2012 Be Smart MBA Admissions Q&A with Linda Abraham
2012 Be Smart MBA Admissions Q&A with Linda Abraham
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Miriam Berlin: I’d like to welcome you all to the Be Smart MBA Admissions Q&A. This Q&A is really a response to the many requests we’ve had after our webinars and school-specific Q&A’s for more time for unscripted questions and answers. So that is what this Q&A is about.
I also want to introduce Linda Abraham, the founder of Accepted.com who will be responding to your questions today. Accepted.com was founded in 1994, and today is a premier international MBA admissions consultancy. We have guided thousands of applicants from all corners of the globe to acceptance at top MBA programs.
Linda is also the author of the newly released MBA Admission for Smarties, which she’ll be telling you a bit about and sharing an exclusive coupon at the webinar’s conclusion.
Linda Abraham: The Q&A today is about questions and answers. As I was looking at my kitchen bulletin board, I took note of one of my husband’s favorite quotes which is from Abraham Lincoln. It reads, "Better to be silent and thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt." That is true mostly when you are talking about answering questions; it is not true when you are asking questions. So this is your opportunity to ask questions.
I’d like to ask a question first. I’d like to get a sense of what stage you are at with your MBA applications so I am going to put up a poll. The questions are: Have you already applied? Are you planning to apply this application cycle? Do you plan to apply in fall 2012, next year, or the following application cycle? Or you’re not sure? Here are the results. None of you here have already applied. 64% are planning to apply this application cycle, i.e. second, third, or fourth round. 36% plan to apply in 2012, so I guess you are just doing your research early and I commend that.
As Miriam said, we asked applicants to let us know what their questions are. We got several responses and have aggregated a couple of them, and at the same time, we also have some specific questions that we are going to share. The first question is, "What are the criteria that applicants should use in choosing schools?" This is one of the more general questions. And the second question is, "How should an applicant address a weakness, specifically a low GMAT or a low GPA, or being from an over-represented group?"
The question regarding what the criteria should be for applicants in choosing schools is a topic that Judy Gruen, my co-author, and I addressed extensively in our book, MBA Admission for Smarties. I think it is the most important question in terms of ensuring your success in the application process. If you have a clear post-MBA goal, it will guide your decisions, it will guide your application process, it will guide everything. And if you don’t have one, I think it muddies the waters, no matter how high your GMAT and GPA are.
So the most important criterion is that you need a goal which requires an MBA, given your experience. The second most important criterion is your qualifications. You have to match your qualifications to what schools are looking for, and to the qualifications of the people who are getting into your specific school.
Most people want to go to Harvard Business School. However, only a tiny percentage of those in the applicant pool will get accepted. Only about 10% of those who apply to Harvard Business School get accepted. And the majority of those who are rejected are "competitive" or "qualify". So if you don’t do your research and make sure that your profile is competitive on most of the measures, you don’t even have a chance, and you are just wasting your time if you apply to Harvard or to other schools where you are not competitive.
The third criterion is simply your personal preferences. To me, that is less important than the first two. If you like to be in a big city, you probably will not be really happy at Cornell which is located in Ithaca, New York, or at Tuck which is located in Hanover, New Hampshire, or perhaps even at Darden which is located in Charlottesville, Virginia. All of these schools are located either in rural areas or small cities. You probably would thrive in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or the Bay Area. And that has to be part of your criteria of something that you consider.
At the same time, I put it less important than the other two because business school is two years, and I think the first criterion, your long-term goal, will simply have longer lasting impact. You may prefer a big campus or you may prefer a small, more intimate campus. You may have certain religious or political leanings that are very important to you that might also guide your decision in your choice of campus. Those are personal preferences.
Basically, you want to draw yourself a Venn diagram of those schools which support your goals, those schools which you would like to attend, and those schools likely to accept you. Where those circle intersect are the programs that you chose from when you want to apply.
Let’s go to the second question. How should an applicant address weakness, specifically a low GMAT or a low GPA? Those are very different questions. The GMAT shows that you have a certain amount of raw intellectual ability, horsepower. And the GPA shows that you know how to apply it in an academic setting. So the best way to handle a low GMAT is to retake it. The best way to handle a low GPA is to get recent good grades in an academic setting. That is not always possible, but those are the best ways. Those options may not be possible for you; perhaps you’ve taken the GMAT several times and you are simply not going to raise it, or you don’t have the option, perhaps due to time constraints, of taking classes at this point in time. Then you need to point to other evidence of either your intellectual horsepower or your ability to discipline yourself and apply yourself, which will address the school’s concern about either talent in either aspect of your profile.
