Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Network, Network, Network...

I already hear a few of you cringing at the thought of this. A few weeks ago, I spoke on a panel discussing “The Art of Networking.” When attendees were asked to raise their hands if they thought they were good at networking, barely any hands came up.

There truly is no need to panic, sigh, cringe, whine, or have any other negative reaction to this “networking” word.

No matter where you are in your MBA process – discussing with prospective schools, meeting current students, attending MBA conferences, looking for internships or jobs, etc. here are a few tips that could make your next networking session seamless:

1) Think Dialogue! It is not about the details of the MBA Program or the Company; it is a conversation with you and the university representative/ company employee/ potential mentor. Details about MBA programs and companies can be found on the website. Genuinely be interested in what they have to say, their experiences, their passions and inspirations; and be ready to share the same about you.

2) Listen! Yes, this is how you keep the momentum in the conversation and it opens the door for a good come-back questions. Besides, when you follow-up with this contact, remembering and noting highlights of the conversation, will be a good way to remind this new contact about the discussion.

3) First Impressions! Don’t forget the strong handshake. Portray confidence and make eye contact. Make sure you are dressed for the part; it will be easier for the contact to envision you in the role you are pursuing.

4) Hit or Not! Not every contact/ person you meet will be a hit. Sometimes differences in personalities can make a conversation go great or stay flat. In such situations, be true to yourself and your personality; make sure you learn as much about the contact and have a few key questions in your arsenal that you can use to reinvigorate the awkward pauses that could arise.

5) Remember to Relax! This person wears their pants the same way you do. They could be your parent, sibling, friend or colleague. Remember to have a conversation, be yourself and maintain the momentum with good come-back questions.

Oyinade Ogunbekun, Forte Fellow
Class of 2012, Olin Business School, Washington University in St. Louis

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How To “Ace” Your School Visit

By Lindsay Petrovic
Johnson School of Management at Cornell, Forte Fellow 2013 MBA Graduate

As Round 2 application deadlines are rapidly approaching, so are the prospects for school visits. It can be a stressful time, but visits are a fantastic way to get a feel for a school, meet current students, and gain valuable culture and fit information that a school website just can’t offer. While a visit is a great learning opportunity for you, it also is a great learning opportunity for the school. Keeping this is mind, being prepared and professional during a school visit can send a great message to the school, and can help you get the most out of the visit.

A few tips to get you started:

1. Wear professional attire. A suit is always appropriate, although business casual at some schools may be acceptable. I personally think, however, that you can never be overdressed!

2. Make appointments to meet current students through admissions related activities, such as class visits, but also try to connect with students that have similar backgrounds or career paths as you. The school website will most likely be able to connect you with these people, as will admissions. If you have a personal contact at the school, they can also help out as well. Additionally, try to meet as many students through both means as possible. The more people you can interact with, the better. Don’t let one person positively or negatively cloud your perception of the school.

3. Connect with admissions during a visit. You may be able to get some one-on-one time with a member of the admissions team, which is always valuable.

4. Come prepared with as many questions as you possibly can think of. No question is ever silly if the answer means something to you. Questions will not only help facilitate your interactions with people at the school, but also will help you get the most out of your visit. Additionally, there’s nothing worse than arriving back home from a visit with a pressing question unanswered.

5. Take a look at what the university has to offer outside of the business school, and take a tour of the campus. While you may ultimately align with the business school, the campus, classes, seminars, and resources the university has to offer may play significantly into which school you decide to attend.

6. Venture into the local area. Each city has its own flair or charm, and it’s important to understand that your location may, for you, play into your happiness at school.

