2011 Chicago Booth MBA Admissions Q&A with Kurt Ahlm & Julie Morton

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Linda Abraham: Hello, my name is Linda Abraham and I am the founder of accepted.com and the moderator of today’s chat. First, I want to welcome all applicants to the Q&A today, and I want to congratulate you for taking this time to learn more about Chicago's Booth School of Business. It is critical for the decision-making process and your admissions chances that you know as much as you can about the schools you’re applying to. Being here today allows you to ask experts about these processes.

I also want to give a special welcome to Kurt Ahlm, Senior Director of Admissions at Chicago Booth, and to Julie Morton, the Associate Dean of Career Services at Chicago Booth. Thanks to everyone for joining. This is your chance to ask the questions that are important to you. About applying, about re – applying, about Admissions policies and of course about career opportunity at Chicago Booth, but I’m going to take advantage of my position as a moderator and ask the first question. So, to both Kurt and Julie, what’s new at Chicago Booth?

Kurt Ahlm: That’s actually a lot new in Chicago Booth as to we just appointed a new Dean. Sunil Kumar comes to us from Stanford. He's going to start in January so that’s one obviously big new thing that’s happening and absolutely bringing a lot of other new things. To be candid, from an admissions perspective and just I think from a school perspective, I think really what’s been new in the past couple of years is we've just been really trying to get out there. We’ve been and really give people greater access and greater understanding in what Booth can provide. I think for a lot of people what seems like new things happening in Chicago is really pretty much business as usual, but I think the way we’re promoting the program and talking about areas like marketing and entrepreneurship and strategy in general management, a lot of things that Chicago hasn’t got the attention from in the past is now becoming just more common knowledge. So, I think that, at least from my perspective, what’s being perceived as new is really just stronger messages out there about the institution.

Julie Morton: Yes, I think from a career prospective, the exciting news for us is that the economy appears to be picking up. Certainly not a dramatic turnaround by any means, but it's definitely more robust than what we’ve seen for the last couple of years, which is great news and a good new development from our perspective. One of the things that we’ve seen sort of gradually is a real diversity of student interest from our career perspective, and related to that, a real broadening of where our students are going in terms of jobs. I think part was frankly driven by the economy - as the economy tanked, especially in areas where Chicago Booth is particularly well-known, such as the financial services field on Wall Street, certain students certainly looked more broadly, but I think that the change is really more profound than that. I think students have really started to look beyond the traditional MBA hirers for potential opportunities because of their interest in their foci.

One of the things that we’ve been able to do which has been great is we’ve got such a great team of people doing player outreach. There are soon to be seven of us on the team who really focus on that and we've been able to really cover the world from a geographic prospective and through that, combined with students broadening of interest, we've been able to make some really nice headway in a new geographic market and also new functions in industries which is a great new development. And then of course the biggest news on campus is that 579 new first years have arrived for their first day of orientation which was last Tuesday so that's big news.

Kurt Ahlm: Yes.

Linda Abraham:: Great, thank you very much. I'd like to follow up with a question for both of you. It has been recently reported that MBA's are increasingly interested in marketing as a post-MBA goal and as an area of study during their MBA. Chicago of course is famous for its strength in finance. What does it offer someone interested in marketing, for example?

Kurt Ahlm: Sure, so, just as something to point people in a direction in terms of a great resource, in terms of learning about marketing at Chicago Booth is – so we have a lot of academic centers here. They were originally put in place to provide greater opportunities to bring in additional research, maintain faculty within the field and they are truly academic centers. A lot of them have evolved and do a lot of student programming. One in particular is called the Kilts Center, named after James Kilts, former CEO of Gillette. Anyway, Chicago has always had a very strong marketing program but obviously it's easy to bucket programs when we're located just 12 miles south of another phenomenal program, Kellogg. And at least in the Chicagoland area and certainly a more global perspective has been that one's known for marketing, the other one's known for finance and I think, now that people have begun to dig a little bit deeper and as schools begin to really promote "fit" a lot more in terms of culture and recognizing schools can provide really good academic opportunities, both of us are becoming more known for a broader range of options.

So, the thing distinctive I think about Chicago in terms of our approach is Chicago has always had a very strong focus on analytics and really understanding how the quantitative elements - I don’t want it to be perceived as just number crunching but really how analytics, including some of the quantitative metrics, really help people to become better informed as marketers. So how do you leverage data, how do you really think about some of these quantitative and analytical measures to really better informed decision-making in the marketing field, right? And, I think, Chicago has had the propensity of really, through a flexible curriculum in terms of discipline-based approach to allow people not only a wide range of opportunity in the classes that they take, but it really has strong bases for understanding problems, dissecting down to the roots and making very effective decisions. So there's sort of this, again, "routine" here of a good thinking about marketing, not just necessarily in a creative sense so, how do this brand come to life in the market place, but really how do you define brand, how do you define segmentation, how do you really define the way your consumers behave, and how they will operate within the market place. And I think that’s the routine here in Chicago. It's very comprehensive, again, very analytical.