And finally, there is the question about overrepresented groups. My advice to you is to write the kind of essays that make you a group of one, so that you are no longer an Indian applicant, so that you are no longer a male engineer, you are no longer a Chinese applicant, you are no longer a management consultant, etc. You are Linda Abraham, who has done x, y, and z, who has this and this to contribute. That is the challenge of the essays.
Now how do you do that? If you are from an overrepresented group, in telling your story, you are going to focus on what is more distinctive about your story. And that, almost inevitably, will be your motivations for doing what you’ve done and the lessons you’ve learned from doing what you’ve done, along with the specifics of a particular story. If you just talk about being a software developer, then you will fit in with all the software developers. If you talk about consulting in terms of very general projects that you’ve worked on, outsourcing projects, that is where you fit in. But if you talk about the challenges involved in outsourcing projects to, let’s say, the Ukraine, and maybe some of the specific challenges in dealing with Ukrainian business practices, suddenly you are distinguishing yourself from every other management consultant who has worked on outsourcing projects or only on downsizing, or only on strategy assessments. That is what they do. But if you talk about your particular projects, then suddenly you are writing in a distinctive way.
Now let’s get to some of the questions that have been asked. We had several people email us questions. I’d like to take one of the questions that were emailed in and then one of the questions that are posed by the people that are actually here.
Miriam Berlin: One of the first questions we had emailed in was actually very similar to what you were talking about earlier regarding choosing the right program. We had a few questions related to that. "Why should someone consider an MBA versus an MS? Which has more opportunities with respect to growth in the future?" A question was asked regarding looking at an MBA in Europe versus an MBA in the US, or a one-year program versus a two-year program. Can you give us some insight into all these different choices? How does an applicant know which would be the best option to choose?
Linda Abraham: Okay. Let’s first look at the MBA versus the MS. The MBA is a general management degree and a MS is usually a specialized degree, except for the MS in management. So you can get a master’s in marketing, you can get a master’s in finance, in financial engineering, in healthcare management—in specific areas of business management. If you are very directive and you know you want to focus on that specific area and you don’t have ambitions to be CEO or something like that, then a MS may be the correct degree for you. It also is frequently a one-year degree and is frequently less expensive, both in terms of opportunity costs and tuition costs.
But the key factor has to be, as I will always stress, what are your long-term goals and ambitions? If you want to be a brand manager but ultimately you think you may want to run your own company or be a CEO of a larger corporation, probably the MBA is the correct route. If you really love marketing and you don’t want to bother yourself with accounting and finance and more than the basics, then probably a master’s in marketing is the way for you to go. So again, it really is dependent on what your long term goal is.
In terms of the US or Europe, in Europe most of the programs are one-year programs or 15-month programs; in the US they are usually two-year programs. One of the big benefits of a two-year program is that it does offer you the opportunity to have an internship. And internships tend to ease the way for career changers, especially if you are trying to change both function and industry, which is the most difficult kind of career change.
However, the main criterion in deciding between an MBA in the US and an MBA in Europe should be where you want to work immediately after you graduate. While both European MBAs have ties to US businesses and US businesses can place overseas, the easiest path post-MBA is to get a job close to where you’ve gone to school because you are going to be making contacts and networking closer to your school. And while it is possible, it is much more difficult. So if you know you want to work in Europe, you are better off going to school in Europe. If you know you want to work in the US post-MBA, you are better off going to school in the US. It’s not that one is intrinsically better than the other; as usual, it depends.
Miriam Berlin: Grace asks, "In a specific round, is it true that submission earlier is better than later, or as long as it is submitted by the deadline there is no difference?" Similarly, while talking about rounds, in general is there a difference between submitting earlier, in round one versus round two?
Linda Abraham: Round one has already passed, but I guess for next year’s applicants, that is still a relevant question and I’ll address it. Most schools say that there is no difference in submitting an application earlier before a deadline or at the last minute of a deadline. The only problem can be that if you really wait till the last minute, servers will get overloaded. They might crash and you might find your application being submitted after the deadline, as opposed to before the deadline. Some schools are very strict about that deadline cutoff. I believe Harvard is among them; they say noon on the date, and they mean it. In other schools they’ll say 5PM on the date, but if it gets in after 5PM, they are a little bit more lenient; they’ll allow you to still be part of the just passed round. But you don’t want to count on that. So in most cases, it doesn’t make a difference if you get it in a month before the deadline or a day before the deadline. My personal advice is: plan to submit either the morning of the deadline or 24 hours before the deadline because otherwise you can have some problems.
