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3 Reasons for Rejection From a Dream MBA Program

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com If you’ve been feeling down since receiving a rejection letter from your dream business school, I want to offer some insight into why …

rejection MBA admissions

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

If you’ve been feeling down since receiving a rejection letter from your dream business school, I want to offer some insight into why it happened, and remind you why you should keep your chin up.

First off, all of the top MBA programs are notoriously selective. It may be that out of every 100 people who submit materials, only seven to 12 are accepted. Harvard Business School – ranked No. 1 among MBA programs by U.S. News – rejected more than 8,000 applicants for its class of 2017. In other words, it’s very much a numbers game when you’re applying to such competitive programs. There are only so many spots for an overwhelming number of extremely talented candidates.

That may be hard to accept for people who have reached every goal they’ve ever gone after. So, here are three possible reasons why your target b-schools did not offer you admission.

Overrepresented demographic: Each program strives to put together a diverse class of impressive people. However, no one knows the magic formula that any given admissions committee uses to fill open spots.

The very elements that typically make up a strong candidate for business school – solid academic background, stellar test scores, work experience in investment banking, engineering or consulting – may not have strengthened your case because too many other candidates shared those exact same characteristics in this application cycle.

Everything from your gender to your industry to your nationality to your career aspirations, community service and personality comes into play when an admissions committee attempts to build a graduating class.

While you can’t do anything to change your basic profile, if you do apply again try to hone in on elements of your background, interests and experiences that set you apart. Even the most typical MBA candidate can find something that will enhance the experience of fellow classmates.

Lack of self-awareness: They say high self-awareness is the strongest predictor of overall success. Business schools love to admit applicants who appear dedicated to their personal development, which is why the “tell us about your greatest weakness” question is so popular in both essays and interviews.

There’s no such thing as a perfect MBA applicant, however. Everyone has weaknesses, and if you don’t acknowledge them, the admissions committee will make a judgement on how introspective and self-aware you are.

If your essays or interviews contain any excuses-making, passive-aggressive comments, outright bragging or rambling answers, they will question your maturity and fitness for their program. Any doubts will likely lead to a hard pass, so answer those questions honestly, but always with a positive tone focused on continual improvement and reflection.

Low stats with no explanation: 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.

If you plan on reapplying, you have a few options. The surest route is dedicating more time to studying so you can strengthen your score; then it won’t be an issue next time. If your stats still hover below the median at your target programs, take a college-level course in statistics or accounting and prove to the admissions committee that you know your way around a spreadsheet.

Yet another route requires more of that self-reflection I mentioned earlier. Make sure you’re targeting programs that line up well with your stats. Look at programs outside the top 15 and see if there’s a better fit with higher acceptance rates that will get you where you need to go, career-wise.

Once you’ve pulled together a strong application and submitted it, the process is out of your hands. You will never be able to do anything about who (or how many people) you were truly competing against for a spot, who read your application or what kind of mood they were in that day.

Developing resilience is incredibly important if you need to reapply, but it’s also essential in life. Even when you put your best out there, you might still fail. However, to be successful, you need to learn how to bounce back and try again.

Image credit: Flickr user Anne-Lise Heinrichs  (CC BY 2.0)

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4 Key Career Benefits From MBA Programs

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com Business school graduates benefit not only from a solid return on investment through substantial salary increases, but also by deepening the knowledge, skills …

career benefits of MBA

In one survey, 96 percent of employers said hiring business school graduates creates value for their companies.

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

Business school graduates benefit not only from a solid return on investment through substantial salary increases, but also by deepening the knowledge, skills and abilities they will need for future professional success.

Here are just four of the key career benefits MBA programs can offer.

1. Transferable skills: Business school gives you new skills and knowledge that will turbocharge your career. While MBA students often set their sights on a job in finance or consulting, the hard and soft skills acquired during an MBA program are transferable to myriad other roles. Today, you’ll find an increasing number of MBAs working in tech, health care, consumer goods, government and nonprofits, and many other industries.

