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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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Pros, Cons for MBA Applicants of the Single-Essay Trend

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News. A decade ago, business school applications commonly included up to six essay questions for applicants to fret and labor over. For at least …

writing MBA essays

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

A decade ago, business school applications commonly included up to six essay questions for applicants to fret and labor over. For at least the past three application seasons, however, many top-ranked MBA programs have abbreviated their required essays. Several now ask candidates to answer just a single prompt.

My immediate reaction to these changing requirements has been, “I love it!” It makes sense to test applicants in this way. After all, the world’s best b-schools want students who are future leaders – those who can act quickly and decisively, with little to no direction, under stressful circumstances.

Client feedback in recent cycles has ranged from confusion to outright panic, so applicants may benefit from plenty of guidance as they grapple with how to present themselves and thoughtfully tell their story.

Prospective MBA applicants should know there are pros and cons to the streamlining trend.

Pro: Having to write just one essay eases the burden on applicants applying to multiple programs. Our 2016 SBC Survey of Prospective Applicants revealed that almost 38 percent of applicants plan to apply to five or more schools this year, and fewer and shorter essay requirements are precisely what motivated nearly 52 percent of respondents to apply to more schools.

As a bonus, admissions teams are betting that requiring a single essay means applicants will be less able to recycle essays for other schools.

Con: This increase in applications skews the overall application, acceptance, and yield numbers as the volume of the applicant pool increases but the quality declines. Schools need to adjust to these new figures, as they may influence a prospective applicant’s decision not to target a specific school if the program is perceived as less competitive and therefore, less desirable.

Pro: They say high self-awareness is the strongest predictor of overall success. The single prompt forces you to be very clear about who you are and what you want to communicate. In fact, many admissions committee members believe serious self-reflection prior to applying lays the foundation for compelling essays. A lot of thought will have to go into distilling your messages, which is hard work, but will ultimately benefit you.

Con: It’s much harder to mold your agenda with fewer words and only one question.But whether you have multiple essays, or a single prompt, 1,500 words or 500, the process of coming up with your personal brand is the same. You need to have a strategy for your application process that includes a lot of brainstorming up front to help you come up with the highlights of your candidacy that you want to convey, regardless of what is being asked.

Pro: From the photo commentary essay at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, to the “cover letter in lieu of essay” requested by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management, to the “meet-and-greet at the airport layover” scenario posed by Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business, these single essays provide an exciting opportunity for more creativity and meaningful content, rather than multiple, potentially more rambling essays of what applicants think the committee wants to see.

Con: Having a lot to say is overwhelming and can be stressful, but then having to stuff all an applicant wants to say into limited words only compounds that feeling. With so many accomplishments to highlight and leadership examples to share, the critical task of editing leaves many applicants incredibly anxious since it’s their one shining moment to share their story.

As communication in general seems to have condensed on many fronts thanks to social media, the single-essay trend appears here to stay. Ultimately, I see these types of questions as an invigorating exercise in presenting oneself, knowing what needs to be told and what can be left out. Just remember that having a well-thought-out strategy will be the key to making this lean essay format work for you.

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4 Bad Reasons to Skip Applying for B-School

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News. Self-sabotage is any behavior or emotion that keeps individuals from going after something they want. This mental safety mechanism keeps them in their …

MBA rejection

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

Self-sabotage is any behavior or emotion that keeps individuals from going after something they want. This mental safety mechanism keeps them in their comfort zone and protects against disappointment, but it also prevents people from stretching and growing to reach their highest potential.

If you really believe that going to business school is the key to unlocking a more fulfilling and lucrative professional life, then don’t sabotage that goal by letting yourself get swayed by these four bad reasons for not pursuing an MBA degree.

1. I have too little or too much work experience. While business schools used to have a requirement of previous work experience – often averaging five years – that has changed considerably over the past decade. Limited professional experience is no longer a hindrance in many cases, since schools actively court applicants of different ages, genders and backgrounds.

Earlier entrance to business school would allow women who plan to have a family to establish their careers first. Also, younger applicants can make the case that the MBA degree is crucial to attaining their already crystalized career goals. Most students would be financially better off in the long run as well if they didn’t delay too long in seeking an MBA, particularly when taking into account the opportunity cost of forgone salary – and schools are aware of this.

On the other end of the spectrum, if you have more than eight years of work experience, there’s no need to fear that your MBA ship has sailed. It’s not about chronological age – it’s more about maturity, readiness and where you are in your career.

If you’re contemplating business school in your mid-30s, the key is to demonstrate confidence, how you’ve progressed professionally and what you’ve contributed on the job. Both younger and olderapplicants get accepted into top programs, so your age and experience level should never be the sole deciding factor of whether to apply to business school.

2. I was denied admission last year. Some people have a hard time dealing with what they perceive as rejection. If you’ve been feeling down ever since you received rejection letters, remember to keep your chin up.

First, elite MBA programs are extremely selective. At the top schools, out of every 100 applications, only around seven to 12 are accepted.

In other words, it’s very much a numbers game when you’re applying to such competitive programs. Only so many spots are available for an overwhelming number of extremely talented candidates.

Applying to an MBA program is seriously hard work. Give yourself some time to recharge from the last go-around, but then get ready to take a critical look at where you can enhance your candidacy before applying again. Make sure every aspect of your application is as polished as humanly possible.

