Sunday, April 28, 2013

Interview with Naoki Kamimaeda, current student in the Cambridge Judge MBA program

Naoki Kamimaeda is a current student at the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge, and was gracious enough to spend some of his busy time answering my questions below.  Read his own blog here (in Japanese only).

Your Life at Cambridge

1. What's a typical day in the life of an MBA student at Cambridge?

The Cambridge MBA has four terms during the academic year: Michaelmas, Lent, Easter and Summer Activity. In the first two terms (Michaelmas and Lent) students mainly take core MBA courses such as Corporate Finance, Strategy and Marketing. A typical day during these terms looks like this:

9:00 – 12:30                 Classes
12:30 – 14:00               Lunch, group work, projects or extracurricular activities
14:00 – 17:30               Classes
18:00 – 19:30               Career Sessions or some talks from guest speakers
19:30 – 22:30               Social activities like formal dinners or dinners and drinks with friends
22:30 – 2:00 (or 3:00)    Preparation for the next day’s classes

In the Easter and Summer Activity terms, students mainly take electives or complete a self-project. So, students can have more free time than the two terms above.

2. Where are you living now?

I am living in a college accommodation. The University of Cambridge has a unique college system.
When students get an admission from the school, students are allocated to a college. Most foreign students can have an accommodation within or near to a college, if they wish to.

The Classes and the School

3. If you could recommend just one class to prospective applicants, what would it be and why?

It would be hard to choose one class. But, if I had to, the class would be in an area such as Strategy or Marketing. These classes are core courses in other MBA programs as well. As far as my own experience at Cambridge, I found these classes were very interesting, interactive and engaging. 

One thing I want to mention about the Cambridge MBA is that it focuses more on projects than classes.
 I think this is a strength of the program. In one year, it is possible to join four projects: the Cambridge Venture Project, the Global Consulting Project, the Capstone Project and the IndividualProject. 
As far as I’m concerned these four projects are incredibly fruitful, because we can test our takeaways from classes in real world experiences immediately.

4. What kind of clubs or student activities are you involved with?

I am involved in a football club and some study groups organized by students. I am putting a lot of my time and effort into the Intrapreneurship Study Group at Cambridge. I founded this study group with some MBAs and other students at the university so we could have opportunities,to discuss how to foster an Intrapreneurship mentality within large organizations. I believe, especially for Japanese companies, this way of thinking is crucial, because still most great employees work for large organizations.

5. Have you collaborated with any students outside of the MBA program, and in the greater Cambridge community?

As I mentioned above, I am discussing Intrapreneurship issues with not only MBAs but also other students like Ph.D. students at Cambridge. 
There are so many opportunities to do something with other students outside of the MBA program, if students are willing to be proactive. Which opportunities students can get involved in is totally up to them.

Your Advice for Others

6. Do you wish you had prepared for the MBA program any more or any differently? What's your advice for someone already accepted and waiting to start their MBA?

I wish I had studied core MBA courses like Corporate Finance, Accounting, Strategy and Marketing before coming to Cambridge so that I could have had more time to be involved in extracurricular activities. In my opinion, we can learn more from extracurricular activities than classes, especially in the case of the Cambridge MBA, because there are plenty of opportunities such as creating new businesses with other students and having lectures or talks from famous people like nobel prize winners and CEOs of large companies.

Thanks very much for your time Kamimaeda-san!

John Couke

Friday, April 26, 2013

Harvard Business School Announces Round 1 Deadline for the Class Entering in the Fall of 2014

In a recent posting to Harvard's From the Admissions Director Blog (I strongly encourage anyone thinking of applying to HBS to follow that blog) it was pointed out among other pieces of information that the round 1 deadline this year will be on September 16th.

Time flies! It seems the current admissions season is barely over before the next begins..

John Couke

Monday, April 22, 2013

1-page or 2-page Resume?

Your resume is an important document that requires constant attention and updating, even if you are not looking for a job or applying to grad school.  How long should this document be? Look around on the internet and you'll see people advocating for a 2-page resume, especially if you have a lot of working experience or a lot of academic accomplishments like written publications. Others swear that the only good resume is a 1-page version, where you limit and focus the content on just that which is most relevant to its audience.  Which is right?

My short answer is that the 1-page resume is the only document which should be used in your job or school application (except for those positions that very explicitly ask for a detailed and complete curriculum vitae, usually involving lengthy detail on academic accomplishments).  But that doesn't mean there is no use for a longer version.

I recommend regularly maintaining and adding to a 2-4 page resume, that is inclusive, and documents all of your positions and accomplishments. When you decide to apply for a job, or grad school, or anything else that requires a resume for that matter, then you can take this long resume and cut it down to a final 1 page version that is highly presentable because it shows a focused and strategic version of you.  For the purposes of this article, let's call the long list of accomplishments the "master" resume, and the 1 page version the "finished" resume. There are several benefits to be had from such a system.

