Lesson 4 – Use the Recruiting Process to Help Your Application 

After deciding if an MBA is a good fit, reviewing which format works best for you and gaining a better understanding of how to use rankings to influence your program selection, it’s time to start checking out schools.

To this effect, Chapter 4 discusses the recruiting process and opens with a funny (but sadly true) story about a prospective student who made a very bad first impression with my team and I at an MBA recruiting event. The chapter then focuses on how to use the recruiting process to determine if a program is a good fit for you, and—if so—how to ensure that you’re making a positive impression with everyone you interact with throughout the process.

Specific topics covered include:

  • What is the recruiting process and how can it be leveraged by both prospective students and program staff to determine fit?
  • How can you go beyond a program’s website to learn what it’s really all about?
  • How do you maximize the value of a campus visit? If a campus visit isn’t possible, how can you still get a strong understanding of the school?
  • Tips for making a good impression at recruiting events and campus visits.
  • Taboo topics and other things to avoid during recruiting events .

After reading this chapter, I hope you’ll have greater insight into the importance of the recruiting process and how to use various events and conversations with program officials, students, faculty and alumni to your advantage.

Next week, we’ll cover one of the most critical topics in the book – understanding the admissions process and using that knowledge to create a high-quality application.

For more information about the book, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter, which will release updates as we near the release date: http://eepurl.com/bWX6BD.

The Third Step to a Successful MBA Experience

As I mentioned a few weeks agoGet in, Get Connected, Get Hired – Lessons from an MBA Insider goes on sale at the end of May. The book reviews some of the most important insights I’ve gleaned from working with prospective and current MBA students over the last 6+ years. Each week between now and the launch, I’ll preview a chapter.

Lesson 3 – Understand the rankings and use them appropriately

After deciding if an MBA is a good fit (and reviewing which format works best for you), many prospective MBA students immediately start by reviewing school rankings. And yet, very few really understand how said rankings are determined.

To this effect, Chapter 3 opens with a story of a student who was admitted to our program with a substantial scholarship but chose a higher-ranked program instead. After graduation, he wound up at the same firm in which we placed several of our gradates, but—unlike our graduates—this prospect had over $100,000 in student loans to pay off. This chapter discusses MBA rankings in detail, including the major ranking agencies, the benefits of the rankings, and the pitfalls of believing they’re an “end all” for school selection.

Specifically, Chapter 3 focuses on the US News and World Report Best Business Schools ranking and discusses the following questions in length:

  • What components comprise the US News ranking? Which are subjective and which are objective?
  • How are the subjective components calculated? Do these calculations favor public vs. private, urban vs. rural, or expensive vs. inexpensive schools?
  • Are leadership, managerial and interpersonal skills factored into the rankings? (Hint: They aren’t.) Should they be?
  • Should “value” be included in the rankings? Is it?
  • Has there been a lot of change in the US News Rankings over the last 25 years? Does this make sense given the evolution of other industries over that same span?

After reading this chapter, you should have a better of how rankings are structured, where and how they can be helpful and how—if they’re not fully understood—they could lead to choosing a program that’s not a good fit for your post-graduation goals.

Next week, I’ll preview another important lesson—understanding the recruiting process and how to use it to find the right fit and optimize your chances of admission at your top program(s). Until then, let me know if you have any questions or comments!

Three Great & Three Terrible Reasons to Earn an MBA

An MBA can be a hugely rewarding experience, from both a personal and professional perspective. I’ve worked with MBA graduates who have leveraged the degree to rapidly advance in their chosen career. I’ve also seen students use the MBA to pivot and change careers into a more rewarding and/or lucrative opportunity. Most importantly, I’ve witnessed students take advantage of the numerous experiential learning opportunities embedded within the MBA curriculum to enhance their leadership, managerial and interpersonal skills and build their professional networks.

To fully optimize the MBA experience, students should explore their rationale for wanting the degree as early in the admissions process as possible. Based on conversations I’ve had with more than 1,000 prospective MBA students, here are three great and three terrible reasons for wanting an MBA.