The other question was about the difference in rounds. I’ve asked many schools this question and the answer almost always is round one or round two. Of course some schools have more than two rounds, MIT only has two, and Columbia has rolling admissions. Most say that if you get your application in by the January deadline, whatever number round that is, you are fine; there are plenty of places, there is money available for scholarships, and there is really no difference in admission chances.
They almost all say that there are fewer spots and chances of admission decline for the third round. But they don’t have a third round just to reject everybody, and there are people accepted round three. So it’s not like nobody should apply round three; there are definitely people who should apply round 3.
What about round 1 and round 2? For those of you who are planning now to apply in 2012, I would strongly encourage you to take your GMAT as soon as possible. Get all your ducks lined up. Do your school research this winter and spring while school is still in session, and attempt to apply round 1. Very simply, all the spots are open in round 1. And round 2 is when most schools get the bulk of their applications. So if your application is ready round 1, if your GMAT score is where you think it should be, if you have your clear goal, if you have done your school research and you know why you are applying to those schools, and you have leadership examples, apply round 1. That is my personal preference. My golden rule of application timing is: apply as early as possible PROVIDED that you don’t compromise the quality of your application.
Miriam Berlin: We have a few questions coming in about recommendations. Is it necessary to send two professional recommendations or is it okay if one recommendation comes from the workplace and one comes, for example, from an NGO? How should a person determine what is the best recommender to choose? And also in circumstances such as a family business, or an applicant who doesn’t want to tell his boss he’s leaving, how would you address some of those concerns?
Linda Abraham: The first thing is—do what the school is asking you to do. So if the school says they want two professional recommendations, I would give two professional recommendations. And one can have a little bit of wiggle room if you feel that your volunteer experience is so impressive, and you have relatively little work experience and it’s all with the same employer so a second professional rep would not add as much as the NGO. In that case, I would contact the school and ask them how they felt about that, or I might include an optional explanation, or I would just make a judgment call and do it on my own if I couldn’t get feedback from the school. But basically, the general rule is: follow the instructions provided by the school. That is what they want. And you want to give them what they want as much as possible. Beyond that, if you have the option of three recommendations, you can do two professional and one non-professional.
In terms of how to choose recommenders, you go for the people who know you best, who can comment on your qualifications, your leadership skills, your interpersonal skills, your analytical skills, your initiative. Those who have seen you initiate, lead, work, cooperate, communicate; those are the kinds of people you want writing your letters of recommendation. So don’t go for the big title at the top of the firm who shook your hand once at a cocktail party. Go for your immediate supervisor, assuming that the supervisor will have something good to say about you, and ask those people first.
If you are in a family business, or perhaps you recently changed jobs and you don’t want to ask your supervisor, then you have to spread your net a little wider. In the case of somebody who is in a family owned business or perhaps someone in their own business, you are going to go to suppliers, big clients, perhaps professionals that you work with like your accountant or your attorney. You want to go to the kind of people who can comment on your skills as a business leader, as a person of integrity, as a manager. These are the kinds of qualities that you want your recommender talking about. And obviously, they have to know you in order to comment on that.
If you don’t want to ask your boss because you are afraid it can affect promotions and work assignments until the start of business school, and this is especially true if you are applying round one for the following application year, then it’s a litter harder. You can go to a boss perhaps who has left the company. Or if you worked at a different company previously, you can go to your boss from your prior employer, assuming that you have maintained good relationships with those people. And I think this kind of situation also highlights the importance of staying in touch with previous bosses and also obviously maintaining good relationships with them.
Miriam Berlin: Rashi asks if he can reference something that the recommender had said, in his essays. In other words, he is concerned that the admissions committee might think that he helped write the recommendation if he referenced something that was said in it, but he actually just has a copy of it.
Linda Abraham: That is a very interesting question. I see from the questions here that he is actually asking about Kellogg’s question where he is asked to evaluate a candidate. It is well known that recommenders do share recommendations with candidates, so I don’t think the automatic assumption would be that the candidate wrote the recommendation, unless the style was very similar to the candidate’s style. So I don’t really see that as an issue. I think the safer route would be to somehow reference the quality without referencing the recommendation, or reference the example without referencing the recommendation.
