Friday, November 30, 2012

From the Director's Desk: Letters of Recommendation – why are they important and how are they used to assess candidates?

Letters of Recommendation are a mandatory component for almost every B-school application, regardless of whether you are applying for a full-time, part-time or executive MBA.  While the number of recommendations may vary by School, there are some general guidelines that will help you approach this part of the application process successfully. 

First of all, when identifying your recommenders, formally ask each recommender this important question: “Do you have the time to write a positive recommendation for my application to B-school?”  While you may think that this is a given, you would be surprised as to how many applicants have recommenders who write neutral or even negative letters.  As you can imagine, this is a huge red flag to the Admissions Committee.  It might also be helpful to spend a few minutes with each recommender and brief them on your decision to apply for the MBA, what you hope to accomplish with the degree, and why you are targeting certain schools.  This information will be a good review for the recommender as they sit down and consider what to include in your letter.

To give perspective - B-schools ask for recommendations to get an outside viewpoint on you and hopefully validate what you are saying about yourself in the application.  Unless otherwise stated, most B-schools want professional recommendations from a current or recent past supervisor.  You should choose a recommender who knows you well, rather than choosing someone with an impressive title but limited daily interaction with you (ie. CEO).  The Admissions Committee will expect that your recommender can provide detailed information about your on-the-job performance, not just a list of adjectives that describe you or a personal endorsement that you “are a great person”.  They want specific examples of how you have demonstrated certain skill sets and competencies.  Hearing from someone who has worked closely with you and ultimately evaluated your performance and your deliverables provides this important information.   The recommendation should also be balanced - highlighting strengths and weaknesses, accomplishments and learning over the time that they have known you.

Final tips as you work on your recommendations:
  •          If you are an entrepreneur (work for yourself) or work for a family business – consider choosing a client or someone who has directly observed you working “on the job” and had a chance to evaluate your performance.  Do not choose a family member as it would not be considered a balanced recommendation.
  •          Even if your recommender asks, do not write the evaluation for them.   We expect that the recommendation is confidential and is coming from someone other than you.  We get your opinion about your work performance from the interview, essays and resume!
  •         If you do not want your immediate boss to know of your B-school plans, (ie. It may impact your qualifications for future promotion, bonus, etc.) then consider a recent past-supervisor or someone who has served in a project/team lead role over you.  You may want to address this in the optional essay and briefly explain to the Admissions Committee why you are not using your current supervisor for the recommendation.

Rebekah S. Lewin, MBA '02
Executive Director of Admissions & Administration
Univ. of Rochester, Simon Graduate School of Business

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Stories Can Help You In Your Interview

I had one horrible interview.  I was thrown off by an early question about my favorite class in college.  It was too far back for me to remember clearly and I spent the rest of the interview playing catch up.  My mind completely emptied and I couldn’t think of any examples for any of the questions.  I ended up sounding hollow and unmotivated.

So, what did I learn?  How did I use this experience to shore up my interviewing skills and feel confident going into an interview?  I prepared stories.  Because I was so worried about blanking again, I prepared examples in advance without associating them with questions.  This method allowed me to be more nimble and spend precious thinking time on how to express myself rather than on what to say.

Before each interview, I came up with 5-10 stories from the past week or month, or even last several years that I thought portrayed me in a positive light.  They were not all successes or strengths, and they had real complexity.  I picked complicated situations because they felt more genuine, but also so that they would be versatile and I could use them to answer any question.  The same story could be a response to “have you ever disagreed with your boss,” “tell me about a time you failed,” or “what motivates you.”  In addition, you can use them as examples when talking about your goals or accomplishments. 

In advance, I considered my role in the stories and also how other participants would judge them.  By thinking about the stories from several angles, I was able to be more thoughtful during the interview and more reflective about lessons learned and implications.  When the interviewer asked a question, I quickly did a mental scan through my stories and picked the one that was most fitting, and then elaborated and applied it to the question.

To prepare these stories, ask yourself about recent times that you demonstrated leadership, did something difficult, or did something without a clear answer.  Develop the stories in your head and if possible, practice telling them to a friend or mentor.  Make sure that they ring true to you and that you can tell them without having to hide parts of who you are.  These stories will end up being invaluable in your interviews.  Good luck!

Judy Herbstman, Forte Fellow
MBA 2014, Stern School of Business at NYU

Monday, November 26, 2012

Update Your Resume B-School Style

Oh, the resume. It’s amazing how so much work can go into one little piece of paper.  I spent hours tweaking my resume for my B-school applications. Come to find out, once you get in, you do an entire upheaval of the resume AGAIN!