Great Reasons:

1. “I want to change careers

An MBA can provide many benefits to those looking to change careers. In addition to providing an opportunity to learn new skills (accounting, marketing, finance, operations, human resources, etc.), most MBA programs offer numerous networking opportunities with employers and alumni. In addition, full-time MBA program formats (click here to learn about all MBA formats) allow students to complete an internship between the first and second year of study. The successful completion of an internship can often lead to a full-time opportunity in the student’s new chosen field.

2. “I want to move from an individual contributor into a management or leadership role”

Typically, the first few years of our careers are spent as individual contributors. As individual contributors employees utilize the technical skill sets learned as an undergraduate to perform tasks for others within the organization. For example, someone with a computer science background may start his career as an entry-level programmer for a large organization. His success in the organization may depend mostly on his technical skill set. However, to move into a management or leadership role a broader set of skills is required. (Click here to learn more about T-shaped skill sets and why they are important) This is where an MBA can add great value. MBA students learn about all aspects of the business, from the financing of new projects to marketing new ideas both internally and externally and the steps required to take an idea from the concept stage to a product. In addition, MBA students have the opportunity to study the theories behind good management and leadership principles.

3. “I want to start my own business”

Those looking to start a new business need a diverse skill set to develop, fund, market and operate their emerging enterprises. The broad nature of the MBA degree coupled with the numerous opportunities for experiential learning allow future entrepreneurs to learn and practice the skills they need to launch their own endeavors.

Terrible Reasons:

1. “I’ve heard an MBA is a ticket to a guaranteed 6-figure job” 

While it’s true MBA graduates typically earn more than their non-MBA counterparts, earning an MBA does not guarantee you a job, much less a high-paying job. The MBA degree provides a set of skills and opportunities that students must leverage to set their career on their preferred trajectory. Those seeking an MBA solely for financial reasons are often disappointed. Often, organizations willing to pay big bucks for top talent are looking for passion for the company, industry and role.

2. “I don’t know what I want to do with my career, but if I get into business school, career services will get me a job”

I hear this one all the time. Some students believe once they get into an MBA program, it’s up to the placement office or career services to find a job for them. While most placement offices have helpful staff dedicated to helping students maximize their career search, it is ultimately up to the students to create and execute their job search strategy. Knowing the outcomes you desire before starting an MBA program can help you customize your experience (which classes you take, which activities you participate in, which alumni you network with, etc.), thus increasing the chances of meeting or exceeding your post-graduation career expectations.

3. “My parent/partner/friend/boss/colleague told me I should get an MBA because it helped them in their career”

While it’s great to get advice from trusted friends and family, it’s also important you see the degree adding value to your career and life. Earning an MBA takes time, effort and money. For those who see the benefits, it’s well worth it. But for those just going through the motions, it can be an arduous process with mixed results.

Low GMAT, No Cry

Applying to business school can be quite stressful. Most programs require an entrance exam like the GMAT to be considered for admission. Many students are forced to study for the GMAT while working full time and/or finishing up their undergraduate studies. It’s not uncommon for a student’s first attempt at the GMAT to not go well.

While not an ideal situation, a low GMAT score does not mean you should abandon your dream of earning your MBA. Many programs view candidates holistically and a lower GMAT score can be overcome if the rest of your application is strong. Below are a few strategies you may wish to consider if you believe your GMAT score is hurting your application.

Prepare and Retake the Exam 

Now that you have taken the test at least once, you have several advantages versus going in cold. You know the types of questions asked, the pace of the exam and how many questions you were able to answer in the allotted times. You also know how you did in each section. With this information, you can put together a strategy for improving your score the next time around.

If you struggled on the quantitative section, you may want to review some math concepts. Khan Academy is a wonderful, free resource that can show you step by step how to apply many of the concepts tested on the exam.

If you struggled in the verbal section, practicing reading comprehension can help you improve your score. Try reading articles in the Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek and other business publications on a regular basis. If you can identify the main points of each article, and identify arguments that would strengthen or weaken the author’s main points, you should be in better shape during your next GMAT exam.