Miriam Berlin: Mario asks, "Is a 650 regarded as a low GMAT score?"
Linda Abraham: That is a really good question. As usual, it depends. It depends on where you are applying. If you are applying to a school like Stanford where the average GMAT is 740, then 650 is a low GMAT score. If you are applying to a school where the average GMAT is 670, then 650 is not a low GMAT score. If you are applying to a school where the average GMAT is 620, then a 650 is actually a high GMAT score. And even at Stanford where there is a very high GMAT average, they will accept some people with a 650—a few. I don’t know how many because they don’t publish that kind of data. But the people with a low GMAT score that they will accept obviously will be stellar in many other ways. They will probably have a very high GPA with lots of quant courses or quantitatively demanding work experience. They will have shown a lot of initiative, they will be involved in their community, and they will have a lot of leadership on their profile. They might also be from an underrepresented minority.
So the GMAT is a very important factor in admissions, but it’s definitely not the "be all, end all". And whether it is high or low really depends on the context of the school you are applying to.
Miriam Berlin: We have some questions about career change. Shweta asks, "I was previously in the IT sector and then switched to publishing. Post-MBA, I plan to switch to the finance sector. How can I explain these switches in the essays?" Another applicant asks, "What are common weaknesses that are related to career change? For example, if someone had an undergrad degree that wasn’t really related to their current work, should they use the optional essay to explain that? How should they present that in their application?"
Linda Abraham: It’s pretty hard to give a blanket piece of advice on that because the individual circumstances vary so much. It is important to connect the dots. The admissions committees want to try to understand your decision making process. I’m not saying that you have to go into excruciating detail about every factor which led you to change from the IT sector to publishing and then to finance, but I do think that there should be briefly an indication about why you made some of these changes. And in terms of why you want finance, that should be the easiest part. You should be able to draw from your previous experiences and talk about those aspects from your previous experiences that you found most interesting, and how they relate to your future goal.
But how exactly do you do that? I would suspect that you would not do it in an optional essay. You would probably do it in the "Why MBA?" essay or something similar to that question—your goals essay, or your essay about why you want an MBA. How did you decide you want an MBA? What experiences convinced you that you want an MBA? Those kinds of questions are usually where you would address this. But I can imagine that for some applications that is not going to be the right place and for others it will be. So the answer is really one that would depend very much on the application that you are addressing and your reasons for making the switches that you’ve made.
Miriam Berlin: J asks, "How much overlap should there be between my resume and essays? Should I try to cover every major point mentioned in my resume in my essays?"
Linda Abraham: That’s a very good question too. The resume is a snapshot and the essays are deep dives. So you definitely do not need to cover every major point made in your resume. That is definitely unnecessary and probably a really bad idea because that would make your essays resumes in prose and prevent your essays from supplementing and complementing your resume. If you think of your application as a great big jigsaw puzzle with every element coming together to clarify the picture of you that is being presented in the application, you realize that you don’t want things to duplicate. Obviously your resume provides context, it provides a certain chronology, but it doesn’t go into much depth—it can’t.
Your essays are for providing depth. And occasionally, depending upon the question and your particular experiences, the essays may go into areas of your life simply not covered in a professional resume. So do not in any way shape or form feel compelled to explore every major point in your resume. That is definitely not necessary. Use your essays to go much deeper into really important points on the most important points on your resume to provide your motivations, to provide lessons learned, and to go into greater depth. But don’t have one duplicate the other.
Miriam Berlin: Tara asks, "How do you best present yourself if you are from a small business or a family business with an entrepreneurial background? What are the qualities that the business schools are looking for from such applicants? And which are the best schools that would welcome students coming from a family business or different startups?" She says that she is having trouble getting this type of information. Just to chime in from some of the other questions that were submitted, "How much does an MBA help in the development of entrepreneurial skills?"
Linda Abraham: Let’s first talk about the first part of the question—how to best present yourself from a small business, a family business, an entrepreneurial background. You want to be able to show impact. The concern with a family business is that perhaps you were daddy’s little girl and you weren’t really doing much, and that kind of thing. If you can show that you handled serious responsibility in your family business, that you had responsibility, that you created, initiated, and you had an impact in growing your family business, then it is taken very seriously and looked on very positively.
