Tag Archives: US News Strictly Business

Weigh Being a Generalist, Specialist in Business School

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News. After the Great Recession hit in 2008, business schools started ramping up their menu of specializations to meet the demand of students eager …

generalist or specialist mba

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

After the Great Recession hit in 2008, business schools started ramping up their menu of specializations to meet the demand of students eager to differentiate themselves as experts in a given area.

This expansion into concentrations has become a way for schools to innovate while they educate the next generation of business leaders. It has also become a way for them to distinguish their own MBA programs from other top business schools.

Unlike a master’s degree in finance or accounting or other specialty, an MBA is by definition a generalist program, which exposes students to many different disciplines – both hard disciplines like finance and soft like organizational behavior.

If you’re contemplating business school, think about whether you’d prefer a general management approach or one that offers majors or concentrations. Choosing to be a generalist or specialist at business school depends heavily on your end goals.

Advantages of being a generalist: Business schools want to fill their classes with students who will not only get hired after graduation but eventually run the firm.

Most applicants see business school as a way to grow as a leader and advance their career. The degree imparts a strong foundation of general business knowledge, allowing students to gain a greater understanding of how various departments operate.

Although students typically come to b-school with a clear career goal in mind for after graduation, an MBA program is actually an excellent time to explore a variety of subjects and experiences that may ultimately redirect your path. For long-term flexibility in the global marketplace, career-switchers need a breadth of courses to prepare them for the myriad management responsibilities they will encounter in whichever sector they end up.

The only potential drawback to a general MBA is that you may not acquire the depth of knowledge required for a particular position. However, that broader know-how and wider range of career opportunities that come from earning an MBA at a top program is almost always worth it.

Advantages of being a specialist: MBA specialization is a good move for individuals who know exactly what they want to do with their career and who want to build a stronger skill base in that area.

If you already know that you’re interested in an area like digital marketing, real estate, business analytics, social innovation, health care and so forth, then earning an MBA with a concentration can make you even more marketable. Recruiters like to see a strong focus on a particular field or functional area.

In today’s competitive job market, having that specialization on your resume, bolstered by a supporting internship or extracurricular activities, will help you stand out from the crowd. Students who specialize can also grow their niche network during the MBA program and then be ready to hit the ground running on day one.

Drawbacks of being a specialist: While specializing in a certain area of business is fine, know that it can be limiting.

One could even argue that you should just earn a degree in that specialty instead. Depending on the career path you have chosen after graduation, by specializing you could inadvertently pigeonhole yourself and narrow your job prospects, especially if you’re a career-changer.

A recent Harvard Business Review article detailed how Tulane Assistant Professor Jennifer Merluzzi and Columbia Business School Professor Damon Phillips studied the records of almost 400 students, who in 2008 and 2009 graduated from top U.S. MBA programs and then entered the investment banking field.

Among their findings, the researchers discovered that, “specialists were definitely penalized by the market. Not only were they less likely to receive multiple offers, but they were offered smaller signing bonuses. In some cases the specialists earned up to $48,000 less than their generalist peers.”

The classroom experience may also differ notably for specialists. Instead of classes with individuals who have multiple, diverse perspectives that enrich a traditional MBA experience, participants in the same specialization will likely have similar backgrounds and professional experiences from which to call on.

Ultimately, when you’re running a company, chances are you won’t be pulling together the financial models or balancing the books. Understanding those aspects is important, but you don’t need to be a master – ideally you will hire others to do the deep dive.

My friend and executive at a Fortune 100 company, who has thousands of employees reporting to him, once explained his role to me. He said, “I know what needs to be done and I get people to do it for me.”

Whether you choose to pursue a general or specialty MBA, pay close attention in all of your classes – even the areas you would plan to outsource when you have the budget.

Image credit: EIO on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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5 Ways to Prepare for the 1st Year of Business School

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News. Throughout the business school application process, MBA candidates spend ample time filling out applications, writing essays and even honing interview skills to successfully …

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

Throughout the business school application process, MBA candidates spend ample time filling out applications, writing essays and even honing interview skills to successfully gain admittance to their institution of choice. But it is equally important to prepare for the first year of coursework, which will have a long-reaching impact on your job prospects.

