The Value of a Vision

This is the kickoff for my 2016-2017 application season.

After a summer of introspect and debate I have decided to relaunch my b-school application journey. Why would anyone want to go through the “Doldrums” and the pain of rejection all over again? It comes down to one word: vision.

vision:  noun, vi·sion, \ˈvi-zhən\
a thought, concept, or object formed by the imagination

Application consultants will talk about selling your story to the adcom. I’ve worked in sales and have seen all sorts of techniques. As the biggest customer of stories in the b-school world, adcoms have developed an ability to sniff out garbage. Your story is typically crap. Words you think they want to hear just so you can get in to their prestigious school, have a good brand on your resume, and get more money at some large company. If this sounds like you then your vision is the same as thousands of other applicants. That is to say, while your goals are clear, your vision is empty. It reads loud and clear in your application and typically ends up in the rejection pile.

How do we fight this? The answer again is vision. If your goals are similar to those stated above, there’s nothing wrong with that. Most people enjoy more money and titles at work. If they don’t, an MBA is usually far from their mind. Developing a vision is probably the most time-consuming task in your MBA journey. GMAT and GPA are great but your essays, interviews, and 2 years of school will be driven by a few very simple themes. Planning up front will maximize the value of your effort. I’ll attempt to break down my approach to developing a vision and then how to use it in the following steps.

Step 1 – Escape

Get out of your office. Get out of your house. Get out of your city. Close the laptop. Put down the phone. Get away from everything familiar. This step is about clarity. You’re taking a major step in your life. Don’t let the barista who made your latte with whole milk instead of coconut milk influence your outlook on school.

Now that you’re settled in, find something that can settle your mind. I use music. Dave Matthews Band (early) or this song usually get me in the right frame of mind:

 

Step 2 – Introspection

I’ll let you guys look that one up. In essence you want to develop an idea of what is most important to you. Write it down if you need to. But the list is just the start. Next to each item dig a little deeper. Think why that item is important. Where did it come from? How can you achieve it? Is it yours or someone else’s? Don’t be afraid to go deep*. This the rest of your life we’re talking about here.

*one caveat, don’t start assigning blame or have negative thoughts about each item. This clouds your mental clarity you achieved in Step 1

Step 3 – Let Go

Now you have a great list of what makes you, well, you. You have a better understanding of how you got there. At this point you can probably see where this exercise is heading. Time for a changeup. Drop the list. The list was to define where you are. It puts you in the frame of mind to create a solid vision for the future.

Step 4 – Back to The Future

This is the core of the exercise. Close your eyes and see yourself 5 years after graduation. We live in fast times. There’s no need for 3, 10, 30-year plans. 5 years will do the trick. When you see yourself in the future take some time to immerse yourself in the vision. Where are you sitting? In an office? On a beach? What are you driving? A bike, a car, a horse? Where and what do you do for work? Take in the entire vision, don’t just pick a job, house, etc…these are still generic goals. See deep into non-professional goals as well. Do you volunteer? Are you an avid traveler? Most importantly, what is the most exciting part of your day and week?

If you are having trouble with this step take the “legacy” route. When you die, what are the 5 things you want to be remembered for? This approach is rather depressing though.

Step 5 – Repeat, then Work Backwards

OK, now you’ve taken the time to really see where you want to be. Repeat this exercise a few times. You’ve tuned out external pressures to clearly find your true vision. Embrace it. Webster’s defines passion as an intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction. Vision = Passion.

Finally, work backwards and think hard about what steps need to be taken to get to the vision of your future. Research the career steps or skills needed to get to the job in your vision. Use specific examples from your future to plan out what you need to do. For example, if you want to help technology entrepreneurs in Malaysia you might want to go to a school on the West Coast or Pacific Rim.

Consider events in your past that influenced your vision. Use these examples in your essays and to explain your career/academic choices to this point. Most schools why them and how they will help you in your future. Don’t be generic, you already see the future. Find relative examples. You may even realize, for example, that Booth or Cornell don’t have a lot to offer for your specific goals. Don’t apply to schools that don’t fit your plan. Rankings are external pressures.

If you are looking for a tool to help define the path to your future, I recommend mind mapping. There’s a lot of software for this but nothing beats plain paper and colored pencils.

El Fin

So now you have a clear vision of where you want to be and you are developing your path and what b-school really means. This is finally YOUR STORY. Not the generic one that every half-hearted applicant submits. When you start preparing essays, interviews, and school visits you will notice a better reaction. Your passion about the what and why of your MBA will come through clearly.