What are the qualities that they look for? I just basically said it—impact, initiative, responsibility. This is what the schools look for, no matter what your background. What are the best schools that are more welcoming of such family business applicants than other schools? First of all, I think most of the top schools are welcoming of this background if you can show this kind of impact. But the schools that are strongest in entrepreneurship are usually a tad more welcoming, or if they have a center for family business, like Kellogg. UCLA is very strong in entrepreneurship. Haas, UT—these programs are a little more welcoming to people coming from family business backgrounds. But it would be incorrect for you to think of yourself as somehow disadvantaged in the applicant pool because you come from a small business/family business background, as long as you can show that you have the academic qualifications and that you’ve had the responsibility that the business schools are looking for.
One last addition. Family businesses and entrepreneurship is very broad. You can run a family shoe store, a local one shop shoe store, or a gas station; that is also entrepreneurship and it is frequently a family business. You’d have a harder time showing that experience as MBA competitive qualitatively, than if you ran a family import-export business. So I think there are some businesses that are more ‘Mom-and-Pop’, and you would have a harder time showing the potential of that business or why you would need an MBA to go back to that business. That is the big challenge there. If you want to grow the gas station into a chain, into the next standard oil or ARCO, or if you want to take the shoe store and make it the next Payless, and you need the operational skills, financial skills, and marketing skills that an MBA provides, then suddenly you’ve taken the ‘Mom-and-Pop’ and made it into something much bigger, and obviously your need for an MBA is much clearer.
Miriam Berlin: Hital asks about the GMAT. "How many GMAT attempts can one take? Or what is the impact of attempting more than twice to take the GMAT?"
Linda Abraham: I think GMAC says you can take it a max of five times a year, not more than once every thirty days. But that kind of rule doesn’t really answer the question. You can take it an infinite number of times, but the law of diminishing returns usually sets in somewhere around three. And schools start to question your judgment somewhere between three and five. And I think after five, it would definitely become detrimental because at some point you just have to accept that this is your GMAT score.
I would like to pose a poll about the GMAT now; I just want to get a sense of where everybody is at with regard to the GMAT. How many of you have taken it and are happy with your score? How many of you are planning to retake, in other words, you took it and are not happy with your score? How many of you are studying for the GMAT for the first time? And how many of you have not yet started to prepare? Here are the results: 50% have taken it and are happy with their scores. Congratulations. 25% are planning to retake; are unhappy with their scores. 19% are studying for their first GMAT, and 15% have not yet started to prepare. So obviously, of the 36% who previously said they are applying next year, the majority have not yet taken their GMAT. And that is fine; that is no problem.
There really is no penalty whatsoever in taking the GMAT twice or three times. At the same time, I strongly urge you not to take it on a lark. Take your practice exams where they don’t count; there are plenty of places where you can take practice exams and get a sense of where you stand. You can do it at MBA.com or GMAC.com; you can do it at all the test prep companies. Take your lark exam in private. When you want to know how you’ll do with no prep, do it in private. When you want it to count, when you want others to see it, that is when you go and register and pay, etc.
Miriam Berlin: Siddharth asks a question. He comes from India, but not from one of the more prestigious or popular Indian colleges, and he is wondering how that is going to affect his application and how the various schools will look at that. He has a very high GPA, but it’s just not from one of the top schools. How much will that affect his chances?
Linda Abraham: Some of that will depend on how he does on the GMAT. If he did really well on the GMAT and he has a really high GPA, even if it’s not from an IIT, then schools will say—okay, the GMAT and the GPA jive; this guy has the intellectual horsepower, he also knows how to apply himself, so it seems like he can do well in our program. If the GMAT is low or lower than average for that particular program, then they probably will look more closely at the school and the courses that were taken and be a little bit more suspicious that the school is not as competitive or as rigorous as other programs, and it won’t go as well.
Miriam Berlin: Rashi asks, "Can you highlight some key weaknesses in leadership qualities that an applicant should steer away from revealing in his/her essays? For example, if he has to make a lot of decisions and he will make the decisions, but will second-guess himself, is that leadership or is that a weakness?
Linda Abraham: Business schools have as part of their curriculum developing leadership skills. They don’t want to inculcate leadership skills; they want to develop what you already have. So they don’t expect you to be a perfect leader. Perfection in leadership comes much later in life. I don’t think you have to worry so much about showing weaknesses in leadership qualities as much as a lack of leadership qualities. A real lack is where you have a problem, but a leadership mistake, perhaps an unhoned or rough leadership skill, that is perfectly appropriate at this stage in life. I wouldn’t be quite so concerned about it.