You can also download practice exams from www.mba.com. Generally speaking, you should be able to improve your score up to 100 points through additional practice and by becoming more familiar with the exam. If your score is more than 100 points off from where you want it to be, you may want to consider taking an MBA prep course. Kaplan, Princeton Review and others offer both online and in-person courses designed to help you maximize your potential on the GMAT.

Highlight Quantitative Qualifications in Application 

While the GMAT doesn’t measure students’ leadership skills, employability, ethical standards or ability to work in a team setting, it is a pretty good measure of their quantitative capabilities. If your GMAT score is low but you have earned good grades from a well-respected university in a tough subject, you may be able to make the case that you have a strong quantitative skill set but are just not a good test taker. Be sure to use the optional essay to highlight your performance in quantitative coursework if it will strengthen your application. Also, be sure your resume outlines any technical certifications or job requirements. Finally, you may wish to ask your recommenders to highlight your quantitative capabilities in their letters of recommendation. The more details they provide, the more it helps your chances for admission.

Take a College Math Review Course 

If high school algebra is a distant memory, you may find it helpful to take a math refresher course before retaking the GMAT exam. Building (or rebuilding) the right foundation can make your studies much easier. Several Massively Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) including Coursera and EdX offer free courses in these areas. If you prefer a more traditional class, check your local community college course catalog.

Try the GRE

While similar to the GMAT, the GRE is a broader exam, typically taken by students applying to a non-business master’s program. More and more business schools (including Oregon State) are accepting the GRE in lieu of the GMAT. These schools typically convert your GRE score to an equivalent GMAT score (Here’s a link to the conversion tool if you are interested). Of course, you will want to make sure the schools you are considering do accept the GRE, and that taking the GRE in lieu of the GMAT won’t affect your scholarship eligibility.

Apply for a GMAT Waiver

Some schools offer a GMAT waiver process for exceptionally well qualified applicants. GMAT waivers are typically available for part-time and executive MBA programs only. If the school(s) you are considering offers a GMAT waiver process, talk with the admissions team to ensure applying for a waiver will not disqualify you from scholarship consideration.

Hopefully these tips can help you overcome a low GMAT score and get your MBA application back on track.

The Second Step to a Successful MBA Experience

As I mentioned a few weeks agoGet in, Get Connected, Get Hired – Lessons from an MBA Insider goes on sale at the end of May. The book reviews some of the most important insights I’ve gleaned from working with prospective and current MBA students over the last 6+ years. Each week between now and the launch, I’ll preview a chapter.

Lesson 2: Start With a Good Strategy

After figuring out if an MBA is even a good fit, you should begin to explore which program formats and attributes are best aligned with your interests, schedule, and budget.

To this effect, Chapter 2 of my book opens with a story of a successful student who joined our part-time MBA program with hopes of changing careers. Despite her success in the classroom, however, she wasn’t able to successfully migrate away from her previous role by the time she graduated. This chapter focuses on why (*hint: she picked the wrong format for her situation*) and offers tips for avoiding this oft-repeated mistake.

Specifically, Chapter 2 discusses the following questions in length:

Why should you develop your plan BEFORE you start applying to schools? What can happen if you don’t?

What MBA formats are currently available, and what are the pros and cons of each? What even constitutes a program being a “good match” for your needs

What questions should you ask yourself while developing a strategy?How should your responses to these questions narrow the programs and formats you’re seriously considering?

The chapter concludes by examining four of my former students. Each has a unique story, professional background and desired post-MBA outcome. We’ll review which format worked best for each of them, and why, while exploring topics to help direct you toward similar success.

After reading the chapter, you’ll understand the importance of having a sound MBA strategy, but—more importantly—you’ll have the tools to develop your own plan. You’ll also be more informed of available MBA formats, and which one works best based on your previous academic and professional experience, career goals, timeframe and budget.

Next week, I’ll preview another important lesson—understanding MBA rankings and weighing their importance appropriately when considering programs. Until then, let me know if you have any questions or comments!

The First Step to a Successful MBA Experience

As I mentioned last week, my book Get in, Get Connected, Get Hired – Lessons from an MBA Insider goes on sale at the end of May. The book reviews some of the most important insights I’ve gleaned from working with prospective and current MBA students over the last 6+ years. Each week between now and the launch, I’ll preview a chapter.