The skills typically strengthened during an MBA – leadership, intellectual creativity, analysis and critical thinking, cross-cultural awareness, communication, even greater IT mastery – will serve you well as you find your way toward your ultimate career goal.

You may start out at a financial firm such as Morgan Stanley and learn a tremendous amount about banking and analysis before deciding that it’s not a good fit, as happened with my client, May. She built upon those skills when she eventually became involved with running a business as a gourmet food importer. Once you have a deeper understanding of the complexities of the business world, those problem-solving skills mastered during your MBA will carry over to your next position, and the one after that, too.

2. Higher employment rates: Having an MBA is a powerful tool that can increase job security with your current employer or within your current industry. When the Graduate Management Admission Council released its latest annual poll of employers, it forecasted robust 2016 hiring that reflects high demand for MBA graduates. A whopping 96 percent of responding employers agreed that hiring business school graduates creates value for their companies.

The MBA degree is also a powerful differentiator in a crowded marketplace. Recruiters have said that some of their corporate clients will not consider any candidate without an MBA, which shows just how much business leaders value this qualification. Employers believe it vets potential hires; you can safely assume an MBA graduate from Harvard Business School or the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania is going to bring considerable skills and business acumen to the job from day one.

Without a doubt, companies appreciate managers who have risen through the ranks, know the business inside and out and can get the job done. But they also like hiring MBAs for their ability to handle complex situations, be nimble and adapt in the face of a rapidly changing global environment. As outsiders, MBA hires can provide a broad or fresh perspective to see how to improve inefficiencies or come up with innovative solutions to business problems.

3. Degree specializations: Most MBA programs offer specializations or concentrations that allow you to do a deep dive into the nuances of a particular industry. These courses provide students with an opportunity to sample a few different industries or career paths to see whether it’s a good fit before taking the plunge.

Adding a concentration to an MBA is a good move for people 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 something really specific, such as digital marketing, real estate, business analytics, social innovation, health care and so forth, earning an MBA with a concentration can make you even more marketable.

In today’s competitive job market, listing a concentration on your resume helps you stand out. However, if you are a career switcher and still testing the waters, you would be better off focusing on a general business education instead.

4. Networking opportunities: At business school, you’ll interact closely with talented individuals from all over the globe, which enhances the experience by exposing you to different business practices, cultures and points of view.

The connections you make are, for many, the single most valuable aspect of the MBA, so make sure you capitalize on the opportunities in and out of the classroom during your MBA studies. Your alumni network helps you stay connected to the university as well as to countless professional opportunities you can tap into throughout your career.

While the quality of the education at the most elite programs is guaranteed across the board, when you’re spending two years of your life and paying more than $100,000, it’s the network of contacts you build that make your MBA experience truly priceless.

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4 Times Pursuing an MBA Makes Total Sense

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com For many people, business school is the ideal platform to continue their professional and personal development and achieve their career goals. Take a look at …

reasons to get an MBA

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

For many people, business school is the ideal platform to continue their professional and personal development and achieve their career goals. Take a look at these common motivating factors to determine whether you, too, should head back to the classroom for an MBA.

1. You want to switch careers. By some estimates, at least two-thirds of MBA applicants look to business school as a surefire way to launch their career in a new direction.

One past client, Sheila, worked as a real estate attorney focused on commercial transactions when she decided that she found working with the financial details of transactions more interesting than the legal intricacies. She passed the first level of the Certified Financial Analyst exam and had a great deal of financial knowledge, but a very limited understanding of other areas of business management.

Sheila had come to a point in her career where she knew what she wanted to work on for the rest of her professional life. Though the CFA program is a tremendous resource, she had enough experience to know that she needed to develop the skills best provided by earning an MBA. Going to business school became the next logical step toward her objective of working in real estate banking at a Wall Street firm.

2. Your target company demands it. If your sights are set on working for companies such as Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase & Co., McKinsey & Co. or Boston Consulting Group, know that having the MBA credential is typically an unspoken requirement. These top banking and consulting firms mandate MBA degrees for upper management positions.