And the courses range, you know, anything from integrated marketing communications or something like advertising science, the things like data driven marketing, which is very heavy on the research side. But the blend of marketing classes combined with a lot of the things that Kilts offers which has things like managing labs to bringing companies into classroom settings where students can get real-world practical experience and they provide mentoring opportunities so, if as a marketing student, you want to be mentored by an alum – you have those opportunities. You have scholarship opportunities. So, there are a lot of things that Kilts helps to do that facilitate that marketing element here. So, you get really the best of both worlds. Network options outside the classroom and really sort of that in-depth analytical look at curriculum.

And the last thing I want to say is the beauty about Chicago and not just in terms of marketing but any sort of concentration you decide to pursue is, you know, because Chicago doesn't adhere to the strict core curriculum. We have a lot of flexibility, it's provided. You can start taking elective-based course work immediately at Booth. So, if you’re somebody who’s really interested in marketing but maybe doesn't have a great perspective of what it is to be a brand manager and just think you know, you have the option to start taking courses immediately, so you can take marketing strategy, you can take data driven marketing. You could do a lot of different things to give you that perspective and set you up very nicely to do internship in that field. So, for a lot of people who are career changers, you have the opportunity to begin to tailor-make your MBA early on to set you up, not only understanding the field at a much earlier level but putting you in the position to be more competitive for internships.

Julie Morton: Thank you Kurt, thank you. I guess, when recruiters talk to us about Chicago's strengths in the marketing branch, they're really talking about students' ability to think critically about issues and so as to what Kurt's talking about in terms of curriculum I think, that curriculum really sets students up to be able to dissect problems and analyze problems and come up with creative ways of approaching issues regardless of discipline, whether it's finance, whether it's marketing. And I think, over the years, recruiters have really come to appreciate the way that critical thinking comes to bear and manifest itself in marketing problems, in particular whether it's figuring out how to price something, whether it's figuring out to promote our products, whether it's really looking at that behavioral aspect of how consumers act. All of these things are really helpful and really good tools in terms of marketing.

Back to my earlier point about employer outreach, Chicago has really focused in on marketing firms in terms of our outreach to employers, both CPG (consumer package), both kind of what you may think of as traditional brand marketing, but also marketing within the high tech space, marketing both to consumer, business to business kind of marketing, as well as market research. There's really been a growing interest from students that we’ve certainly been able to convert to recruiter interest as well. Typically, anywhere between 10 and 12 percent of students from any given class will go into marketing. This past year, the intern numbers are little bit higher than that but we've been averaging between 10 and 12%. I’ll bring you back to something Kurt said – the mentoring program that students can get involved in through Kilts has really been a great way for students to interact very closely with people who are in the marketing field now to determine whether or not this is something for them and then also to really get a sense of what "a day in the life" looks like as a marketer. So that's been a valuable tool and through career services we certainly facilitate a lot of marketing recruiting. We also facilitate a lot of educational programming, where very early on students tenure with us. We expose them to what a career in marketing might be about and what all the different avenues are to pursue marketing with, from a career perspective.

Linda Abraham:: Thank you very much Julie. Now, let's turn to the applicants' questions, okay? The first one is from Joanna, and she writes, "Hi. Thanks for having these discussions. What are you looking for in scholarship/fellowship applicants? And with such a qualified applicants' pool, what sets scholarship recipients apart when this occurs?"

Kurt Ahlm: Thanks for joining us Joanna and thanks for the question. To be candid, our scholarship pool is merit-based, and so based on that, we do the selecting ourselves. There's not a separate application process or anything like that. And about 30% of our incoming class is receiving some sort of scholarship and they can range anywhere from two years of $10,000 towards the tuition all the way up to – we have a few that are full tuition plus stipend. And so the range in which that is applied and how we award merit-based awards is really based on the strength of your application in its totality. It's not just based on achievements. It's not just based on achieved GPA or anything like that. But we're really trying to understand one strength of the overall applicant in terms of what success you've had throughout your career academically, extra-curricular, etcetera, but also the strength of fit that you demonstrate with Chicago Booth. One reason we're talking so much about this concept of "fit" is that from our perspective, we want to attract people that are going to have the greatest impact on our day-to-day culture as a student, but also are going to be lifelong contributors. People are going to have a very rewarding experience here and certainly will want to give back and contribute, as an alum as well.