Lesson 1: Understand What the MBA is (and what it isn’t)

The first decision happens long before you take the GMAT, schedule a campus visit or set foot in an MBA classroom. It is the decision to learn what the MBA is and whether or not it is a good fit for your needs and goals.

The chapter starts with a (true) story about a former student to discovered his only reason for enrolling in an MBA program was because his dad told him the MBA helped his career. Unfortunately for this student, he discovered this critical lesson after he was failing several classes and had alienated his teammates with his poor performance on group projects.

The chapter focuses on how to avoid this mistake by asking (and answering) some important questions including:

  • What is an MBA? We cover the textbook definition as well as some quotes from current and former students.
  • How can you learn if an MBA is right for you?
  • What an MBA isn’t (hint: it’s not a ticket to a guaranteed job, or an automatic six-figure salary)
  • What are some viable alternatives to the MBA? For some, corporate leadership programs, professional masters programs and/or skill-specific bootcamps may be a better option.
  • Is it better to earn your MBA right after completing your undergraduate studies or should you work a few years? We discuss the pros and cons of both approaches (spoiler alert: it depends)

After reading the chapter, you will be more informed about the purpose of the MBA and whether or not it is a good fit for you. In subsequent chapters, we’ll discuss how to identify the right program(s) and format(s) for your needs, how to navigate the various MBA rankings, how to leverage the recruiting and admissions processes to maximize your chances of admission at your chosen school(s), how to negotiate for scholarships and well as career search tips and advice for maximizing your experience as a student and alumnus of your chosen program.

Next week, I’ll preview another important lesson – picking the right program and format for your needs. Until then, let me know if you have any questions or comments.

What do the US News MBA Rankings Really Tell Us?

Each March, right around the time we’re filling out our NCAA brackets and getting the first taste of spring (or another snowstorm), US News and World Report releases their annual best Business School Rankings. Almost immediately, some programs promote their ascension in the rankings, while others lament their decline. Every now and then, there’s some controversy, including this year when one program dropped nice spaces because of a small clerical error. More importantly, MBA prospects from around the world use this information in their program selection decision.

US News and World Report isn’t the only arbiter of MBA education – BusinessWeek, the New York Times, the Economist, the Wall Street Journal and others also release annual or bi-annual rankings, but in my experience the US News ranking gets the most attention in the US media and is most often quoted by the prospective students I work with. I’ll admit, I’m always curious when the rankings come out, but for me, US News creates more questions than answers with their annual review of top programs. Specifically:

  • What criteria are used to rank programs? Of these, how many are objective and how many are subjective?
  • Do any biases exist in the ranking criteria? Are public and private schools represented equally? How about urban vs. rural programs?
  • Is value for the money represented in the ranking? If so, how?
  • How often are there substantive changes in the top programs? Why is that?
  • Do the rankings tell me anything about the leadership, interpersonal and managerial skills and aptitudes of my potential classmates?

My research into these questions led to some interesting conclusions. For a more detailed review, check out my book Get In, Get Connected, Get Hired – Lessons from an MBA Insider, available on May 30th.

5 Reasons to Consider Business School This Year

If you have been thinking about earning your MBA, there’s no better time to get started. The benefits of the degree are well-documented and new programs and formats allow for more flexibility than ever. Here are a few ways earning your MBA can benefit you:

  1. Advance Your Career – An MBA can help individual contributors move into leadership and management positions. MBA students typically take courses in project management, organizational development, ethics and negotiations. In addition, most programs allow future leaders to practice these skills through capstone projects, group presentations and other experiential learning opportunities.
  2. Change Careers – An MBA can also be a springboard to new career paths. By focusing on a broad range of business disciplines, MBA graduates can leverage these new skills and experiences to transition into a new industry or functional area.
  3. Earn More Money – On average, MBA’s earn more than their non-MBA counterparts. According to a 2012 analysis by Poets and Quants, graduates of part-time MBA programs reported an average increase of 53% over their pre-MBA salary.
  4. Expand Your Network – An MBA provides opportunities to meet new customers, employers and business partners. MBA programs tend to attract students from a wide variety of industries, functions and geographies.
  5. More Options Than Ever – MBA programs are becoming more flexible to meet the needs of both full-time students as well as working professionals. At Oregon State for example, full-time students with a business background can earn their degree in as little as nine months, while working professionals can customize their course schedule around their professional and family commitments. We also offer hybrid programs combining online classes, readings and assignments with 1 or 2 in-person class sessions each quarter.