While they hire employees with bachelor’s degrees for entry-level positions, the understanding is that associates will work for a few years and then head to business school to earn the degree that will open doors to senior management and partner positions.

Even if smaller firms don’t require the MBA outright, employees find they advance up the ladder much faster with the graduate management degree.

3. You hit a ceiling. When Constance first came to us, she had already spent six years working in consulting and banking, but in her current role her contributions were narrowly focused on one piece of the client’s puzzle. To broaden her role and shift to strategic consulting for financial institutions, Constance needed an MBA.

She knew her experience with strategy and working for banks would enable her to participate in the classroom, but MBA courses in financial accounting, financial engineering and risk management would expand her knowledge and give her the full toolkit for landing a position as an associate at a top-tier consulting firm in the U.S. or Europe.

Constance’s long-term goal involved eventually taking a partner role at a smaller, niche consulting firm. Business school was a crucial next step for transition.

4. You need new skills. Our former client Peter’s undergraduate degree was in art history from a small liberal arts college. While most of his classmates had pursued Ph.Ds for a career in academia, he had always wanted to find a way to combine his creative interests within a team-based environment.

Peter began his career in an entry-level position at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in the arts education group. Within a few years he was on a strong trajectory within MoMA, but Peter really wanted to focus on entrepreneurial activity within the arts world. He decided he needed an MBA to gain the hard financial and management skills required to meet that goal.

As you can see, every individual’s needs and motivations are different. When you map out your medium- and long-term professional goals, think about what gaps you have and whether an MBA could be that transformational experience that changes your career trajectory forever.

Image credit: Flickr user Stefan (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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Weigh if an MBA Makes Financial Sense

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com An MBA is a long-term financial investment, so here are three questions to ask when trying to decide whether going to business school …

why MBA

Consider if an MBA will lead to a significant salary bump.

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

An MBA is a long-term financial investment, so here are three questions to ask when trying to decide whether going to business school makes financial sense: Will the degree result in a significant salary bump? Will the degree help me switch careers? Will the degree help me get to a leadership position faster?

While it can be daunting to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to earn an MBA, most business school graduates experience a substantial salary increase. The vast majority report having greater job satisfaction and the ability to advance quickly and, therefore, earn more in shorter time.

The Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the GMAT exam, gathered input from b-school alumni worldwide in late fall 2015 to shed light on the issue of return on investment for its “2016 Alumni Perspectives Survey Report“, released in February.

Among the 14,279 business school alumni who participated in the survey, 75 percent say their graduate management education was financially rewarding, and 93 percent say they would pursue the degree again if given the choice. Although graduates considered three main areas when assessing their return on investment – expansion of knowledge/skills, personal development, salary increase – we’ll stick to just the financial aspect for this post.

Calculating the return on investment requires a simple formula. It’s the return acquired from an investment minus the cost of the investment, divided by the cost of the investment. Students of two-year MBA programs typically have the largest investment expense because they miss two years of employment. They need to recoup the cost of the MBA degree plus the opportunity cost in order to get a positive return on their investment.

Let’s consider the applicant who currently earns $70,000 a year and has landed a seat at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Tuition and expenses for the two-year MBA program at Booth will be about $200,000. She earns $15,000 during her summer internship, and her first year post-MBA salary in management consulting is $160,000 plus a signing bonus of $25,000.

This student’s opportunity cost – $143,500 in salary over two years – plus out-of-pocket expenses for tuition, etc. totaling $200,000, minus internship earnings, equals a total investment of $328,500. If she had not gone to business school and earned a typical annual salary increase of 5 percent, five years later she would be bringing home just more than $85,000 annually and would have earned $386,795 during that five years.

If she does the MBA, forgoes salary for two years, and earns at minimum a 5 percent increase over starting salary annually, she will earn $185,000 her first year and at least $529,400 for those same five years. More often, periodic bonuses and larger-than-average salary bumps mean that alumni frequently recoup their business school investment less than four years after graduation, GMAC reports.