This is just a first step in developing a vision, applying it to applications, and delivering on it throughout business school. This is also my process. Add to it. Enhance it.

Please feel free to share if any of this is useful and how your journey is going.

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving the Doldrums

This is more of a personal post. But it’s needed to get me back to blogging about the MBA journey. I am finally writing about the one thing that’s been on my mind since submitting my applications. I couldn’t put a finger on it until today.

Since I hit submit on my las application I’ve been in this sort of frozen zone. I couldn’t move, couldn’t think, couldn’t make a plan for the future. I called it the doldrums because it reminded me of something I read many years ago. A vivid scene in a book where the main character was stuck in a similar place as me. Thanks to the modern technology that is Google I was able to put a name to the book. It’s The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. As a child I don’t think I really caught on to the main themes of this book. I’ll probably reread it at some point since I am going back to school. It might be a good break from management thoughts and theory. But enough about the book.

The struggle is real. People will often talk about the stress of applications. Sure the GMAT is tough and writing those essays takes a lot of thought. But the worst part is the waiting game. Especially if you get stuck on the waitlist. You begin to ask yourself if you did enough. Did I write a strong essay? Were my interviews on point? What could I improve? Why don’t they like me?? Hopefully someone writes a blog post on how MBA admissions is like dating. Are first impressions truly everything?

Even though I was rejected from most of the schools I applied to I am still in the same place. I have been accepted to Notre Dame, a great MBA program. I was waitlisted at Carnegie Mellon, Texas, and USC. Each of these schools have more to offer me than Notre Dame (or so I think) since my post-MBA plans involve tech and startups and coming back to the Bay Area. It feels like I can’t do anything or even talk to people until I know for sure where I am going. Sitting on the waitlist continues the journey through the Doldrums.

I have decided to force myself out of waiting. Self-doubt does nothing for the situation. It’s not a good trait for MBAs so I am eliminating it. Hopefully someone can apply this mindset for whatever their situation may be.

The school decisions are pretty much out of my hands. I did my best and followed up They know I want them and they need me. There are a lot of things to do prior to my MBA that I can focus on. I want to work on my social media presence. I also want to work on coding/PM/app development. I will hopefully have a mobile app put together and published before I leave for school in early August. Last but not least I want to keep exercising, networking, and practicing my communication skills. These, more than anything will help me succeed in business school and beyond. First impressions are very important after all.

The takeaway is that you are not stuck. There is a plenty to work on. Just start with one simple step. In my case it was a blog post. Yours may be a trip to the beach or finally going to that Meetup you’ve had your eyes on for months.

Best of luck!

 

The Waiting Game…and First (likely) Ding

At this point all my applications have been submitted and I am in the territory that MBA and any college applicants dread…the doldrums of waiting for an interview. The admissions blogs give all sorts of advice for this time period: don’t bug the adcom, improve your profile, take a math class, don’t do anything at all, etc. Of course, none of it helps. Us poor applicants are in the purgatory of the application process, our emotions in the hands of the overlords known as the admissions committee. Each email from a school starts our heart fluttering, only to find out that it’s just a notice that our application materials are complete, or interview invites will be sent out February 8th (you know who I’m talking about).

Luckily, I have been busy looking at additional schools to apply to and finishing my Hawaii application that I didn’t have much time to worry. I have only logged into the application web sites like 3 times since hitting that submit button. I am sure there’s some out there that check daily. Here’s some advice:

  • Just wait and avoid your application status site. Don’t look at it every 2 hours.
  • Don’t listen to any rumors on blogs. Only listen to official sources.
  • Find a hobby, immerse yourself in it.
  • Join Toastmasters to work on your speaking skills.

The second bit up there is my topic for the rest of this post. In checking my application status at Columbia I noticed the twitter feed nicely embedded in the page. This prompted me to check for admissions committee’s blogs. I hadn’t really paid much attention to official blogs since hitting submit. I was trying to avoid it.

It turns out that Michigan sent out their final wave of interview invites on January 22nd. I didn’t receive an interview request so I didn’t make the cut. After reading further I learned that I am in one of two categories: waitlisted, or denied. Of course, I still have to wait until March 18 for the results. So, this looks like my first official Ding!

This is going to be a long two months. Looks like I’ll have time to get some work done on the rest of this site!

