Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Interview with 1st Year Student in the Michigan Ross MBA Program

I am pleased to offer the following interview with a current 1st year student at the University of Michigan's Ross MBA Program.

1. Looking back on the way you prepared for the MBA, is there anything you would change? Anything you would have done more of or less of?

I did not spend enough time to meet with current students and alumni of my target schools. I think this is important when applying to schools, so I wish I had done this more. 

I had a plenty of time to think about essay content but began to write them late and so I was submitting my applications close to the due date. I would begin to write essays earlier. 

2. Can you write a bit about a course that you have really enjoyed or benefitted from?

It is called “Leading People and Organizations,” one of the core courses that covers both personal leadership skills and organization management strategies. The key feature is the variety of teaching styles like lecture, case discussion, computer simulation, role playing, movie watching and so on. 

In my favorite class we watched a movie where jury members are discussing whether a defendant is guilty or not and one of them who think that the defendant is not guilty changes the mind of other jury members who initially believe that the defendant is guilty. After watching the movie students discussed what kind of persuasion skills and techniques that man uses, and at the end the professor summarized the discussion and introduced useful persuasion skills and techniques. 

In this course I learned leadership skills and techniques in depth not only through lectures but also from hands-on experience. It shows that Ross is focusing on leadership education and experimental learning (“Action Based Learning”). 

3. Have you had the time to get involved in any extra-curricular activities? If so, what ones and what are you doing in them?

I joined a consulting project in the Community Consulting Club, which is providing free consulting services to NGOs and other organizations by leveraging Ross students’ knowledge and the skills they’re learning in classes. 

My project was to think about solutions to increase the facility rental revenue of a museum. I was responsible for one customer segment together with another member and we considered strategies to increase revenue from that segment by using knowledge and skills learned in marketing and organization management class. 

It was not only a good opportunity to use knowledge and skills learned in class and learn them more in depth but also a good chance to work with other students having different background and learn teamwork and leadership in that situation. 

4. What have your experiences been like in learning/project teams? 

Almost all courses at Ross have group assignments or projects, and in addition to that, Ross has a big team learning opportunity called MAP where students engage in consulting projects for companies or NGOs outside Ross by using knowledge and skills learned in class. During this program students basically do not take other courses and focus on their projects. 

Although it is really difficult to discuss with other students in English, Ross students are really collaborative and help me join discussions and show my opinion, so I can contribute to the team to some extent. The key take-away is that it is important to prepare for discussion well and not to hesitate to show my opinion even if it might be wrong. 

5. Can you share your plans for the summer?

I will take an internship in the New York branch of my company to understand how overseas branches operate and provide value to customers. I will also join a volunteer activity for marine conservation which I am interested in. 

6. Can you offer any words of advice for those applying to the MBA program you are enrolled in?

To get admission to Ross your test scores are important factors so you should initially focus on TOEFL and GMAT. Regarding the essay and interview, I think that it is important to put emphasis on your team work experiences and show how you have worked with other team members. 

Thanks very much for your time! 

John Couke

Saturday, May 17, 2014

2014-15 MBA Application Deadlines and Essay Topics

The past week has seen a LOT of releases of 2014-15 application deadlines, essay topics, and other interesting facts. Analysis will follow on this blog later in the spring and into the summer, but for now I wanted to get links out so you can start to reference this information.

application deadlines

essay topics

Stanford has reduced the number of essays they require in their application from 3 to 2. Their signature essay, "What matters most to you, and why?" remains. The link above goes to their admissions website, and it contains excellent advice from the GSB on how to approach the essays. Stanford shares useful advice on their own questions on their site and it is worth a read.

recommendation letter instructions
The peer recommender letter is now just an option as Stanford has dropped the number of required recommenders from 3 to 2.

essay topics and recommendation letter prompts
This link above is to an entry in the HBS "From the Admissions Director" blog, which I highly recommend to those aiming for or thinking of aiming for HBS. The entry also mentions the Round 1 deadline this year will be on 9/9/2014, one week earlier than last year's R1 deadline.)

application deadlines

application deadlines
essay topics
recommendation letters instructions

application deadlines

I'll follow up with my analyses throughout the late spring and into the summer. But now is the time to start marking you calendars!

John Couke

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Interview with 1st Year Student in the Wharton MBA Program

I am pleased to offer the following interview with a current 1st year student at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

1. Looking back on the way you prepared for the MBA, is there anything you would change? Anything you would have done more of or less of?

