Tag Archives: US News Strictly Business

Know Your Buyer to Sell Yourself in MBA Admissions

Many applicants tell me crafting their application would be so much easier if they knew exactly what business schools were looking for in a candidate. But if you ask any MBA admissions officer, the likely …

Many applicants tell me crafting their application would be so much easier if they knew exactly what business schools were looking for in a candidate. But if you ask any MBA admissions officer, the likely answer is that all-too-elusive “fit” with his or her program. Schools have to determine if your experiences, both personal and professional, make you an intriguing addition to the class they are forming, and they also need to be convinced that your career goals and their program are a good match.

Since my background is in marketing, I often explain it in marketing terms: the admissions committee is the buyer and you’re the seller. As a marketing strategist, you want to get to know as much about your buyer as you possibly can…

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

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Look Beyond the Top Business Schools for Your MBA

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com People typically pursue an MBA because they are looking to improve their career opportunities and increase their future income. What some applicants don’t …

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

People typically pursue an MBA because they are looking to improve their career opportunities and increase their future income. What some applicants don’t consider is that you can achieve both of those objectives even if you don’t make it into the business programs at Harvard, Wharton or Stanford.

While rankings are a valuable piece of the puzzle when you’re narrowing down your school list, don’t get hung up on the top few programs. It’s more important to be pragmatic and align your expectations with the MBA programs that match your particular profile, particularly if your GMAT score isn’t through the roof or your career trajectory has stalled out.

MBA programs update their career or recruiting reports annually and post them online, so a good strategy is to think about the company or industry you want to work in, and find out whether they recruit at your target schools.

[Research b-schools that match your learning style and personality.]

For example, top MBA employers including McKinsey & Co., Goldman Sachs, Boston Consulting Group, Bain & Co. and Deloitte Consulting recruit heavily at the most elite schools. But they also recruit other schools, such as at UCLA Anderson School of Management, Emory’s Goizueta Business School and Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. These graduate business schools all placed in the Top 25 of the 2014 U.S. News Best Graduate Schools rankings.

While most schools don’t disclose the number of hires per company, MBA applicants can extrapolate that you might not need to get into a top school in order to land at the company of your dreams.

A few years ago, our client Priya had her sights set on attending one of the top three ranked schools in the U.S. However, as her consultant worked with her on her applications, it became apparent that her chances of admission were less than ideal.

Priya had taken a few swings at the GMAT, but test-taking was a significant weakness for her and her scores topped out at 640. She had a few years of work experience, but promotion freezes had left her stuck at her initial position without advancement.

[Find out how to fix a low GMAT score.]

Priya was starting to wonder if she should apply to business school at all. Before letting her quit, Priya’s consultant asked why she wanted to apply to those top three schools.

Priya wanted to work in corporate finance at a specific Fortune 500 firm after graduating, and had chosen the top schools where that company heavily recruited. With her career goal in mind, Priya and her consultant decided to change strategies.

Since an MBA was the key to achieving her career goals, Priya cast a wider net to include schools ranked in the top 50. She also retooled her application to emphasize her specific, concrete career plan, which helped shift focus away from her weaknesses.

Priya found a great fit in the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. Though not as competitive for admission as the very top schools, it ranks No. 20 in the U.S. News rankings and in the top twenty of several other lists, and offers a concentration in corporate finance that Priya found appealing.

She maximized her academic and networking opportunities while on campus and found a job with her chosen finance firm after graduating using the skills and contacts she gained, rather than relying solely on recruiting. Priya is now moving up the ranks and is encouraged by the fact that her firm’s CEO obtained his MBA from a school that rarely even appears on a business school ranking list.

[Get MBA admissions tips for applicants with a finance background.]

Location is often overlooked by candidates choosing a b-school, but is extremely important. Recruiters give priority to candidates who have already lived or worked in the same region where the position is located, and graduates tend to gain employment near the geographic location of their MBA program.

While an MBA from Harvard opens doors anywhere, if you’re interested in working in the energy sector, you might have a better shot going where the energy industry thrives. Examples in the oil and gas industry include the University of Texas—Austin McCombs School of Business or Rice University’s Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business.

Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business offers an MBA concentration in energy & environment, as well as a new concentration in energy finance.

The point is, if you’re not going into finance or consulting, you have greater flexibility in finding a niche program that’s the right fit for you.

While a degree from an elite business school is a goal and dream for many, several factors – such as test scores, undergraduate academic performance and tuition costs – influence whether it’s a viable option. If you believe the degree is critical to your career goals, consider expanding your school options while still getting a great return on investment.

