Tag Archives: Leadership
April 20, 2017
Every spring, many prospective MBA applicants start seriously considering whether this is the year to apply for business school. Before deciding what type of program you will attend, selecting your school, and determining your application strategy, you need to make the crucial decision of whether an MBA is the right next step for your life and career. Think about the reasons why you want an MBA, and what your alternatives are.
Reasons for Pursuing an MBA
Are you seeking an MBA for career advancement, personal development, or a career switch? While your MBA could be a transformational experience changing everything about your life, it’s more typically a tool to polish existing skills, build your network or expose you to new industries.
1. You’ve learned as much as you can in your current role and crave something more. If you find yourself stagnating in your present role or that you’ve plateaued in your job and there’s no room for upward mobility, an MBA can help you navigate and leverage your next career step. The business school experience will show you how to integrate your skills, passions and goals against the backdrop of current global market conditions.
2. You have a new professional goal. Ask yourself what you plan to accomplish after your MBA. If you know what your long-term goal is, that’s a great way to start. What do you need to know to accomplish that goal? How does your resume need to look? What skills do you need to build? And who do you need to know? Think about the aspects of that future that will be developed through your MBA and your short-term post MBA career.
If you are not someone with a clear long-term goal, critically consider what you think the MBA will do for you. Business school offers clear skill building in teamwork, leadership and practical skills like accounting and finance. There is also a strong professional network you will build with classmates and alumni.
3. You need the degree to move up the ladder. If you are seeking advancement in a career where an MBA is valued, it may be an important next step. If you are simply looking for a larger salary or a change of pace, make sure that an MBA is the right professional degree for you to pursue. Applying for business school is an expensive and time consuming activity, and that’s before you even start school! Dedication and passion for the path you are embarking upon are crucial.
4. You’re missing key skills that an MBA program can provide. Business school provides a safe space to experiment and hone those skills in a variety of situations. For applicants with strong technical expertise but who are light on general management skills or anyone looking to bridge the gap between the liberal arts and business, an MBA will catapult you to the next level.
5. You want to significantly expand your professional network. Your alumni network helps you stay connected to the university and to countless professional opportunities beyond graduation. While the quality of the education at the most elite programs is guaranteed across the board, when you’re spending two years of your life and paying more than $100K, keep in mind the network of contacts you build during your MBA experience truly is priceless.
Having a Plan B
While considering your reasons for pursuing an MBA, it will be useful to consider a common b-school interview question: “What will you do if you are not admitted this year?”
Sometimes the answer to the “Plan B” question can be revealing. If you think that you would give up your pursuit of an MBA and either return to a prior career path or pursue a completely different goal, it may not be time for you to dedicate this spring and summer to applying to MBA programs.
When you consider plan B and you find yourself answering that you will spend the year preparing to reapply and continuing to develop yourself for your future career, you are likely a dedicated prospective MBA. If you were not admitted, you might find yourself thinking that you would volunteer more, and build your knowledge and skill set in your chosen career path.
Once you have decided to pursue an MBA, the next steps are to consider your school options, develop your strategy and refine your goals as you plan for beginning your essays in a few months.
Photo credit: Eric at Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)
March 28, 2017
This is the age-old question in MBA admissions, and one every applicant wishes they had the inside scoop on. BusinessInsider recently ran two articles attempting to answer multiple facets of this very question, and I shared …
This is the age-old question in MBA admissions, and one every applicant wishes they had the inside scoop on. BusinessInsider recently ran two articles attempting to answer multiple facets of this very question, and I shared my thoughts with them based on SBC’s more than 15 years of experience in MBA admissions.
For instance, one often overlooked way for candidates to improve their application is by paying much closer attention to how they manage their MBA recommenders. A lot of people think they can just hand off their recommendations and off you go, but you really need to manage that process – that’s part of management, which is the type of school they’re applying to.
Educating your recommender and letting them know your strategy and reminding them accomplishments and things you’ve done that back up your branding themes of your application is really important!