So, we really are looking in the application process for people that really get a good sense of what is Chicago all about. What are the core values, what are the things that particularly stand out as unique and, you know, powerful messages for the institution and then, how do you internalize those things, and relate them to not only where you've been in your career, but where you want to go and again, where's that sense of fit and match specifically with Chicago Booth. So it's not an easy process where you get a scholarship because you've been successful as an employee and you had great academic success and you've had some very unique extracurricular things. Those are things that, in some respects, we hope everybody has but from a scholarship perspective, what separates people out is being able to relate all those strengths and all those key attributes in a way, again, that connects very strongly with the culture and the match and the fit with Chicago Booth and what we're trying to do as an institution.

Linda Abraham:: Thank you very much Kurt. Alok asks, how suitable is Booth for someone seeking a career in consulting?

Julie Morton: Sure. I think the way the Booth curriculum really teaches you to probe and ask lots of questions and really define problems -in many ways, that's the essence of what consultants are all about. I mean, consultants are all about going into these situations with somewhat ambiguous information, with lots of incomplete data, and figuring out the lay of the land, and in many ways, that really mirrors the academic process that takes place here at Booth. So I think from that regard, Booth certainly helps prepare students for a career in consulting. In terms of career services stuff, you know, all the major consulting firms recruit here on campus. In recent years, we've seen a broadening of the kinds of consulting firms that recruit here. Certainly, strategy firms recruit. But also firms that are more focused on technology consulting, more on implementation kind of work as well consultative work have also started recruiting here.

And then, the other thing to think about if you think about the kind of skills that you employ as the consultant, is doing internal strategic work within a company and that's the other avenue that we oftentimes see students going into, who, at the outset, are interested in consulting. Really doing strategy work within a company, obviously, you get to know that company very, very well, much more so then you would coming in from the client's side. And I'd say, another ten percent or so of our students pursue careers in internal strategy work within a firm. But it's a great and exciting career path and certainly one that both the contents of what is taught here and also the way that students are taught to probe and dissect problems certainly lends itself to consulting.

Kurt Ahlm: In terms of the curriculum, I can't undersell the notion of flexibility here. A lot of students who come in might have a consulting background or they might be subject matter experts. You can diversify your curriculum early on and either take more of a broad-based approach, getting skills across many different areas to become a much more broadly effective problem solver, or you want to step away from things that you might feel you're particularly adept at and move in to subject areas you're not as well-versed in. Again it's Chicago's flexibility and the time at which and the level at which you take classes being pretty much up to students - that gives people who really want to broaden and really strengthen skills sets or whatever they want to do – it's just a really strong opportunity to accomplish that very early on and not necessarily will leave the materials of – and perhaps they feel they're proficient at.

Julie Morton: And even just from a really tactical perspective, if, for example, the whole case environment is something that's really new to you, you could certainly take more case-based classes here, at first. If that was something that you wanted to dive into a little more deeply, that flexibility obviously goes to which classes you chose but even goes to making decisions about which classes based on how those classes are taught. So it's really flexibility in every regard.

Linda Abraham:: Thank you. I'm going to pose a question that Omar raises that many, many applicants would like to know about. Can you talk about slide presentations that have stood out across the years – both good and bad?

Kurt Ahlm: I was expecting that question to come at some point. We'll get that out of the way. I think it's hard to necessarily focus on one or two that particularly stood out. The reality is most of the people that get admitted to the program had Power Points and other slide presentations tended to stand out in some way or another. And the reason they stand out is because they basically follow a sense of logic that we've been trying to drop through the presentation. One of the tenets of our culture is that, at Chicago, we really relish people who liked to really attack problems and are comfortable in some sense with that. Ambiguity exists in the world - nothing's perfect, right? Nothing's set out for you and you just follow a linear thought process of "Here's the formula, here's the case study. I can look back and I'm just going to give you the answer." A lot of the MBA experience is really how do you logically think through a problem, especially when it's not familiar to you because that's what the MBA is about. So, what we're trying to do through the presentation is provide a little bit of this ambiguous tool and at the same time, give you some space. So, it allows you to, kind of, really show us how you think through this problem of how you connect more sense of fit with institution. So, inevitably, you're going to be providing your academics, you're going to be providing your GMAT scores, you're going to be providing your work experience or resumes, your recommendations and neither are very stiff things in almost every application, I mean. And each one of those things tells us something about who you are and what your sense of fit is with the institution.