 

 

The End…of Round 2

I survived! I even got an interview request at one of my top 3 schools! I will ignore the fact that I think it is because people who attended a diversity event got an interview 🙂

I made every mistake in the book and still feel as if I have a chance to get in to one of my top 5 schools. I have one more application to the University of Hawaii to knock out. This is a unique school with a unique program that aligns with what I am looking to do post-MBA. They are not even ranked in US News but stop into a QS World MBA Tour and speak with Marc Endrigat. He will make you a believer.

I am putting that application on a pause for a couple days to breathe. I am also starting to pick up coding because it’s a skill I feel I need for the future that I finally have time for. The MBA application process is great for those with time management skills. It’s also a great crash course in time management – a crucial skill while at business school.

I will round out my blog with more information once I start back up. The next couple of posts will be around interview prep and summarize how I chose schools, prepped essay answers, and some of the best resources I found for the first stages of the application. It’s hard to believe that I am only about half way through the ADMISSIONS process. Not even in orientation yet :-/

Also, if you are reading this, hopefully you found it through a social media channel. If not, and you are looking at business school, make sure you get active on social media! Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, about.me, blogs, and YouTube are all great ideas. Clean up your Facebook as well. No pictures of keggers in college or flipping off the camera.

One more thing…videos to come soon! for now check out VincePrep on YouTube and follow @TokyoVince for great admissions advice.

Diversity Weekends and School Visits

I’ve been finishing up my Round 2 applications at 8 schools so it’s been a little crazy around here. Word of advice; lock in recommendations early and form a solid essay outline for every essay a month or so before the due date. I am adding this post I started back in December.

It’s been a busy couple of months since my GMAT results. It’s pretty easy to take a big sigh and think you can coast your way into business school once the GMAT is done. I clearly fell into this trap.

During late November and early December I went on a whirlwind tour of my preferred business schools. I will give individual feedback on each one later in this post. These are the schools I visited:

  • University of Texas at Austin – McCombs Business School (Diversity Weekend)
  • Notre Dame University – Mendoza College of Business (On Campus Tour and Interview)
  • University of Michigan – Ross School of Business (Military Preview Weekend)
  • Carnegie Mellon University – Tepper School of Business (Diversity Weekend)

Three of the schools I attended were for some form of inclusion event. I was hesitant at first because I wasn’t sure how I would be perceived at a diversity event. I have always thought of diversity as inclusion of underrepresented populations.  I had actually registered for the Diversity event at UC-Berkeley in September but took myself off the list. I fell into the trap of thinking diversity events were about skin color or sexual orientation. Bias is a strong foe to overcome. I ignored the fact I was a veteran, first-generation college graduate, and someone whose long-term goal was the betterment of under-served and developing regions. I was just scared that I would be out of place.

I could not have been more wrong. Each school I went to was awesome. The diversity weekends form a sort of community that lasts throughout the application process and into school. I wish I had attended the event at  Haas just to meet some of them earlier. Everyone offers advice on GMAT prep, essay review, and interview tips. As round 1 acceptances came in we all celebrated the victories and supported the defeats.

Many of the people I met are applying through the Consortium. The Consortium is open to anyone who supports its goals of inclusion of minorities in business and business schools. I’ll let the organization speak for itself, but the resources and connections offered cannot be beat.

For anyone thinking about attending a diversity event I strongly recommend it. The fact it’s on your mind shows that you are sensitive to the needs of under-represented students. If you are part of this population or support these initiatives take part in one of these weekends. I learned more about myself and how well I will do in business school at a diversity weekend than I did over the past 6 months of GMAT and essay prep.

GMAT Success

I took the GMAT for the 4th and final time last Tuesday. I was traveling for work so it was a lot of hotels and meals out. I don’t recommend doing this before the exam. All the literature I have read says to get plenty of sleep the week before the exam and don’t study the day before. I threw all that out the window and expected to get a poor grade.

I showed up with a positive attitude. I would focus on timing and switching my mind set during breaks. The essay went OK, the integrated reasoning was tough but ended up with a 5, same as last two times. I took too long of a break and lost 1:49 on the quant section. After this I freaked out a little but recovered. I zoomed through the questions and I was able to answer quite a few. The ones I couldn’t get I made educated guesses and ruled out the obvious wrong answers. I finished quant with a minute remaining.

