Tag Archives: MBA Essays

Mapping Out Your MBA Application Timeline

Once you’ve decided to pursue an MBA, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Applicants need to fit studying for the GMAT, visiting schools, and developing essays in with other personal and professional commitments. …

MBA timelineOnce you’ve decided to pursue an MBA, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Applicants need to fit studying for the GMAT, visiting schools, and developing essays in with other personal and professional commitments.

If you’re planning to apply to business school in the fall, come up with a game plan for completing the admissions components within a schedule that doesn’t necessitate sleepless nights and a jumbo bottle of Maalox. The best way to do this is to put together your MBA application timeline several months before your target deadlines.

Community Involvement: Now is a great time to deepen or establish your involvement with a community organization. If you have been involved with outside activities over the last couple of years, consider stepping your activities up a notch. Consider roles that will allow you to take a leadership position and create real impact before September. Offering to organize an event is a great discrete activity that will allow you to work in a team, have an impact, and show results.

Allot time for essays and the GMAT: The amount of time MBA aspirants will spend on their applications will vary, depending on writing abilities and general work efficiency. That said, plan to spend between 40 and 60 hours preparing four to eight applications. Non-native English speakers will also likely need to allot more time on their applications, particularly on writing, revising, editing, proofing, formatting, and inputting essays.

The other piece of this puzzle is, of course, the GMAT. Have you completed the GMAT and are you satisfied with your score? If you still need to take the GMAT, you have a lot of work ahead of you, as applicants typically devote at least 100 hours to test preparation. Depending on where you are in the process, you may have to take a prep class and perhaps take the test more than once. The good news is, Round One is still nine months out so you have time if you get serious soon.

Bolster your quant profile: An undergrad GPA hovering around 3.5 is generally considered fine. If your GPA is a 3.2 or below, or you majored in liberal arts, you may want to consider taking quantitative classes to enhance your academic profile. The MBA canon generally consists of Calculus, Statistics and Microeconomics.

If you took any of those classes in undergrad and scored a C or below you should certainly re-take the classes now. Where you take the class is much less important than the course material and grade (aim for A’s!!). The local community college is a great option.

Structure your work sessions: Some people work most efficiently when they can break up tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces, while others prefer to devote several hours to their writing in one sitting. MBA applicants should be aware of the way they work most effectively and structure their writing and editing sessions accordingly.

I typically recommend that candidates allocate two to three hours each time they sit down to work on their essays, particularly for the first few drafts. Essays should be approached holistically; you won’t have a compelling final product if you’ve only snatched 15 minutes here and 30 minutes there.

Conversely, most applicants should also avoid the “marathon session.” Few people are still sharp or creative eight hours into a writing and editing session. If you need to make up for lost time, try breaking it up with a session in the morning and another in the evening.

Allow some distance: Applicants should also build several weeks for reflection and feedback into their MBA timeline. If you can come back to your essays days later with fresh eyes, you’ll often think of a better example or more inspired language to illustrate a certain point. This won’t happen if you’re forced to work at warp speed.

Distributing your writing and editing over a reasonable period also makes it easier for friends, family, or colleagues to provide feedback. It’s unfair to ask someone to turn around comments in a 24-hour period, so provide them with a few days to give you their critiques. Leave yourself adequate time to reflect upon and incorporate their feedback.

The b-school application process is stressful, but careful planning will make the experience manageable and help you channel your energies into continually improving your candidacy until the moment you submit your applications.

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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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10 Common Mistakes Made in B-School Essays 

If you’re looking to create a winning MBA application, the absolute best place to shine a spotlight on your goals and accomplishments is in the required essay questions. After all, life provides ample source material—innovations, …

If you’re looking to create a winning MBA application, the absolute best place to shine a spotlight on your goals and accomplishments is in the required essay questions. After all, life provides ample source material—innovations, successes, ethical dilemmas, workplace conflicts–that you can mine for essay inspiration.

fix a low gpa

However, all too often b-school hopefuls make mistakes, some big and some seemingly minor, that end up torpedoing their chances at admission before they’ve even had a chance to interview. Take a look at the following 10 most common blunders that we’ve seen applicants make—and make sure you steer clear of them in your own essays.

Mistake #1: Writing what you think the admissions committee wants to hear. If you tailor your essays in an attempt to make yourself into the so-called perfect MBA applicant, you’ve totally missed the point of the essay in the first place. The goal is to show what an introspective and interesting candidate you are.

While many applicants have similar credentials, the beauty of the MBA application process is that it allows candidates a chance for self-reflection, and to discover that they are more unique than they first imagine. So be yourself, and write in a way that allows the admissions team to genuinely get to know you.