Benefit #1: You can keep everything, without having to show everything.

For many, it is hard to cut their 6th consecutive M&A deal from a resume, especially when they all seem to be so interesting!  But the reality is that this level of duplicity is rarely necessary in a finished resume.  So, keep the master resume as a comprehensive list, while the finished resume can be a more focused version that contains just those contents that are most relevant for the job or application.  This is a great way to fulfill both urges people feel when they make a resume: 1) they want it to reflect absolutely everything, and 2) they want to feel that it is focused to the individual reader. It is hard to accomplish both with just one document, so don't even try.

Benefit #2: Content which is cut from the final version doesn't disappear.

I used to keep just a 1-page resume, and so when I decided to add something, invariably something else had to be cut.  This is fine of course, but what if one of those cut accomplishments may have some level of value in a different, future situation? If all you are doing is continually refining and juggling the content in your 1-page resume, then once you cut something you may forget about it - and it may be useful later.

Benefit #3: The master resume can be easily adapted into a finished resume that is targeted for specific situations. 

I've mentioned here that the finished resume needs to focus the reader's attention on the details of your background that are most relevant for them. Given this, a finished resume for your application to the MIT Sloan MBA program (where, by the way, they require a resume that is not "more than one page in length (up to 50 lines)",  is not necessarily going to be the same resume you would submit for a job as a domestic sales manager at a fashion retailer. Your finished resume should instead be catered to fit each individual need to which it may be applied. 

Note that as you finalize resumes for different purposes, you are not only cutting the volume of material so that it fits 1 page, but you may also be tweaking the word choice within bullet points to highlight different skills that you may aim to highlight for different purposes.

But why is it so necessary to make all of these painful cuts in order to arrive at my finished 1 page resume? Wouldn't a 2 page version just be easier to make? Why do I have to carefully go over all of my accomplishments in order to find just those key ones that are most representative of my skill-set, and that are most relevant to the reader? In asking these questions, you are giving yourself the answers: you need to make all of these decisions and evaluations of your resume content, so that your reader doesn't have to.  Your 1-page resume is the movie trailer of (the relevant parts of) your life - it is short, to the point, and gets the viewer interested in wanting to learn more.  Can a two-page resume do this? In most cases it can, but a one-page resume does it better, because it foes it more succinctly. There is a reason why movie trailers are only 2 minutes on average. It is not because there is anything wrong with a 10-minute trailer. The reason is because 2 minutes is all that it takes to make you understand, and get you interested in the story being told.

Here's a quick summary of the benefits of having a 1 page resume:

1) A 1 page resume offers the strongest initial impact, and makes it easy for the reader to quickly scan your background and be impressed.
2) A 1 page resume has only the most highly relevant and impressive content, because you have taken the time to select which bullet points to include.
3) A 1 page resume doesn't require the reader to go back and forth between pages or have to hunt for what they are looking for. Everything is laid out clearly.

John Couke

Friday, April 19, 2013

Duke Fuqua and Michigan Ross are Reviewing Essays for Plagiarism

Both Duke Fuqua and Michigan Ross have recently admitted they've adopted plagiarism-detecting software that will help them spot applicants who are copying essays.  Duke is using TurnItIn according to an excellent article in the GettingIn blog at BusinessWeek. while Ross wasn't so specific about the software they were using in a recent posting to their Ross Admissions Blog.

This is a growing trend, and if it is helping schools identify applicants who are purchasing admissions essays or handing over the writing duty to a third party, then I think it's a good thing.  There's nothing wrong with getting a second opinion on your essays - I encourage it! On the other hand, using ghostwriters, heavy-handed editors, or the essays used by someone to get admitted before you is not just dishonest - it is just plain dumb.

John Couke

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Deliberate Practice

This is a re-posting of a blog submission I made last year. It turned out to be one of the most popular postings I made in 2012, and its message is important so I am reposting it for the benefit of those about to embark on the admissions process...

One very interesting book I have read recently is Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everyone Else, by Geoff Colvin. In this book, he attempts to define what makes some people amazing at what they do, and in doing so shows that answers like "they are really smart" or "they work hard" are not entirely correct.  Instead, he points to something he defines as deliberate practice as the key to success.  Deliberate practice is, by his definition, boring, repetitive, highly focused on weaknesses, and informed by instruction.  It is hard to do and is rarely enjoyable.  But the people that do it, do it regularly, and do it well, can and do succeed. 

When I read this book immediately I thought of Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule. He wrote about this in his book Outliers: Stories of Success, showing how often, those who have achieved great success have done so by acquiring focused experience (i.e. 10,000 hours worth) in a particular area.  I wondered what the similarities and differences were between Colvin and Gladwell's approach.  Read on in a recent posting to the Barking up the Wrong Tree blog (which comes highly recommended by the way) to see how these ideas come together.