Here are a few tips we’re using now that could get you a head start on a perfect page:

Word Choice Matters:  We all want strong and active verbs within our bullet points. Yet, somehow it is tempting to just pick the first word the thesaurus gives as another way to say “worked”. Word choice is imperative in giving the reader a glimpse into your actual contribution to a project. Get more specific if a lot of your words sound like “assisted”, “contributed” or “supported”. Ask yourself what YOU actually did on the project. Did you CREATE anything? IMPLEMENT anything? IMPROVE anything? Those make a stronger case for individual contribution.

Looking Forward: Shift your thinking of the resume from a document detailing what you did in the past, to a highlight reel of why you’d be great for the job you want in the future. Think about what characteristics and attributes are needed for success in the field in which you want to work.  Then, construct your resume in a way that shows your strengths and experiences in those areas. 

Explain Results:  Anytime you can give insight of the result of your action, do it! How much did you increase sales?  Was your proposal implemented throughout the company? In certain industries, results are less tangible. Ask yourself, “What happened due to my actions on this project? Why did this matter?” And don’t be afraid to get creative in ways to explain the impact of your projects.

It’s true that a resume can’t truly encapsulate everything about you as a person, but hopefully these tips will help you project the best possible image of yourself and your work experience!

Good Luck!

Tricia Felice, Forte Fellow
MBA 2014, The University of Chicago Booth School of Business

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Advice on tackling the recommendation letters

Often given the least importance by MBA applicants, letters of recommendation add immense value to your applications and require a significant amount of time and attention. Be proactive and start thinking of all the potential recommenders. Choose on the basis of how well they know you and how keen they would be to help you through your application. It is always an add-on to choose someone with good written skills; someone who can craft a compelling letter of recommendation.

Your list could comprise of current or previous employers, supervisors from the not-for-profit organizations you worked for, or college professors. The latter however doesn’t put as much impact as the others since it is from a much prior timeline. The newer the experiences you bring in to your recommendation, the more the value they add to it. In all, aim for a good combination of recommenders in order to showcase your skills and capabilities to the fullest, thus bringing a broader perspective to your candidacy.

A key thing to remember here is that your recommenders hold significant positions at their respective firms and will have deadlines to meet. So give them enough time to work on the letters, 4-6 weeks preferably. It is always nice to talk to them about the strengths you want to leverage in your application. Make them understand why a certain school appeals to you and your passion for pursuing MBA. From my own experience, I have observed that it is always easier for a recommender to provide an effective letter if they know about the process and the expectations that encompass it.

Start by connecting with all your potential recommenders and evaluating who would be keen on providing a recommendation. Once you narrow down to the final pool of recommenders, divide your applications among them. Keep it to 2-3 recommendations per person. Respect their time and consideration by not bothering them with too many recommendation requests.

I would also say, please refrain from writing your own letters. It is however always nice to help your recommenders through the process. So provide them with all the necessary information and do not forget to remind them of the deadlines. A good recommendation is of no use if not sent on time!

All the best!

Urvashi Marda, Forté Fellow                                                                                                                                         Class of 2014, Kelley School of Business at Indiana University

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Day in the Life of a First-Year MBA Student

I’m sure many of you have heard just how busy business school students are, but what does a typical day look like as an MBA student? To help shed some light on this topic, I’ve outlined a typical day in my life as a first-year student at the UCLA Anderson of Management.

7:00am: Wake up (after hitting the snooze buttons a few times), shower and prepare my business formal outfit for recruiting activities later that day.

7:45am: Leave apartment in Santa Monica with 3 granola bars, 1 banana, my backpack and suit/heels.

8:30am: Arrive at first ACT (Anderson Career Team) team meeting, focused on consulting. ACT teams are led by two second-year students and focus on industry-related prep (e.g. consulting, marketing etc.).

10:00am: Attend second ACT team meeting, focused on marketing.

11:30am: Change into business casual outfit, and join talk with Dean Olian sponsored WBC (Women’s Business Connection). Eat lunch!

12:45pm: Attend Communications class on Personal Branding.

2:30pm: Attend Marketing class on Targeting and Positioning.

4:15pm: Meet with Learning Team to review Statistics case and Economics problem set.

6:30pm: Change into business formal and attend MCA (Management Consulting Association) Fall Firm Kick-Off.

8:30pm: Drive back to Santa Monica, drop by Whole Foods to pick up food to-go for dinner.