Finally, be confident and smile! Both qualities will serve you well, wherever you may go.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Finding the School that's Right for You

By Marisa Kowalsky
2013 Forte Fellow at Goizueta Business School at Emory

Trying to decide what schools to apply to for your MBA is more difficult then it seems at first glance. After getting my GMAT score I looked at the ranking lists and picked out the schools that I could get into given my work experience, undergraduate GPA and GMAT score. I narrowed down the list to areas that I would be interested based on personal preference. This left me with six different options. I charged ahead, got my "recommenders" to commit and laid out all of the deadlines I needed to meet. About half way through the application process, I began questioning my decision about where to apply. Initially I had decided to go purely based on rankings, fit within the class profile and location, but as I delved deeper into the process it seemed that many of the schools offered similar products (Marketing Club, Global Learning, Experiential Initiatives, etc.) and they were all blending together.

This frustration combined with the sugar coated descriptions and testimonies that appeared in the official literature pushed me to look at each school option through a different lens. I asked myself a new set of questions. How would a class size of 400 versus a class size 180 effect me? Do rankings really matter if post-graduate average salaries and job offer rates were comparable? Are the people that this school attracts people that will be a great network when I am there and when I graduate? These new questions could not be answered by the glossy brochures that lay strewn across my dining room table, so I reached out to people who had already received their MBAs and those that worked in my industry of interest. This is what I learned, rankings matter to some companies, but the value brought by the graduates they have employed is what sells the school. A class size of 400 means you are one of 400 people vying for the attention of professors, administrators, and recruiters, so unless you are at the top of your class or are vocal and persistent it can be easy to get lost in the crowd. If you are at a school with alumni that are not involved with the institution the network is just people you have one thing in common with, not people that take interest in helping you succeed. Also, I learned that location really does matter. You're going to be there for at least two year and want to make sure you'll be happy. If that location also lends itself to more opportunities in your industry or function of choice, then you are setting yourself up for personal and professional success. Overall, I learned that each school is far more unique then they appear and understanding what will make you flourish should propel the questions you ask about possible MBA programs.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

You Live and You Learn (Quickly)

Congratulations on making that decision and taking the first step towards more opportunities! Now comes the hard part(s): devote time and effort to the GMAT, perform self-assessments, research and visit schools, talk to students, faculty, staff and alumni, and more. The “to do’s” may sound overwhelming, but it will all seem like a breeze upon looking back once you’ve begun your MBA program!

When I was in your position over a year ago, I asked my friends and colleagues who had undergone MBA programs at various schools for guidance. The words of wisdom I received from each of them all resonated similar messages that I took to heart and recalled throughout my journey to date. I now share with you the points I believe to be the most valuable based upon advice given to me and my personal experiences.

1. Practice, Practice, Practice

In order to be successful on the GMAT, a certain level of preparation is essential. The GMAT exists for a reason, so use it as your competitive advantage. Familiarize yourself with the format and content of the GMAT. Enroll in a course and pay attention to receive the maximum benefit. Practice problems are a must, so use your free time (even if it is only 20-30 minutes) to go through as many questions as possible. Practice makes (closer towards) perfect!

2. Block Out the Noise
No one knows you better than yourself. Take some time to think about your motivations (i.e. what makes you tick) and your goals. Identify your strengths and weaknesses, and then talk to your family, friends and co-workers to gain perspective on these areas. Sometimes the strengths and weaknesses may be in line with one another, while other times you’ll surprisingly learn about yourself. However, at the end of the day, remember that this is about YOU and no one else. Do not let others influence you and your decisions; stay true to yourself.

3. Go With Your Gut

Researching a school through websites and brochures can give you a good understanding of what your experience at that school may be like. Many people immediately target the top business schools without giving second thought to what will suit them best. Be honest with yourself when determining what kind of experience you want during those two years through, because it will go by too quickly. Visiting a school allows your gut to make judgments of the school that you will not find in print anywhere. Your interactions with the schools (including current students, alumni, admissions, etc.) will provide a glimpse into your future. Keep in mind this will differ for each individual, but when you know, you know.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to me ( with any questions or anything else you’d like to discuss in further detail. Remember, every step is one step closer to that “pot of gold”!