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3 Common Hurdles for International MBA Applicants

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com Nearly a third of students in some of the top MBA programs are international, which offers great professional and cultural diversity and enriches …

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

Nearly a third of students in some of the top MBA programs are international, which offers great professional and cultural diversity and enriches the classroom experience.

Applying from abroad involves certain expected obstacles, such as the logistics of campus visits, securing visas and financial aid and demonstrating language proficiency, but students share other challenges as well.

Here are three specific client cases – and their challenges – I’ve encountered while working with international MBA applicants that may help you with your applications.

1. Explaining your international GPA: Our client Naveen wanted to work in technology management and felt that the MBA program at Stanford Graduate School of Business would be a great fit for him. He had attended the College of Engineering at University of Delhi, where he received marks of distinction in almost every class. However, due to the difficulty level of the courses at his college in particular, those marks usually resulted in percentage scores in the 70s.

Naveen was shocked when he translated his overall grade percentage as 73 – the equivalent of a C average in the U.S. He was convinced his academic record would stand out negatively when compared to applicants from American schools grading on a 4.0 GPA scale.

Looking at grade conversion calculators available online, we found that for some transcripts, a 75 percent would be the equivalent of an American A-plus, and at other, more difficult programs, a percentage as low as 60 would translate to an A grade.

We felt that the Stanford admissions committee would likely be familiar with the rigorous engineering program at University of Delhi and would know that marks in the 50-60 range would be the equivalent of a 3.5 GPA in the U.S.

Naveen insisted on describing his degree as “First Class with Distinction,” and we agreed, so long as he used his actual scores without any conversion. This straightforward strategy worked, and Naveen ultimately landed a seat at Stanford.

2. Distinguishing yourself from other applicants: Another client, Abhi, desperately wanted to attend a top MBA program and had his sights set on University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. After earning his undergraduate degree in India, he had come to the U.S. to earn a master’s degree in engineering and spent three years in a technical position within a financial services company.

Unfortunately, Abhi’s academic and professional profile was nearly identical to a thousand other applicants. His handful of extracurricular activities were similar to ones we had seen from other applicants.

In addition, Abhi’s GPA and GMAT score were merely average, so we had a difficult conversation about the reality of this highly competitive situation and encouraged him to apply to a portfolio of schools in order to maximize his chances. He did agree to apply to four programs: Tepper School of Business, Darden School of Business, NYU Stern School of Business and Wharton – with Wharton being by far the most competitive.

We mentioned his long track record of service, but really highlighted his organizing a large group to train for a marathon and raise money for a six-year-old girl with leukemia. Abhi discussed his own training process, recruiting and engaging others, planning multiple fundraising events and the leadership ups and downs that he encountered throughout the process.

For Wharton, Abhi put in an extra push. He visited the campus more than once, and came to know the school extremely well, which was made clear in his essays. He also asked a good friend, a current student and someone who could legitimately add insight into his candidacy, to submit a letter on his behalf.

The final package showcased how truly passionate he was about the program and what a good fit he was in terms of culture and goals. Despite having a profile that on the surface mirrored countless others, by digging deeper to find and highlight the compelling aspects of Abhi’s background, he was offered a seat at both Wharton and Tepper.

[Find out how extracurriculars can enhance your b-school experience.]

3. Balancing out zero community involvement: Schools outside the U.S. often place far less emphasis on an applicant’s extracurricular or volunteering involvement when making admissions decisions. When Italian national Aldo came to us for help with his applications, his problem wasn’t quantitative. His balanced GMAT with an overall 720 and a 3.8 GPA presented a very strong academic profile in addition to three years of investment banking experience.

Aldo’s main issue was that extracurriculars and volunteering were not a part of his undergraduate experience, nor was it a priority for his peers in banking in Italy or London. He had no real way to demonstrate the community engagement that American MBA programs like to see.

Although it didn’t seem immediately relevant to Aldo, we helped him see the value of his passion for travel, which had spurred him to visit all seven continents and study abroad in Singapore.

Aldo referenced some of the lessons he learned while traveling and living in Singapore and London to demonstrate his cultural awareness and a sustained focus on international interactions. Ultimately Aldo was admitted to Wharton and NYU Stern.

Each of these applicants benefited from taking a fresh approach to their particular situation. Often, the steps necessary to strengthening your business school application become apparent once you spend some time in self-reflection.

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Delve Into the Nuances of the MBA Resume

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com Most MBA programs require a resume submission as part of the written application. This single-page document should highlight important aspects of an individual …

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

Most MBA programs require a resume submission as part of the written application. This single-page document should highlight important aspects of an individual and often is an untapped opportunity for an applicant to stand out.

Resume details can serve as icebreakers, or fuel the conversation during a business school interview.