I should have put less effort on TOEFL and more on GMAT from the beginning. I spent 04/2012-06/2012 for TOEFL prep, and didn’t touch on GMAT and essays until I got 110. As a result, I had to take GMAT and write essays simultaneously, which made the application process even more stressful.

Also, your resume should be unique enough to catch admission officers’ attention, especially if you’re from a traditional background (e.g. i-banking or consulting) or have a shorter career. This is also true when you recruit for a summer internship. Thus, even if you’re going to quit the firm at the point of MBA admission, I strongly recommend you to put 100% of your energy and effort into your current job.

2. Can you write a bit about a course that you have really enjoyed or benefitted from?

If I have to pick one, it is Negotiation by Prof. Stuart Diamond (his bio is available here.)

I don’t want to talk a lot about this course as it might give some things away and so you wouldn’t have as much fun, but this course will change the way you communicate with people not only in business situations but also in your day-to-day lives. The course is composed of 100% role-play, and you’re required to negotiate in real life as assignments. It’s an intense ‘learning by doing’ opportunity. I learned a lot about my communication style as well as others.

(You can get a sense of what you learn in the lectures from a book called Getting More, published by the professor himself. However, the book and the course are completely different learning opportunities, though the contents are very similar.)

3. Have you had the time to get involved in any extra-curricular activities? If so, what are they and what role have you assumed in these groups?

I got involved in organizing the Japan Trek, one of the biggest student-led treks at Wharton in which we invited about 150 students/partners to Japan during spring break. My role was the VP of Finance and Marketing/Communication. I learned a lot about my management style.

Another significant extra-curricular activity was the Battle of the Band, a rock band competition among students. I formed a band with 5 Americans and played the drums. It was quite a stretch experience to perform in front of 700 people.

4. What have your experiences been like in learning/project teams? 

At Wharton, you get assigned to a learning team during pre-term period, and keep working in the same team for the most of core classes in the first fall semester. My learning team has been in exceptionally good shape, in terms of performance (e.g. we won the business plan competition during pre-term) and relationship (we still have learning team dinners periodically). To be honest, not every learning team ends up with a lasting friendship, but due to our mutual respect and frequent communication, we’ve built trust, and it has been a great pleasure to be a part of it.

In flex core/elective courses, you need to find team members by yourselves. You’d better consider who to team up rather than just work with friends. Different people have different areas of interest, and your friends may be less motivated than you are. This deprives you of quality learning, particularly when the course is project-oriented. For example, when I took a course called Entrepreneurship, in which students were required to build and pitch a business idea as a team, I regretted that I formed a team with friends who didn’t know a thing about my personal area of interest, from which we built the idea.

5. What's it like living in Philadelphia?

Philly is a self-contained city. Although it’s the 5th biggest city in the US, it’s totally different from New York, Tokyo or other metropolises. People don’t have to get a car as everything is within walking distance, and public transportation is available. Every time you take a little walk, you bump into your classmates. It feels like you’re in a bubble. 

I worried about the safety issues before I moved to Philly, but I and my wife have never experienced anything dangerous so far, even late at night. I don’t think it’s very different from other cities. 

Speaking about my wife, she gave birth to our daughter at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in 03/2014. It is one of the best OB/GY and childcare hospitals in this country, so if you’re considering having a baby or raising a child during the MBA, Philly could be the ideal place.

6. Can you share your plans for the summer?

I’m going to spend 6 weeks doing buyout at a bank in New York, and then for the rest of the summer I’ll be in Tokyo to take part in a tech start-up.

7. Can you offer any words of advice for those applying to the MBA program you are enrolled in?

Set your goals, do research, visit B schools, meet a lot of alumni, and apply to schools you feel fit with. It’s very important to do so for keeping your motivation during the application process as well as for focusing on what you want to get out of the 2 years.

Thanks very much for your time! 

John Couke

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Brainstorming Contents for the Additional Section of the Resume

(This posting is intended primarily for MBA applicants looking to add interesting contents to the additional section of the resume they'll use in their admissions package, although it should be of general interest to a range of applicants to other programs, as well as those interested in building their resume in general. I've reposted it because a lot of MBA applicants are - or should shortly - begin building their resume for their application.)

I live in Japan, where in some cases people place a stronger emphasis on their career and the company they work for, at the expense of developing strong extra-curricular activities. The work-life balance suffers as a result, and when it comes to the MBA application process, often this means a lot of people with great professional activities, but not a lot to show for outside of work.  This can be a disadvantage. Of course this is not limited to people in Japan - in the last application cycle a significant percentage of my clients were non-Japanese, and I found many had the same problem: few or no extra-curricular activities.

