Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Spring showers bring MBA flowers

Hello everyone! After a bit of a hiatus, the MBA Source is BACK and ready to help you navigate the business school waters.

With all the gardening commercials on TV these days and my allergies going crazy, I thought I'd devote this posting to planting the seeds for your MBA. For those of you planning to apply to business school in the fall/winter, here are some things you can do now to put yourself in the best position.

  1. Take the GMAT now. I know this isn't on anyone's top 10 list, but get it out of the way early and save the last few months to work on your application. Trust me...you don't want to be dealing with your application and the GMAT at the same time. To continue with the garden metaphor, this would be the equivalent of planting a rose garden and raking your lawn at the same time. Once you have the GMAT out of the way, you will have much more time, energy and just all-around happiness to devote to creating your best application.

  2. Start talking to your network. Ok, I know I say this at least once a post, but start talking to the people that are in the jobs that you want to be in. This will give you the best and most relevant information on your potential career. Start looking at your network in terms of degrees of connections. Who is in your close circle that you could tap? Do all of your friends know your career goals? Perhaps they went to school with someone, work with someone, are childhood friends with someone, are neighbors with someone...who is doing the job you want. This world is very very small...don't underestimate the power of an email coming from a trusted friend.

  3. Begin thinking about your recommendations. Time is the most important factor in writing a recommendation, second only to recommenders who actually like you (just kidding). Start talking to potential recommenders about your business school plans so that you're not surprising them with the recommendation request out of the blue. This will also mean they are invested in your plans to attend business school and will do what they can to help you in the business school process.

  4. Create a calendar of deadlines. Establish your deadlines early on...especially for those items that you can accomplish in the spring/summer months. The fall will be busier than you think (for all those of you who have just finished the admissions cycle, can I get a woo hoo?). Know where you'll need to spend your time and what areas you'll need to focus on. You may even have time to see your friends in the fall.

  5. Don't worry about school selection just yet. This seems to be everyone's favorite part...but don't get ahead of yourself. The late summer/early fall is the best time to do this. Right now, admissions offices are holding open houses, making sure everyone pays their deposit or enrolls in the appropriate classes, and perhaps even still dealing with applications for this upcoming fall. The current class is graduating as well. Suffice to say, they aren't going to be able to pay a lot of attention to you when you visit. And in case 5 is your lucky number and you just decided to read this point, there are plenty of other items to take care of before you start making your list of schools.

So, all in all, the early bird gets the worm and has no crab grass. Devote the appropriate amount of time now and you'll be stopping to smell the roses in the fall.

Shameless plug: If you are starting your business school process and need some help, drop me a line at thembasource@gmail.com.

Enjoy the sunshine!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Almighty Feedback Session

Thanks to many of you who have submitted requests for topics. On this blog, I'll discuss how to best take advantage of feedback sessions when they are offered by admissions offices.

Feedback sessions are usually offered by Admissions offices for those applicants that receive a waitlist or decline but have potential within the application. Not every application office offers this opportunity, so don't feel slighted if you don't receive an invitation. Nonetheless, it doesn't hurt to ask.

From an admissions perspective, a feedback session is an opportunity to cultivate a pipeline of applicants. Let's face it - there is a limited supply of qualified candidates (unqualified...well, that's a different story). If an admissions office can help you improve on an area of your application and create a stronger candidate, it will certainly benefit them in the long run.

In preparation
Now, how do you approach this session? You should think about it like a review from a supervisor – the feedback is critical, useful and focused on making you a better applicant. Remember, it is in their best interest to make you a stronger applicant. Like an employer review, you shouldn’t be surprised by what is being said. Before the feedback session, go through your application again – hopefully since submitting it you might be able to step back a bit. Take a look at the overall message you were delivering – I’m a high performer, I’m a flexible, team-oriented person, I will be the next international entrepreneur. A high level overview will help you understand the message that the admissions office would have used as context to read the rest of your application.