In terms of your example that you are constantly second-guessing yourself, if you are asked about a weakness I think you could use that, but you would also have to show how it has hampered you. My guess is that it makes decision-making rather difficult if you are constantly second-guessing yourself. But I don’t think you have to worry about it.
Frequently, when applicants are asked about a weakness, they try to choose a weakness that is not really a weakness, and that is a mistake. I actually remember doing that many years ago when I was applying. People can see through that very quickly. But if you show something that is a genuine weakness, perhaps hyper self-criticism or a tendency to second-guess yourself which can result a little bit in analysis paralysis, then you are showing a little bit of self reflection and self knowledge which is a crucial component in both maturity and good leadership. Because once you know you have a weakness you can try to address it; if you don’t know you have a weakness, you can’t even address it. So don’t worry so much about being an imperfect leader when you apply to business school. Nobody expects you to be anything but.
Miriam Berlin: Grace asks a question about comparing schools. Grace asks specifically about comparing Georgetown and Cornell. In other words, if she would have to choose between the two if she was accepted to both, which would be the better school? In general, a lot of applicants have the question about rankings, and which school to apply to if one school is higher ranked than the other one. Can you give us some insight about that?
Linda Abraham: We have a special report on rankings, in terms of what you need to know about the rankings and how you use them.
In terms of comparing schools, this is a great question. I think much too much emphasis is put on brand and ranking in this process. As I said earlier, the key thing has to be how much the school is going to help you achieve your goal. So think about where its graduates are getting jobs. Are they getting jobs at the companies you want to work for? Are they getting jobs in the functions you want to perform? If they are, then that is far more important than their ranking in US News or Business Week or Financial Times, etc.
Once you are accepted at two programs, and they both will help you achieve your goals and you like both programs and you are really torn between them, then look at the respective rankings. You are talking about very small statistical variations usually. In some of the rankings, you can actually see what you are talking about in terms of what the factors are that make up the rankings. Then you can see what makes them either close or different. And in others, you can’t even see that and you don’t know whether you are talking about tiny statistical differences or something more significant. Usually they are tiny and insignificant. If you have two schools that have accepted you where you think you can achieve your goals and you’d be happy in either one, at that point, look at the rankings.
At that point, the brand really matters, especially in the United States. Abroad, it may be a little bit different. And if you are coming abroad or you want to work abroad, you have a better sense of how important brand is in that country. And even in your home country, what may be more important than or as important as the brand is the extensiveness and the activity level of their alumni network. So I would focus more on brand and ranking once you are accepted, rather than at this point in the process. So again, first think in terms of where you are best going to achieve your goals for your MBA, then think about your personal happiness in a particular school, and then look at the brand and the ranking.
In terms of how you can use the rankings before that point, the rankings are marvelous in terms of data. So if you want to know how you stack up, go look at the Business Week or the US News. If you want to know what kind of ROI you can get on a particular program, or not so much you but what recent grads have gotten, look at Forbes. If you want to look at recruiter satisfaction numbers, look at Business Week. If you want to get some sense of another ROI and financial return and salary numbers, look at the Financial Times. The data in these rankings is marvelous. The term ‘ranking’ is there to sell magazines, and I think it does a disservice to applicants and to schools, but it does sell magazines and periodicals. So take the rankings part of it with a large grain of salt, and make your own rankings as to what is important to you.
Miriam Berlin: Shweta asks, "Does leadership have to be in the context of professional life only?" She says that she doesn’t have leadership experience in her professional life, but he does have in her extracurriculars, and asks whether that will be given equal weightage.
Linda Abraham: Leadership does not have to be in your professional life. It can be in extracurriculars. It depends really on what kind of career you are in. There are many companies, especially for younger applicants, where it is almost impossible to show leadership on the job. If you are only two years out of college, nobody is going to expect you to have led major projects. If you are five or eight years out of college and you have not led on the job or you have minimal professional progression, that will hurt you even if in your extracurricular life you do show leadership. As usual, it depends on context and it depends on where you’re at. But your leadership experience off the job will be given some weight.
The one caveat I want to add to that is again, if you have a lot of work experience and your only leadership experience was in college, so you are five years out of college and you were a hotshot on campus when you were a student but you really have not been involved in the community activity since then, and perhaps your leadership on the job is limited, then it will hurt you. Especially if you are applying for next fall, one of the things you can do to try to boost your chances right now is to engage in an extracurricular activity, in community service, or try to move into leadership positions on the job that will demonstrate involvement, participation, impact, and leadership.