“For me, the resume is just as important as your essays,” Soojin Kwon, admissions director at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, wrote on her blog last fall. Distill your experiences down to a few meaningful lines of text, regardless of whether you submit a stand-alone CV or transfer that information to the application.

When crafting this version of your resume, keep in mind this audience is unique. The reader of your MBA resume will be different than the person hiring you for an investment banking job or an engineering position.

Rather than focus on specifics, admissions representatives want individuals who will become successful leaders in highly collaborative work environments. They want to see skills that are transferable to almost any industry. Revise your resume to highlight the aspects that are important to an MBA program.

For instance, a typical resume for a lead engineering role would need to show proficiency in JavaScript – an essential skill to this specific job. But an MBA interviewer at Harvard Business School doesn’t care if you can write code. That skill won’t help you excel at leading organizations, build great companies or create innovative products and services.

Likewise, when interviewing for a transactional banking role, many candidates will list out specific deal names with dollar amounts. However, this type of detail won’t be useful to the admissions committee at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Kellogg will be much more interested in understanding how you worked with a team to close these deals.

Schools want to verify your overall quantitative skills. Beyond that, the fact that you collaborated with an international team, or developed and trained others on a new analysis technique will be much more relevant.

Avoid a resume chock-full of jargon. Speak the same language as the admissions committee and don’t expect them to be experts in your particular niche.

Many applicants include an objective at the top of their resume. However, in the context of the MBA application process, everyone has the same objective: to go to business school. Thus, the mission statement is irrelevant and a waste of valuable real estate.

When considering which details to emphasize, remember the general qualities that most business school programs are looking for. In addition to telling the chronological story of your academic and professional career, focus on supporting three things: demonstrating growth and progression, showcasing leadership and highlighting other “MBA relevant” skills. These include traits like strong teamwork, collaboration and innovation.

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.

If done effectively, the resume reviewer can develop a good grasp of your abilities and responsibilities and understand how you have progressed in your career.

Sometimes, you can illustrate your leadership or other important skills through examples that are tangential to your basic job responsibilities. As you consider how to describe a certain job, don’t forget to think about some of the following activities, which are all important even if they were not part of your core job.

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.

Perhaps you spearheaded that new filing system, created a template for a new and essential report, facilitated relationships with an important partner or streamlined routine processes. Anything that illustrates how you identified an opportunity and took initiative is a great thing to include. All of these examples highlight the skills that MBA programs value.

Don’t underestimate the power of a well-executed resume. As the Ross admissions director puts it, “How you describe your experiences matters. What you choose to highlight matters. Think of it as a trailer for the movie about you.”

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Move From Family Business to B-School

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA blog on U.S.News.com Applicants who have worked in a family business sometimes worry that their professional profile won’t measure up when compared with other MBA hopefuls …

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

Applicants who have worked in a family business sometimes worry that their professional profile won’t measure up when compared with other MBA hopefuls with more traditional employment paths. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Every year, top schools accept students who will go back to work for the family business. In fact, 9 percent of the applicants accepted into the Harvard Business School class of 2014 had worked for, or planned to work for, their family-owned company.

Business schools strive to compose a cohort of diverse personalities and backgrounds to guarantee lively discussions, so depending on your role in the company and the type of business itself, your experiences would likely add a unique perspective to the class.

Family business management has emerged as an important discipline at business schools as second- and third-generation family members realize the need for specialized skills in order to take over the reins and create a more corporate work environment. Over the past decade, schools have introduced courses and clubs on family business, founded centers dedicated to the subject or launched concentrations in this area.

Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management has a Center for Family Enterprises. Columbia Business School, stating that 80 percent of businesses worldwide are classified as family businesses, offered a course this spring on Family Business Management. And students and alumni of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School can participate in the Wharton Family Business Club.

Part of your school selection research should focus on what types of resources and support for family businesses are offered by your target programs. For many applicants, a one-year MBA program is ideal since you won’t need the internship and recruiting opportunities that job-switching students in two-year programs rely on.

I advise applying to the best schools that you think you can get into because they will offer a great education as well as the best networking opportunities. Also, think about whether the school’s geographic location will help you build a network which would directly help your family business.

If the school offers a student club focused on this group, reaching out to current members for their insight on the program’s benefits might prove invaluable in your decision-making process.

As with any winning application, the strategy in this case is to show in detail how an MBA degree will help you further your professional goals. Explain with specifics what you need to learn in order to grow the family business.

Paint a clear picture of your vision for the company’s future, and leave no doubt as to how an MBA will help you make an impact on the business after graduation. That way, the admissions committee understands why business school is the logical next step.