If you have any questions about the benefits of earning an MBA, please contact me.

New Formats Offer Greater MBA Flexibility

Thirty years ago, if you wanted to earn your MBA, your options were much more limited then they are today. Typically, MBA applicants in the ’80s had a business undergraduate degree and several years of work experience. There were a few hundred MBA programs to choose from, almost all of which required students to take two years off from work and enroll in a full-time program.

Today, the one-size-fits-all approach to MBA education has gone the way of acid-washed jeans, big hair and the moonwalk. At last count, there are more than 15,000 business schools across the globe. New MBA programs now attract students from different academic and professional backgrounds, career stages and learning preferences.

More choices can lead to greater confusion. Many students I work with are overwhelmed by the number of MBA program options they have. Below is a quick rundown of the major MBA formats and their pros and cons, as well as thoughts on which types of students are the best fit for each format.

Full-Time MBA

Description: MBA program in which students attend class full time, during the day. Students typically take 4-5 classes per semester/term and complete the degree in 18-21 months.

Also Known As: 2-year MBA, 18- to 21-month MBA, On-campus MBA

Advantages:

  • More time to study/absorb class material
  • Additional time for extracurricular activities (ex: study abroad) and job search
  • Format promotes the completion of an internship between the first and second years in the program
  • Greatest opportunities for networking with classmates, faculty and alumni
  • Students can take full advantage of career services/placement office
  • Greatest scholarship opportunities

Disadvantages: 

  • More time out of the workforce
  • Some coursework may be redundant for those with a business undergraduate degree
  • Students must pay living expenses in addition to tuition

Best For: Younger professionals with less work experience seeking full-time employment in a new field/industry and looking for the most immersive MBA experience possible.

Part-Time MBA

Description: MBA program in which students attend class during the evenings and/or on weekends.

Also Known As: Evening MBA, Weekend MBA, MBA for Working Professionals

Advantages: 

  • Students can work full-time while earning their MBA
  • Many companies offer tuition assistance to offset the cost of the degree
  • Typically, same professors and curriculum as the full-time program
  • Students can immediately apply knowledge learned in the MBA program directly to their job
  • Opportunities to network with classmates and faculty

Disadvantages: 

  • Some programs may be inflexible to family or work commitments during class time
  • May be difficult for part-time students to interact with full-time students and career services/placement staff
  • Longer time to completion (typically 2-3 years) than a full-time or accelerated program

Best For: Early- to mid-career professionals seeking a rigorous MBA experience while working full-time.

Executive MBA

Description: MBA program designed for mid-senior career professionals seeking top management or executive leadership roles.

Also Known As: MBA for Executives

Advantages:

  • Excellent professional networking opportunities
  • Typically, students receive high levels of service (meals, lodging, books, etc.) as part of the Executive MBA experience
  • Some programs include perks like executive coaching and/or an international trip
  • Typically taught by senior/tenured faculty

Disadvantages: 

  • Usually among the more expensive options
  • Extensive work experience (5+ years) typically required for admission
  • Some programs may be inflexible to family or work commitments during class time

Best For: Experienced professionals looking for a high-touch MBA experience with ample opportunities for professional networking.

Online MBA

Description: MBA program in which all learning and coursework is completed online.

Also Known As: Distance MBA

Advantages: 

  • Students have flexibility to study at a time/place most convenient to them
  • No travel time/expense to get to class
  • Students to not have to work/live near the university where they are studying online
  • Can be less expensive than other MBA formats
  • Entry requirements can be less stringent than other MBA formats
  • Work experience typically not required

Disadvantages:

  • Not all online MBA programs offer the same degree of academic rigor compared to competing full- and part-time programs
  • Not all employers value online MBA degrees as much as full- or part-time programs
  • Minimal in-person interaction with faculty and classmates
  • Qualifications for teaching in some online programs can be less rigorous than for other formats.