9:00pm: Arrive back home. Eat dinner while studying for Accounting.

10:30pm: Unwind with some dessert and take a quick walk with my boyfriend to our nearest Pinkberry.

11:30pm: Come back home and SLEEP!

So there you have it. A typical day in the life of a first-year business school student. As you can see, lots to look forward to!

Diana Lin, Forte Fellow
MBA 2013, UCLA Anderson School of Management

Friday, November 16, 2012

Texas MBA Women Beat the Gender Pay Gap for the First Time

We are excited to share this great news from our partner school, the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas! The Texas MBA Class of 2012 have closed the gender pay gap, earning larger salaries on average than the men from their class.

Texas MBA Women Beat the Gender Pay Gap for the First Time
by Renee Hopkins

Stacey Rudnick is not often surprised by data. But she was both thrilled and surprised recently by data indicating that women from the Texas MBA Class of 2012 have closed the gender pay gap, earning larger salaries on average than the men from their class.

“I had to look at the numbers twice,” said Rudnick, who is Director of Career Management at McCombs.  But subsequent viewing proved her right – the average post-graduate base pay for class of 2012 women is $106,073, compared to $104,631 for men from the same class.

“This is new. We have seen women’s salaries coming out of B-school get closer and closer to men’s since 2010,” said Rudnick, “but last year there was still a $2,500 wage gap in base salary for women.  It is wonderful to see that gap closed.”

According to an October study by the American Association of University Women, a woman one year out of college earns 82 cents for every dollar made by a man one year out of college. The study, which received wide media coverage, notes that women might make different career choices if they knew just how costly their job preferences may turn out.

Business school offers women two significant benefits that are difficult to replicate otherwise, said Rudnick. One is the benefit of belonging to a peer group that can be tapped for future business partnerships, support and ideas.

The other is the chance business school offers women to compete and learn in a less risky environment than on-the-job. “In business school,” she said, “women can check out which careers might be the best fit while stretching outside their comfort zones academically and personally through case challenges, take leadership positions within the school, take rigorous courses, or try work in a new industry.”

Business school may also offer women more opportunities to advance than they can create for themselves by simply trying to move up the ladder at their current jobs, or change careers. According to Rudnick, business school offers women a “better chance to make the type of change in one’s career that can be difficult to accomplish quickly within your existing firm.”

One reason Texas MBA women may have closed the pay gap is that “we have such strong women leaders at McCombs,” explained Rudnick. For example, “while women comprise 28 percent of the class of 2013, they hold 38 percent of the leadership positions in elected or selective organizations within the school.”

It should be noted that business school holds the same opportunities and benefits for men as well as women. Both men and women in the class of 2012 received post-MBA salaries that were more than a 60 percent increase over their pre-MBA salaries.

However, the class of 2012 women increased their pre-MBA average salary of $60,792 by 74 percent, while the men earned a 63 percent increase over their average pre-MBA salary of $64,047.

“Business school may offer an unprecedented opportunity to level the playing field for women,” said Rudnick. “It’s a place where women can more easily be recognized and recruited by organizations based on their skill set and contributions as future leaders.”

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Preparing for Admissions Interviews

One of the crucial steps towards an MBA is the admissions interview process. Here, I’d like to share some pointers on how to prepare for the interviews and handle yourself when challenged by interviewers.

In simple terms, the objective of the interviews (for the school) is to meet the person whose application they liked. They want to understand qualitatively as to whether this person is genuine, professional, has the right soft skills and if the school is a good fit for his/her aspirations. There is definitely no faking your personality when someone challenges your personal story (and this could happen during an admissions interview). To prepare, there are few simple steps you can take:

1.       Know your story well: It could be a few months since you wrote your resume and essays. So, go over them and reflect upon your accomplishments, goals, beliefs etc. and prepare your reasons for why you want do an MBA, why now and why you chose the school.

2.      Share your story well: In most cases, the interviewer will be a complete stranger to you, so provide him/her with a good overall picture and fill in the specifics whenever asked. If it fits the conversation, add details about the school (courses you plan to take, clubs you plan to join, activities you might take up etc.) The details show commitment. Try to tie this information to how it will help your future career.

3.      Get feedback: Towards the end, ask the interviewer if he/she can provide you some feedback on the path you are envisioning for yourself and your experiences to date. Listen to what he/she has to say. If nothing else, you may get an honest professional perspective on how a stranger perceives you and your story in light of your goals. In fact, I remember feeling refreshed with the honest opinion of how I came off on paper vs. my interview (e.g. one of my interviewers felt I lacked P&L management experience and I know that this is something I will try to add to at some point in my career).