GMAC found that more than 20 years after graduation, business school alumni earn a median cumulative base salary of $2.5 million. This is $500,000 more in cumulative base salary than they would earn if they did not go to graduate business school and consistently received 5 percent annual salary increases, and nearly $1 million more than if they did not go to business school and consistently received 3 percent annual salary increases over 20 years, the GMAC report says.

Prospective students should consider payback time with projected cumulative growth, and average growth rate, when looking at return on investment as a motivating factor for pursuing an MBA. But keep in mind, the value of the MBA degree varies widely depending on your post-graduation plans, as well as the brand ?of the business school where you earn the degree.

When it comes to deciding whether business school makes sense for you, remember that the choices you make – ranging from the cost of the city you decide to live in, the field you move into, the school you choose – will all impact your financial return on investment.

Your personal return on investment, however, is something quite different. Having the ability to transition into nonprofit PR marketing or some other lower-paying but more personally rewarding job may be well worth it – and that kind of personal satisfaction cannot be measured in dollars and cents.

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Prepare for Short Answer MBA Application Essays

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com Ten years ago, lengthy MBA essays were a staple of business school applications. Flash forward to today, and admissions departments worldwide have reduced …

MBA essays

Brainstorm before writing to keep business school essays concise.

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

Ten years ago, lengthy MBA essays were a staple of business school applications. Flash forward to today, and admissions departments worldwide have reduced the word count and number of essays candidates must tackle. Whether the influence is social media, with its condensed communication style, or simply that the admissions committee has grown weary of reading thousand-word essays from thousands of applicants, it seems short and sweet is here to stay.

Many applicants struggle with short-answer essay questions because they feel like they cannot adequately convey everything they want the admissions committee to know in so few words. The challenge of these brief prompts is to give the admissions committee what they ask for while still providing a compelling snapshot of yourself.

I always advise applicants to do two things as they work on their MBA essays: make sure to answer the question asked and spend a lot of time brainstorming up front. You would be amazed at how many applicants start to answer an essay prompt and veer off-subject entirely. With such a limited word count, even answering a “why” question with a “how” response will be a turnoff to the admissions officer reviewing your application.

 The brainstorming phase is the same whether you have a word count of 750 or 200. First, find a theme, or a couple of main points, you want to convey. Consider the essay set for each MBA application as a whole, and make sure your answers do not overlap but rather build upon each other. Then whittle away anything non-essential, and always avoid the passive voice as it eats up valuable space in your allotted word count. Whenever possible, share details that show a glimpse of your personal interests or something amazing that you have done.

The Columbia Business School application, for example, asks this short-answer question: “What is your immediate post-professional MBA goal?” With a maximum of 50 characters, applicants must distill their responses into something that makes a tweet look verbose.

Though a simple question, it requires that you condense your career goals into one clear career vision statement. Rather than submitting a generic phrase like “work in finance,” the aim is specificity. Something like “real estate finance at a private equity firm” tells the admissions committee far more about your interests and goals.

The career goals essay remains ubiquitous at business schools, though the question’s presentation is evolving. At Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, for example, the essay is broken into three parts, each with a 500-character limit, or about 100 words. First, you need to describe what you plan to do immediately after your MBA. Then you’ll explain the long-term vision for your career. Finally, since many career paths are forged through circumstance, determine what is your Plan B.

Think big picture and focus on the overall story trajectory. What would be the most logical – and interesting – progression from your current skill set and MBA education? How will your next step flow from the combination of those experiences? Ideally, your alternative path is not a massive departure, but simply shows the areas you could see yourself exploring if your primary plan doesn’t materialize.

You’ll have to boil your ideas down to a clear statement of what you plan to do, but if at all possible, the information provided in your resume, recommendation letters and other essays will logically support those plans.

It can be a challenge to show off your personality, accomplishments and aspirations in fewer words, but the short answer essays offer MBA applicants a chance to demonstrate top-notch writing skills. One of the most valuable skills in business is the ability to communicate precisely and concisely, so make sure every word counts.