The importance for MBA or LLM applicants?  Hard work - effort - is not enough, and simply worrying about your situation is not enough too.  Instead, you need to acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses, work closely with someone to build a plan to highlight the strengths and address the weaknesses, and then carry out that plan.   This applies to document preparation, and to interview practice as well.

John Couke

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Role of Balance in Your MBA Application

Most MBA programs ask a series of essay questions that allow you chance to bring out many sides of yourself: what you do for a career, what you do outside of work, and even your academic background. But how should you approach all of the topics in your MBA application if all you do, during the week and even a lot of the weekend, is work?  There is nothing wrong with showing dedication to your organization. However, if you are ready to make a change in your life, such as applying to business school, you need to realize that the one thing about your current life that will not go with you is that job.  The skills you have gained will - and you can show the benefits of those by describing in your essays and interview how they'll help you to make specific contributions to your classmates. But to help the admissions committee of a particular school get a good sense of your potential level of involvement outside of class, it is useful to present both your work and non-work sides in your application. There are several benefits to doing so.

1) Knowing what you choose to do outside of work helps people understand you better.

In the workplace there may be restrictions on what you can and cannot do with your time, based on your job description or level of responsibility. But in your free time, you have a lot more leverage and ability to choose what you get involved in and how you spend your time.  And understanding these decisions about what you choose to do with your free time will help your application reader better understand who you are and what you value. 

Sharing personal interests helps your reader feel that they know you better as a person and makes them feel a bit closer to you. A cold and impersonal description of a mega-merger in which you had only a minor role is not nearly as effective as a story about your determination to complete a marathon - especially when the reader if deciding whether you are an interesting person worthy of attending their school.

2) Balance in your application can make the admissions officer reassured that you will be able to make the transition to their school.  

If all you have is your job - then what will be left once you stop working?  Show that you will not sink at b-school but instead you'll swim - by describing your personal interests and what you want to get involved in while at the program. A lot of MBA graduates would likely say that they benefitted greatly from the education outside the classroom - events, trips, and other such activities with their peers. In some cases these experiences are academic in nature, such as a case competition.  But in others they are more peer-bonding exercises, where you get to know your classmates (and future global network) better. Don't underestimate the importance of a soccer club or baseball team in forming bonds with your classmates during the MBA.

3) Your work accomplishments may already be covered in your reference letters.

If one (or more) of your referees is a supervisor from your job, he/she will likely use a considerable portion of his/her letter describing the contribution you have made to projects, teams, or the organization itself. This doesn't mean you should ignore discussing your work in your essays - but it does show that certain work-related accomplishments will already be covered.

For all of these reasons, it is useful to ensure that your work takes it proper position in your application as a key part of who you are, not the entire definition. Take care to separate yourself as an individual from the work that you do.  When brainstorming potential topics, note the following two things:

1) Characteristics like leadership extend beyond the job.

Some schools (Harvard in particular) look for evidence of leadership in your application.  And it is worth noting that a true leader will exhibit this characteristic across many facets of their life. Do you know anyone who is bright, successful, trustworthy, approachable, fearless and dedicated while at work, but turns into a completely different person, devoid of all of these traits, once they leave the office?  When you are struggling with how to demonstrate your leadership, don't limit yourself to only work-related stories. Instead, show that the leadership you demonstrate at work is truly useful in understanding who you are, by showing how you exhibit that leadership outside of work too.

2) Many characteristics can be demonstrated equally well through work and non-work stories.

When asked for an example of how you have demonstrated the ability to work well in a team, often either a work-related story (your contribution to a team that made a big accomplishment) or a non-work related story (your role as the starting point guard on a community basketball team that won a big match) can work equally well.  Fo this reason, when brainstorming teamwork accomplishments, don't limit yourself to just the work experiences.  Consider what you do outside of work, and how those experiences may also be relevant. 

For those that truly dedicate the vast majority of their time to their organization, there is still one last idea to consider: informal volunteer work in your company. This may or may not be effective, depending on the individual situation.  However, there are options available to you even within the context of your organization that may help you to show balance, such as:

- attendance in a cross-functional or cross-departmental task force you chose to join to accomplish something
- weekend volunteer work done through your organization
- informal and/or extra-curricular training of subordinates
- organizing or participating in company activities such as community events, family events or other such activities

By using a variety of topics that span your work, life outside of work, and academic background, you can paint a picture of yourself that is well-rounded and will show effectively your potential to contribute to an MBA program.

John Couke

Sunday, April 7, 2013

RSM Pre-MBA Insights Event in Tokyo on May 29, 2013

The Rotterdam School of Management will be hosting a Pre-MBA Insights event for prospective applicants to their MBA program on 5/29/2013. You need to register here, and the 1 on 1 session will be based on your resume and questions about the program.

John Couke