MBA students the chance to take courses alongside students from other graduate programs.

For example, the Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business provides students with real-world entrepreneurial experiences through cross-campus initiatives and involvement with the business community. You might find someone outside of the MBA program who could become a valuable asset to your team down the line.

B-school will teach you how to run and grow a company – not just launch it. So many entrepreneurs have failed at getting their business idea off the ground precisely because they didn’t have some of the necessary tools in their arsenal that they would have learned at business school.

You have to be able to transition your idea into an actual business. It might be a startup, but you want it to grow – and last. More than many other business roles, an entrepreneur needs to know a little bit of everything. Even if you start a tech company, someone has to do the accounting, know how to market your product or service and act as a leader for the team.

If you choose a business school that relies heavily on the case method, you’ll likely learn from others’ successes and mistakes about growing too quickly. Also, those classes in human resource management, business law or venture capital financing could help you head off some thorny workplace issues later on.

Skip b-school altogether if you are in a rush to launch a company right now. Competition moves fast, especially in the tech industry. So if you already have your product or service fully developed, a crystal clear business plan, sufficient funding to sustain you and an awesome team in place and ready to execute—and if you think spending two years in a classroom might be an undesirable distraction—then it’s time to hit the ground running.

Image credit: inertia NC (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Posted in Application Tips | Tagged , , , ,

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.  …

9656769248_01dc24649b_z

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)

Posted in Application Tips | Tagged , , , , ,

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)

Posted in Application Tips | Tagged , , , , , ,