For your essays, start brainstorming some of the challenges your business has faced, and come up with examples that show how you as a family worked to overcome those obstacles. Business schools place a high value on teamwork, and what better way to show commitment and follow-through than by demonstrating you know how to work well with others to achieve a common goal?

As many applicants know, the ideal recommender for an MBA application is the manager to whom you report directly. However, if your immediate supervisors are relatives, you’ll need to get creative since you cannot have a family member write your recommendation letter.

Can you approach a supervisor or manager from a company you’ve previously worked for? Or have you worked closely with any clients or vendors that can speak to your managerial or leadership abilities?

Our client Bill had been working for the family business, a manufacturing company in Baltimore, for three years after college.

[Get more MBA application advice from the trenches.]

After brainstorming for recommenders he could approach outside the business, Bill hit upon a retail vendor that had been supplied by his company for more than a decade with whom he’d built a strong relationship. Since this vendor was evaluating Bill on many similar criteria as a direct supervisor and was an objective, outside source, he turned out to be the perfect choice.

In the end, Bill’s family business-based application fared well next to candidates coming from a corporate background. He was ultimately admitted to Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business and University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, and chose Darden to be a little closer to home.

Alberto Gimeno, director of Esade Business School‘s International Family Business Lab, recently noted in the Financial Times that “Concepts such as honesty, pride, loyalty and long-term commitment … are everyday practices of successful family businesses around the world.”

If you’re planning on pursuing an MBA to learn how to take your family business to the next level, take pride in your professional circumstances and know that business schools will value your accomplishments and responsibilities, whether acquired at a Fortune 500 company or under Mom and Dad’s tutelage.

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Ask Yourself 4 Questions Before Applying to B-School

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA blog on U.S.News.com As a prospective MBA, you’ll benefit enormously from taking time at the beginning of your application process to contemplate the path you’re about to …

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

As a prospective MBA, you’ll benefit enormously from taking time at the beginning of your application process to contemplate the path you’re about to take. This is a great time to ask yourself critical questions, as self-evaluation and reflection are crucial to any MBA application journey. Setting aside some time for heavy thinking before you start writing your essays will prepare you for a solid and strategic application.

Question 1: What are your career goals? As you contemplate applying to MBA programs, the very first step in your self-evaluation process is to consider where you want to be in your career. Ask yourself what you would do if you didn’t need to work for money and what your core values are.

If your career goals are not immediately revealed, ask your friends and family what they see you doing. This process should reveal good ideas and a spark of passion for your career path.

If you are in a field where MBAs are not traditionally required, you may still benefit if your career goals include rising to senior management within your company or starting your own company. As a first step, look around at the people you most admire and want to be like within your target company or industry. Read their bios to see their skill set and educational background.

Talking to people who are pursuing your target career, at any level, is also a great way to understand what you need to do to accomplish your goals.

Question 2: Why do you want an MBA? While an MBA is a great experience, ultimately it’s a tool to advance your professional aims. The degree is highly focused on practical business applications, not intellectual curiosity.

Preferably when you answer the question of your career goals it will be clear why an MBA is the right degree for you. If your career path doesn’t immediately reveal the need for an MBA, yet you know you want one, you may want to delve into your motivations.

Consider your expectations for the degree and critically evaluate whether your hopes match the reality of an MBA program. If you know current MBA students or alumni, sounding them out first is a great way to start your research and make sure you are committed to the MBA application process.

Question 3: Is an MBA the right degree for you? Evaluating your professional goals might reveal that a different type of graduate degree would be useful.

Those interested in finance might also consider a master’s in finance, which typically prepares students more specifically for a career in corporate finance, financial analysis or investment management. That degree may prepare you to be the chief financial officer of a company, but may not be the ideal degree for a general manager or CEO.

If you’re interested in public policy work or managing in the nonprofit sector, you might look into a law degree, a master’s in public policy or master’s in public administration. On top of those options, you could pursue a joint J.D./MBA or a joint M.P.P./MBA or M.P.A./MBA.

While any one of these degrees can help you achieve your goals, you may want to consider the environment of each school, the academic focus, the time you will spend pursuing the degree and what works best for you personally.

Question 4: Are you competitive in the MBA applicant pool? As you think about entering an MBA program, you should be aware of the competitive pool of candidates who apply every year. Evaluate yourself against successful candidates to the schools you are considering.

The easiest first step is to see what the mean GMAT and GPA is for a successful applicant to your target programs.

If your “numbers” are much lower than the mean at your dream schools, you may want to consider taking classes to build an alternative transcript or retaking the GMAT. While no candidate is perfect, minimizing any red flags in your application will ensure that you have a strong chance at admission.

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