Don’t expect your recommenders to remember every great thing you’ve done, and definitely don’t leave this process to chance. If you haven’t yet done so explicitly, remind them of the strengths you would like the letter to vouch for – such as leadership skills, teamwork, passion – as well as anecdotes that support those characteristics.
In fact, proven leadership is another non-negotiable when it comes to applying at the top business schools. Candidates need to show how they went a step farther than the expected to actively lead and attract other members to their groups.
At Stacy Blackman Consulting, we do a lot of thinking about leadership – what is leadership, how best to showcase it, why it matters, and more. After all these schools are grooming overall leaders, not just number-crunchers, marketers or statisticians.
The admissions team also wants to see a wide array of experiences, so that means applicants should demonstrate their leadership qualities in whatever drives their passions, whether that be in their friendships, in the classroom, or in their athletic endeavors.
If you’d like to learn more, just follow the links above to read the articles in BusinessInsider.
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Image credit: inertia NC (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
December 20, 2016
At Stacy Blackman Consulting, we do a lot of thinking about leadership – what is leadership, how best to showcase it, why it matters, and more. If asked what is the single most important quality for business school applications, I would say leadership. While some schools emphasize it more than others, leadership is extremely important to every school. They are grooming overall leaders, not just number-crunchers, marketers or statisticians.
When faced with any iteration of the leadership question on their MBA essays, many applicants freak out because they imagine they’ve got to come up with an example that is basically their greatest life or professional achievement. But just because you achieved something outstanding does not always mean leadership skills were involved, especially if you did most or all of the work. Also, leadership often gets confused with management, but being a great leader is not just about managing something, although that can be a part of it. It’s about leaving a footprint on whatever situation you’re in and doing more than a good job.
Remember, leadership is never a solo effort. One of the central tenets of leadership essays is showing that you can galvanize the actions of other people. You bring out their passions. You educate them. You help them see organizational priorities in new ways. And then they share in the achievement. You’re inspiring others and bringing out the best in them. These two points are critical and help to explain how leadership differs from just any great achievement.
The most impacting leadership essays will have heroes other than yourself. If you helped Henry in accounts receivable realize his full potential on a project you led, showcase him as a hero in your leadership tale. In the best of all worlds, people create a good balance between these types of essays at the beginning of their application process, even before they start writing. However the good news is that, in many instances, you can still adjust your application fairly late in the process to achieve the appropriate balance between individual achievement and leadership.
Adding in a few sentences here and there about enabling others, or educating and defining priorities for group endeavors, will go a long way toward rounding out your profile. What kind of experiences will make the best tales of leadership? Think about challenges where the following came into play:
- Identifying/defining a problem
- Resisting conventional approaches; challenging status quo
- Marshaling resources to address problem
- Motivating others
- Making good use of others’ talents
- Being open to new information, input, etc.
- Building consensus with appropriate stakeholders
- Guiding strong mid-course corrections; overcoming mistakes
- Building on success
Keep in mind, leadership is not just about the titles. Some candidates try to build their leadership essays around the fact that they were selected for or elected to certain positions where they had a high level of authority and responsibility: editor-in-chief of a college paper, fraternity president, captain of the hockey team, director of product development, V.P. of marketing, etc. Collecting impressive titles does not make someone a great leader—helping a team overcome great challenges does.
Don’t get hung up on coming up with wildly impressive situations, even if you’re applying to the most elite MBA program in the world. You can solve smaller problems and still show leadership potential. I remember one candidate who was applying to business school with just six months of work experience under her belt. As a result, she had few obvious leadership examples, but she had taken it upon herself to overhaul an Excel spreadsheet for the investment bank where she worked.
To do this, she had to state the problem, come up with a solution, and sell others, including supervisors, on her idea. Her improved spreadsheet—containing market information including Treasury rates—saved time, became a great internal resource, and helped the bank communicate better with clients. Taking the initiative to change this spreadsheet was what she wrote about in her application.
You can also look to your extracurricular activities to show leadership without clear career progression. Starting a club, organization, or charitable group works, too. If you have been involved in an activity as a member, think about taking on a leadership role. This is your opportunity to demonstrate that you can run a project and motivate a team.