But inevitably, if you take the time to really sit down and think through what is unique to your story or what it is that you're trying to convey to us, there are going to be elements that you don't feel you can dive into to the depth that you'd like. Or there might be things that we failed to ask about or failed to consider that hedge you had to the opportunity to talk about or show it or whatever demonstrates in some level. Again, in that context, fit would be much richer and much more profound from our perspective as an evaluator.

So, really, the slide presentation is there for you to fill in those gaps. To better articulate your story in a very comprehensive and holistic way, show a strategic vision for how you use that space versus just filling it out for the sake of completing an answer or for just the sake of being creative or anything like that. Some of the best slideshows that I've seen have simply been white slides with some black bullet point text on it. There's nothing creative, there's nothing that's super high-tech or "wow" factor about it but the content that they laid in there is what provides that sense of impact, because it inevitably stills and hold on your application that really helped it to stand out. So, it completes the picture on a way that – again, that sense of fit becomes that much more profound to us as evaluators. Again, part of the evaluation is not only that you're gifted in some respect or another, that you're smart or whatever but, again, that sense of fit, that sense of strategic thinking to convey that fit to the evaluator. Hopefully, I've provided a little bit of the deeper context of what we're trying to get at.

Linda Abraham:: Great. Julie, this question is for you. It's from [Muco]. "Hi. Thanks for this session. What does Booth offer to someone trying to switch to venture capital? Why do we call it project parts?"

Julie Morton: Thanks [Muco] for giving us the opportunity to chat about venture capital. We have a small numbers of students going into venture capital in any given year. It could be anywhere between – just a couple of students up to five or six percent of the class. And where you draw the line between venture capital and private equity kind of blurs from year to year, but if you think about venture capital as very early stage stuff, we certainly do have students who are very interested in going into that as a career path. I think one of the real strengths for Booth is exactly what you just pointed to, that we have these lab classes that are project-based where students really and truly – I mean, they are called lab classes because the project really functions as a laboratory for a student to experiment with whether or not this is a field that they are well suited for and truly interested in. Students have the opportunity to work in VC shops and get a sense of both what happens on the investment side of the business and then, what also happens on the operating side of the business.

So, it's not uncommon for students who are interested in VC to obviously work on the financial side and work in VC shop itself but it also happens sometimes that they have the opportunity to work with the portfolio companies in terms of actively helping to manage those businesses, turn those businesses around, right side those businesses and get the company's finances sort of back in shape, and really have a chance to see how this works from the operating side of the equation too. You don't have to do a lab class by any means in order enter the field but a lot of students don’t come with practical hands-on experience, and this is one way for them to get a sense of whether or not this is something that's truly of interest to them. You know, from our recruiting side, both private equity and venture capital are so networking based that how a company in this based sources deal. How a company in this phase actually does it. Business is really a factor of networking and so, no surprise that the recruiting method, if you will, is also very networking based - that what they're doing through that is really testing a student's ability to thrive in that network environment, as well as assessing the fit.

And so, venture capital firms and also many private equity firms don’t come on campus to recruit in the same way that say to the earlier question about consulting, consulting firms do where some of the larger consumer package big firms do, instead, their recruiting practices really mirror their business policy and are very, very focused on that networking base. The school still plays a large part in facilitating those connections whether it be through posting jobs or hosting networking events. We have the Kilts Center that Kurt talked about earlier, we have a Polsky Center that focuses on entrepreneurship venture capital and private equity that does a lot of the same sort of networking and mentoring activities that Kilts does for students who are interested in marketing. But the recruiting process itself functions a lot differently than in the industries that hire large, large, large numbers of MBAs in more of a lock-step fashion.

Linda Abraham:: Great. Again, I have a question for both of you. It's from Matthew, and he asked a question that has to do with more the not-for-profit social enterprise aspect of the Chicago Booth program. What are some of the new paths or careers in social impact, non-profit, micro-finance, social enterprises, courses activities, summer internship, volunteer tracks, et cetera. And I guess the follow up for you (Julie) is what kind of professional opportunities are you working in that arena also. So I guess Kurt first, and then Julie.

