Category Archives: Application Tips

Juice Up MBA Recommendations With Alumni, VIPs

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com In addition to essays, letters of recommendation are one of the most influential components of your business school application. These letters give the …

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

In addition to essays, letters of recommendation are one of the most influential components of your business school application. These letters give the admissions committee a greater understanding of the person beyond the data points and resume.

There’s a potential drawback, though. Because your recommendations are written by others, you have a lot less control over them. That’s why you need to make the most of your recommendations by choosing your recommenders wisely and preparing them thoroughly.

[Get tips on how to coach your MBA recommenders.]

The key factors in choosing a recommender are selecting someone who is enthusiastic and well acquainted with your work, and who has the time to focus on your recommendation. Typically, you want to choose your immediate supervisor along with someone else who knows you professionally, perhaps from a different angle than that of your immediate supervisor.

If you need to supply a third letter, it’s helpful to select a person who knows you outside of work and can speak to your leadership capacity or unique personal attributes. When your recommenders discuss your qualifications, they should also talk about how well you will fit in with your future students and the school community. A persuasive letter gives the application reader a sense of the potential the recommender sees in you.

While it’s tempting to choose someone with an impressive title, you have to tread carefully with VIPs. If the VIP has a true connection – perhaps a direct line in to a decision-maker at a school – he or she can make a call for you, but that’s the VIP’s relationship to manage. It can be annoying to have too many people bugging the admissions committee, so pay attention to the policies of the school and follow those rules.

[Learn what it takes to sell yourself in MBA admissions.]

Having a bigwig write a formal recommendation for you will backfire if that person doesn’t really know you. It defeats the purpose of the letter because it doesn’t give the schools the observational perspective they’re looking for.

We had one client, Guillaume, who worked with a French investment bank and sought a recommendation from a high-level executive who was also a graduate of a top-tier MBA program, thinking the executive’s impressive title would lend the recommendation weight. What Guillaume had overlooked was that his work was several levels below this executive and their contact was relatively minimal.

When his consultant read the recommendation, she saw a generally positive tone hampered by generic language and a lack of tangible details. This type of letter might tell the reader that Guillaume would be a good hire at a similar company, but it didn’t provide the personal connection needed to catch the attention of the admissions committee.

[Check out three ways to stand out as a b-school applicant.]

On the other hand, if the person who knows you well and is in a position to write a letter on your behalf is an alum, fantastic! In general, alumni recommenders from top schools are well regarded by competitive schools.

Some schools have special email accounts for alums to write letters of recommendation for applicants, so find out if your target MBA program has one. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s unique to have an alumni lobby for you. Many applicants have one these days.

All in all, it can help your application to have these types of letters or calls, but it can also hurt if not managed responsibly – and if there is an overload. If you choose wisely and coach your recommenders successfully, you can feel confident that this part of your MBA application is as strong as possible.

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Adhering to Word Count

As my clients crank out their initial essay drafts, many of them contact me a bit upset over the word limits imposed on them. They insist that they are not even halfway finished, but have …

As my clients crank out their initial essay drafts, many of them contact me a bit upset over the word limits imposed on them. They insist that they are not even halfway finished, but have completely run out of words. “It’s just not possible to describe my three most substantial experiences in only 600 words!”

My advice is to forget about word count and just write the essay. Focus on getting your content together and making sure that it is very strong. Once your content is there, you would be surprised at how easy it is to cut words. Most of us tend to be extremely verbose. You can frequently keep every important point, but just articulate with far fewer words.

You also may be forced to consider which pieces of your story are truly pertinent to answering the question. You would be surprised at how easy it is to start telling your story and ramble off of topic. Carefully examine each piece of your essay and make sure that it is really, truly relevant, as opposed to miscellaneous background information.

Finally, do you really have to strictly adhere to word count limits? The general rule of thumb is to stay within 10%. Don’t worry if you go a bit over, but much more than that and you are simply not following directions.

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How to Fight MBA Application Procrastination

In our blog, we provide news, tips and tools to help you navigate the MBA admissions process. Despite the volume of information that gets printed every week, we do not regularly address the fact that …

In our blog, we provide news, tips and tools to help you navigate the MBA admissions process. Despite the volume of information that gets printed every week, we do not regularly address the fact that many applicants face a set of challenges that are very different from GPA, GMAT and resume.

I want to help applicants work through the road blocks to success that may include self-doubt, anxiety, procrastination, and generally feeling overwhelmed by this process. With this dose of “Vitamin MBA,” I hope to help you to overcome these challenges so that you can put your other resources to work and truly excel on your applications.

If you want to be successful, a good place to look for advice is with other successful people. I once learned Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity secrets that helped him as a young comic in need of great jokes.  His advice goes something like this:

1)  buy a big wall calendar and a magic marker
2)  for each day that you accomplish your task (his was writing jokes), put an X over the day
3)  after a few days you create a chain of X’s, and you will be inspired to keep the chain alive
4)  DON’T BREAK THE CHAIN!

