Monday, December 23, 2013

Sample MBA Recommendation Letters (are not what you need)

I am often asked to provide sample recommendation letters. In fact, you probably found this blog entry because that is exactly what you were looking for!  What I've found is that those that want samples are really looking for a better understanding of how ideal recommendation letter answers should be structured, the level of detail required, and what kind of assessment of the applicant is provided in them. For this, rather than samples, all that is needed is good advice.

Here are the factors that, to me, make a recommendation letter impactful.

1. They include specific and detailed examples.

A good recommendation letter offers clear and specific examples. Ae you a great leader? If your supervisor agrees, than they may write this in their letter. However, it is too easy just to write "so and so is a great leader". Instead, he/she should be able to derail a specific episode that shows you are a great leader. What did you do? What did you not do? How did you do it? These details should be included, and from the perspective of the referee. This last detail is important, and is picked up in the next point.

2. They include opinions as to how you have developed and in what ways.

It's not enough for a recommendation letter to relay the story behind one of your great successes. Rather, a good recommendation letter should (a) relay that story from the point-of-view of the referee, and then (b) he/she should detail the strengths or skills that you demonstrated or developed over the course of that episode.  This, in total, offers a detailed and comprehensive assessment of you.

3. They have insightful and interesting strengths and weaknesses.

I think the strengths part here is obvious. If the writer of your recommendation knows you well, then it stands that they should also know your weaknesses. No one's perfect right? I recommendation letter with no weaknesses, or one with uninteresting weaknesses (time management is simply not insightful enough to stand out.  

If your recommendation letter has all three of these things going for it, then chances are it will stand out from the crowd, because it will be insightful and memorable.  That's what makes a recommendation letter good.

John Couke

Saturday, December 7, 2013

UCSD Rady MBA Program Event in Tokyo: December 23rd, 2013

Please review the message below from a current student of the MBA program at UCSD Rady about an upcoming information session to be held in Tokyo on December 23rd, 2013.

John Couke

12/23 () UCSD Rady School of Management - MBAプログラム説明会
UCSD(カリフォルニア大学サンディエゴ校) Rady School of Managementでは、在校生&卒業生によるMBAプログラム説明会を下記の通り開催します。



【日時】 20131223日(月/祝) 
     午前1030分開始 - 予定終了時刻 午前1145

  【場所】 六本木ヒルズ49 アカデミーヒルズ カンファレンスルーム1
     東京都港区六本木6-10-1 六本木ヒルズ森タワー
  【言語】 日本語
  【費用】 無料



     Rady Team Japan一同

 山本 (Class of 2014)   

 大場 (Class of 2014)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Interview with Eddie Asbie, Assistant Director of Admissions at the Cornell Johnson MBA Program

I am pleased to offer this interview with Eddie Asbie, the Assistant Director of Admissions and Financial Aid at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University.

Your Introduction

1. How did you get involved in this line of work? What do you like about MBA admissions?

During my undergraduate years, I noticed how supportive the community was as they helped guide students personally and professional towards their career goals.  This is when I knew this line of work was what I wanted to do.  I truly enjoy working in admissions because you have the opportunity to meet interesting candidates from all around the world.  In the business world, our candidates are coming from very impressive backgrounds and it is encouraging to see what our future may look like.   


2. Should an applicant bother applying if their TOEFL is only 98 or 99?

I would encourage candidates to still apply to Johnson if they have a 98 or 99 on their TOEFL.  Our application process has a holistic approach but it is important to show your English is strong.

3. Do you have sub-score requirements for the TOEFL R, L, S and W sections? How about the GMAT verbal and quantitative sections?

We would like to see a candidate with a 100 TOEFL score and 25 in each subsection.  As for the GMAT and GRE, we like to see candidates in the 70% or higher in both sections.

4. How important is the interview to the overall process? What are you looking for?

The interview is another important part in the application process.  The majority of your application is out of your control but the interview gives you the opportunity to highlight your strengthens.  Ultimately, we are looking for a candidate who is genuine and honest.  Someone who knows how to articulate their goals and understands our program.  I find it disappointing when a candidate sounds very rehearsed and knows nothing about our program.  Please come prepared!

