Tag Archives: MBA application

Showing Leadership in Your B-School Application

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 …

leadership in MBA applicationsAt 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.

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Tuesday Tips: Kelley School of Business at Indiana University 2017 Essay Tips

Kelley School of Business at Indiana University is a top-tier business school with an innovative program. From the moment you decide to attend Kelley you will be focusing on your career and leadership development. You’ll …

Kelley School MBA essay tipsKelley School of Business at Indiana University is a top-tier business school with an innovative program. From the moment you decide to attend Kelley you will be focusing on your career and leadership development.

You’ll receive personalized coaching, leadership training, and real-world industry projects within the first year of your MBA. Kelley’s program is unique and close-knit, so your fit with the program and your desire to participate fully will be important to the admissions committee.

Essay 1
Please discuss your immediate post-MBA professional goals. How will your professional experience, when combined with a Kelley MBA degree, allow you to achieve these goals? Should the short-term goals you have identified not materialize, what alternate career paths might you consider? (500 words)

Entering Kelley with a crystallized career vision and an idea of how you will accomplish your goals will help you take full advantage of the program. Kelley’s curriculum is tailored to help you reach your career goals.

For example, students can specialize almost immediately by choosing one of the first-year Academies in your industry area of focus. Think about these opportunities at Kelley when you answer this career goals question, and specifically how you see yourself using the tools available.

The second half of this question deals with your flexibility around your career goal and your ability to handle change. The business world changes constantly and your ability to recognize opportunity, even outside your anticipated career goals, will be crucial to success. Think about the core elements that are important to you in forming your career goals.

Perhaps you are passionate about a specific industry, but you could imagine pursing either a strategy role or a finance role in that industry. Or perhaps you love marketing and are more flexible about the industry where you practice your craft. Showing that you can capitalize on change and opportunity while staying true to your core values and interests will position you well in this set of essays.

Essay 2
Please respond to one of the following short essay prompts. (300 words)
a. My greatest memory is…
b. I’m most afraid of…
c. My greatest challenge has been…
d. I’m most proud of…

This essay seeks to understand your core personal motivations. Beyond career, what have been formative moments in your life? The story you choose to tell in this essay will be revealing to the admissions committee and will show your personality and values.

Think about the moments in your life when you have changed or matured. Was there an experience that led you to learn more about yourself? Perhaps you interacted with someone who challenged you, or inspired you. Or you may have traveled outside your comfort zone, either literally outside your home country, or in a transition like leaving home for college.

Option b, “I’m most afraid of…” is the one prompt that does not specifically call on a past experience. However, it’s likely that your fear has its roots in a formative moment in your life.

Once you have a story to tell, make sure you are explaining why this moment is important to you. You can either narrate your thoughts, reactions and opinions as you retell the story, or take time at the end of the essay to reflect upon what you learned and why it was important to you.

Essay 3
Please share with the admissions committee an interesting or surprising fact about you. (25 words)

The admissions committee has read your career goals, read about a pivotal experience and likely has reviewed your resume and application fact sheet. This fact is one that didn’t come up in any of those demographic or background data sheets in your application.

Perhaps you were a competitive swimmer in high school, but didn’t pursue it in college. Or your grandmother was from Sweden and taught you traditional cooking techniques that no one else in your life knows.

If you are struggling to come up with an interesting or surprising fact, this is a great question to poll friends and family about. You will want to use something that is unique about you, and that most other applicants would not be able to say.

Your friends and family likely know the elements of your background and personality that go far deeper than your resume or application fact sheet.

Optional Essay:
Is there anything else that you think we should know as we evaluate your application? If you believe your credentials and essays represent you fairly, you shouldn’t feel obligated to answer this question. (300 words)

Kelley’s optional question is open-ended, allowing you to add almost any story or additional background data you would like. Before you take full advantage of the extra space, make sure you are truly adding to your application. If you have done the work on a comprehensive resume, excellent recommendations and finely honed essays you likely don’t need this space.

If there is anything to explain in your application, definitely use this space to do so. That may be a poor grade in a quantitative course in college, academic probation, or the lack of a recommendation from a current supervisor. Whatever you need to discuss, make sure you are focused on explanations rather than excuses, and you provide solid, recent evidence that you have done better since the event.

Struggling with the Kelley MBA application? Stacy Blackman Consulting can help. Contact us to learn more.

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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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