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

I think this is very helpful advice for those applying to business school.  Many people procrastinate like crazy and set themselves up for failure by targeting one weekend where they will work around the clock on applications.  I have found that slow and steady is a much better way to go.  Sure, you might have your marathon essay sessions.  But on a day where you are working late, just be sure to spend 30 minutes before bed brainstorming, outlining or revising your resume.

Every little bit helps and the consistency will help to keep this very important goal alive.  Daily action can also help to eliminate the anxiety that grows when you push things to the future and put a lot of pressure on what you can accomplish in one specific day.

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Tips for Waitlisted MBA Applicants

Finding yourself on the waitlist at your dream b-school definitely comes with a mixed bag of emotions. While it’s disappointing not to have a definitive yes, you’re still in the running and should take some …

Finding yourself on the waitlist at your dream b-school definitely comes with a mixed bag of emotions. While it’s disappointing not to have a definitive yes, you’re still in the running and should take some comfort in knowing that you’ve passed an important hurdle with the admissions committee.

As their classes begin to take shape, admissions committees will return to the waitlist and admit a fair number from this group. Meanwhile, there are a few things you can try to increase your chances of moving off the waitlist.

Each school is different, so find out what your target school expects from applicants. Some schools only want to hear whether you want to remain on the waitlist or be released. If this is the case, don’t try to send more information or pester the admissions committee about their reasoning because you’ll only be shooting yourself in the foot if you do.

However, if the school is open to receiving more information from waitlisted candidates, think hard about what concrete information you can provide that might sway them in your favor. Are they open to receiving just an update letter? Are they willing to read an additional letter of recommendation? Do they want regular updates? You want to do as much as you can without disregarding their requests or overloading their staff. Above all remember that you are still in the game!

If you’ve been promoted or taken on more responsibilities at work, improved your GMAT score, deepened your volunteering commitments, or had a new, meaningful travel experience, be sure to share it and include why these updates make you a better candidate, and therefore student, who would further enrich their program.

The waitlist is a frustrating stage, but you really should see it as a sign that your application is strong, and you may be fortunate enough to receive final admission from your chosen school.

For a first-hand account of how our client Max successfully managed his waitlist experience and ended up at Harvard Business School, read this SBC client case study.

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Get Ready for MBA Application Videos

In an era where MBA applicants often come across as overly packaged and polished, the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management decided to shake things up last year by introducing a video component to …

In an era where MBA applicants often come across as overly packaged and polished, the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management decided to shake things up last year by introducing a video component to the application in an effort to see the unscripted side of candidates.

Until now, schools only had face time with the applicants they interviewed. Video technology allows every MBA hopeful a chance to add some color to the rest of his or her application and show the admissions committee the person behind the resume, recommendation letters and essays.

(continue reading this post on Stacy’s US News MBA Admissions: Strictly Business Blog)

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HBS Students Offer Interview Tips

When Harvard Business School sent out Round 1 interview invitations last week, the Harbus’s general manager La Keisha Landrum posted an article that afternoon letting those lucky recipients in on some of the secrets of …

Harvard interview tips

When Harvard Business School sent out Round 1 interview invitations last week, the Harbus’s general manager La Keisha Landrum posted an article that afternoon letting those lucky recipients in on some of the secrets of a successful admissions interview.

Here are the key takeaways from current HBS students that Landrum shares to inform your own interview preparation:

“Know your application inside and out. Sounds simple, but review it. Know your story and practice explaining key achievements that you mention  in your resume or essays.”

“To practice, I did 6 simulated interviews with HBS students that proved invaluable in my preparation.”

“Prepare three or four good stories (which could be adapted to answer practically any question), then record yourself on iSight answering 20 minutes of questions. Watch to assess your body language, tone.”

“Know your resume cold. Know your essay(s) cold.”

“If you were reading your application, what questions would you have for yourself? Those are probably the questions you’ll get on interview day.”

“As you think about your strategy for answering interview questions, it’s a good idea to rehearse your answers, but do not memorize them! That will come off as inauthentic and can really hurt your chances.”

“HBS students are expected to be able to think on their feet in the case method. The interview screens for that.”

“You will be asked a lot of questions—often in rapid fire fashion. But don’t forget to get your own message across.”

“ What do you want to convey to your interviewer? Find a way to get your points across in your answers.”

“When preparing for your interview, practice being succinct in your answers. HBS is looking for articulate students who can make convincing statements or arguments without going on and on forever.”

“ Remember, it’s only a thirty-minute session, so your interviewer will get frustrated if you are taking up too much air time.”

As you prepare for your interview, one of the most important tips to remember is to sound natural—not scripted—during the exchange.  Instead of trying to remember and include every last one of your memorized bullet points, focus on succinctly answering only the question at hand.

If you can get from point A to point B in a clear, logical way; maintain an open, friendly, and professional demeanor; dress appropriately; and have an inquisitive attitude about the school and all it has to offer students, you stand a very good chance of coming out of the interview with flying colors.

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Stacy Blackman Consulting offers two valuable eBooks which may help you on your journey to Harvard Business School. Please check out our:

Harvard Business School Admitted Student Profile and Harvard Business School Interview Guide.

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