5. How important is it for a student to visit campus?

Visiting campus is important.  If you are considering spending a year or two in another city/country and investing your money into the program you want to make sure it’s worth it.  Especially if you are bring a family with you.  We want you to be excited about being here and feel connected to our community.  We would highly recommend visiting, no matter what school you are apply to.

The MBA Experience

6. How do MBA students benefit from other schools within the greater Cornell institution? Can you give an example of an extra-curricular event or club that involves students from many different programs, including the MBA?

One of the beneficial things about getting an MBA from Johnson is that you have the opportunity to interact with other programs in the Cornell community.  We have students who are completing a dual degree, whether a JD, MD, etc.  If you are interested in the dual degree, please check out this website,  Also, we have many different clubs and organizations to choice from.  Here are a list clubs that we offer at Johnson,

Life outside the Program

7. Many applicants have to consider the small town vs big city question when choosing potential destination schools. What's your take on this question, specifically related to Ithaca?

I believe this is a very important factor to consider when applying to business school.  We talk about “fit” all the time and that’s important.  You have to think, “Am I going to be happy in a small town vs. a big city?”  Here in Ithaca you will get a very diverse and international experience.  Being a smaller town, you will foster close relationships and experience a close knit community.

Last Question

8. Is there anything you wish I'd asked?

No, I think these a great questions for candidates as they prepare for the applications process.  As mentioned before, it is very important to come prepared during this entire process.  We want applicants to feel connected to Johnson but truly understand why they need an MBA and how Johnson can help them in their future career goals. 

 Eddie - thanks very much for your time!

John Couke

Monday, November 11, 2013

MBA Interview Questions: The Master List

This is a repost of an earlier entry inspired by a request for a comprehensive set of MBA interview questions. Here's that list, although to be honest I think a comprehensive list has only marginal value.  Use this list below to figure out if you have any gaps in your interview preparation, i.e. topics you haven't yet considered and therefore might not be prepared to answer.  

At the same time though, be thorough in your preparation for a specific school's interview and use lists of interview questions used by that school to ensure you are ready ('s Schools Section is a great resource for this). While what follows here is a good starting point, it is not a substitute for the specific types of question and situations you will encounter at interviews with schools like MIT, Harvard, Wharton or London Business School. 

With that in mind, here are your interview starting points. Other elements you should also be considering, such as managing your appearance, projecting confidence and the questions you'll ask of your interviewer aren't included.

Small Talk
Did you have any trouble finding (building name)?
What do you think of (campus/current location)?
How have you enjoyed your visit so far?

Please introduce yourself.
Walk me through your resume.
Why did you choose x as your university major?
Why did you choose to work for company x?
Tell me a bit more about (any bullet point in your resume).
What would you like to highlight in your resume?
Walk me through a typical work day.
How have you shaped your career progress?

What are your career goals?
What are you short-term goals?
What are your long-term goals?
What do you see yourself doing immediately after graduating?
What do you see yourself doing in (3, 5, 10) years?
What is your ultimate goal?

Why MBA/Why Now?
Why get an MBA?
Why is now the right time?
Did you decide to apply for sponsorship or were you chosen?
Why did you decide to apply for sponsorship?

Why (School)?
Why are you interested in (school name)?
What (classes/clubs) particularly attract you?
What other schools are you applying to?
What is your criteria for choosing schools?
What would you do if you are accepted to all of them?
What will you do if you're not accepted to this program?
How do you feel a sense of fit with our program?

Leadership Questions
What is your leadership style?
Who is a leader you admire?
Tell me about a leadership experience.

Teamwork Questions
What is your usual role on a team?
How would you define your teamwork style?
Tell me about a teamwork experience.
Tell me about a teamwork experience on a high performing team. What did you contribute?
Tell me about a teamwork experience on a low performing team. How did you resolve any issues?