Mistake #2: Neglecting to answer the question.  Before you start writing, make sure you really grasp the intent of the essay prompt. Otherwise, you risk going off track and neglecting the underlying theme. Applicants often become so determined to drive home a particular point, or worse, drift off into a tangent, that they fail to succinctly answer the question being asked. For instance, if the prompt asks how you’ll contribute to the culture of the school, don’t use that space to lay out your reasons for targeting that program.

In other words, don’t answer with “what” when the question asks “how?” or “why?” Business schools dedicate a lot of time to coming up with essay prompts with the goal of finding out how you fit their program, and not answering the question immediately indicates poor fit. A good strategy is to have a friend or colleague read your essay without knowing the question, and then ask them to say what they think you’re trying to answer.  Their response will let you know whether you’re on the right course.

Mistake #3: Cutting and pasting in essays you’ve written for other business schools. This one seems like a no-brainer, but according to numerous admissions officers, it happens every season and more times than they can count. At best, you’re not answering the precise question the school is asking, and at worst, you risk accidentally leaving in the name of the other school and receiving an automatic rejection. Several schools have decided to get creative with their questions in recent years in large part to avoid this situation of recycled essays.

Mistake #4: Not filling in the “White Spaces.” You are more than just your resume; you are what I like to call the “white spaces” in between. What keeps you awake at night? When you look back at your life, what will you admire and regret about your choices?  All applicants have a story to tell, an opportunity to go beyond their GMAT score and other stats.

Prospective students often shy away from sharing small but important details about themselves that can help them stand out from the crowd. They think, “Admissions committees don’t want to hear about that side of me,” or “Business schools don’t want people who are interested in that.” But you never know if those years on the college water polo team, the minor in game design, or those articles you published in the school newspaper are just the ticket to creating a standout application.

Mistake #5: Using industry jargon or pretentious language. Never assume the admissions committee member reviewing your application is intimately familiar with your particular industry. Technical language, while appropriate in a resume, can really interfere with the story you’re trying to tell. Also, unless your friends always refer to you as Mr. or Ms. Dictionary, avoid flowery or stuffy language – use familiar words instead to rephrase your accomplishments so that anyone could understand them.

Though seemingly minor, the issue of poor word choice can really distract your reader from the points you’re trying to convey. With hundreds of applications on their desks, the admissions staff has only a few minutes to review each essay, so it should be immediately digestible.

Mistake #6: Not owning up to past mistakes. Nobody likes drawing attention to their past mistakes, academic or otherwise, particularly when applying for a seat at an uber-competitive business school. But believe it or not, being up front about your foibles can go a long way toward minimizing the damage and can actually boost your chances for admissions. Failing to address obvious weaknesses, such as a low GPA or employment gaps, does more harm than good in the end.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard members of the admissions committee express dismay over applicants who don’t make use of the optional essay to explain the common red flag of low quantitative stats or proof of quantitative proficiency. This isn’t the time to cross your fingers and hope for the best, no matter how many stories you’ve heard of applicants getting into the Stanford University Graduate School of Business with a 650 GMAT score.

Mistake #7: Not thinking through your career goals. The career goals essay is probably the most important question you must answer in your MBA application. The admissions committee expects that you have given enough serious thought to your own future that you can clearly articulate your short- and long-term plans. More importantly, they want to hear about why you have those goals.

Fortunately, the AdCom doesn’t expect you to know exactly what you want to be doing decades from now, and no one’s going to hold you to what you write in your essay. However, if an applicant doesn’t appear to have given any serious thought to his or her own future, that could be a red flag.

Mistake #8: Not proofreading your essays. Don’t forget to proofread, spell-check, and proofread some more. Some admissions officers liken submitting an essay riddled with grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes to wearing pajamas to your admissions interview! Errors like these reflect poorly on your candidacy and can overshadow other impressive qualities like your high GMAT score or interesting work experience.

Have a fresh pair of eyes read through your essay to catch any of those pesky punctuation errors or grammatical mistakes that we often miss ourselves after re-reading and editing along the way.

Mistake #9: Failing to make the case for why X program is right for you. Although many top schools seem similar on the surface, each prides themselves on the characteristics that make them different from their peers. Whatever your own personal reasons for seeking an MBA may be, make sure you can point out specific aspects of the skill set required for your future career that will be augmented by attending that school.

The admissions committee wants to know why your particular aspirations will be uniquely satisfied by their program, so use the essays (and later, the interview) to show you have done your research.

Mistake #10: Disregarding the school’s explicit instructions. If the MBA program you’re targeting has listed a specific word count for the required essays, or a preference in font or font size, please follow their requests. The last thing you want to do is annoy your reader by using an eye-straining font, or disregarding the stipulated word count limits.