Miriam Berlin: Abhishek asks, "What is considerable work experience for an MBA?" I know it does vary according to the schools. Could you talk about that a bit?
Linda Abraham: Sure. Most of the full-time MBA programs at this point have a two year minimum, not all but in general, and a sweet spot for experience of 3-6 years. And when you get over 8 years of experience you are at a disadvantage, and the schools, especially those with EMBA programs, would probably prefer that you go into the EMBA route.
Miriam Berlin: Grace said that one of her recommenders has poor English listening skills. She wants to know if that is going to be a problem when the schools do a background check if she is accepted. How should she deal with this?
Linda Abraham: No, that shouldn’t be a problem at all. Obviously people come from abroad and they were working in their native languages, and they can’t expect their recommenders to know English fluently. The more common question is what about a recommender who doesn’t know how to write in English or whose English is very poor? And in that case what you can do is pay for a professional translation of a recommendation. Have the recommender write the letter in the native language, whatever it is, and then take the letter to a translator and have the translator translate it. You obviously want a professional. And then you have that submitted for the recommender.
Miriam Berlin: Siddharth asked about his grades coming from India where they don’t grade on the regular GPA system; they give Distinction, for example. I’m assuming the schools do understand those, correct?
Linda Abraham: Oh, yes. Unless you are asked to translate your transcript or your grade percentage or the class system—first class, second class, honors, and all that stuff—don’t do it. The schools have people on their staff trained to interpret international transcripts. And almost always when the transcript or GPA is translated, it ends up being lower. So if you are not asked to translate your transcript, don’t translate it.
I also want to point out for those of you who are planning to apply in the fall, we have a special report for you: MBA Action Plan; 6 Steps for the 6 Months Before You Apply. It does lay out very concrete steps that you can take in the next six months so that you are ready come June-July when the applications come out for round 1of next year.
Miriam Berlin: J has a follow up question on the resume. He has eight years of professional experience and he is finding it difficult to cut his resume down to one page. Would it be okay to leave out his first two work experiences due to lack of space because most schools do ask for a one page resume?
Linda Abraham: My concern with taking that route is that if those two jobs were post-college, you’re going to have a gap in your resume and people are going to wonder what you did during that time. If those two jobs were part-time jobs that you had during college, I see no problem leaving them off. But if those were full-time post-college experiences, you should include them. You don’t have to go into any great depth; you can just list them so that it will be clear you were working. And obviously then yes, you do have to cut down some of the descriptions that you provide on the later experience.
Miriam Berlin: Nishanth asks, "Can you talk about gaps in work experience from the outlook of the admissions committee?" For example, in his case, he had to be away from work for six months to help his ailing father. Would that hurt his application since he is not currently employed?
Linda Abraham: There is a difference between a gap in employment and being currently unemployed. A gap in employment means that some time in the past you were unemployed for six months and then you resumed employment. And that would usually not hurt you, especially if you provide the reason for the gap, and you should do that somewhere. It can be in an optional essay, it can be a very brief statement: I was not working from January 1, 2010-July 1, 2010 because I was taking care of my sick father, or I had to run his business, or whatever. That’s all you have to do.
If you are currently unemployed, you can again do the same thing and say I am not working because I am taking care of my sick father and the family affairs. But then you are actually employed because you are taking care of the family business—you are running the family business—and that is how I would present it. If you are currently unemployed, the reason for that unemployment and what you are doing during the unemployment becomes an issue. And that would be true again with a gap. If you were laid off, the business schools know that there is a recession and that people are being laid off, and it’s not going to kill your chances. It particularly won’t kill your chances if you land a job after three months or even six months, or if you use those six months to acquire new skills or to volunteer; you stay engaged, you stay productive. So that is how I would handle that.
There are a few more resources that we offer. First of all, with your essays, we have our essay flaws course, not to mention our essay editing. I know some of you are concerned about your GPA or your GMAT scores, and some of you may have questions that we didn’t answer here, so you can post your questions on our facebook page, or in our forum on our site.
Thank you very much for your questions today. I want to share with you a special offer that we have for 50% off the book MBA Admission for Smarties—with coupon code SMARTIES50 which expires December 31, 2011, and the offer is exclusively for webinar registrants currently in the US.
We look forward to seeing you at future Q&A and Events. Coming up next:
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