Whether you’re just starting to complete applications or you are about to embark on your first days as an MBA student, here are five ways to successfully prepare for your first year of business school.

Attend all orientations and meet-and-greets: I can’t overemphasize the importance of choosing a school that instantly gives you a sense of community. One of the best ways to make the program feel like a perfect fit is to attend as many social mixers and orientation events that are planned for incoming students.

Welcome Weekend and other preterm social events are prime opportunities to begin connecting with your future cohorts. If you’ve participated in the MBA forums or followed other MBA applicants’ blogs, then you may already have a head start on building relationships with your class.

By spending time on campus weeks before the semester begins, you’ll also have time to familiarize yourself with the many resources available to students. This will give you an additional comfort level and allow you to adapt more quickly and focus your attention on other exciting opportunities that come your way.

If you live halfway around the world and aren’t able to come to campus early, find out if your program hosts a Facebook group for your class so you can start connecting with fellow students. If it doesn’t, offer to help set one up.

In the highly competitive MBA world, it’s common for first semester students to go through periods of self doubt. But in reality, the introvert has a natural advantage in making allies at b-schools. Extroverts who need to be heard will naturally seek out good, thoughtful listeners.

When introverts think about building their friendships and network during b-school, they should take the long view. While extroverts may make the strongest first impressions on their classmates, it’s the introverts who often make meaningful and lasting connections with less effort. Besides, many of the introvert’s skills – among them team building and problem-solving – are key to successful businesses.

Maintain and build upon your existing network: The process of connecting with your new cohorts is the first step in building your existing network. But don’t forget to tend to your existing network once you’re admitted, though.

If you’ve stayed in touch with your favorite college professor or know anyone in your network who has gone to business school, this is the ideal time to reconnect and inform them of your own MBA plans. Ask for their advice on how to maximize your business school experience, and let them know your professional goals and the companies you’re interested in. You never know when a mutual connection can give you a leg up in recruiting.

Prepare for recruiting season: The summer before business school is a great time to make a list of interesting companies that recruit at your campus. Research contacts at your target companies to see if you can arrange an informational interview.

If you revised your resume as part of your MBA application, now it’s time to go back and make sure the professional version of your resume is up-to-date. Take a look at your social media accounts, including your LinkedIn profile, to ensure each represents your passions and abilities in a professional way.

Once you have your shortlist in hand, set up a Google alert with each company name so that you’ll automatically receive news updates that will provide great material for your interviews with recruiters.

Try not to get too attached to one company, though. Competition is fierce, and recruiters will interview dozens of equally bright and qualified students for just a few available spots.

Brush up on quantitative skills: A fair number of soon-to-be first-year students lack some basic quantitative skills. Many top MBA programs offer math camps for accepted students during the summer as a refresher of critical concepts.

Review the course syllabus online and purchase textbooks in advance, if you can. If you have any weak spots in this area, sign up for the math camp early so that you’re ready to hit the ground running once classes starts.

A growing number of students – even those with a finance background – have realized that these additional learning opportunities provide valuable time to network and bond with their future classmates before the rush of classes and recruiting hit in the fall.

• Ramp up your reading habits: First-year business school students read hundreds of pages a week to prepare for class discussions. If you haven’t had time to read anything longer than a Wall Street Journal article in the past couple years, now is the time to ease back into the practice to minimize fatigue.

If you don’t like to read, that’s all the more reason to start exercising those latent muscles now. An added bonus of extra reading is that you’ll likely become a much more interesting MBA student and potential summer hire to recruiters as a result.

Image credit: Flickr user Richard Foster (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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3 Unconventional Steps to Writing Great MBA Essays

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News. The essay component is arguably the most important piece of your business school application. After all, a compelling story can help counterbalance weaker aspects …

MBA essay brainstorm

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

The essay component is arguably the most important piece of your business school application. After all, a compelling story can help counterbalance weaker aspects of your candidacy.

Before you start working on your MBA applications in earnest, first think through and articulate your career objectives, assess your strengths and weaknesses and make sure you have done as much research as possible on the business schools that seem like the best fit for you. Through our work with applicants, we’ve learned that it’s best to begin the brainstorming phase by sifting through an array of life experiences to see what emerges as a core strength.