4.      Be yourself but maintain a calm, professional demeanor: As easy as it may sound to talk about yourself, the interview could get progressively challenging. Don’t get discouraged if your interviewer turns out to be particularly tough and challenges you on your story or your intentions. He/she is just testing the depth of your story. So don’t take on new personalities or try to think about what they would like to hear. Continue to be yourself and share your true beliefs and why you believe them. Stick to what you said in your application and draw parallels.

5.      Make sure you eat before the interview: This seems like a no brainer but talking to someone for two hours at dinner time with two nachos in your tummy is not fun. No matter what time you’re interviewing, make sure you refuel beforehand.

Speaking personally, one of my two interviewers, in spite of being very friendly and jovial, challenged me thoroughly on many aspects of my application. For instance, the interviewer challenged me on whether INSEAD was truly the right school for me or whether I was doing it out of geographical convenience (I was living and working in Singapore at the time and had expressed that I would like to start on the Singapore campus). In response, I basically laid out clearly, a list of all the other schools I had researched, what I had found and reasons why I had chosen to go with INSEAD. I also mentioned that while I’d be starting at the Singapore campus, I will be doing the US exchange and Fontainebleau campus exchange as well, so I was in no way tied to Singapore. Throughout the interview, I did feel like I had been put on the defensive multiple times on several questions, but tried to maintain my cool and enjoy the conversation as much as possible. I remember coming out of the grueling two-hour conversation feeling like I may have lost my chance with INSEAD as there were perhaps many unanswered questions that the admissions team had about my candidacy. However, I was confident that I had done my best as I had reflected my true self at the interview and defended my reasons calmly and professionally. In the end, I was undoubtedly over joyed to receive an admit!

Sweeny Chhabra, Forté Fellow

Monday, November 12, 2012

Is The MBA Right For You?

Deciding to pursue an MBA is not a decision to be taken lightly.  The costs and resources that go into the actual pursuit of an MBA require careful thinking before even the first page of a GMAT prep book is opened. Some of the costs that I can think of, right away are:

·         Application costs: Application fees cost anything between 50 dollars and 300 dollars or more, not counting the little things like mailing, travel, and even phone bills.

·         Time and Energy: Putting together your application (essays, interviews, campus visits, meeting current students etc.) takes a huge amount of time.

·         Standardized tests: Depending on your aptitude these tests take a lot of prep time while holding down a full time job and family/social commitments.  Some people even take them more than once to get the right score for their desired school.

·         When you are admitted, you sacrifice time with your family (you will be in school, networking, recruiting or on a job hunt most of the time); you possibly uproot your entire family into a new community for the period.

·         Quitting your job, and losing 1 to 2 years of work experience and income.

In thinking about pursuing an MBA it is most important to take time by yourself or with your significant other to count these and many other costs that may weigh on your decision. 

I think I put the cart before the horse here, but knowing your objectives is very important when you are considering if the MBA is the right graduate program for you.  Think about what you want to achieve in life, professionally and personally, and research that area thoroughly. Ask yourself some searching questions, some of which are in the bullets below.

·         Is an MBA required to get you to your objective? Look at highly respected people within the field that you want to excel in. Do they typically have MBA’s? 

·         Where are you in your career at the moment? Have you reached a plateau in your job and want help getting a promotion?  Do you want to learn to lead people?   Do you want to start a business? Do you want to change careers into a sector which hires mostly MBA’s (If you want to switch from engineering into medical research , the MBA may not be the option to take)

·         Can you achieve your objectives with a graduate degree other than an MBA? Is an MBA a thing of prestige for you: everyone in your social circles has one or expects you to have one? Is it an end in itself, something you always wanted?

·         Do you even like business? I recommend taking one technical business course and one managerial type course, like accounting and business strategy either online (iTunes U is a great place for free MBA type lectures online) or at a local community college. What were your impressions of these courses?  Read books on business, there are lots of recommendations on Amazon. Did you have an Aha moment, where it all starts to come together? An MBA might be perfect for you.

This seems like a lot of work, even before you start, but would you rather be in the middle of the school year and stuck continuing on a track you hate and have no passion pursuing? Imagine feeling trapped, sitting in an accounting class 70,000 dollars in debt, hating it, and waiting for another year to pass so you can go on to study for that PhD in Physics that you should have followed your heart on.