Kurt Ahlm: Again, I would immediately point to the flexibility of the curriculum. You know, a lot of our students that come in are looking at non-profit or social impact type opportunities. Of the 21 classes that you need to complete for your MBA, 11 of them are elective-based, and six of those can be taken anywhere at the University of Chicago. So, what happens is a lot of people who are looking to do social impact come in and really take advantage of the type of course work and the opportunities that not only exist here but also what they have access to at the broader university. So students will take class at the public policy school, school for social services administration. We have an institute here in sustainability. There's a lot of opportunities to really, again, define what type of path and what types of courses you want to take within the social impact non-profit field if you're looking at social entrepreneurship, if you're looking at education, if you're looking at a lot of different things. Corporate responsibility or whatever things might fall into somebody's areas of interest, you can do that in Chicago, and I think the flexible nature of the curriculum allows you to do that very effectively. So essentially, you're getting all the general management skills through the traditional Booth curriculum that you're going to need to lead an organization, but you're also then supplementing that with a lot of courses that might fall into an area of expertise or interest outside of our program. Now internal to Booth we have the social entrepreneurship lab, we have classes in different policy areas like energy, macro economics, human capital, issues like that.

So you can do a lot of things in terms of refining your curriculum internally as well. The social entrepreneurship class we offer is a lab-based course so you actually get access to companies within that space so it has a very practical element to it. We also have a lot of clubs that falls into the space as well, like Net Impact, Chicago Global Citizens, Giving Something Back. A lot of organizations that have a very social impact focus to it. So at the end of the day, again the flexibility Chicago has, with 7,000 courses that exist within the University that you also have access to. You can really begin to tailor make a program. The types of skills, the types of learning that you really want to take from it. Actually there's a few things that I think you can highlight on our website. In particular, some of the students that we tried to feature through our U-Book are specifically in the social impact space. So there's a lot of links to different types of programs and elements of the schools you connect to. Again there's literally probably a hundred things I can go into, but that's sort of a preview. Some of the opportunities again that allow you to tailor make a program that's going to kind of get out what you want.

Julie Morton: Yeah, it's such a huge category that it's hard to pin down without knowing more of specifically about what you're interested in in what the school offers. We certainly have seen over the last couple of years a growing interest from students in working in the not-for-profits/social impact space. But even within those really broad buckets, you know, I think about careers in micro finance which is certainly an area where students' interest has grown as well as our outreach to perspective employers. Alternative energy is another area where certainly, over the years we've had students very interested in the energy field and more and more recently we have students interested in green energy or alternative energy. Students interested in the education space, whether that's working for organizations like CEP, whether that's organizations like the Chicago Public Schools System and really doing some strategic work there to help drive educational reform. And then students interested in working for the government. Students interested in working, whether it's the Department of Energy or a specific government entity that's very focused on policy reform or making an impact.

The other thing that we're seeing, which I think even broadens the scope further is students who go to work for companies that you and I probably wouldn’t put necessarily in this social impact space. But companies who are doing things that allow them to have enormous social impact. So students who are working for the foundations of major investment banks for example, so you certainly might not think of an investment bank as being an organization that falls in that broad bucket that you are describing. But if you end up working within their foundation and figuring out how best to help drive micro-finance discussions, for example. A lot of the larger very well established companies are doing work in that. And those have been areas that have attracted students as well. Couple of years ago, this past spring was the second year that we've done it, the school has something called the "Internship Community Fund" where we've actually helped students cover their expenses, students who are interested in going into a not-for-profit or internships where they will have a large social impact. We've helped them cover their expenses since a lot times there are organizations that can't afford to pay students' MBA-level salaries. And through these funds, the Internship Community Fund, we've been able to help students with everything from airfare to living expenses. So this summer, we had somebody working for the World Health Organization. We had a woman working in Bangladesh with the Grameen Foundation actually doing field work and talking to people about their micro-finance applications, making assessment about which project should be funded, stuff like that. So some really, really exciting stuff happening in this realm and on the career side which is great, which is really exciting.

Linda Abraham:: Great. Thank you very much Julie and Kurt. The next question is from Ashitosh. Ashitosh asked: How does Chicago Booth look at the younger candidate? How do younger candidates show their maturity in the application? Before you respond, I want ask the audience, I'd like you to click if you are concerned that you're too young. Okay, about eight percent of the audience is concerned that it's too young. And I'm going to ask anybody to raise their hands if their concerned that they are too old. Okay, we have a lot more. I feel for you, I identify. It’s about 27% who are concerned they're too old. So I'll tell you what, Kurt, although the question just asked was about youth, maybe you wanted to address both ends of the age spectrum.

Kurt Ahlm: Sure, that's easy to do because they share the same answer in the sense that – so one of things about Booth is that our culture is pretty much built upon this notion of the diversity, we really have an environment where – you know, it's going to be a lot of discussion, debate, engagement around ideas. We really want to have good representation on many different fronts whether it's industry, whether it's a part of the world, whether that's gender, whether that's – and certainly age is part of that as well. So we definitely don’t have a cut age, we don’t look for any specific type of age or age group.