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

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Sell Yourself With an MBA Resume

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com The MBA resume is a whole other animal from the standard curriculum vitae designed to land you a job. The resume you tailor …

MBA resume

Demonstrate sharp communication and leadership skills when discussing your duties at work.

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

The MBA resume is a whole other animal from the standard curriculum vitae designed to land you a job. The resume you tailor specifically for business schools should offer a quick snapshot of your significant work experiences and accomplishments in three areas that showcase your MBA-relevant skills.

• Leadership: Business schools want to see applicants who already have strong leadership skills. You’ll further groom your management abilities during your MBA program, but the admissions committee wants to know that the foundation is already there.

Give evidence of when you united people behind a common goal, made use of other’s talents and skills, instilled a vision, challenged the status quo, identified a new problem or prioritized the needs of the organization above personal needs.

If you formally manage one or more people, don’t leave that information out. Even if you supervise and mentor someone informally, that should go on the resume as well. If you have played a role in training peers, subordinates or even those senior to you (perhaps on a new type of software), include that on your resume. Anything that shows how you identified an opportunity and took initiative is a great thing to include.

My client, George, was concerned because he did not have a title change throughout his four years at a defense contracting company. Because he worked in an engineering function, increase in responsibility was marked by a raise instead of a new title. My colleagues and I took a look at what George did outside of work to see where he could highlight a leadership role.

George had participated in an annual charity bike ride for the past five years, and we suggested that he volunteer to coordinate the next ride. The event became this bullet point on his resume: “Led annual bike ride to raise money in support of autistic children. Recruited volunteers, coordinated vendors and managed finances. Resulted in 14% increase in revenue over prior year.”

The brief yet compelling example showed the admissions committee not only his leadership abilities, but also his emotional intelligence and service to the community – a winning trifecta every time.

• Communication: With a tech-native generation of applicants as comfortable texting, tweeting and Snapchatting as they are breathing, recruiters often gripe about mediocre writing and speaking skills of today’s newly minted MBAs.

Your MBA resume is prime real estate for showcasing savvy communication skills through crisp writing and well-chosen words. You can make even the most mundane tasks shine as you bullet-point your professional accomplishments.

Here’s a real example of a blah bullet point in a client’s first draft: “Helped with new software implementation.”

Now, a brilliant bullet point: “Spearheaded software upgrade in the San Francisco field office by coordinating with software developer, leading training sessions and facilitating implementation schedule.” The second example offers a much more comprehensive understanding of the scope of the accomplishment.

Getting rid of any technical jargon in your MBA resume also demonstrates effective communication skills. One client originally listed this bullet point on his resume: “Created VA1 Business Acquisition.” Once we translated that into something the MBA admissions audience would understand, the resume said: “Devised and launched outbound communications plan for our premier voice activated product. Product was well received and became cash flow positive within 14 months.” Much better.

• Innovation: You need to make it clear that over the course of your career, you have picked up new skills, assumed new responsibilities, developed as an individual and that all of this growth has been recognized by others.

You can convince the admissions committee that you have a track record of moving the needle by showing continual progression on the job, and by giving examples of when you went above and beyond your expected duties and delivered quantifiable results.

Some applicants have very traditional pre-MBA jobs. If you have been working as a staff consultant at Bain & Company, or as an analyst at Goldman Sachs, chances are the admissions committee will have a pretty good feel for your overall job description.

But this is also an opportunity to illustrate the things that you have done that may set you apart from the typical analyst. In addition to outlining some of your standard activities, you may want to include that you trained a newly hired analyst, led college recruiting efforts or organized an office-wide volunteer initiative. These activities may have taken less of your time, but they are a bit outside of traditional responsibilities and give great insight into how you have made a difference for your firm.

The resume is an important first step in the MBA application process because it forces applicants to take stock of their progression and think about how to articulate that in a succinct way. By focusing on these three goals, you’ll show the admissions committee exactly how you will add something new, exciting and different to their community.

Image credit: Don Higgins (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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