Highlight what might be your pros and cons. Consider how your strengths stand out vs. your areas of development and expect to discuss these items in the session. If there happens to be something that isn’t brought up, use your list of pros/cons to help you drive the conversation. Look at your application in the context of these items:

  • Undergraduate/graduate gpa
  • GMAT score
  • Career progression
  • Goals – short and long term
  • Understanding of school offerings
  • “Fit” with school and culture

At the session
Before you start off the session, make sure you communicate your overall themes once again – why you want to attend b school, short/long term goals, reasons for applying to that business school. Now…ASK if this matches up with what was communicated in the application. One of the things you’ll learn in this business is that there are good applicants and then there are good applications. Understand if the committee “heard” the same themes in the application. If not, you now know another area to target.

Come with your list of questions to ask the admissions officer on each topic (you may want to prioritize since you may have limited time). Again, think of questions you would ask in a feedback review with a supervisor. What could I do to improve this piece of my application? What would an exceptional application look like? What areas of my application should I prioritize over others? Although you might be DYING to ask “what do I need to do to be accepted”, remember that this is still an opportunity to sell yourself to the admissions office. Show that you have thought through the process, been self-reflective and have thought about how to best approach this process.

Now, the reality is that you might hear some responses that you might not agree with. Again, here is your opportunity to impress the admissions committee with your level of diplomacy and tact. Instead of stating how you disagree, perhaps discuss your purpose or intent in doing “this” in your application. For example, if they advise you to remove an extracurricular involvement from your resume (which is unlikely – I’m choosing a rare example), explain your motives for including this to begin with.

A word to the wise – an excuses vs reality
Feedback in and of itself is often hard to give, but of course, it is also hard to receive. You might feel as if you have to explain away issues in your application, and this is where the applicants are separated from the new admits (a little admissions snarkiness for you). An excuse doesn’t place you at the center of the activity. It puts the accountability, the focus, and let’s just say it, the blame on another party. If you pass the buck at this stage, the admissions office is likely to extrapolate that you will pass the buck when it comes to your classes, your exams, your recruiting sessions, your interviews…you get the point. Now, an explanation will place you at the center of the issue, make you accountable, will show what you have learned from the situation and how you have come out the other end. So for example, a low gpa issue is a classic. An excuse would be – I was too quantitatively focused, I was too involved in school, my majors were really hard. Borderline excuses. An explanation would say, the coursework was tough and I didn’t allocate enough time to studying. I have since learned to plan out my time so that I can dedicate the resources where they are needed. Make sense? Again, think about this in terms of how you would talk to your boss. If they ask why something wasn’t done, would you give them a laundry list of excuses or would you step up, take ownership, and take a lesson from it.

So in essence, TRY to be as objective as possible in your own application feedback session. Take the time to review your application before hand and make sure you walk in with items to discuss. Walk in with an open mind and soak it all in. This is an opportunity for you to become a stronger applicant.

For those of you reading this, I’d love to hear your questions and comments.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Creating your own career stimulus plan

With all this talk of stimulus plans in the news, it only seems natural to talk about how you can stimulate your upcoming job search. A few practical and tactical things you can do in a few months to build your network, increase your function/industry-specific knowledge, and keep up with the latest trends/challenges in the industry you plan to join post-MBA. Also, if you are a career-switcher, this will help you evaluate the industry before you jump into it, and will yield more truthful results than a presentation.

Keep in mind that these tactics should focus on the industry/function you intend to go into.

