Friday, October 24, 2008

The B-School Interview

Getting Started
As you approach the interview process, start by looking at what role each school expects the interview to play. A school may request that all candidates interview on campus because they really want to gauge the applicant’s fit with their community. Other schools may ask alumni to conduct interviews, either with a set of questions provided by the school or with their own questions. In this case, the school may be less concerned with fit and more concerned with getting a second opinion. Some schools may require you to give a presentation as part of the interview, which serves as another means of gauging your thought processes. By identifying the school’s expectations from the interview process, you can better direct your preparations. is a good resource for identifying some of these intricacies.

Preparing for the Interview
As you prepare for the interview, take advantage of advice from the many others who have already gone through the interview process. Again, and other MBA-prep websites have collected feedback from applicants, including specific questions that they were asked in interviews for different schools. Use this list as a template and think through how you would answer each one. As you develop your answers, be sure to think about elements of your experience that you want to communicate in the interview and how you could work them into different types of questions. You can’t guarantee the questions the interviewer will ask, but you want to make sure you’re able to highlight the key elements of your story. Also, it’s a good idea to re-read your application as you prepare. You should know from your communication with the school whether or not the interviewer will have seen your application prior to the interview. If so, be prepared for several specific questions about what you wrote. Finally, be sure you have good answers to four sure-fire questions: why do you want to get an MBA?, why at this school?, why is now the right time?, and walk me through your resume. These are pretty sure to show up in one form or another.

A second step in your preparation should be reviewing your research about specific elements you like about the school. Are there any clubs you want to join? Why? Perhaps you are excited about international study opportunities or specific classes. Be prepared with several school-specific items that you can work into your conversation with the interviewer. This shows that you are truly interested in that school and know why it’s a good fit for you. Finally, use this preparation to build a list of intelligent questions that you can ask the interviewer when they open the floor to you. Invariably, you will be asked if you have any questions, and you want to avoid asking questions that could easily be answered by reading the school’s website. Use these questions to show the interest you have in the school, its faculty, or its program.

The Interview
Before interview day, prepare for the logistics: you may need to invest in a new suit (pants and skirt suits are both common) or accessories. Looking and feeling confident and professional will be to your advantage overall. When interview day arrives, be sure to arrive at the interview location early. If you’re interviewing in a new city, give yourself plenty of time to navigate. If the interview is held in a less traditional location, such as a restaurant or bar, plan your menu options ahead so you don’t have to think about it during the interview and can focus on conversation. Regardless of location, be sure to have several professional copies of your resume with you—one for each person who will be in the room. Greet the interviewer with a firm handshake and eye contact. Throughout the conversation, listen to what they’re saying and asking. This will help you identify opportunities to work in the facts you want to communicate to the interviewer. Finally, try to be relaxed. I know it’s not easy, but the more you can help yourself relax, the more confident you will come across.

In the end, regardless of the outcome, if you’ve invested the time to prepare well, you will be proud of yourself for putting your best foot forward. Good Luck!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Don't Worry...Be Prepared

The GMAT is oftentimes the greatest hurdle to overcome in order to apply for business school. There is nothing to fear as long as you’re prepared. If you are a recent graduate or still in undergrad, now is a great time to take the GMAT if you plan on going back to get your MBA within the next five years. Test scores are valid for five years, and it’s typically a lot easier to study for the test while you are still in college.

Preparation is the key to the GMAT. Take time to familiarize yourself with the test and to speak with people who have already taken the GMAT. I’m sure they’ll be more than willing to share their insight. After you have familiarized yourself, it’s best to stick to a study schedule that fits your schedule. Some students start studying six months or even a year before the test; while others just spend two to three months in order to prevent burnout. Both Kaplan and Princeton Review offer review courses, which many students find helpful. Whether you should enroll in a GMAT prep course depends on what type of learner you are. If you benefit from the classroom environment, this is a great option. GMAT preparatory books and online resources are a great way to prepare for the exam. There are also practice exams available at, and it’s a good idea to practice the exams online before going into the test. This will give you a more realistic feel for the test as compared with the paper-based practice exams.

While you are practicing, really dive into why the answer is correct. If you take time studying the theory behind the answers it will pay off when you take the exam. Most importantly, remember to go into your GMAT preparation with a positive attitude. Make studying fun. Figuring out the answers to complex problems and reading comprehension can actually be interesting.

Remember you will have to make accommodations in your lifestyle in order to prepare adequately for the exam. This may mean giving up watching television or going out with friends, at times. If you are confident about your GMAT preparation, it will make taking the exam a much more enjoyable and rewarding experience. Good luck!

Kristi Martin, Assistant Director of Admissions, Illinois MBA

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Getting Your MBA: Come Rain or Shine?

At Forte's London MBA Forum on Tuesday, a question came up about weathering the current financial crisis and whether it was wiser to delay returning to business school because of cloudy forecasts for job opportunities or take shelter there knowing that the economy and job outlook will be sunnier in a couple of years.