My advice on word count is to forget about it while you’re writing the essay. Focus on getting your content together and making sure that it’s very strong. Once your content is there, you’d be surprised at how easy it is to cut words. 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.

The MBA essays are your platform to show what makes you a dynamic, multidimensional person that any program would want to have. As you pull all of your materials together, really scrutinize each aspect to see if there’s anything there that can weaken your message.

Write concisely, and show the admissions team that you’ve done your research and know exactly how they can help you. If you can avoid inadvertently committing these 10 common essay mistakes, the odds of creating a positive impression on the admissions committee are strongly in your favor.

This article originally appeared as a guest post for our test prep friends at examPAL.

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Highlight Teamwork in MBA Applications

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News. This fall and winter, career services departments in business schools worldwide can anticipate an increased presence of corporate recruiters on campus, predicts the …

teamwork in the MBA application

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

This fall and winter, career services departments in business schools worldwide can anticipate an increased presence of corporate recruiters on campus, predicts the Graduate Management Admission Council. MBA programs will want to make those recruiters happy by providing a highly competent pool of candidates for them to meet with. But what do employers really want in candidates?

GMAC answers that question in its 2016 Corporate Recruiters Survey, which asked 842 employers that represent more than 530 companies in 40 countries to identify the most important skills and traits when evaluating MBA and non-MBA business master’s graduates as potential new hires for their companies.

Among 12 traits that survey respondents ranked as most valuable, a candidate’s ability to fit within an organization’s culture was highest overall, followed by the candidate’s ability to work in teams and the ability to make an impact.

If companies want team players, you can bet that admissions committees do, too. Schools want to know that applicants are individually capable, but they don’t expect you to do everything on your own. They want to see that you are able to work with others to reach a common goal.

The good news is that you can show admissions committees that you already possess this quality. Here are three parts of the application process where you can highlight your teamwork skills.

Essays: Themes of leadership and teamwork run through many business schools’ essay topics, but simply acknowledging that you have worked in teams won’t prove to the admissions committee that you know how to do it well. Illustrate your success in this area by citing specific experiences.

For example, talk about a time when you encountered a conflict, such as over ideas on the best way to tackle a project, or personal conflicts with people on your team. Perhaps you worked with someone who was bossy and overbearing or with people who didn’t do their share of the work – show how you brought dissenters together to achieve that shared goal.

Mine those workplace or extracurricular experiences where you handled the normal pitfalls of teamwork. Maybe you have successfully dealt with communication challenges stemming from cultural differences, multiple time zones or just working with a client or coworker who preferred to discuss everything over the phone instead of email. The actual situation is irrelevant – the admissions committee simply wants to know that you can succeed in a program that is focused on a team environment and group projects.

Resume: The MBA resume should include details that explain what you did on a project,showcase specific achievements and results and highlight your increased responsibilities over time. Use these details to demonstrate your ability to work well on a team.

The following examples are from former clients’ resumes and help support their abilities to work well with others.

One client from strategy consulting had a bullet point that stated, “Conducted focus groups with influential client representatives to validate and communicate the strategy.” Another client from private equity noted, “Considerable client exposure: participated in pitches, due diligence and drafting sessions and preparing Fairness Opinions.”

A military applicant displayed his impressive interpersonal skills when he listed on his resume, “Represent and advocate for detainees during Law of Armed Conflict Detainee Review Boards.”

Every applicant is different, but most b-school candidates can find some way to convey teamwork experience on their resume. Think of examples of when and how you united people behind a common goal, capitalized on others’ talents and skills, instilled a vision, identified a new problem or prioritized the project’s needs above personal ones.

Interview: During an MBA interview, whether it’s with an alumnus or admissions staff member, you’ll likely be asked about a time when you worked as part of a team. The interviewer is trying to get to know you but is also assessing your fit with future classmates.

If you go to the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, for instance, and work on a project within a study group, will your fellow students like working with you? Will you be timid about speaking up or will you communicate effectively and get things done?

Show off your teamwork abilities by mentioning a situation where you listened to others and bridged a gap between diverse participants to help foster collaboration on a project. Or talk about a time when you boosted morale or facilitated a compromise between two stubborn teammates.

You will likely encounter scenarios like these during business school, and if your interviewer feels you are already well-prepared for the inevitable challenges, your application is much more likely to receive a green light.

Building or running a business is not a solo endeavor. To create anything scalable, you’ll need to rely on others.

Even small enterprises require working with others to get things done. Prove you already have the skills in this area, and you’ll impress not only the MBA admissions committee but also future employers.

Image credit: Kellogg School of Management

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