One of my clients launched an English club in his native China because he needed to improve his language skills for business school and thought his neighbors might benefit, too. The club grew, and he made his mark in the community, which was something he could point out to admissions committees. He showed he could inspire and motivate others, organize a group, and learn a new language to boot. The applicant ultimately was accepted at Harvard Business School.
When it comes to evaluating your application, members of the MBA admissions committee believe your past leadership achievements are the best gauge of your potential for realizing your future ambitions. You can’t go wrong if you use your essays to show how you’ve worked to inspire others and bring out the best in them.
December 13, 2016
If you’re thinking of submitting a standard resume along with your MBA application, you’re missing an important opportunity to sell your candidacy to the admissions committee. Like a traditional CV, the purpose of the MBA …
If you’re thinking of submitting a standard resume along with your MBA application, you’re missing an important opportunity to sell your candidacy to the admissions committee. Like a traditional CV, the purpose of the MBA resume is to make a good first impression and persuade the reviewer to take a closer look at you. However, the reader of your MBA resume will be different than the person hiring you for an investment banking job or an engineering position.
Rework your resume so that it functions more as a narrative about your career and outside interests—not a dry list of responsibilities and achievements. The MBA resume should focus heavily on MBA skills and traits such as leadership, teamwork and international work experience. Some admissions officers consider your resume just as important as the MBA essays, so the extra work you put into it could make the difference between a ding and an interview offer.
#1: Shows Career Progression
Illustrate career progression by highlighting promotions or showing how skills were cultivated after switching to a new job. For example, if you have worked for the same company for five years but were promoted twice, you should highlight all three job titles, with separate dates of employment and separate descriptions. The descriptions should reflect your increasing levels of responsibility.
Applicants who have been in the workforce for a number of years, possibly at various companies, may need to be selective in detailing professional progress. When deciding which experiences to include and which to ax, ask yourself if the work was meaningful and if it can be used to illustrate a specific skill set or important accomplishment. Consider if it supports your career path as well as your future goals, and include it only if it makes sense for your overall story.
Demonstrate that over the course of your career, you have picked up new skills, assumed new responsibilities and developed as an individual. Emphasize that this growth has been recognized by others.
#2: Provides Leadership Examples
Although you’ll further hone your management abilities during an MBA program, the admissions committee wants to know that a foundation of strong leadership skills is already in place. Show when you united people behind a common goal, made use of other’s talents and skills, instilled a vision, challenged the status quo, identified a new problem or prioritized the needs of the organization above personal needs.
It’s important to note if you manage one or more people. Even if you informally supervise and mentor someone, it’s worth including on the resume. Mention if you’ve taken a lead in recruiting, as it means you’re acting as the face of your company. This demonstrates that leaders at your company respect you and trust that you will represent them well. Remember, your resume is a tool to tell your story, so keep your resume focused on the experiences that highlight the story of you as a leader.
#3: Quantifies Results
It’s great to describe your responsibilities, but don’t miss the chance to quantify your results whenever possible. Managing a staff is interesting, but the fact that you managed a staff of over 30 employees and improved profitability by 25%, is something a reader can understand. By giving the reader a number, you give them the chance to see just what kind of leader you were, and will be.
Business school applicants often find it helpful to bullet point their accomplishments using the STAR method, which stands for situation, task, action and result. For each employment position listed on your resume, think of a project, initiative or transaction where you made a meaningful contribution. Then describe the situation, your task, the actions you undertook and the results.
#4: Avoids Industry Jargon or Acronyms
Never assume the admissions committee member reviewing your application is intimately familiar with your particular industry. Write for a lay audience, and avoid flowery or stuffy language – use familiar words instead. You do want to provide a snapshot of your functional skills, but the admissions committee will be more interested in the fact that you led a cross-functional team to develop a new version of your product than the fact that you coded in three computer languages to develop the new version.