Whether it’s retaking the GMAT to boost your score, taking a calculus course to prove your quantitative skills or looking at what you can do to strengthen your profile professionally or within your extracurriculars, everyone has room for improvement. We’ve seen many triumphant cases of reapplicants receiving offers of admission from their dream school, so one unsuccessful season should never deter you from trying again.

3. I haven’t done anything amazing to get into a top school. It’s hard not to feel intimidated when you read the admitted student profiles at many of the elite MBA programs, which might include Olympians, successful entrepreneurs, decorated military officers and candidates with outstanding public service experience. However, don’t get psyched out of applying just because you can’t list anything similarly noteworthy on your application.

To stand out in the eyes of the admissions committee, you just need to provide hard proof that you made a difference. But it’s not about the scale of your achievements – rather, it’s the fact that you left indelible footprints. Show that you’re solutions-oriented and provide evidence of situations where you have applied your analysis, formulated an action plan and, most importantly, executed the plan.

Community service is very important to the admissions committee because it provides insights into your deeper interests and the causes you care about. It also shows that you are the type of person who devotes energy to making a community stronger.

Again, it’s not about demonstrating the most compelling act of service. Just show what you care about and how that activity or involvement enriches your life while helping others.

4. Business school is expensive. I won’t try to tell you that an MBA degree from a top business school isn’t pricey. Not only are you spending money on tuition and all of the other associated costs, but in many cases you will forego salary during the length of the program.

While figuring out how to pay for it all can be challenging and intimidating, look at an MBA as a long-term financial investment. Fortunately, schools are deeply committed to working with students to find a solution to financing school through a combination of loans and scholarships.

I strongly believe that where there’s a will there’s a way and that the MBA degree pays off in many ways, both quantifiable and priceless. So shake off those self-sabotaging thoughts and get started on creating your own path to the professional goals you seek.

 Image credit:: Flickr user Yuwen Memon (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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3 Reasons Future Entrepreneurs Need an MBA, and 1 Exception

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News. If you’re planning on launching your own company, you don’t need to go to business school, right? Many would-be entrepreneurs think that a …

entrepreneurs and the MBA

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

If you’re planning on launching your own company, you don’t need to go to business school, right? Many would-be entrepreneurs think that a brilliant idea alone will take them to the top, just as it did for the MBA-less Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

The reality, though, is that for every super successful entrepreneur who eschewed the MBA, there are scores more entrepreneurs with MBA degrees who have changed the world, such as Nike co-founder Phil Knight, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman or Warren Buffett, who grew Berkshire Hathaway from a textile manufacturing business into the world’s fourth-largest public company.

An MBA program can’t teach you to feel more comfortable with taking risks or to be more passionate about your idea, and it won’t give you a constant thirst for new projects – those are some of the innate qualities a successful entrepreneur has.

However, an MBA program can teach you how to turn a good idea into a good business. If you have startup fever, here are three reasons you should go to business school first and one time you may not need that MBA.

B-school is the best incubator for budding entrepreneurs. MBA programs have always prepared students to launch and manage their own businesses. But over the last decade, the number of courses, centers and contests dedicated exclusively to entrepreneurship has mushroomed.

Business school has become the safe place to test out your most creative, outrageous and ambitious ideas without the pressure and fear of failure if that company or those ideas don’t work. In fact, failure is just as valuable a learning tool as success, because it offers students the chance to find out what went wrong and refine their business models to nail it next time out in the real world, when the stakes are much higher.

You’ll have teachers and mentors guiding you along the way as you search for that big idea that will change lives. You’ll also see all sides of the entrepreneurial experience, find out what it’s like to collaborate to execute your vision and ultimately have a better understanding of whether entrepreneurship really is your calling.

B-school offers the best environment to build your team. Entrepreneurial success requires teamwork, strong business relationships and a network of classmates who can provide introductions or advise on various areas, as well as seasoned professors who can weigh in on business dilemmas as you build a plan. In fact, good relationships with your professors can translate into a lifelong pipeline of talent connecting graduates with current MBA students.

Even if – like the majority of applicants – you don’t plan on pursuing a joint MBA degree, you can still take advantage of interdisciplinary studies in other areas that interest you. As a part of the greater university community, top-tier business schools often offer MBA students the chance to take courses alongside students from other graduate programs.

For example, the Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business provides students with real-world entrepreneurial experiences through cross-campus initiatives and involvement with the business community. You might find someone outside of the MBA program who could become a valuable asset to your team down the line.

B-school will teach you how to run and grow a company – not just launch it. So many entrepreneurs have failed at getting their business idea off the ground precisely because they didn’t have some of the necessary tools in their arsenal that they would have learned at business school.

You have to be able to transition your idea into an actual business. It might be a startup, but you want it to grow – and last. More than many other business roles, an entrepreneur needs to know a little bit of everything. Even if you start a tech company, someone has to do the accounting, know how to market your product or service and act as a leader for the team.

If you choose a business school that relies heavily on the case method, you’ll likely learn from others’ successes and mistakes about growing too quickly. Also, those classes in human resource management, business law or venture capital financing could help you head off some thorny workplace issues later on.

Skip b-school altogether if you are in a rush to launch a company right now. Competition moves fast, especially in the tech industry. So if you already have your product or service fully developed, a crystal clear business plan, sufficient funding to sustain you and an awesome team in place and ready to execute—and if you think spending two years in a classroom might be an undesirable distraction—then it’s time to hit the ground running.

Image credit: inertia NC (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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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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