Linda Abraham:: Instead of talking in terms of age, why don’t we talk in terms of too little or too much experience?

Kurt Ahlm: Yeah, sure.

Linda Abraham:: Which is obviously related, but I think it helps get more to the heart of the issue.

Kurt Ahlm: Sure. So essentially, what it boils down to for us is, people have different ranges of experience. We're finding that sometimes at the under-graduate level people are taking up internships or starting their own businesses. And there's people on the other end of the spectrum and it's taken them some time to really figure out why an MBA would be a value and what they want to do with that degree at some point. In either context what we're trying to find out and what we use as our litmus test is a candidate's ability to really convey a sense of urgency. So why is now absolutely the right time to take full advantage of an MBA program? And people come to this realization at different points in their career. So, again, it can be very early on, it can be right out of college, it can be within one or two years. And for others, it can be ten, twelve years down the road. But in any case, we're trying to understand that again, your ability to really identify what skills and what experience you've picked up that are particularly relevant to an MBA and add value to an MBA program. And essentially, what do you expect to get out of it at this particular time, at this moment in your career, to really leverage both of those things to get where you want to go and again, that's sort of age and career neutral. It's more again the sense of "give us a strong argument" at this moment in your career to really leverage both things to get where you to want to go. And again that's sort of age and career neutral. It's more again the sense of give us the strong argument for why this is absolutely the right time you feel in your career to take full advantage of an MBA program.

So again, you've seen a lot of people at the very early stage of their career make very compelling arguments and put together an application that demonstrates that very effectively. And people at a later stage in their career will do the same thing but really that's the core component that we're trying to get out of an application, that sense of urgency, that sense of connection to why now is absolutely the right time to take full advantage of an MBA.

Julie Morton: Okay, yeah. If I can just end then with two thoughts on both ends of the spectrum from a career prospective, like for a candidate who doesn't have a lot of work experience, I think the thing to remember is that many of the jobs that students seek to enter post-MBA are what I think of as client facing jobs, that you think of what an MBA would do within a consulting firm, within a private equity shop, within an investment bank. Those are jobs where you will interface with the clients. And so being ready to do that is a key part of making an easier career transition. So it's all about how many things you're trying to change all at once. If you're trying to change careers and have some skills and some experiences that you can leverage off of, but have never worked directly with clients, that's going to be an additional hurdle. It's not insurmountable but it’s going to be one more thing that you're going to need to prove to your prospective employer that you’re capable of doing. So I think thinking even in the application stage about how to convey your client readiness is key.

On the other end of the spectrum from a career prospective, if you think about people who’ve got a lot of work experience, many, many people, we estimate between 75 to 80 percent of a given class here come to business school to change careers, and I think thinking about how "set" you are going to appear to our prospective employer that you’re sort of down on a given path and can't shift off that path is again going to be really key. So absolutely possible regardless of how much experience you've got, I think the key is how well can you articulate, how your skills from your past work experience are "leverageable" into that new career path. And how ready are you to identify what’s transferable from one to another. And those are certainly the kinds of things on both ends of the spectrum that we, that we at career services work with students on all the time but I think coming in with the sense of what those are is also a helpful indicator.

Linda Abraham:: Do you think, Julie that sometimes people on the more experienced or older end of the spectrum who say they want to change careers and go into an entry level position are looked at a little bit like, "are you for real?"

Julie Morton: Yeah, I think you need to be really realistic about what it is you're talking about. I mean, how believable a story is it both for the employer but also for yourself. You know, are you really ready to go back to an entry level job? Do you really understand what that means? Do you understand what that means in terms of salary, which is kind of the obvious one, but do you also understand what it means in terms of hours, in terms of managing people or not, in terms of being kind of the person who just takes the work and does it, nose to the grind stone on it, is that the kind of environment that you are really ready to move back into? I think being able to articulate that is really important in a convincing manner. You have to show very proactively that you’ve thought about it and that those are sacrifices you’re absolutely willing to make and proactively address them. Don’t wait for the interviewer to say, “Are you really ready to make those kinds of career shift from a career perspective or from an hours perspective?" You need to be the person to put it out there from the get-go.

Linda Abraham:: Okay, thank you very much both of you. So one participant asks a question specific to him but I think it's really a broader question. He writes, he's 20 years old, he couldn’t work for the past year due to an illness. He's now recovered. Will his absence from the work place for that one year be a negative point? And I think that obviously, there are times that you will leave the work force for a variety of reasons. One could be illness, one could be unemployment, one could be travel or just the desire to go study something different, or do something different, how do you respond to that?