But what can you do if you’re seriously stumped on what to write about? When you feel blocked, don’t panic. Inspiration is everywhere in your daily life. Try these unconventional approaches to help spark a great MBA essay.

1. Ask people around you for their insights: Sometimes it’s hard to see what makes each of us special, so ask a coworker, mentor or friend for inspiration. An invigorating or profound conversation with a good friend can really stir up new ideas and get your creative juices flowing.

To jump-start this process, gather friends and family and have them share what they think is most interesting and memorable about you. Ask what values they see you demonstrating in your life and career or in your personal choices.

Dig deeper and ask yourself how you would want your future classmates to see you. What are some of the personal stories you would share with a new friend?

What would your future professors want to know about you? How might you contribute while in school and after graduation?

2. Record your first thoughts: What do you wake up in the middle of the night thinking about? When you look back at your life, what will you admire and regret about your choices?

These are the kind of questions to ask yourself as you approach a variety of common MBA essay topics. Keep a notebook by your bed so you can record your first thoughts or dreams upon waking up – these might help you understand your passions.

Here’s another strategy to try: Set your alarm for an odd hour, wake up and read an essay question. Contemplate the first things that pop into your head.

Often, the act of doing something simple in a new way or just at a different time will get you out of your rut and allow you to see things from a fresh perspective. Take a new route to the office, switch up your workout schedule or skip the nightly Netflix binge and end the day with an intriguing novel instead. See whether these simple changes boost your essay ideas.

3. Keep a journal: In the weeks leading up to writing your application essays, keep a journal and jot down moments that impact you, such as a great meal, an amazing sunset or a funny video. Then when you begin to write, look through your notes and see where inspiration strikes.

For convenience, you may prefer to dictate your thoughts into your phone while you are out and about. Often, casual speaking tone translates into a more authentic and personable version once written on paper; this can be a great launching pad for the first drafts of your essays.

Another useful technique is documenting your life as it is now on a storyboard with various categories, such as personal, professional, extracurricular and academic. As a starting point, you may want to think about the choices that have led you to your current career path.

Focus on the inflection points that have inspired you – whether coursework in college, early exposure to running your own business or watching a family member pursue his or her dreams – to help clearly outline the reasons you have made certain life choices thus far.

Once you’ve tried one or more of these unconventional but effective exercises, you should start to develop a few intriguing ideas. Then no single piece of the MBA essay writing process should seem intimidating.

And remember to plan ahead and leave plenty of time for rewriting – truly great essays aren’t crafted overnight.

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Avoid Choosing the Wrong MBA Recommenders

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. 

Enjoy!

RecommandationYou probably already know not to ask the CEO of your company to write your business school letter of recommendation – unless of course he or she is  someone you work closely with and who knows you very well.

Below are three more potential pitfalls when it comes to selecting a recommender. Avoid these mistakes or you may find your chances of admission crushed despite having an overall compelling application.

• Don’t select someone who can’t answer the questions: In other words, you may feel tempted to choose someone who knows you inside and out, but not in a professional setting. He or she can speak to your love of soccer, your compassion and your integrity, which are all great attributes. But this person cannot answer the specific career questions recommenders must address.

Business schools typically ask recommenders to evaluate how the candidate’s potential, performance or personal qualities stack up against those of other individuals in a similar role.

We worked with one client, Mike, when he was applying straight out of college. He had done a few short internships during college, but had no full-time work experience to draw from or a supervisor to tap for a traditional recommendation.

Mike had a stellar academic record, but a choosing a professor is rarely a good choice for a business school reference, no matter how cordial the teacher-student relationship. However, once we learned that Mike had worked as a teaching assistant for one of his professors, we knew we’d found someone who could better speak to the types of questions asked. Though unconventional, the recommendation from a professor became the right choice for Mike.

• Don’t select someone who is not an advocate for you going to business school. This may sound strange, but plenty of successful and well-positioned professionals won’t understand why you would want to go to business school. They may even be actively against it. Maybe they don’t want to lose you as an employee for two years, or maybe they aren’t really your biggest fan.

Our client Todd worked in finance in an office that didn’t require the MBA degree for promotion, and many higher-ups scoffed at its value. While his boss agreed to write the recommendation and had plenty of good things to say about Todd, he sort of laughed it off and clearly would not act as a true advocate for him going to business school.