Other Stories
Tell me about your most significant accomplishment.
Tell me about a failure experience.
Tell me about a time when you had a creative solution to a problem or challenge.
Tell me about a time when you improved upon a process in your company or organization.
Tell me about a time when you received negative feedback. How did you react?
Tell me about a time when you had to convince others to accept your idea.
Tell me about your experience with an ethical dilemma.
Tell me about an international experience.
Tell me about a time when you had to motivate someone.
Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult co-worker.

Hypothetical Questions
Name one thing you would change about your company.
If you could be the CEO of your company for a day, what would you do?
If you could be the President of your country for a day, what changes would you make?

Strengths and Weaknesses
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
What are your personal strengths/personal weaknesses?
What would your (supervisor, co-worker, subordinate, family member) says are your strengths/weaknesses?
What is your biggest concern about starting the MBA?

How will you contribute to our program?
What kind of clubs do you plan to get involved in?
What sets you apart from other applicants?
Why should we accept you to the program?

Outside Work
What do you do for fun/to relax?
What are your interests outside of your work?
Walk me through a typical weekend.
Why are you involved in (anything from the additional section of the resume)?
What book are you reading now?

Topics not Covered in the Interview
Is there anything else you'd like to say?
Is there anything you wish I'd asked you?

John Couke

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Interview with Julie Barefoot, Goizueta Business School at Emory University

 Julie Barefoot is the Associate Dean of MBA Admissions at EmoryUniversity’s Goizueta Business School. I am glad she took time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions, especially given the strong connections she has made in Japan (where 50% of my readership lives!) where she has been active in recruiting for Emory since the early 1990s. She can be reached at


What in the minimum required TOEFL for entry to the 2-year MBA program at Goizueta?

We prefer that candidates have received at least a 100 on the TOEFL, but it is not a minimum because we have, in fact, admitted applicants who score below that level. We take a holistic approach to reading an applicant’s application file and consider not only the total TOEFL score, but place special emphasis on the Speaking results as it can often be more enlightening than the total score in predicting a candidate’s ability to contribute in Goizueta’s small, intimate learning community. 

Has your admissions team gotten a handle on the new IR section of the GMAT? What are you looking for here?

We don’t have enough data yet to determine how the scores translate or predict how an applicant will perform in our program.  We just enrolled the first batch of students who took the IR, only a small number of applicants, so in the coming year we will be analyzing their academic performance relative their IR scores.  Based on our knowledge of the IR assessment, what we’re looking for is a comfort level with reviewing and synthesizing data which is a key skill that MBAs need.  So far we’ve used a high score on the IR to support admission for an applicant whose quantitative GMAT score or undergraduate grades in quantitative courses are mixed or concerns us.  A strong IR score helps an applicant but so far we’ve not really penalized applicants with mid-range scores.  A weak/poor IR score is not viewed positively.

What are your expectations for the verbal section of the GMAT? Is 30 a target to be achieved?

For international applicants, yes, at least a 30 (or 57% on the verbal GMAT) would be a good target to be achieved—of course, in combination with a solid TOEFL speaking and overall reasonable score on TOEFL. However, a 30 on the GMAT verbal section will not compensate for a poor total TOEFL score.


The One-Year MBA program doesn't offer an internship. Does that mean it's intended only for those wishing to graduate into the same industry? What are some other differences between the 1-year and 2-year programs you'd like to highlight?

First, let me share that our One Year MBA program offers the same degree, shares the same faculty and curriculum components (leadership, management practice, experiential learning, etc.) with our Two Year MBA program. 

The One-Year MBA program is intended for those who are not making a dramatic career switch which would necessitate a summer internship.  But, that does not always mean that they are staying in the same industry or functional area. For example, a candidate who is working as a CPA and wants to use the MBA to transition to a career in corporate finance (different function and different industry) would be an ideal One-Year applicant.  But, that same CPA who wants to use the MBA to transition to a career in investment banking would not be a good One-Year applicant because investment firms make their full time offers to candidates in their summer internship programs.  So, career paths ideal for One Year MBA candidates include:  consulting, corporate finance, real estate, health care, marketing analytics, family business, entrepreneurship and leadership development programs.   Career paths that are not typically the best match for the One Year include investment banking and brand management.