Julie Morton: First of all I'm glad that you're okay. [Laughing]

Linda Abraham:: [Laughing] Right.

Julie Morton: I think one of the themes that you will hear from Chicago Booth over and over again is transparency and I think in situations like yours regardless of the reason, whether it's an illness or being laid off in a bad economy where it’s tough to find new work, I think being transparent about what happened and why and how you dealt with that set back, what you've learned from that set back and being able to talk convincingly about how you’re raring to go at this stage of the game is going to be the key to success here. That no one's going to close a door simply because you were forced to be out of the work force for a period of time. Doors get closed because you're not able to handle what that has meant, and how you've overcome that hurdle, that's why doors get closed. So being able to be very forthright and talk very openly about what transpired and what you learned from that experience and what you did during that time is going to be really key, regardless of what kind of situation you're in, how you make use of that time is going to be important. So I don’t see that as a show stopper at all, I see it as one more way for you to prove that you, that you've got some real core fortitude there.

Linda Abraham:: Okay, Kurt, do you have anything to add?

Kurt Ahlm: No, I think Julie put that very well.

Linda Abraham:: Okay, let me ask the next question then. This participant asks: What is the difference between applying round one versus round two from the admissions committee perspective? I know the answer is apply when you’re ready but what does the round that someone applies in signal to you?

Kurt Ahlm: Sure, to be candid, I mean, our hope is you’re applying, again, when you feel that you're most ready. So we don’t really extrapolate anything else from it and honestly those rounds are equally competitive. So if you try to put yourself on our shoes to think about what we might be thinking if you apply round one and round two, we're just trying to pull the best people we possibly can from the entire process and in order to do that, in order to be one of those people you really want to put in your best possible application. So I would say, again, take the time that you need to put your best foot forward and hopefully you're successful and that's really the only way I would look at it.

Linda Abraham:: Okay, great. Our next participant asks, “I was wondering if you could elaborate more on the essay that talks about undertaking risk, some examples or guidelines would be beneficial.”

Kurt Ahlm: We try to ask questions that we feel help to get people thinking in a way of what might be important or what might help to define the culture of Booth. Part of this process is again, your standing out with your interpretation of it. But I'll give you a little bit of a back story that might help. In Chicago a lot of what we try to do is encourage people to take risk and I don’t mean that in terms of amid wide ranges of risk but we don’t have a core curriculum, we don’t have a lot of descriptive elements to the program because we want students to be able to step outside of their comfort zone, to take some risks, to challenge themselves and in essence move beyond their skill sets. Push themselves a little farther and hopefully take a lot of their classmates and other people along for the ride with them. You feel that makes them much more prepared and much more able to be a strong contributor, not only in the classroom but certainly in their careers as they move forward. So part of what we're trying to asses when we ask these questions is to see, how do you think about risk? Again, there's varying degrees of it. How do you think about it, and give us some sense of what it means to you? How have you reacted to it in the past? What did you learn from those situations, I mean just to give us a deeper understanding of how you think and again how you better match with the type of culture that we present. So a lot of this comes from your interpretation of our culture, our program and then your own interpretation of how you asses risk and how you think about it and where do those things kind of meet in the middle.

Linda Abraham:: Okay, great. We're really getting kind of close to the wire here. So I'm going to ask one more question from the audience and I have my own question I’d like to close with. The next participant asks: As a reapplicant, will the previous application be reviewed? Is it acceptable to borrow some materials from last year’s slide show for this years essay number three?

Kurt Ahlm: So we do have your old application. We keep it for up to two years. The way we typically look at it is, we use it just as the baseline. So we understand kind of, where were you at a year ago or two years ago? And then we try to discuss that in the back of our minds as we review your new application. We're always looking for, as Julie alluded to earlier, how have you grown, how have you thought, what are your new insights you bring to the table? How are you fundamentally thinking about the MBA and this whole process a little bit differently than you have in the past? So it's the sense of progression that is demonstrated by a reapplicant that is most beneficial to us in terms of really seeing somebody we want to admit.

So if you have to borrow something from your previous application that you feel is really valuable and conveying those elements and again it's something you’re particularly proud of or particularly strong then absolutely go ahead and do that. What I would caution you again is taking a lot of a material from the old application and just recycling it which a lot of our reapplicants do. And we recognize that not a lot changes in a year but we hope that again you put enough thought and time into this second attempt to really demonstrate again the sense of growth, the sense of development from where you were a year ago. So again it's okay to borrow things, I just would do it very strategically and not necessarily replicate too much of the old application because that in a sense goes against this notion of demonstrating growth and development.