Why is it important to show extra-curricular activities in your MBA application?

There are many reasons.  One is that this is an effective way to tell a little bit about what you value or find important. After all, if you didn't like the activity or feel you could benefit from it in some way, you wouldn't do it. So your choices here say something about you.

Another reason is that your job, colleagues, clients, responsibilities and accomplishments gained at work won't come with you to b-school.  You'll instead go yourself. And who is this person? Well, once you strip away the career, and everything related to it, what is left over? That is you - at least the non-professional you - and this should be defined at least in some way in your MBA applications.

The final thing to keep in mind is that an imbalanced application - full of work stuff but offering no insight beyond work - can leave you at a serious disadvantage.  No matter how successful you have been, someone else also applying may have achieved the same pinnacle of success, but with interesting extra-curricular activities. This doesn't mean you shouldn't apply - it might not even be true - but it should motivate you to at least consider what activities you can mention. 

What should I do?

From my experience, the longer the list of extra-curricular examples you put in front of someone, the better the chances they'll find something they do outside of work is worthy of inclusion in the additional section of their resume, or in an application essay.  Let's make that list now, and then we can come up with some parameters for evaluating each possible item in order to choose only the strongest and most interesting contents.

The List

1. Volunteer Work

This is ideal if you have such experience.  Two varieties to consider when brainstorming:

a) standard, roll-up-the-sleeves volunteer work
b) volunteer work done through your company

I am mentioning point b) here because many people just consider it work.  But if you have done volunteer work that was organized by your company, it is still volunteer work! So it can be listed.

Note: it is best to avoid listing experiences where all you are doing is contributing money.  

2. Sports

a) team sports can show teamwork

Teamwork is a valuable skill that you will utilize repeatedly in your MBA program.  This is the value in emphasizing your participation in a weekly pick-up basketball game each weekend. Soccer, futsal, baseball - participation in any of these things shows - or at least hints - at the presence of someone who works well in a team. Take the activity to another level if you can - maybe you started-up these pick-up games, and now a lot of people attend regularly, or maybe you are the captain.

b) individual sports or athletic exercise are ok too (like running)

Devotion to a higher goal can also make for an appealing story, even if you are the only one involved. If you run regularly to train for marathons or triathlons, this can be emphasized too.  If applicable, list off the marathons you finished - whether you were in first or last doesn't matter. 

3. Music

If you take clarinet lessons at a school, put it in your resume.  It may not show an accomplishment (although if you have ever performed in front of an audience then you've got one) but it does show an interest that could become an interesting talking point (Why did you decide to start to do this? What is it that you like about playing this instrument?)

4. Cultural Activities

There are numerous examples of things that can count as "cultural activities". The obvious ones include holding black belts in judo or karate, or studying tea ceremony or flower arrangement. Many people here in Japan have such experiences, but don't immediately think of them when putting together their resume.  hence the value of carefully taking stock of your experiences as you draft your resume. These experience can add color to your resume, and so can be included.  

Beyond the few example listed above, there are many other things that can count as cultural activities, such as helping out in your local community summer matsuri (festival). What seems like normal life to you may be interesting or unique to others.

5. International Experience

This can be broken into two sections: living abroad, and traveling abroad.

a) Living abroad. If you have lived abroad, this is worth mentioning in the additional section of the resume. Unless of course it is because of your own working experience or university / post-university educational experience, and then in that case you do not need to mention it in the additional section because it will be in the professional experience or education section.

Note however that those with such overseas experience may have also afforded themselves the time to get involved in extra-curricular or extra-employment activities, and those from working experience can go in the additional section if there is little else to put there. I usually recommend people to include extra-curricular activities earned at school to include them in the same section of the education section that describes those experiences.  

b) Traveling abroad. This can work if it involved some degree of time, like studying English in Australia for two months at an English school. In this case you would not put it ion the education section (because you did not earn a degree from the studies) but you can certainly list it in the additional section. This can also work if you have been to a lot of places.  I've met people that have traveled through 30-40 countries, which is more than most. This kind of experience certainly shows dedication to international travel directly, and may also show some degree of cultural awareness, at least indirectly.

6. Memberships in Associations or Organizations

Especially good if you actually contribute something towards their organizations.  Nonetheless, make a list and when necessary or not entirely understandable, describe the nature of the organization or association to which you belong.