The One-Year Program provides an intensive summer curriculum after which the class of approximately 50 students integrates fully with Two-Year MBA Program students.

Does the Goizueta MBA mix case studies with lectures? What's the balance between the two and why do you feel that balance works best?

Yes, Goizueta MBA faculty employ a mixed teaching method, employing lectures, group work, project-based experiential learning and case study method in the classroom.  I believe our mixed teaching method enables our faculty to convey the course material in the manner that they believe will be most effective.  

Student Profile

The 2-year MBA has about 150 students, and so has got to be one of the smaller class sizes of respected U.S. programs. Any plans to grow this?

No, we have no plans to significantly grow our Two Year MBA enrollment.  We seek to enroll between 150-170 students each fall as we believe it is a key advantage for us, enabling Goizueta to remain nimble and also to most effectively implement our management practice electives.

It is noted that the One-Year MBA program looks for applicants from business, economics and engineering backgrounds. How about the 2-year program?

Applicants from all academic backgrounds are encouraged to apply to our Two Year MBA program.

The Experience

How does Atlanta add value to the program?

Atlanta, which is #3 in the US for Fortune 500 Headquarters, is a fantastic resource for our faculty and students.  Our location gives our faculty easy access to a wide array of class speakers and also is a plentiful source of real-world projects for our management practice (experiential learning) courses. 

Do students live on or off campus? What options do they have?

Attractive and affordable housing options are plentiful near Emory’s campus. Most of our MBA students live off-campus, in the graduate apartment complex owned by Emory or other high quality apartment complexes close to campus.  Most apartment communities have many nice amenities including security, tennis courts, swimming pool and beautiful landscaping.  Students can also rent condominiums in Decatur which is a community just 5 minutes from campus.

A big plus for our students is that, relative to other major cities in the USA, Atlanta is one of the most affordable places to live. 

Any final thoughts about the Goizueta experience and/or admissions?

Goizueta offers MBA candidates a transformative academic experience.  Our program is rigorous but operates within a supportive and collegial learning environment.  We pride ourselves on fully preparing our graduates for the career search process and for Day One job readiness.  Our strong career results confirm our success in this area. 

Thanks very much Julie!

John Couke

Friday, September 27, 2013

Interview with Maryke Luijendijk-Steenkamp, Director of Marketing and Admissions at the Rotterdam School of Management

I'm pleased to present this interview with Maryke Luijendijk-Steenkamp, Director of Marketing and Admissions at the Rotterdam School of Management (RSM). 


How would you define the current strength(s) of the program? I recall when I visited the campus that the marketing curriculum was a particular strength.

We offer a general management academic basis during the first six months of the programme. For the second half of the programme, participants can choose to do what we call a “Career Concentration”. The concentration can be in Finance, Marketing or Strategy. Another key strength is that we offer a truly international business environment. We believe that learning from other cultures and views on business and life are a real advantage at RSM.

Are your classes lecture-based or case-study based?

We have various methods of teaching. The majority of our lectures are case-study based. However, we do also incorporate a lot of guest speakers and industry presentations. Most of our classes comprise group work where small study groups will work on assignments, feedback sessions, presentations, problem analysis etc.

Is it possible to do an internship given the time constraints in the program?

We have an optional internship at the end of the programme. Participants who, in conversation with our Career Development Centre, feel that they need an internship for their career goals can choose to do the internship from December onwards. Career Development Centre offers support in securing the internship.


Why don't you require a TOEFL score? How do you assess an applicant's English ability?

We will assess an applicant’s English ability through various means. We will evaluate the application essays. Admissions interviews in English are compulsory for all candidates, most taking place in person. Thus, we can assess through the interview whether the candidate’s working knowledge of English is of a sufficient level to engage in the MBA class.

Who conducts interviews? What tips would you offer someone preparing for their RSM interview?

Our interviews are conducted by alumni and/or staff members. We try to look for alumni located in the areas where participants live to ensure personal interviews and/or sometimes RSM staff travel to interview destinations. Alternatively we conduct Skype or phone interviews.

Among all the programs I have come across, RSM stands out in terms of the strength of the relationships the program's admissions office aims to establish with applicants. Why is this important? What during this process do applicants tend do well, and what do they not do well?

You are absolutely right – we really believe in a personalised admissions approach at RSM. We like to counsel our prospective candidates to ensure that, when they ultimately come to RSM, they have made an informed choice. We like to do pre-application discussions early on in the search process. This means that prospects can send their CV’s to us and we will set up a conversation with them to check if they are eligible to apply and, more importantly, to see if there is a fit between their MBA aspirations and the RSM MBA.

We want to only attract students that will fit into the RSM environment and that will be happy with the type of programme we offer. I would suggest all applicants to speak to us even before an application. This can be immensely helpful for them in order to make sense of all the MBA offerings out there and to gain first-hand information on our school. We also like to connect them with our current students and alumni that can share more about the MBA experience.

What is the function of the RSM Asia office?

To provide world-class education, RSM has a strong global network. With the RSM Asia office, the school offers a huge potential to corporate partners, prospective students, and alumni, who are based in this dynamic region. As a globally connected business school, RSM will provide a range of services from its new office in Taipei. Alumni will be supported in strengthening our local alumni chapters, such as those active in Taiwan and Japan.

As RSM’s corporate network in Asia will be maintained and expanded, RSM’s Career Development Centre will offer career guidance to local alumni with the support of RSM’s business partners in the region. Lectures by RSM faculty and local events will be organised to offer alumni lifelong learning opportunities. In addition to short courses in Asia, professionals can participate in RSM degree or executive education programmes in Rotterdam.

In addition to supporting marketing and recruitment efforts in the Asia region, the RSM Asia office serves as a central point of contact for prospective MBA candidates based in Asia to guide them through their information seeking and application process. They can participate in activities, network with alumni, and attend information sessions by RSM’s representatives.

Life in Rotterdam

Can you tell us a bit about the benefits of living in this part of the world?

It is great to live in a country that is so connected to the rest of the world. Schiphol airport (28 minutes away by train) flies directly to almost any international destination. The Netherlands is a traditional nation of traders and as such their business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit spills over into the MBA environment.

When it comes to internationals living in the Netherlands, I can confidently say – being an expat myself – that this is one of the best expat locations in the world. Almost everyone speaks English here and the visa regulations are quite open and easy compared to other countries. There is even a specific beneficial tax ruling as an incentive for foreigners to live and work in The Netherlands!

Furthermore, the lifestyle here is safe and relaxed. It is great to be able to ride your bike anywhere you want to go and to have services and amenities that make life very easy.

In what ways (clubs, events) do students interact outside of class?

Our students can join a number of professional and social clubs, run by the Student Association. Details can be found at

Since 96% of our students come from abroad, it means that all your classmates have relocated to Rotterdam as well and are going through the same experiences. This makes for a very close-knit group of students that all want to make the most of their time here. They arrange various international trips and activities throughout the year and spend a lot of time together in the city.  

How do RSM students collaborate or get to know students in the greater Erasmus University? What benefits can be realized there?

Our students are free to tap into all the facilities and opportunities the greater Erasmus University offers. This adds greatly to their network and depth of experience. They can join and liaise with the University student clubs and can join the activities on offer on campus.

After the MBA

Can you tell us a bit about your Career Services, and how they prepare students to enter the job market?

Our Career Development Centre offers a personalised career service. All our participants receive a Career Coach that will work with them personally throughout the year. In conversation with their coach, participants will work on their job search.

The process is broken into four rough “stages” – Who am I? What do I want? How do I get it? Get it? All Career activities are geared towards this process.

Apart from coaching our students are also connected with alumni mentors that guide them. Activities and workshops such as CV writing sessions, interview training, salary negotiation, case cracking, networking skills etc. are taking place on a regular basis throughout the year.

We are happy to see that these efforts pay off since we place an average of 89% of our students within three months after graduation, 76% of which are in Europe.

Thanks Maryke for your time!

John Couke