Asking these questions is important not only to make sure that you make the right decision, it also informs the type of school you will choose to attend, when you should attend, which type of program to choose(full-time or part time)  and what type of experiences you want take away from the program.

To conclude, I’d like to list a few bullets on why you should NOT pursue and MBA

·         I hate my job so I will take a 2 year holiday in school.  This will be a very costly and potentially disappointing holiday. 

·         I can’t figure out what to do with my life, so let me explore with B school. What if you find your passion elsewhere and end up hating business school?

·         Rankings and some survey shows that the average starting salaries for MBA’s is 100k and above, and so this is the way to go. This is not guaranteed for all, rankings show averages. Excellence at what you do and continuous professional development can also get you there.

Approach this decision with careful thought and planning. Avoid being cookie cutter and following the crowd, no matter what everyone is doing. Do the right thing for you.  An MBA can be a fulfilling and rewarding experience which will benefit you for a lifetime. You owe it to yourself to make sure that it is the right step to take.

Ackun Aba, Forte Fellow
MBA 2014, Darden School at University of Virginia

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

B-School Application Season: Ready, Set, Go!

Around this time last year, I still hadn’t decided that I definitely wanted to go to business school. I had been to many school presentations, visited a school or two, talked to my friends and as many strangers as would listen, but I just couldn’t make the commitment to apply. Eventually, I concluded that business school would be the best thing for my career, and now, two months into my first year, I couldn’t be happier with my decision.

Hopefully you are already past this point, but if you aren’t, don’t worry! You still have plenty of time to write essays, ask for recommendations, and get those applications in for next year. If you are thinking about applying in the future, even better. Start as early as possible, and really spend a lot of time thinking about your career and what you’d like to get out of business school.

Here are a couple of tips I have, after experiencing the application process last year:

·         Visit schools – I know it can be expensive, but try to visit as many schools as possible to get a real feeling for how the school operates and what it’s like to be on campus. If you can’t, don’t stress out, many schools have presentations in various cities, and you can always reach out to current students and alums to get their opinions. Talk to as many people as possible.

·         Keep an open mind about schools – reputation isn’t everything. There are plenty of really great business schools out there that aren’t ranked #1 in the polls.

·         Apply to a range of schools – I know this seems obvious, but nothing is a guarantee in business schools applications, even with an 800 on your GMAT. If you really want to go to business school, make sure you apply to some safeties as well as reaches.

·         Dedicate time to your applications – Yes, this is a time-consuming and challenging process, but commit 100% at the beginning, and follow through because it is worth it. There is no point in only putting half your effort into applying. It is a waste of your time.

·         Be honest about yourself – If you don’t know exactly what you want to do in the future, that’s okay! Admissions offices don’t expect you to know that right now. What they want to see is that you’ve demonstrated clarity of thought about your strengths and what you want out of your career.

·         Exude confidence—you are an amazing, accomplished, impressive woman, even if you don’t think you are. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn a bit!
Good luck!

Sarah Miller, Forte Fellow
MBA 2014, Ross School of Business at Michigan

Monday, November 5, 2012

Help Wanted

It’s a busy and exciting time here at Carlson! We’ve just launched into our second quarter of classes – for us, that’s marketing, operations and finance – and it’s been great to start learning new concepts from new – but equally great – professors. We’re also in the throes of picking our year-and-a-half long, real-world experiential learning focus (called Enterprises), which means many of us are truly starting to commit to our chosen career paths.

That was certainly an eye-opener for me – I thought everyone came to business school with a set-in-stone idea of what they wanted their post-MBA job to be. That certainly hasn’t been the case. Some students came in with no sense of what they wanted to pursue after school whatsoever, while others came in with a set-in-stone idea that, after a career panel or company information session, was suddenly entirely flexible after all. 

For me, I came into school with a pretty solid sense of what I want to do post-MBA. I’ve used the many information-gathering opportunities available to first-year students – everything from on-campus information sessions to informational interviews with Carlson grads to coffees with second-year students – to hone in on the specific type of marketing role that fits with my long-term career goals and professional priorities.

The opportunity to explore all your options – even if you think you might not be interested in a particular company or job function whatsoever – is an integral part of the business school experience. As you’re looking at schools and finalizing the list of where you plan to apply, make sure you’re sizing up the exploratory opportunities offered by the program’s career center as well. After all, the end goal of everyone seeking an MBA is to land a great, fulfilling, and hopefully well-paying job afterwards.  The resources available from the school’s career team are a critical component to achieving that goal.
Sarah Riley, Forte Fellow
MBA 2014, Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota