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Do’s and Don’ts of the MBA Group Interview

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News. Competition for a seat at a top business school has never been fiercer. With so many strong, polished applications coming across their desks, …

teamwork MBA group interviews

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

Competition for a seat at a top business school has never been fiercer. With so many strong, polished applications coming across their desks, admissions committees at various MBA programs have turned to group or team interviews to help make crucial admit decisions.

On paper, you can wow your evaluator with interesting work experience, stellar GMAT or GRE scores and compelling MBA essays, but none of these criterion can demonstrate how well you work with others – a crucial component of the business school experience.

Each school conducts the group interview somewhat differently – including some being optional exercises – though the task is usually to have applicants work together and solve real-world business scenarios.

The exercise demonstrates how candidates approach and analyze specific situations and their interpersonal skills, two critical components of business schools that have a team-focused learning style. Observing how you interact with peers prior to admission gives the school important clues as to what kind of student you would be if admitted.

Here are some do’s and don’ts for standing out in a group interview. While you can’t predict the group’s unique dynamic, you can prepare for the interview and increase your comfort level when the big day arrives.

Do prepare in advance: When possible, find ways to speak out more in groups or meetings at work. Applicants to the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor’s Ross School of Business receive no advance specifics on the team-based exercise, but if you’re applying to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, you’ll receive your discussion prompt prior to the interview.

Spend an hour in advance prepping for the discussion. If possible, gather a group of three or four other people and conduct a mock discussion.

Spend time studying up on the topic so you’re ready to discuss the problem in detail during the interview but try not get too attached to your own ideas. Staying flexible is key.

Don’t dominate the conversation: During the group interview, remind yourself that this isn’t a competition against others in your group – there’s no need to try to prove you’re the most brilliant mind in the room.

Encourage fellow participants to advance the conversation and help reach a solution. That said, don’t get distressed if you find yourself in a group with weaker participants. This won’t affect your admissions outcome since the observers focus solely on how you handle yourself with diverse players.

Do show you’re an active listener: A huge part of being an active listener is being open and flexible to different points of view, especially opposing viewpoints.

Even if you think you know what another person is trying to say, don’t interrupt and try to finish the thought. This sends a subtle signal that you believe your ideas are better or more important than the speaker’s.

If a group member has a good idea, acknowledge it. Also practice the “Yes, and …” rule from improvisation and build on what the other person has shared. During the interview, seize any opportunities to do this or refer to someone else’s point.

Don’t let your body language trip you up: Effective listening also involves body language. If you roll your eyes, cross your arms or display any other kind of negative body language, you’ll come across as hostile – that’s not the type of person others want on their team.

Make eye contact with the other participants when they speak, face your body toward them and ask clarifying questions when helpful. If your preparation includes mock discussions with friends or colleagues, record the session and take note of your body language, how often you interrupt or any tendencies you have to try to control the discussion.

Often, we’re unaware of these traits until we see them for ourselves. Once you know, you can actively avoid them during the interview.

Do prioritize the group’s goal: Groups that work well together impress the admissions committee, and your group is competing against other groups of applicants.

Forgo attempts to grab extra airtime for yourself, and put the team’s goal front and center. Take notes, and help keep the group on track. You’ll only have a short amount of time – 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the school – for the task.

Since many MBA applicants are born leaders and are used to taking charge, you’ll need to be conscious of the fact that you might be surrounded by lots of Type A personalities and need to adjust your style accordingly. Encourage shy participants to speak up more, suggest different approaches if the group seems stuck in a dead end and offer to summarize if the conversation has reached a point where everyone would benefit from a quick recap.

Great leaders come in many forms, but they usually have one thing in common: the ability to listen and work well with others. Whether you are an introvert or the life of the party, you can succeed in a group interview. Remember these simple steps and embrace the uncertainties of the experience, keep a positive attitude and enjoy this opportunity to start building your MBA network before you’ve even been admitted.

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

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5 Times it Makes Sense to Apply to Only One MBA Program

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News. While the majority of applicants target four to six MBA programs, deciding how many business schools to apply to is not a one-size-fits-all …

apply to business school

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

While the majority of applicants target four to six MBA programs, deciding how many business schools to apply to is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Some candidates decide to focus all of their energies on a single business school. The reasons range from the personal to the professional to the financial, and believe or not, this single-minded approach can pay off and actually increase your chances of getting in. Here you’ll find five scenarios where putting all of your eggs in one basket is a perfectly valid decision.

Location-specific requirements: Most applicants take location into consideration when coming up with their school list. Sometimes candidates prefer an urban environment over rural or warm climate versus cold. Often the location preference is industry-specific, such as applicants keen on finance who look exclusively at schools in or near New York City.

If you need to remain in your current region, or want to live in a specific city, you may have only one desirable MBA option available. Or, if you have the needs of a spouse or children to consider, you’ll likely search for a way to attend business school without uprooting the lives of your loved ones. The location requirement holds especially true for applicants considering part-time or evening MBA programs who plan to continue working while they earn their degree.

When we first met Olivia, she was living in Los Angeles and married with a small baby. She could not entertain the possibility of moving her family or planning extended time away for two years, and the only local school she wanted was UCLA Anderson School of Management. Olivia poured her heart into the Anderson application and once admitted, managed to juggle the demands of home and school like a champ. It was chaotic, but by staying local she minimized the upheaval and had the support of her family during this hectic and rewarding time.

Company sponsorship: If you are one of the lucky ones who will attend business school on your company’s dime, you may have to contend with the caveat that they will only sponsor a particular MBA program, or only a part-time program. If you plan to stay at the organization long-term, you might view the limitation on where you can earn that MBA degree educational subsidy is probably worth.

Highly specific career goals: The one-application approach can make sense for a person who has a very particular career path–say, healthcare, technology, real estate, etc. You might be very interested in a specific program offered by one school, or a teaching method, or a set of professors.

If you can determine which MBA program will likely connect you with the company you want to work for, and if that company only recruits at one program, then there’s probably only one place you really want to earn the degree.

One former client, Jeremy, had a good job at a tech startup in Menlo Park. He only wanted to remain in that world – exploring other startups, networking with tech entrepreneurs and executives, and remaining looped into that scene. He also wanted to keep working a few hours a week during school. Stanford Graduate School of Business was an ambitious choice, but the only school that his heart was really in. Fortunately, the gamble paid off and he received an admission offer from this prestigious program.

Joint application with partner: While this demographic makes up a small percentage of applicants, it’s a significant one. You’ll need to explicitly convey to the admissions committee that you and your partner are both applying to their program, as many schools consider couples applying together as a special case.

Schools generally don’t want to break up families or relationships, so if both candidates meet admission requirements, you may have an easier shot at entry. As you try to determine which school to target, research clubs and support available to married students and find out how other applicants presented their case to the admission committee.

Intuition: Some applicants have had their heart set on a single school ever since the idea of pursuing an MBA first started percolating. If you fall into this camp, you’ll have an easier time than many other applicants explaining to the admissions committee why X program truly is the only place for you.

Showing how you are a good fit for the program, and proving your utter commitment to attending that school, reassures the admissions committee that you will accept an offer of admission if given the chance. The admissions committee always had yield in the back of their minds when making admissions offers, and no school likes it when accepted candidates turn them down for a competing program. As an added bonus, it’s much easier to research and prepare for a single MBA application and completely tailor it to one school, as opposed to creating several unique applications at the same time.

Whatever your reasons for having a single b-school on your mind, make sure that your academic and professional profile is in line with the requirements and expectations at that particular school. This approach requires pragmatism and optimism in equal measure.

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

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Prepare Now to Apply for B-School in Round 2

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News. It’s mid-December – a time when people around the world make travel plans, exchange gifts, feast with friends and family and enjoy the …

MBA application tips

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

It’s mid-December – a time when people around the world make travel plans, exchange gifts, feast with friends and family and enjoy the magic of the coming holidays and new year. However, for those applying to business school in round two, the merriment can get tamped down by the last-minute hustle required to pull together a polished application for the first week of January.

If you’re submitting your MBA application next month, here are four things you need to do right now to make the process as smooth as possible and still enjoy all the upcoming year-end festivities.

1. Manage your recommenders: By now, each person writing a letter of recommendation on your behalf should have all the necessary forms and prep materials. Gently remind them of the upcoming deadline, which you should target a few days in advance of the actual deadline to reduce your stress. And make sure they have everything they need to create a strong letter in support of your candidacy.

Don’t expect your recommenders to remember every great thing you’ve done, and definitely don’t leave this process to chance. If you haven’t yet done so explicitly, remind them of the strengths you would like the letter to vouch for – such as leadership skills, teamwork, passion – as well as anecdotes that support those characteristics.

Many programs also ask recommenders to address a weakness, so make sure to remind them of a growth area and give examples of how you have already begun working to improve this weakness. A recent performance evaluation can provide a jumping-off point for this type of question.

Remember to show your gratitude for their help, especially if your recommenders will need to take time away from their families to work on your letters over the holidays. They’ll appreciate your assistance and thoroughness and produce a better recommendation on your behalf.

2. Continue getting to know your top-choice schools: It may have been love at first sight when you visited campus and sat in on a class, but as with any relationship, a deeper dive into programs will solidify your feelings and confirm whether your top-choice schools really are the best fit. Contact the student clubs that interest you, become a devoted reader of the MBA student blogs many programs have and, if possible, reach out to alumni.

During the winter break, many students return home and host informal coffee chats with prospective students – these offer a golden opportunity to get answers to any questions you have about applying, student life, academics and more. The feeling you walk away with after having personal contact with students past and present will speak volumes about whether the choice will provide the best learning environment for you.

3. Seek feedback from a trusted source: Don’t forget to proofread, spellcheck and then proofread your application essays more. Grammar, spelling and punctuation mistakes reflect poorly on your candidacy and can overshadow other impressive qualities like a high GMAT score or interesting work experience.

At some point, though, you’ll have read your responses so many times that errors will no longer jump out at you. This is where outside assistance becomes invaluable.

If you haven’t yet sought feedback on your essays, go ahead and enlist a family member, colleague or trusted friend to look them over. Their primary focus should be on your spelling and grammar and not making you second-guess your strategy.

However, they can provide feedback as to whether you come across as an interesting person who has a lot to share with others and would be a great addition to any MBA program. A fresh pair of eyes can also see how well you have conveyed your goals, experiences and strengths to an audience outside of your industry.

Pull back for a holistic review: Over the next few weeks, take time to reflect on your essay responses to ensure that they hit all the crucial points.

Have you conveyed the passion that makes you leap out of bed every morning? Have you laid out your career goals in a sensible way, showing that you understand the industry in which you hope to work and how an MBA from X school will help you achieve that goal? Make sure you have shared the things in life that inspire you, what matters to you or what moved you to make the decisions you have made.

Every component of the MBA application is an important piece of the puzzle when it comes time for the admissions committee to evaluate your candidacy. Your test scores, transcripts and GPA will tell them something about your capacity to handle their curriculum.

Your resume shows your career progression, increased responsibilities and demonstrated results. Your recommendation letters can offer even more proof of your leadership potential. And your essays can give the committee a sense of your voice, as well as provide insight into what makes you tick.

Ideally, these pieces come together to create an intriguing, layered and thoughtful representation of the student you will be if admitted to the program. So, take this time in the home stretch to make sure your application will make a memorable impression and spark greater curiosity in whomever reads it. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to get back to celebrating the end of another year and toasting to the prospects that 2017 will bring.

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Why U.S. Applicants Should Consider MBA Programs Abroad

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, tomorrow’s business professionals will need to develop an adaptive mindset that allows them to successfully navigate a …

international MBA programs

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

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, tomorrow’s business professionals will need to develop an adaptive mindset that allows them to successfully navigate a variety of markets, languages and cultures.

We’ve seen a lot of growth lately in the range of international full-time, part-time and executive MBA courses aimed at U.S. students looking for a global business school experience, and there’s no better way to expand your horizons than by studying in another country.

While top U.S. business schools continue to dominate many rankings, programs at global universities hold their own when it comes to prestige and quality. Of the top MBA programs in the world, there are typically high-ranking programs outside of the U.S., including the University of Navarra’s IESE Business School in Spain, the Hautes Etudes Commerciales (HEC) Paris and the University of Queensland Business School in Australia.

But what sets apart an international MBA? Student body diversity is one.

European business schools, for example, boast a roughly 80 percent non-national ratio, compared to 30 percent at their U.S. counterparts. Whether these programs include class trips to work in emerging economies or offer a cohort with students from numerous different countries, they compete on equal footing with the best North American schools.

Another attractive characteristic for U.S. students is that many of the highly ranked business programs in Europe are just one year. Though the shorter MBA program means a more grueling schedule, many feel it’s worth the trade-off because it translates into just one year of foregone salary and the possibility of students getting their educational investment back in less than three years.

You’ll always have the highest exposure to jobs in your geographic area, so keep that top of mind as you think about your career goals and fields of interest. If you already know that you want to work in Asia, Europe, the Middle East or Latin America, you’d be better off choosing a local school where you can network directly with employers.

Many international MBA programs are offered in English, though fluency in the local language greatly enhances your candidacy when applying. English-language MBA programs at IESE Business School and HEC Paris, for example, offer students a chance to strengthen their Spanish or French while learning how commerce works in the host countries.

In general, though, overseas MBA programs prefer applicants who can point to previous professional or study abroad experience, since this demonstrates that you already know how to work with different cultures and are more likely to enrich the experience of others in the cohort.

INSEAD Business School in France opened a second campus in Singapore in 2000, clearly a shift to specifically target Asia and the Pacific Rim. Asian universities in turn have stepped up their game when it comes to competing for students.

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, one of the region’s highly recognized graduate schools of business, has joined forces with China Europe International Business School in Shanghai and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore to raise their visibility in North America and Europe and interest more Western candidates to Asia to earn MBA degrees. Lower program costs and Asia’s ever-increasing economic relevance, plus the use of English as the language of instruction, makes this trio particularly appealing to students in the West.

Latin America, meanwhile, is a relatively young MBA market that offers substantial growth opportunities and an affordable management education compared to its North American counterparts. According to the most recent QS Top MBA Report on the global job market, hiring is particularly insular in Latin America, and the percentage of employers who look for talent within their own region is second only to the U.S. and Canada.

The region’s rapidly growing economy – notably in Mexico, Brazil and Peru – means increased opportunities for business and trade, and MBAs who are comfortable with the local language as well as with the region’s social and cultural norms will thrive.

Some of the schools recognized throughout the world are the EGADE Business School and IPADE Business School in Mexico, the CENTRUM Católica Business School in Peru and FGV’s São Paulo School of Business Administration in Brazil.

Whether your goal is to establish yourself ahead of U.S. candidates for international jobs or simply to have a degree that carries the cachet of regional knowledge, choosing to pursue an MBA overseas give you the opportunity for a truly transformational experience, leading to a greater understanding of yourself and how business operates around the world.

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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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