Linda Abraham:: I always tell applicants, if you failed last year, why do you think it's going to work this year?

Kurt Ahlm: That's a great, that's the way to do it. Cut to the chase. That's right.

Linda Abraham:: Okay, my last question is to both of you and it's pretty much, what do you anticipate for this year? Kurt, what do you anticipate in terms of application volume in Chicago Booth and Julie, what do you anticipate in terms of recruiting? Are recruiters signing up for interview slots ahead of last year, the same as last year, worse than last year? What does your crystal ball tell you?

Kurt Ahlm: Yeah, I’d say we’d love to be up at a huge amount of applications. I mean, I think that’s every admissions director's ultimate objective. But I mean, for us it's always been this notion of we want to increase the quality and the caliber, the applicant tool.

Linda Abraham:: And how do you define increased quality?

Kurt Ahlm: So yeah, so that can be through a couple different dimensions. I mean you can look at statistical metrics. They kind of define that. But more importantly its, are we getting enough people that really get at this notion of understanding our culture and being able to convey that connection. We spend a lot of time, and Julie touched on this earlier, talking very specifically about what Booth is about. I would argue that in terms of some of the top tier institutions, we tend to be the most transparent in terms of how we communicate, how we talk about our programs, the access, the prospective path to us. So a lot of it, it's again we want to make sure that people understand the unique fit of Chicago and seeing after the applicants pool and might having tougher decisions to be made because people are much better able to articulate that. It's how I kind of look it, the quality metrics for us.

The other thing is I would say is each year our population is getting much more diverse from an industry perspective, from a geographic perspective and I think a lot of that comes from what I alluded to at the very beginning of this which is we put a lot of time into really trying to open Chicago up a lot more, giving it greater access to people, becoming again much more transparent, much better in terms of marketing this program. And I think that clearly, each year is showing greater growth in terms of the people that we’re attracting, in terms of again that greater sense of fit with institution. And so the hope in all this is if we really see a diverse population, see those quality metrics improve that we're yielding classes that have a much stronger impact on this community, on the things we're trying to do both in the short and the long terms. So I think applications will go up. I'm not sure how much, and nor am I a betting man, so I won’t go on record in telling you that.

Linda Abraham:: [Laughing]

Kurt Ahlm: But I think they’re going to go up slightly but I do expect that hopefully the quality in terms of people's concept of fit and certainly diversity of class will continue to increase.

Linda Abraham:: Okay, great and Julie, how about your crystal ball?

Julie Morton: You know Linda, if my crystal ball on the employment front were a hundred percent clear I’d probably be in a very different job. [Laughing]

Linda Abraham:: [Laughing]

Julie Morton: I do have to say that the early indicators for this coming year are very positive. We are certainly up in terms of the full time on campus recruiting picture. It’s too early to tell what January and February will bring for internship, but if full time recruiting is up then the internship market usually follows as well. And it's also worth noting that even in the past two years where the market has been certainly less than robust, virtually every intern, every first year who stalked an internship landed one. So even in a market that hasn’t been particularly great, the internship employment outlook has been very positive. The other thing now that I really see continuing to grow and continuing to take place here is that students are looking way beyond the on campus recruiting picture for jobs. The job postings that we’re seeing are increasingly robust, really awesome jobs. And the networking opportunities within the greater Chicago Booth community are increasingly robust and exciting.

And so I think on campus recruiting, while it's certainly one piece of how students source potential opportunities is really, is truly just one piece. The number of other ways that students source opportunities simultaneous to participating in the on campus process is really growing and I see that increasing, which kind of takes me back to where we started in terms of the diversity of career paths. I think as that continues to grow it becomes really important that students look at a variety of different ways to source opportunities and that the school be part of the facilitation process for a really robust and diverse set of ways for students to land opportunities.

Linda Abraham:: Great, thank you very much. Thank you all for participating today. Special thanks to Kurt and to Julie for joining us and providing their really excellent and outstanding answers to our questions. We look to seeing you at future chats. Here's a list of the upcoming events:

Kellogg Q&A with Carla Edelston
Thursday, September 16, 2010

UCLA Anderson Q&A with Mae Shores
Monday, October 4, 2010

Notre Dame Q&A with Brian Lohr
Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Chat with Current Consortium Members and Alumni
Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Wharton Q&A with Julia Schreck
Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cornell Q&A with Randall Sawyer
Thursday, October 21, 2010

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Thank you all again for coming, it's really been a pleasure.