Applications

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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 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/

HBS Accept – Great Resume Tips

  1. One Page!  You can maximize space by reducing your contact information, which will already be included in the application forms.
  2. Make a new resume for the MBA application. Your application resume should be easily understandable for someone outside your function and your industry.  This will take more work than you might think.  Ask someone outside your function and industry to review your resume to eliminate jargon, acronyms, etc.
  3. Create a resume with 2-3 sections.  If you have enough work experience include college internships in your education section.  I was told to include education first (not sure how important that is, but I took the advice).
  4. Always be thinking what makes you special. Were you given international assignments? Did you prepare deliverables for executives or board members? What have you accomplished that someone else in your role would not have? Action verbs are your friends. Your resume should not read as a job description for your replacement.

 

Source: My Top 4 Tips and Tricks for a MBA Resume

Stock Market Meltdown

I was watching the stock market implode yesterday morning and one thought crossed my mind: How will this benefit my business school applications? If the market and economy really slows down will less people apply for school? Is everyone already set on their path, making it irrelevant?

Some of the books I have read note that during the financial crisis fewer people entered MBA programs due to a fear of not finding a job in the uncertain economy. I work in the tech sector and my MBA focus is going to be Entrepreneurship. I don’t have ambitions of working as a consultant or in investment banking when I finish school. If a slowdown in the economy means less people apply to school then I welcome it. However, I would also have to worry that as VC reserves dry up and firms take less risk, I might have to look elsewhere for funding if needed. These are interesting times and the challenges are plenty. Back to GMAT prep… 🙂

Organization

I am attacking this on several fronts. Most of the blogs I have read have a ramp of about 4 months before application time. I have just about 2 months so the only way to succeed is have an organized and detailed approach. I am coming at this fresh so these are the main areas I need to focus:

I will set up a separate page for each and maybe drop posts as I work through the challenges.

Beginnings…or Where to Begin?

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…

OK, so maybe it’s not that epic but I am hoping for this to be an amazing journey. I have never managed a blog before and I am a little intimidated. The reading I’ve done says that it’s important to just get content out there. It will form and evolve as I evolve as a writer. So this is my blog about my journey to business school.

About Me:

I will have a more detailed “About” page as I get going on this. If I ever get any followers I hope they ask questions and are interested in learning more.

To start off I am an older applicant at 34. I have spent the last 4 years working up the food chain in risk management/information security. I just finished my second bachelor’s in Management with an IT concentration from Golden Gate University. GPA is at 3.55 and I think I did OK while working full time. I have worked many different positions in the past and spent 8 years in the military. I am really going to use my work experience post-military for my applications. The military will also help me address leadership questions when they come up.

My Goal:

Competitive MBA. This will allows me to work with entrepreneurs and startups throughout the world. Great ideas can come from outside of Silicon Valley (where I currently live and work). My goal is to be able to help those people with great ideas build a business and let them focus on their product. I can address the technical and business needs as a sort of one stop shop. If I happen to have some great ideas that turn into businesses along the way, even better. This mission statement will be refined as the blog is.

More to come. I will try to write at least every other day. I look forward to sharing my thoughts with everyone and hopefully set the stage for much bigger things. My biggest fear is that I will feel like Rodney Dangerfield (or Billy Madison for that matter):