Todd worried about what might happen if one of his target schools called his boss to discuss the reference, and that uncertainty was just too stressful. He decided instead to choose his supervisor from a prior position, someone with whom he had kept in touch and discussed his graduate school plans with quite a bit.

Choose people who like you, who care about your success and who think you’re good at what you do. Choose capable writers who can express their opinions clearly. If a potential reference seems less than enthusiastic in any way, keep looking. That person’s ambivalence will likely come through in the letter.

• Don’t select a person who doesn’t know who you are and where you stand now: If you worked with someone four years ago and have not done a good job of staying in touch, that person really cannot comment on your progress and skills today.

We worked with one client, Guillaume, who was reapplying to business school after receiving a series of setbacks the previous season. Upon reviewing all of the components of his previous application, it quickly became apparent that a feeble recommendation letter had likely weakened his otherwise strong candidacy.

He had gone to a supervisor from a previous position, and while he left on good terms personally and professionally, Guillaume had never felt fully comfortable at the firm, which was why he resigned to find a job he felt more passionate about. Unfortunately, it appeared Guillaume’s supervisor had also perceived his lack of enthusiasm for his job.

Having few years of distance from Guillaume’s work, the former supervisor wrote a recommendation that would appear polite and generally positive upon hurried review, but a closer read revealed some deliberate omissions and even a few veiled criticisms. In this case, the recommender’s letter was actually damning with faint praise. 

When considering potential references, ask yourself whether the person has worked closely with you, thinks favorably of you, and will put in the time to write a thoughtful, detailed endorsement of your candidacy. If you can’t answer yes to these three requirements, move on until you find the person who fits the bill perfectly. Your chances of admission to the school of your dreams may well depend on it.

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

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3 Ways to Offset a Low GPA When Applying to Business School

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News. When your business school application lands on an MBA admissions committee member’s desk, the member takes a hard look at two important metrics: …

fix a low gpa

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

When your business school application lands on an MBA admissions committee member’s desk, the member takes a hard look at two important metrics: your GMAT or GRE score and your GPA.

Your GPA matters because it tracks your performance over four or more years and demonstrates your ability to execute in an academic environment. Unfortunately, by the time you apply to business school, it’s too late to do much about a low GPA.

According to the most recent Kaplan survey of business school admissions officers, 32 percent said a low undergraduate GPA is an application killer. A GPA below 3.0 could be hard to come back from, but that said, if you have your heart set on attending one of the best business schools in the world but worry your undergraduate GPA could harm your chances, know that you generally still have a chance.

This is a holistic process – every piece of the puzzle matters. When one aspect of your MBA application is weaker, you want to maximize other areas.

Keep in mind that there’s no specific cutoff for a GPA or test scores. Every year we work with clients who have had sub-3.0 GPAs and they are still accepted into their target MBA programs.

If you do have very low numbers, you’ll need to address this somewhere in your application. You don’t want to sound whiny or make excuses; just confront the issue head on.

Take a look at these MBA application tips for offsetting a spotty academic performance in college.

Explain extenuating circumstances: Use the optional essay to let the admissions committee know if your grades suffered because of extenuating circumstances, such as when you had pneumonia in your sophomore year. If a death in the family drew your attention away from school or if you also worked during college and had to divide your time between studying and supporting yourself financially, note this.

If in all honesty your academic performance suffered because of excessive social and extracurricular commitments, you can explain in your optional essay that you have since learned better time management skills and have continued your community involvement without sacrificing your work performance.

You don’t want to get too personal or detailed here. Rather, show awareness of the reasons for your lower GPA and any lessons you have learned. Then reassure the admissions committee that this will not characterize your performance in business school.

Show strong GMAT or GRE scores: High test scores offer you two advantages – they prove you can handle the quantitative work in the program, and they are a more recent example of your academic abilities. Many admissions committee members agree that a strong GMAT or GRE performance offsets a low GPA.

For example, the average GMAT score at schools such as Stanford Graduate School of Business and University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School is around 730. If you can hit or exceed the average test score at your dream program, you know you have a chance at admission. However, if you aren’t happy with your test scores, weigh whether retaking the GMAT is a prudent option.