The verbal section had a few challenging prompts. I spent very little time studying verbal so I answered the best I could. I prepared myself for a score in the 600s and another attempt in December. Then the score popped up:

Quantitative: 47

Verbal: 44

Overall: 740

I don’t know how this was possible because I felt I did so poorly solving problems. My focus was on the overall test. The strategy and patterns is what I seemed to focus on instead of answering each question.  Jon Taves at EF Essays states it best: The goal in quant should be to win the war, not thirty-seven individual battles. Apparently something I did worked.

I was lucky. However, I had spent a lot of time preparing and working on the basics. Do not follow my example the week leading up to the test. Definitely start studying well ahead of time. Focus on individual areas such as algebra, geometry, powers and roots, and number properties. These are the core and the base of the other questions. Once you feel comfortable there go ahead and do some mixed question sets. The Magoosh website has some amazing training videos and questions for a low price. It was $99 for 1  of access.

Now it’s on to the applications. I can apply with confidence that my GMAT score will be a positive factor, instead of a risk.

How NOT to take the GMAT

I attempted the GMAT for the third time today. I was hoping this would be my final attempt and I would be able to hit round 1 with a solid score in the 700s. I learned a few important lessons today.

  • Do NOT run out of time on your essay. Even if there are small errors you notice with 10 seconds left on the timer. A score of 0 is far worse than a score of 4.
  • Bring cough drops
  • Practice pacing your answers, especially in quant. I finished with 37 seconds left and didn’t feel rushed at all. Practice really paid off.
  • Do NOT sit next to someone taking an ISS (?) test or any test that requires a massive amount of books. Listening to someone shuffle through pages, slide their chair between two desks, and shuffle through more pages is distracting. OK, it’s VERY distracting.
  • Be prepared for anything, just like in real life.

End result: 660. Quant: 46 Verbal: 35

Score cancelled.

The good news is that the quant has improved. I’ll take the credit for tanking the verbal section even though I spent half of the time taking my neighbor’s test with him. This goes to show that, like in the business world, things do not always go as planned.

It looks like all my round 1 applications are being pushed to round 2. I am not sure if I should risk round 1 with a 690 or take a chance on a smaller pool of open spots with a higher GMAT.

The Consortium Event in SF

MBA Diversity Hosted by Google

I went to my first MBA event last night. This one was hosted by the Consortium and it was held at the Google offices in San Francisco. The offices were beautiful and there are nice views outside of the Bay Bridge and SF Bay. Google does what it does best and had tons of free food. It was nice to see some Googlers still working deep into the night. This is one of the reasons I love Silicon Valley. The spirit to love your job and work beyond the normal 9 to 5 is encouraged and rewarded. The east coast still doesn’t get it.

The event was great. Several schools had a panel for a Q&A session. The event was a diversity event but the questions asked were the types of questions asked on any website and/or webinar. I was a little skeptical that I would fit in at a “diversity” event since I am not a minority or a woman. I suppose this is a stereotype that I have been guilty of. I even dropped my reservation to a Diversity Weekend at Berkeley Haas because I wasn’t sure I would fit in. However, to me diversity is about inclusion. It’s about enabling the business school dream for groups who are not the typical MBA type. Former military and first-generation college graduates seem like a under-represented group to me. But, I was still worried I would stick out like a sore thumb. I am glad my concerns were unwarranted. The event was truly about inclusion and making opportunities available to all sorts of different groups. Props to The Consortium and the great attendees!

Schools in Attendance (that I can remember)

  • Dartmouth (Tuck)
  • Virginia (Darden)
  • Texas (McCombs)
  • UC-Berkeley (Haas)
  • Indiana (Kelly)
  • UNC (Keenan-Flagler)
  • Wisconsin Business School
  • Carnegie Mellon (Tepper)
  • NYU (Stern)

The panel was great and then the MBA Fair portion opened up. It was great to meet with actual ambassadors from some of the schools. The team at Indiana University was by far the most outgoing. I hadn’t really considered the school before but they get points for sales. I also spoke with a couple Haas students and really enjoyed their stories and input. One was a Navy lawyer and had awesome advice for my application. Military experience is huge at some of these schools so I really have to sell it. I have spent so much of my life trying to NOT identify with my military experience so this is a relief. He also highlighted the fact that rank is not a deal breaker. They don’t look at officers only. If you have strong experience and leadership stories then you are good to go.