  1. Scout out your undergraduate network. This is often the most overlooked network for students. Log onto your alma mater's alumni website and search for alumni in functions or industries that interest you. I recommend staying away from company specific searches just yet - remember you are looking to accumulate knowledge on the role, not necessarily the company. Company research will become more effective once you have an understanding of what that function does and how it is structured. So...back to the alumni network - don't be shy about reaching out. You have quite a bit in common with this person ALREADY. Even if your school didn't have a major in the area that you want to move into (e.g. you want to move into marketing, but your school didn't have a marketing major), you'll likely find there are alumni contacts in that area.
  2. Get involved in professional networks. Now this may in fact be easier said than done. Try a google search to find the right professional organization. If that doesn't produce results, connect with your new alumni buddy and ask them to suggest potential organizations to join. Quality is better than quantity here so pick a useful organization. If the organization is located in Cincinnati and you are in San Francisco, sign up for the newsletter, listen to their webcast, take a look at their upcoming events/publications/board of directors and sponsors. All of this information will be useful to you going forward. If there happens to be an organization in your area, see if you can attend an upcoming event, or better yet, see if you can volunteer to help at an event. And in exchange, broker an introduction to the board members of the organizations. Play your cards right, and this will lead to further introductions.
  3. Take a look at job descriptions for what you want to do. When in Rome...speak Roman (or fast forward to 2009, and speak Italian). So if you want a marketing job, speak marketing. Finance, speak finance. Consulting, speak consulting. Become fluent and the natives will reciprocate. Some easy ways to do this? Read industry/function specific publications. Check out the words they are using. How do they describe their work? What topics do you see over and over again? Read job descriptions for the industry/function. Take a look at how descriptions for the same function differ across industries. For example, how would a marketing role differ in a luxury-retail company versus a consumer packaged goods firm? Become familiar with these difference. Know which industries say "engagement teams", which say "working groups" and which say "cohorts".
  4. Use all this information to polish your work experience. Now with all this information, go back to the drawing board and see if you can 'translate' your work experience into industry terminology or understanding. You may not have to rewrite your resume, but think about how the items on it can be tailored to work within a specific industry or function. See what strengths you can draw out that would be of interest to employers looking for a particular function. If this sounds tough to do, well, you are right. There is an entire industry devoted to consulting with applicants on this process...and yes, I happen to be a part of it. For a professional consultation regarding this process, send me an email at thembasource@gmail.com .

Sunday, February 1, 2009

My apps are in, my app fees are paid. What do I do with all this time?

A big congratulations to those of you who have successfully submitted your applications! Sigh. Now what? You have 10 extra hours to your week. You don't solve GMAT prep problems in your head. You are no longer harassing your supervisor to complete your recommendations. What on earth will you do with yourself? And how will you get through this waiting time?

Here is a list of things that you could do to not only help you spend your time, but also make sure you are ready to go when the BIG ENVELOPE arrives.
  1. Check that credit score. Make sure your credit score is in top shape - especially with the credit crisis. Resolve any outstanding issues and make sure your information is up to date. Every year, there are a few students who have to go through several rounds of approval to obtain a loan, and it's usually at an unattractive rate. Save the chaos, watch some Suze Orman and get your credit score looking like a perfect GMAT quant score! Check out www.annualcreditreport.com - AnnualCreditReport.com provides consumers with the secure means to request and obtain a free credit report once every 12 months from each of the three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies in accordance with the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act).
  2. Make wise spending choices. Now is the time to leave the Jimmy Choos in the store and the flat screen at Best Buy. Save! Save! Save! There are lots of expenses that come up for business school that don't always come to mind - new laptop, movers for that apartment/house that is closer to school, new interview suits, orientation fees, happy hour "fees"...not to mention books, that fancy financial calculator, etc. Also, keep in mind that sometimes student loans don't kick in until mid-September, early October so you might be on your own for a while before the borrowed dollars kick in.
  3. Spend plenty of time with your friends now. I know this sounds horrible, but business school, especially the first semester, will find you busy busy busy. Get out there and spend time with your buddies (but go for 2-for-1 happy hour deals). Prepare them for the changes ahead - they might not see you as often, but you still love them (I hope!).
  4. Nurture your network. At some point in your business school career, you will need to reach out to people you haven't spoken to in a while. Lots of networking "experts" will tell you that your network is only as effective as you make it. SOOO...reach out to people that you may have lost touch with or discussed your business school plans with. They may have an impact on your career progression. Send them an email (or better yet, pick up the phone) and let people know that you are taking the next step. Ask them for advice, catch up on their lives. And when you have to make that request for an informational interview, or a connection at their company, it won't seem like you are using them or coming out of the blue. Remember, your network is only greener where you water it.
  5. Nurture your network some more. I can't reinforce this enough. You'll be ahead of the curve come September when your classmates are struggling to find who they know and where they work.
  6. Plan a summer vacation. Now, this might contradict point #2, but planned wisely, you could do something fun at a frugal price point. Once business school starts, it's quite a roller coaster ride. You'll be glad that you took some time to relax beforehand. I suggest sometime in July or early August. Don't go too far into August or you might find yourself tight on time.