Excel on the job: When making their admissions decisions, business schools place a high value on an applicant’s relevant professional experiences. As such, showing strong recent work performance will go a long way toward convincing committee members that you have what it takes to succeed in an MBA program.

If your work experience is at a nationally or internationally known company, that’s even better – the admissions team will feel more comfortable knowing that Proctor & Gamble, Credit Suisse or McKinsey & Co. felt confident enough take a chance on you first.

When you ask your supervisor for a letter of recommendation, ask that the individual specifically address your quantitative abilities and your ability to multitask in order to further mitigate your low GPA.

Other considerations: Finally, the level of your major’s rigor could be an important consideration when evaluating your GPA. For example, you may receive more leniency for a mediocre GPA as a physics major than if you studied theater. The admissions officer may also look to see in which specific classes you struggled.

If you had trouble in quantitative subjects, that’s more problematic. You should address this by taking – and acing – a college-level calculus or statistics course through your local community college before you apply. This will show that you are ready for graduate school.

Every part of your MBA application is important. If your low GPA is keeping you awake at night, shift your energies toward killing the GMAT, getting stellar letters of recommendation, writing compelling essays and –fingers crossed – wowing your MBA interviewer. Your admissions success depends on your ability to knock it out of the park in every other way.

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Turn Failure Into a Great B-School Essay

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News. It’s the dreaded failure topic: “Describe a situation taken from your personal or professional life where you failed.” MBA applicants often freak out …

failure essay MBA

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

It’s the dreaded failure topic: “Describe a situation taken from your personal or professional life where you failed.” MBA applicants often freak out when faced with this common admissions essay question because they fear that showing any weakness will torpedo their admissions chances. However, at one point or another, everyone faces adversity, failure or setbacks, whether at work or in life.

Your response to these situations demonstrates your character, and business schools understand that failure represents a learning opportunity.

This essay is your chance to demonstrate your maturity, flexibility and leadership qualities. Leaders aren’t always successful; rather, they are willing to admit to failure and find motivation in their misfortune.

So how do you tell the business school admissions committee how failure has truly affected you?

First, start with some real introspection. It’s important to use a failure that is emotionally important to you.

Your failure should also be real and something that led you to gain some insight about yourself. The negative situation could have led to a transformative experience for your team, a positive opportunity for someone else or a chance for you to better understand another person through a team challenge.

The admissions committee will easily see through an accomplishment that you frame as a failure; furthermore, that will not demonstrate your maturity or ability to grow. Think creatively about this aspect – do your best to describe how you have changed your approach as a result of the failure.

When brainstorming for this essay, think first about what you learned from the situation you plan to detail; then work backward to describe the circumstances and the initial challenge or hurdle. That will help you more optimistically view the whole situation. What did you learn from the experience and how did it impact your life or demonstrate a specific aspect of your character, goals or accomplishments?

Think honestly about all the emotions you felt. As ugly as they may have been, be honest and write them down.

From there, try to more eloquently describe your feelings in your essay. Remember, even the most difficult situations often lead to personal growth and likely have contributed to the individual you are today.

For example, one of my clients was caught plagiarizing a term paper during college. He was very lucky the school did not expel him, but he did fail and have to repeat that course.

This startling wakeup call became a valuable life lesson. It spurred him to join student government, help develop for the school policy guidelines on cheating and speak publicly about his plagiarism experience and the importance of respecting intellectual property. When he applied for business school, his transformative experience resonated with the admissions committee and he ultimately attended one of the top-three MBA programs in the country.

The key here is detailing not only your actions but also your feelings. Another client I worked with chose to write about her layoffs at three different companies over a five-year period. Although the layoffs had nothing to do with her job performance, each experience devastated her, and she struggled both financially and emotionally until she finally landed a position that allowed her to flourish.

She turned those low moments into a powerful admissions essay of resilience and problem-solving. She showed how the experience ultimately taught her waysto better evaluate career opportunities. Demonstrating this type of humility and self-awareness made a positive impact on the admissions committee, and she ultimately attended the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania – with a scholarship to boot.

As you finalize this essay, focus on embracing the positive aspects of your past mistake and demonstrating the ways you have used the incident as an opportunity to learn and grow. This may just be the factor that makes your candidacy stand out amid a sea of so-called “perfect” applicants.

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