Justina Lee, Forté Fellow
Class of 2013, CMU Tepper School of Business

Monday, November 14, 2011

Information Sessions: Worthless or Priceless?

By Lori McMenemy
MIT MBA Class of 2013

If your business school application season is anything like mine was, then you are exhausted right now. Between reading advice columns, stressing over admissions blogs, drafting the perfect resume, creating essay outlines, cramming for the GMAT, juggling volunteer work and other extracurricular activities, and managing to keep your job intact, life is busy! I remember getting several emails from friends asking when they would ever see me again. At the time, it seemed like they never would! I will save you some time and sum up this post in a sentence: go to the information sessions and attach a face to your application.

When I applied to business school, I was living in San Antonio. The schools I applied to only held information sessions in Austin or Houston. I had to decide if it was worth making a one and half hour drive to Austin or a three hour drive to Houston to attend the information sessions. Despite how busy I was, I attended the information sessions in an effort to create the strongest applications I possibly could. Based on my experiences, I recommend leveraging the information sessions to:

1. Learn About the Schools: Get to know the schools you are applying to. This information will provide talking points for your essays and interviews. Some school applications even contain a section about which events you have attended.

2. Meet Alums: Learn firsthand why the alums picked each school, what the network is like in your particular area of the country, and what the alums are doing now.

3. Introduce Yourself to Admissions: Being mindful of the line of people and the admissions officer’s time, briefly introduce yourself after the information session and ask a question that will enhance your application. Follow up the next day with a thank you email.

Business school is a challenge in time management, and the application process is the first taste of that juggling act. Given the opportunity to learn about schools, meet alums, and introduce yourself to admissions, my verdict on information sessions: priceless.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

If at First You Don’t Succeed: Apply, Apply Again!

You are brilliant and well-rounded. You are confident, innovative – a great team player. You are the perfect candidate for XYZ School of Business, and you can’t wait to start. And then… you get a rejection letter.

Now what?

You have a few options: a) cry and wonder how you ever thought you had what it takes to get into B-School; b) apply to other schools for which the deadline has not passed; or c) spend one more year polishing your application and re-apply.

If you know your top choice business school stands head and shoulders above the rest – if the school’s location, faculty, rank, whatever, makes it the ideal place for you – then, sister, you’ve got to re-apply! And get in this time.

That’s what I did. Here’s how:

1. Talk to the admissions staff. Some MBA programs offer candid feedback sessions for denied applicants. In other schools, you may be able to get a special meeting – perhaps during the slower summer months. Take notes during that meeting and make sure you get specific. When I pressed for details, I learned that specifically my GMAT quant scores, and my lack of quantitative analysis experience, had disqualified me. So I focused on that.

2. Let the admissions staff know you will be re-applying. Tell them your targeted plan for improving your candidacy. This sends an important signal and helps you establish a personal connection to the school. I sent the admissions office a letter outlining my “Quant Bootcamp”: Calculus in the fall, Statistics in the Spring, and a GMAT score at least 100 points higher by next year’s application deadline. And then I worked my butt off to make all that happen!

3. Consider alternative programs at your school of choice. Determine whether your experience and skills are better suited to the Executive or Part-time MBA programs.

4. Go the extra mile. Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. Though at times the admissions process seems like a mechanical algorithm of scores / grades / extra-curriculars, at the end of the day, it is actual warm-blooded humans making these decisions. And humans tend to value qualities like persistence, dedication and follow-through. You have a file in which all your correspondence and application materials are logged. What qualities do you want that file to reflect?

When it came time for the following year’s application, I made sure to highlight the progress I had made with quantitative analysis. I actually wrote the optional third essay. I submitted an extra letter of support.

And here I sit – a Forte Fellow, an MBA student at my dream school – on the path to a bright and prosperous future. Now, isn’t that better than crying and feeling rejected?

By: Jessica Galeria, Forte Fellow
U.C. Berkeley Haas School of Business Evening and Weekend MBA Program, Class of 2013