To appeal to an MBA audience, an applicant must think beyond technical tasks. He or she must identify what lies behind those tasks that might reveal an effective business leader. Rephrase your accomplishments so that anyone could understand them. With hundreds of applications on their desks, the admissions staff has only a few minutes to review each resume. It should be immediately digestible.
#5: Looks Clean and Polished
Imagine someone scanning an MBA application resume for the first time on the 30-second walk down the hall to the interview. That person should be able to get a clear picture of the candidate – and that quickly.
Appearances matter when it comes to a winning MBA resume, so be sure to adhere to proper margins, spacing, and accepted fonts. Some applicants try to squeeze it all in by reducing font and eliminating margins. This is a good way to ensure that your resume is not reviewed, as no one wants to go blind scrutinizing resume number 207 of the day. Some business schools specify formatting requirements; if so, do not deviate from the requested format.
Since admissions committees and alumni interviewers look for people who others will enjoy being around both inside and outside of class, it’s also a great idea to include at least some brief mention of your interests and hobbies at the bottom of the document. A lot of times it’s this information that interviewers use to break the ice when they first meet you.
Never underestimate the power of a well-executed resume. Use this opportunity to create a powerful first impression on the admissions committee and show why you’d be an asset to their program, and, fingers crossed, your future MBA interviewer.
October 21, 2016
If you’re applying to business schools this year, the process of pulling your materials together will consume much of your life in the coming months. Of particular focus will be planning how to best position …
If you’re applying to business schools this year, the process of pulling your materials together will consume much of your life in the coming months. Of particular focus will be planning how to best position yourself. If you’ve taken on leadership roles in volunteer organizations or have actively engaged with a nonprofit you’re passionate about, you’ll want to be sure you play up that angle in your materials.
A recent post to The MBA Insider’s Blog published by the admissions team at UCLA Anderson School of Management explained precisely why leadership and extracurricular activities are such an important part of their evaluation process.
“Your past is a good predictor for how involved you will be on Anderson’s student-run campus,” writes ad comm member Satiya Witzer. “Recruiters and employers also see your leadership in college, prior companies and Anderson as signs of your leadership interest and potential in their organizations.”
Admissions committees understand that for some applicants, it’s extremely hard to have meaningful involvement in an organization outside of work. This is often the case for those whose jobs constantly keep them on the road, or whose typical workday doesn’t even afford them the opportunity for a full night’s sleep.
But extracurriculars are vital to your application for several reasons. First, they show admissions officials that you are multi-dimensional. They demonstrate your interests, passions, and personality, which helps the committees get to know you beyond your professional goals. Extracurriculars also indicate how you might contribute to the diversity and vitality of a class and alumni network.
Having interests outside of work shows that you can balance multiple commitments, and that you are the type of person who is capable of juggling academics with clubs, conferences, recruiting, and more.
Witzer lists a variety of activities to help jog your memory of valuable experiences that make great examples of leadership for your MBA application:
- College athletics: Team captain? Most Valuable Player? Operations manager?
- Leadership role in a campus club, non-profit organization, sorority or fraternity
- Writer or Editor of a campus publication
- Mentor for high school students
- Orientation leader or campus tour guide
- Volunteer missions
- Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC)
- Case competitions
- Peer tutor
- Leadership role in an alumni association
- Continued involvement/role in non-profits or professional organizations
- Workplace engagement teams
- Volunteer team leader
- Public speaking or teaching roles
- Active role in political organizations or local campaigns
- Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) role
Your extracurriculars can show admissions officials that you understand your own role as a leader and your ability to leverage your position and give back. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate qualities such as creativity, leadership, teamwork, communication skills, and initiative. These qualities are important outside of a professional setting, as well as at work.
Keep in mind that quality is far more important than quantity. Rattling off a list of 10 involvements will not help your admissions chances as much as something that truly reflects who you are and can showcase important interests and skills.
You may be surprised to find that these involvements will add a great deal to your life, which is exactly the point.
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Image credit: Premier of Ontario Photography (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
August 25, 2016
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. …
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.
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.
Then, 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)