Monday, December 20, 2010

Requesting Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation should be the easy part of your application, right? Unlike studying for the GMAT or writing essays, these letters aren’t actually your responsibility to complete. However, they are an important part of your application to business school, and willrequire a significant amount of time and effort from someone else (whoever is writing on your behalf). I found that getting organized and connecting with my recommendation writers early on helped me support them through this process.

Once I knew I would be applying to business school in the fall of 2009, I pulled together my list of target schools and their recommendation letter requests. Most schools request two letters from people who know you in a professional setting, and I felt very lucky that my two previous bosses each agreed to write a letter for my application. Writing rec letters can be time consuming and each school varies slightly with deadlines, process, and questions, so I pulled together an overview spreadsheet to capture all the important information for my bosses. Within the sheet I grouped similar questions together, so that my bosses could see the universe of questions they would be asked to address but also so they could (if they wanted) write one paragraph on a particular topic (strengths, weaknesses, etc) that would still address the specifics of each school. Lastly, along with this spreadsheet I also sent them some of my draft essays and resume so that, in addition to conversations about my interests and motivation for attending business school, they could see how I was positioning my candidacy and experience.

As deadlines came and went, I made sure to stay in touch with my rec letter writers through occasional email reminders about upcoming deadlines and messages of thanks for their help throughout this lengthy process! And of course, if you are inclined, a gift of some kind at the conclusion of the process can also be a way to show your appreciation for their support – though of course don’t forget, these people can be great resources once you survive the application process too, in deciding which school to attend or where to focus a career search once you’re in school. I couldn’t be happier with where I ended up – attending the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley – and I couldn’t have done it without the support from some great rec letter writers!

Dana Ledyard, Forte Fellow
Class of 2012
UC Berkeley Haas School of Business

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

FINALS…and Recruiting?

It’s finals time at the Tuck School of Business and everyone is hunkered down in their dorm rooms trying to decipher between a deferred tax asset and liability and seeking to understand how to properly hedge one’s stock portfolio. Three finals and two papers stand in my way before two weeks of lying on my parents’ sofa, watching terrible reality television and decompressing from thirteen weeks of intense study groups, quantitative courses and innumerable assignments to be turned into each class every day. However, after receiving an email from our career services office today, I realize my winter break plans might not be as relaxing as I once thought:
“Congratulations! You have been placed on the closed list for company X.”
Oh, right. Recruiting – the very thing I came to school to do. At Tuck, companies come on campus to interview potential interns immediately following winter break. In between getting ready for finals, students have been steadily dropping their resumes and cover letters to potential employers with the very hope of getting on a closed list. Luckily, all is not lost if a student doesn’t make a particular closed list. If recruiters want to come on campus at Tuck, they can choose half of the students they will interview (the closed list) and the other half can “bid” their way on to the interview schedule. Each student is given 1,000 points to bid on interview slots which are essentially auctioned off. This process acts as a way to level the playing field for career switchers and it is proven to work: a historically high percentage of internship offers actually go to students who use their bid points to land an interview!
Don’t get me wrong; I am absolutely thrilled to be placed on a closed list for company X, especially since this particular company is one of my top choices for a summer internship. Yet, reality has set in that I might spend more time winter break preparing fit interview questions and scouring the aisles of Target for marketing and packaging innovations to get ready for marketing cases. Moreover, as the rest of the closed lists come out, I will need to figure out on which companies I will need to bid. Since I just took my Decision Science final, maybe I should build a model and use the Risk Solver skills I developed this term to optimize my own bid strategy…

Julie L. Reimer, Forte Fellow
Class of 2012
Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth

Monday, December 13, 2010

Semester-End Reflections

Can you believe it? Less than a week until finals, then case competition, finalizing plans for a student-alumni event and WINTER BREAK! Last time I wrote, I had just begun my first year as an MBA student at Washington University in St. Louis, and now I’m almost a quarter of the way through the program! I don’t have much to say about finals except it’s always nice to know I’m in good company. I do want to tell you about the case competition that I am thrilled to participate in, along with a new and exciting student-alumni endeavor I have started.

Wash U invites several companies from around the area to submit real problems they are experiencing and then selects a couple cases that we, in our assigned groups of four, review and present our recommendations. These cases form a type of capstone for our core studies, requiring us to pull our understanding of finance, accounting, marketing, operations, etc. In particular, though, we must rely on our critical thinking capabilities, which we have enhanced throughout the semester in our analysis of numerous cases. More and more employers are requiring their associates to enhance their critical thinking skills before promoting to managerial roles. At Wash U, we have the opportunity to show select local employers our abilities, and, in return, we have the opportunity to win various prizes plus the ultimate reward of implementing our recommendation if selected.