7. Certifications

This is for those who hold some kind of engineering or securities license, or the ability to sell real estate, or something else which allows you to do something.  

8. Academic Publications, Patents, and Presentations

The first word here demonstrates pretty clearly what you're demonstrating: academic experience and ability. This is less important for an MBA application than you may think (separate tests are administered to test these things, and besides you've also got a neat and tidy GPA to summarize all 4 years) but if the content is impressive and (importunely) something you are passionate about talking about, then it may be worthy for inclusion - especially if you have little else to draw upon.

9. Awards

If you have won anything, put it in. Be clear about what you won, when you won it, and the selection criteria.  

10. Fluency in a Third or Fourth Language

This is especially true if the application doesn't ask (though honestly most typically do).  It's not necessary to note in an MBA resume that you speak English, or your native Japanese.  But if you've got a third language ability there that is more than just conversational, and the application doesn't call for this detail, consider it as additional section content.

11. Hobbies

I have intentionally placed this low on the list. For many, their "hobbies" will have already appeared above, as in sports or music.  But beyond this, don't underestimate the value of exploring deeply your hobbies.  Maybe you took a ceramics class with your wife recently - and made stuff you use in your home.  Maybe you then took another lesson, and made more stuff.  This isn't ideal content - but for those with no content, it is content. So keep going to ceramics class, and put it on your resume.

12. Academic Interests

Be careful here, because writing about "reading books" is far from ideal. But, if in your spare time, you have become something of an expert in 14th century Japanese history, then this could be worthy of inclusion, especially if you can discuss the topic coherently and having something worthwhile to say. If, on the other hand, this interest has made you active in some type of group where people gather to study such things, I'd think it better for you to mention membership in this group instead, as that demonstrates more practice building people skills than reading can.

13. Sponsorship

If you have nothing to put in your additional section, and are company-sponsored for your MBA, then this can go in the additional section. I usually recommend it be placed elsewhere, but it is certainly flexible enough in nature to go here too.

Qualifiers to Determine Which Items are Best

Now that you have been able to come up with a long list of possible items, you'll probably recognize pretty quickly that some items have more potential than others. How to ultimately choose? Put each idea you generated to the test using the following 5 criteria. 

a) Is it interesting? This is pretty straight forward I think. Can it be used to add color to an interview? If so great. 

b) Is it active or passive? Doing something is always going to be better than getting something, all other things being equal.  Volunteering time to accomplish something looks better than receiving recognition for donating money, for instance.

c) How committed are you to the activity? It should be something you have devoted time to.  One game of basketball isn't enough to merit inclusion in your resume.  However, if you have played twice per month for 1 year, then it is enough to put in the resume. Along the same lines, a dedicated interest in some activity that started yesterday might not seem very convincing either.

d) How recent is it? Taking saxophone lessons in 2009 will always be better than a local soccer participation award earned in 1994. The former is simply more telling about who you are today - while the latter is describing someone who has changed a lot since that time. Generally speaking, activities from high school and earlier should not be included in the resume for business school if at all possible.  (note: unless you are really young, but even so it had better be a major activity)

e) (for Japanese applicants to b-school in particular!)  International experience. If choosing between two extra-curricular activities, one that has something to do with interacting with foreign cultures might be best. So if you are stuck between describing your love of local onsens, which you've been to 6 times, and your love of climbing mountains in Nepal, which you've also done 6 times, I might recommend the Nepal experience.  Not only is it more international, but it is also more significant, and might also show you in an "active", rather than "passive" way as well. 

When in doubt, or when brainstorming, you should include everything. Later on you can cut out the things that aren't as good when trimming your resume down to one page.

John Couke

Saturday, May 3, 2014

GRE vs GMAT for MBA Applications

A recent Poets&Quants article gave some specifics for applicant volume at certain schools using GRE scores, as well as a comparison those GRE scores that were submitted to the average GMAT scores schools receive. The results show that:

- more people are using GRE scores than ever before and this trend may be growing
- a direct comparison of the average GRE and GMAT scores submitted by admitted students at certain schools shows that the GRE scores were on the whole less competitive than the GMAT scores

I feel the second takeaway to be particularly revealing. Read the article here.

I don't always recommend that my clients abandon the GMAT in favor of the GRE at any sign of difficult with the former test. However, I do recommend that all clients at least consider which test may be best suited to their skills, and then look school-by-school at whatever information they can find to determine which test to take for a given school.

John Couke