Best For: Professionals looking for the MBA option with the most flexibility. Students should be very comfortable with self-paced learning and possess excellent time-management skills.

Online/Hybrid MBA

Description: MBA program in which the majority of coursework is completed online, with a few in-class sessions per course.

Also Known As: Hybrid MBA, blended MBA

Advantages:

  • Format is flexible yet allows for face-to-face interactions with faculty and classmates
  • Typically taught by senior/tenured faculty

Disadvantages:

  • Students have to work/live close enough to attend mandatory in-person class sessions

Best For: Professionals looking for the flexibility of an online program coupled with networking opportunities and face-to-face interactions with faculty and classmates.

Accelerated MBA 

Description: MBA program for those with an extensive business background. Curriculum typically assumes student has taken business coursework and/or has hands-on experience. Can be full-time or part-time.

Also Known As: 1-year MBA, MBA for Business Professionals

Advantages:

  • Less time/cost to complete degree than full-time or part-time options
  • Coursework and projects tend to focus on more advanced aspects of business
  • Graduates typically receive the same degree as those in the full-time MBA program

Disadvantages: 

  • Compressed format may not work well for those without extensive business knowledge and/or demanding work schedules
  • More difficult entry requirements than other formats
  • Many programs require “pre-work” (ex: completion of an online math course) prior to the start of coursework
  • Format may not allow student to complete an internship

Best For: Professionals with extensive business experience seeking a fast-paced, academically rigorous program.

Waiting out a Waitlist Decision

Ah, the purgatory of admissions decisions. Being waitlisted can be very frustrating. A waitlist decision usually indicates the program has some interest in admitting you but has extended offers to candidates deemed more qualified. Your status will depend on how many of the initial offers are accepted, and your letter should provide a date or estimated date of when the program hopes to be able to provide an update.

If the program that waitlisted you is one of your top choices, I recommend calling the admissions office and asking to speak with either the admissions director or the recruiter you worked most closely with throughout the process. During the conversation, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Ask for honest feedback on your application and interview and probe to see if providing any additional information may help your chances for admission.
  • Some admissions officers may be hesitant to give you direct feedback but willing to speak in generalities. For example, if your admissions contact says anything like, “we had a very strong applicant pool this year and many of the students we admitted had extensive work experience,” you may want to ask if submitting another letter of recommendation highlighting the breadth of your experiences would be beneficial.
  • Mention any new information, such as a promotion, new job, volunteer experience or new projects at work that may benefit your application.
  • If you are willing to do so, ask if retaking the GMAT would improve your chances for admission.
  • Try to keep the tone collegial and inquisitive, as opposed to defensive or desperate.
  • End the conversation by reiterating your passion for the school and letting the admissions officer know if you are admitted you are very likely to attend.

If the program that waitlisted you isn’t one of your top choices, it may still make sense to have a conversation with the admissions team. If nothing else, the conversation may be helpful for your own personal development. Alternatively, you may wish to simply wait it out while they make their final decision. Another option, if you have already chosen another school, is to politely and professionally let them know you would like to be removed from the waitlist. Again, this may help bump one of your fellow applicants to the top of the waitlist.

Whatever you do, please don’t:

  • Call the program to tell them how wrong they were for placing you on the waitlist.
  • Email the dean of the school to criticize the admissions staff.
  • Email the president of the university to criticize the admissions staff.
  • Email the board of directors of the university to criticize the admissions staff (are you sensing a theme here?)
  • Have your parents, spouse/significant other or sibling call the admissions office demanding to know why you have been waitlisted.
  • Post negative comments about the university, program and/or admission staff online
  • Email the admissions team weekly to ask about your status

Believe it or not, these actually happen – each year I’ve had at least one student engage in one or more of these behaviors. Not only will these and similar behaviors almost always prevent you from being admitted, it could jeopardize your status at other schools. Again, we all read MBA boards and other websites and the last thing we want to see is unprofessional behavior from someone we are considering admitting to our program.