Once the chaos of finals and the case competition subsides, I must push forward on an event geared towards all MBA students and alumni. I noticed that Wash U alumni events are organized by faculty and quite formal in nature. I found an opportunity to create a small group of students to plan and organize informal social gatherings for students and alumni without all the networking expectations of the formal events. Networking is definitely a large piece of a successful career, but there should always be some fun mixed in there, too. Our first event is scheduled for late-January, and our small group has lots of planning to do before then!

As the semester draws to a close, I find myself yearning for a nice, relaxing break but simultaneously eager to participate in the case competition and to finalize the details of the alumni social event.

Kelly Bien
Forte Fellow Class of 2012
Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis

Friday, December 3, 2010

Giving the Gift of the MBA

Well, December is finally here, and that means finals week! A great end to a great first few months! My first semester at the Lorry I. Lokey Graduate School of Business at Mills College has been filled with new material to master, new friends to meet and new challenges to overcome.

My decision to return to school after 20 years in the work force, making movies like Toy Story, Monsters Inc., and Finding Nemo was based on a desire to master the skills needed to take my career to the next level. As a film production manager I’ve been able to contribute to blockbuster films for world audiences. But, I found that in order to step into executive management, I wanted the understanding of world markets, the knowledge of how firms maximize profit, and to really grasp some deeper fundamentals of human resource management. So far, this first semester has proven to be really worthwhile. I’ve been able to sink my mind deeply into my course load and have already started applying new skills to my latest project for Dreamworks, the MegaMind eStoryBook app which was just launched in the iTunes store.

A highlight of my first semester at Mills was that I was selected as the Graduate Speaker for Fall Convocation, along with renown US labor leader Dolores Huerta. What an honor to share the stage with this amazing woman. My speech focused on having the courage to self-determine, in the face of hardship. To carve out our own path, as women leaders in business. Mills is proving to be a fertile place to grow my new self. I can’t wait to choose my courses for next semester at Mills.

Lately I’ve been wondering if I made the right decision to return to school full time, versus a part time, or executive MBA program. What I can say now is that having the chance to immerse myself deeply in my studies, and in the culture of education has given me time to learn deeply. I am not distracted by the day to day demands of my office. I can fully apply myself to the coursework. Being a long time professional I know that I will carry this new knowledge easily back into the marketplace. Giving myself the freedom to really focus on my MBA is a gift I’m giving to myself.

Julie M. McDonald
Class of 2012
Forté Foundation Fellow
Lorry I. Lokey Graduate School of Business Mills College

Thursday, December 2, 2010

MBA Admissions Events for Women

UNC Kenan-Flagler recently hosted an enthusiastic group of prospective MBA women for our annual Women’s Weekend event. The weekend reminded me of how beneficial the women’s events at various Forté Foundation member schools were for me as an applicant. As many of my fellow bloggers have noted, campus visits can help give you a true sense of the culture of the MBA program. Read on for some of the many reasons why on-campus admissions events specifically for women can be a great investment of your time.

You can get a better sense of whether the program is a good fit for you. Admissions events for women are typically more intimate (and less intimidating) than large-scale MBA fairs and provide many chances to talk with representatives from the school one-on-one or in small groups. Take advantage of the friendly setting and get all of your questions answered. Do the students seem happy? What would it be like to live in that city? How are core courses structured?

There are numerous opportunities to network with current students. Current MBA women can give their personal perspective on questions you may otherwise be hesitant to ask. For example, what is it like being the only female in a study group? What activities are there for my partner/family? If you have a great conversation with a current student, ask for her contact information so you can follow up later with any additional questions.

You can get tips on the admissions process. Oftentimes these events provide valuable information on how to position yourself as a top female applicant. If you haven’t submitted your application, you can use information you learn from the women’s event in essays to demonstrate your interest in the school. Sign up for on-campus interviews (if offered) and class visits while attending the event to maximize your time.

You will meet other prospective female MBAs. The other prospective students I met were a fantastic resource. The application process can be stressful and it was reassuring to share stories with others in the same boat. I kept in touch with the prospective students I met at these events and they provided advice and support throughout the admissions process. Some of them are now classmates at Kenan-Flagler and others are Forté Fellows at other schools, so it’s a great way to start building your network (and friendships) early!

Check out Forté’s calendar for when these admissions events will be taking place and let me know what you think. How have your campus visits been? Do you have any advice for other applicants?

Katie Harris, Forté Fellow
Class of 2012, UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School