Monday, July 28, 2014

Is your LinkedIn profile ready for your Cornell MBA Application?

I found it interesting to see that Cornell Johnson MBA program is now allowing applicants to prefill elements of their application using their expanded LinkedIn profile. I thik that for those applying to Johnson this year and in the future, care should be taken to ensure that their LinkedIn profile is as strong as possible. What follows are some tips and suggestions towards that end.

1. Work responsibilities and accomplishments

Those who have considered their LinkedIn profile to be just as important as their resumes won’t have much of a problem here. I have long endorsed regularly maintaining your resume. The same thing goes for your LinkedIn profile. Make sure it is complete, and representative of your work and the impact you have had on all the organisations you have worked for during your career.

2. Extracurricular Activities

The additional section of the resume gives people headaches when it comes to MBA applications because ideally it would introduce you and your passions more effectively than any other part of the resume. (Read on here for suggestions on how you can do this.) Make sure that whatever efforts you have put into brainstorming interesting and memorable additional section bullet point contents is also reflected in your LinkedIn profile.

3. Proof

LinkedIn offers the chance for you to add recommendations to virtually any part of your profile, and you should definitely do this. I wouldn’t recommend getting 12-15 referrals for each position or volunteer role you have had, but I would certainly consider adding 1-2 impartial and objective voices to each major work role or volunteer commitment so that others can get a feel for your skill set as observed by others.

4. Consistency

Make sure that the resume and all other information you submit to the MBA program matches what is in your LinkedIn profile.

5. Network

“This modern platform gives our applicants the chance to […] show how they build a network.” I took this Ann Richards quote from this article at Stacy Blackman’s Consulting blog. It was revealing to me in that it shows that your network could be considered when evaluating your potential at Cornell. Now this to me is not just a numbers game, and I feel it is short-sighted to simply conclude that the applicant with 500 connections will be valued more highly the one with 5. However, I think it important that you show your ability to network. Certainly it makes sense to demonstrate connections with MBA holders if you are trying to position yourself as someone who is familiar with what goes on in an MBA. Beyond this, the ability to network demonstrates your potential to succeed, as having connections to people you know and trust can help you seek out opportunities that might not otherwise exist for you. 

When all is said and done, it makes sense for me to encourage Cornell MBA applicants to ensure that their LinkedIn profile is as strong, informing and accurate as possible. Beyond that, the same advice applies for anyone else using the platform. 

For more reading on this potentially trend-setting change to MBA admissions look here, here, here and here.

John Couke

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Michigan Ross MBA Admissions Event in Tokyo

The Michigan Ross MBA program will be hosting an admissions event at Academy Hills in Tokyo on Thursday August 21st 2014 from 19:00 to 21:00. Details and sign up are available here.

John Couke

Friday, July 11, 2014

1-page vs 2-page resumes

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.

So, start working on your "master version" resume today, so that you are ready to make a finely-honed 1-page version of it when it's time for that next job opportunity or school application.

John Couke

Monday, July 7, 2014

Balancing Work and Non-Work Contents in your MBA Applications

Most MBA programs ask a series of essay questions (or one essay question as application evolve) 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

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

An Important Change for GMAT Test Takers

GMAT test takers will now (as of 6/27/2014) be able to see their unofficial score before deciding whether to make it a part of their score history. Is this good or bad?


Test takers now have more control over the GMAT history they choose to share with those evaluating their application. When I took the GMAT, I had to sit through the entire test - and the natural self-doubt that came with my performance - before I chose blindly whether I had managed to earn a good number or not. I clicked "show" and was lucky enough to see a great score that was then added to mt permanent record. Now, you can actually see the number before deciding whether to make it public or not. Life just got a bit easier for GMAT test takers. But...


A cancellation, or multiple cancellations, is like a chronological gap in your resume - there is no way to look at it except with a negative feeling. Cancelled score? Must have been a 450. How else to consider this?

What to do:

If it is your first test and you only got a 650, I'd accept it. Address the area(s) you were weak in, and put together a 720 on test number 2. This to me makes more sense that rejecting everything except your ideal score. Besides. many programs are very comfortable with you showing improvement in test 2. It's certainly better than a big score drop.

If you did manage a 450 on a test, by all means cancel that score.

If you are in between - let's say 580 - 650 - then you have a tougher choice to make. If a particular section (i.e. verbal, math) ended up very positive, while the other (i.e. math, verbal) didn't, this can complicate things. I know that for my clients we'll map out potential scores and potential reactions to them in advance of each test. You should do the same.

The press release from GMAC is here.

John Couke