I hope this is enough to keep you busy for at least a few weeks, which should be enough time for those acceptance letters to arrive.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Inaugural MBA SOURCE post

Welcome the inaugural MBA SOURCE blogpost.

Whenever I speak to potential applicants about the application process, there are some questions as to what occurs behind closed doors. Yes, the process can often have little transparency and that I assure you that is by design. Here are my answers to some of those questions you always thought about, but never asked. And if you have anything else you want to know, submit a comment on my blog!

Do "they" actually read the full application?
To those of you who labored over adding a "." vs a ";", know that your efforts were not in vain. Admissions committee pour through each and every application (or at least the good ones do) to determine what the candidate has in store.

Where and when do you read an application?
This might just be my favorite question! I wish I could tell you that we all gathered around an oak paneled room while the first snow was falling. The reality is that I was reading applications at my desk - during the day, during the night, on the weekends. Not very glamorous at all. Application reading is pretty much your major focus during the application cycle (November - April) and so you find yourself reading applications any second you get including weekends. (Note to file - if you visit a campus on the weekend during application time, beware that some of those people walking around might be tired admissions officers!)

Because of the confidential information within your application, most schools have rules as to where you can read your files. The admissions world has plenty of urban myths including the one about the officer who put a bunch of files in her car, and made a pit stop before reaching home. Well the car was robbed and so where the files! Suffice to say, most admissions offices don't want that kind of publicity.

How long does it take to read an application?
Now, this is the question with the highest shock and awe value. On average, I could get through 3-4 applications an hour, spending between 15-20 minutes on the entire application process including my evaluations. Now, for some this was longer, especially if the essays weren't clear or the applicant was missing something in their file. The majority of the time was spent reading your essays, which I'm sure most of you spent much more than 20 minutes on! Given this short amount of time, it is critical that your essays clearly answer the question and communicate your key messages. Generally, if an applicant has difficulty communicating their goals in an essay, the likelihood you'll get a chance to do it in person is low.

What are the MAJOR no-no's that applicants have committed?
Don't be this applicant!
  1. That darn find and replace feature. We've all been here, but mistaking one schools name for another just screams "I did this last minute and I'm not focused on your school".
    TIP - Before you submit your essays, call in a favor and ask someone to be your "damage control" (and then take them for drinks).
  2. You don't answer the question. If the school wants to know something about you, it's for a reason. You might not understand why, but they do. And as an admissions officer, when you are on application #38 of a pile of 75, the answer needs to be clear. You don't have time to hunt.
    TIP - When you are asking people to review your essays, don't give them the essay question. When they are done reading, ask them what they thought the question was, or alternatively show them the question and ask them if you answered it.
  3. My transcript/recommendation/essay is coming in after the deadline. We know you are busy and that sometimes things don't always go according to plan. However, there are plenty of other applicants who manage to get in it on time, and their application will be read before yours.
    TIP - Applications for most schools go live in the summertime. Start planning for recommendations and transcripts then. As for essays, start your drafts in July. Come October, you'll be thanking me.
  4. And my own personal favorite...You met someone from the admissions committee and you don't remember their name so you try to get as close as possible. You wouldn't like it if your acceptance letter called you by a different name?
    TIP - Call the admissions office hotline and request the name of the person you met.

I hope these tips are helpful, or perhaps just entertaining. If you are applying to business school and want to learn more about the MBA Admissions counseling services, email theMBASOURCE@gmail.com.