I spoke with the Tuck representative and her advice was to definitely visit the campus if possible. I had worked with a few Tuck alum in the past and they had great things to say. The campus is remote but it’s a truly old-school college feel. If I do a campus tour I will be sure to add Tuck as a destination.

One table that didn’t get as many visits was the Texas representative. This was surprising as Austin is a very entrepreneurial city and the Texas computer science program is very highly ranked. Texas, at least that region, is awesome. I took the time to introduce myself and really gather his thoughts on the process. I mentioned that I have several close friends that went to A&M and they might disown me if I go to UT-Austin. I am hoping when it comes to application time I will be remembered positively.

I didn’t get to interact with the team from Tepper. They were pretty busy. I have a couple events coming up and I really want to hear more about their program. Tepper is in my top 5 and I am behind in communicating with the school. They’ll be on the campus tour list.

Lessons Learned 

1) More Confidence – Way too often I used the phrase “It’s definitely a challenge” or “It will be a challenge”. I’m applying at top 25 MBA programs as a 34-year old veteran from a tech background. Challenging is an understatement. It should also be assumed as the rejection rate at these programs is so high. Also, as an older learner who is going to switch careers and probably face a 50% pay cut, I should expect challenge. The admissions committees and representatives don’t want to hear that it’s hard for me. They need to hear how I took reins and owned it.

2) Smile – Body language and non-verbal communication is huge. I typically work with techies or by myself so there’s not a lot of personality. I noticed my posture gives in and I have a default scowl on my face. It’s not that I am not interested in what people are saying, it’s just what has formed over the years. I will be more inviting, open, and warmer at the next event. This is a critical communication skill and one of my goals for the MBA program. Can’t hurt to start early.

3) Suit Up! – I went out in the morning and bought some new threads. I am sure glad I did. I am not a black-tie kind of guy so it’s been a while since I wore one with a jacket. I felt very confident in my suit and tie. All the exercise lately is really paying off. While these events may be more informal I feel more is expected of me. It’s easy to loosen a tie or put it in a pocket. It’s embarrassing to be under-dressed. Especially if you are trying to make a lasting impression on school representatives.

4) Follow Up – Send out emails thanking the representatives for their time. It’s all about lasting impressions.

I strongly encourage anyone looking at an MBA to go to as many programs like this as they can. It’s not a bunch of drones in suits trying to get consulting jobs. It’s not a popularity contest. It’s people who really want you to come to their school. Take the opportunity to practice social skills and learn more about the great programs. More information about The Consortium can be found here:

http://www.cgsm.org/

GMAT Accommodations – Not Very Accommodating

This is one of those “I wish I knew this earlier” moments. I read on mbaapplicant.com that GMAC and Pearson are able to offer accommodations such as extra time, longer breaks, etc. I had already registered for the test so figured I would look into this later. After registering for my second attempt I reached out to the accommodations department to see if I could get extra time or extra breaks on the exam. I don’t disclose it often but I am a veteran diagnosed with PTSD and a few other physical disabilities. While I don’t let it define me, I know it’s there and something I live with. Taking a test in an enclosed room with no way out and uncomfortable chairs hunched over a computer screen definitely reminds me it’s there . So, after hearing about the accommodations I figured it was worth a shot.

I sent a request a couple weeks before my second attempt. I was hoping there was a way to get it done quickly because I didn’t know about it earlier. The accommodations department emailed me back stating that it usually takes 3-4 weeks and there is no expedited services available. I am on a time crunch so that news was unfortunate. My third attempt is on September 28 so I won’t be able to get accommodations for that either. The challenging part is that you have to submit the request, submit all documentation (they are very thorough), and submit payment information. They then schedule the test for you.

As I look back it might have been useful to request accommodations earlier. However, I can go into my MBA applications knowing that I earned whatever my score through hard work, not special treatment. There are people with serious disabilities who don’t know about the accommodations. Giving these people the chance to overcome their disabilities and not be defined by them seems to make sense. I will post some links below for the prosperity of future generations.

Official mba.com accommodations page – This page has the documentation guidelines and application.

Manhattan Prep accommodations discussion – Stacey Koprince’s post based on conversations with two official GMAT Accommodations officials and Tova Elberg, a clinical psychologist. Very useful.

Veritas Prep accommodation summary – Good overview and sage advice: Don’t wait until the last minute to apply for accommodations.

Official PDF guide and application for accommodations – Definitely get this after reading the mba.com link above.