A number of questions naturally follow…Will applications to top MBA programs increase this year because of corporate mergers and bankruptcies? Will the competition for seats in the classroom be fiercer this year? If I do get in, will I have trouble getting loans? What happens in 2 years when I graduate--will I have a job?

These are all smart questions to be considering, but in these unpredictable times, it is sometimes tough to find the answers. It's much like the weather forecast you hear on the evening news. Take the week of Hurricane Ike. I live in Austin, Texas, and on Monday before the storm, I was to expect a 90 percent chance of rain and gale force winds. On Wednesday, that percentage dropped to 50. By Saturday, the storm had made landfall, moved north past Austin and we were left with a sunny and beautiful day. In no way am I faulting the weather professionals or diminishing the impact this storm had on many peoples’ lives. But, the basic fact is that the art of weather prediction is much like making predictions on the financial turmoil we’re experiencing now. It’s near impossible to do long-term. And even short-term predictions can be dicey.

If business school is in your future, consider this: applications will most likely increase for the class entering in 2009. A recent article in the New York Times mentioned that GMAT registrations are up 11.6 percent over last year. But when it polled several admissions professionals at top business schools, the forecasts were mixed--some said the economy drives applications while others reported no correlation. No matter if they’re up or not, this indicator should not drive your decision to return to business school. If this is the time for you to get your MBA—either personally or professionally—then you will find the right school and you will be admitted. My advice to you is to be smart about selecting where you apply. Pick a school that matches up with your career objectives, your personal interests; find the one that has the students and faculty that will inspire and challenge you. Make a short list—a stretch school, a couple of safe bets, and a back-up. Apply to them all, visit the campuses, attend classes, talk to the alumni, and see what happens. There’s a very good chance that going through this process will make your decision very clear.

What about funding your education? Across the U.S. stories indicate that access to money is tight all around—from small business credit to mortgages to student loans. This might be a short-term problem that won't exist when you enter business school next fall. However, it's always smart to have a plan. Perhaps saving more over the next year would be a good idea in order to have a cushion in case loans are still hard to come by. Just so you know, MBA students are traditionally one of the lowest risks in the student loan market because they pay back their loans in-full and on-time. But if everyone is still feeling the crunch a year from now, there's no way to predict how this will affect MBA student loans. For non-U.S. students who want to study in the U.S. the access to loans might be even tighter. In the last few years, banks have been backing MBA student loan products for international students with a U.S. co-signer. I hear from several sources that these products are being pulled by the banks, so securing a loan might be difficult or non-existent.

And in 2011, when you’re ready to graduate, my prediction is that the financial crisis will be over, companies will still be recruiting MBAs, and a job opportunity will be there for you. But I can guarantee that this educational experience will drive you to be a more strategic and analytical thinker and a more confident and thoughtful leader. You’ll have an extended network of peers that you can rely on throughout your career. And you’ll have a set of skills and abilities that no one can take away from you. The MBA is an investment in you and the dividends will always pay out.

Friday, October 3, 2008

All Modesty Aside – The Application Essay

I have been in the Admissions field for almost 10 years now, so it is safe to say that I have read my fair share of application essays. I have read countless essays that, by design, are all answering the same question. Thus, my apologies to the author of the tenth set of essays on any given day, because my focus may have withered some at that point. Alas, I am only human. I am not asking to be entertained, but real, authentic essays do the trick.

That said it does not take heroic effort or hours of coaching to produce that authentic piece that will grab your reader’s attention. Here are a few hints…

  1. Allot appropriate time to completing your essays. You are making an investment in your education and that investment begins in the application process. Invest enough time to have your essays read and re-read by yourself and perhaps someone who will give you an honest assessment.
  2. Answer the question. Ah yes, seems so obvious that it need not be mentioned, but I can tell you the numerous times that I have read an essay and thought “huh?” Again, as an admissions officer, I have become accustomed to coming to the conclusion that perhaps an essay submitted to my office, may have been previously submitted to University X’s office, and as a result, may answer X’s questions perfectly but leaves me asking, “huh?”. If you have made the decision to apply to a few schools, give each application the time it warrants, and I assure you, your application will be given the time it warrants from the reader as well.
  3. Be authentic. This is your essay about you. At the Simmons School of Management, having a “voice” is essential. The classroom is dynamic and interactive; students need to be willing and able to use that “voice” to ask questions, share experiences and ideas. The essays are a tool to determine how impactful that applicant’s voice can be. It allows for further details and narratives that cannot be gleaned from a resume or transcript. Do not trust that your recommenders are going to create a Technicolor picture of how great you are, (we hope they will but…) do that for yourself. Now is not the time to be modest, you know how great you are and can be, tell us.

The application essays are an essential piece of your application story. As an admission officer, I do not want to “reduce” an applicant to the numbers, GMAT, GPA, years of work experience… the essays give the applicant a “voice” in the process. Good luck!