2013 Toronto Rotman MBA Q&A with Niki Da Silva and Leigh Gauthier

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2013 Toronto Rotman MBA Q&A with Niki Da Silva and Leigh Gauthier

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Linda Abraham: My name is Linda Abraham. I'm 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 the time to learn more about University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. It is critical to you as you apply that you know as much as possible about the schools you are applying to, and being here today lets you learn more about this top-ranked school.

I'm also particularly pleased to welcome the Rotman School representatives, Niki da Silva and Leigh Gauthier. Niki is the Director of Recruitment and Admissions. Leigh is the Director of the Career Center at Rotman, and this is the first chat that we have ever hosted for Rotman, and I'm particularly pleased that we finally did it. I've been reading about Rotman and learning about Rotman from afar, and I'm excited to learn more about it a little bit more close-up. So thank you to everyone for joining.

I'm going to take advantage, however, of my position as moderator and ask the first question. Niki and Leigh, what's new at Rotman?

Niki da Silva: Thanks, Linda. This is Niki da Silva speaking, Director of Recruitment & Admissions for the full-time program. And just to echo Linda's comments, we are really excited to be here and to talk about the Rotman School and all of the fantastic things that are happening within the full-time MBA program.

So what's new at the Rotman School? We are in what we are defining as probably the most exciting time in the history of the school. We've just opened a brand new, state of the art, $93 million building, which was the final peg in a long-term strategy by our Dean, Roger Martin, who came on in 1998, came to Rotman with a vision of creating a world-class, best in class business school in Canada that will complete with top programs regardless of where they're from. And the actual investment, and the bricks-and-mortar component of the building expansion, has doubled our size, which is giving us the physical space to launch on a thoughtful and long-term expansion of our full-time MBA program.

So what's new is not just the building itself, but we've recently, in September, just admitted the largest and most international class in the history of the Rotman School with 313 students, and we are partway through a multi-year strategy to grow and expand the program to 400 students, which is going to position us to be competitive and really the only destination school for global recruiters in Canada. So it’s a very, very exciting time, and lots of opportunity to speak of at Rotman right now.

Linda Abraham: That's great. Leigh, what's new at the Career Center?

Leigh Gauthier: Yes. Just hearing Niki gets me excited. Well, it obviously has an impact on us over at the Career Center when you speak of growth, and I think the first thing that I would mention is the growth of our team and the way that we actually interact with our two key stakeholders, which are of course our students and our employers as well.

Amongst this growth phase that Niki has spoken about, we've also grown staff. Our student to staff ratio is one of the lowest out there, so that the students are getting a very high-touch coaching model, one-on-one, dedicated service, so that they can really use the MBA to realize their career dreams, whatever that may be.

And then on the flip side, we also have a similar ratio to our employer. So we want to attract the best employers here because we have the best students. And we do that with a high-touch model on the corporate side, with what we call our Industry Adviser. We've been operating in this model for a short time, given the phase of the school's growth, but we're excited by some of the things that we're seeing.

For example, we are having some multi-national recruiters coming on campus for Rotman-exclusive, meaning that they don't recruit anywhere else in Canada other than Rotman. So it's a pretty exciting story, I'd say as well, on the career side.

Linda Abraham: Sounds exciting. That is very exciting. When preparing for the chat today, I was reading about Rotman's integrated approach to the management education, and also obviously, the thing I think it’s best known for is design approach. What do these approaches mean in the classroom to the student?

Niki da Silva: Yes, that's a really great question, and I think the philosophy behind integrative thinking and business design really stems from understanding that the landscape of business has fundamentally changed, and that in order for Rotman to change the MBA game and graduate students that have skills that are relevant and valuable and different from a traditional business school, we really are firm believers that future leaders must be innovators. They have to understand how to come up with new ideas on how to enter new markets, or break new ground, or develop new products or services, or models for approaching business.

The idea is that our focus is around developing students who are going to become problem solvers to the world, to tackle some of those wicked problems that exist. There's a couple of components that go into supporting what I think is a very aspirational goal that we have. The first is the actual design of the curriculum, which has been recognized recently by the AACSB as one of the top five leading innovators in MBA curriculums.

And I think what makes it so unique is, one, that integrative thinking is kind of a bookend, I suppose, in the first year of the MBA. So the program starts with a module around model-based problem solving that gets our students to think about business problems, not just from a functional perspective, but also thinking through the big data world, understanding that problems are going to be unstructured, they're going to be complex, and the expectation of MBA grads is that they need to be able to think through those in real-time.

So we start off the program with that particular approach for the first month, and then the bookend of Year One is an opportunity to take part in the Integrative Thinking capstone course, which actually involves something that is called "live cases," which is very different from traditional case method, where students are actually going to work through faculty teams who are teaching cases that are literally taken from the business press, and need to understand how to problem solve where you may or may not have all the data that you need. You don't have the luxury of more time or waiting to see what's going to happen next, but to be able to go live with recommendations, and think on their feet and tackle situations where ambiguity exists just like it's going to when they graduate.

That's the integrated thinking piece. And briefly, on the business design. Business design, in some ways, is a model. You're thinking about integrative thinking as a model-based approach to problem solving. Business design is just a phenomenal model of innovation. So our students have opportunities to participate in a business design boot camp in the first year of the program, take electives in design thinking, participate in the business design club, and it certainly is a differentiator for them, in not just creating this new way to think, but in positioning them for opportunities that don't exist at every business school.

So it’s a long answer to your question, but it's something that we're really passionate about, and think is, to your point, a massive differentiator for our students.

Leigh Gauthier: Yes, I think I'll just chime in, here, on how that parlays onto the career side. Absolutely, the disciplines in integrative thinking are applicable across all functional areas that an MBA would want to go into, so there's a win there regardless of whether you're looking for a pure finance role or consulting, or if you're looking for something a little bit more diversified.

And we're seeing a marketplace – to go back to what you were saying, Niki, about the feedback from our players – that our students really do solve problems differently, and think differently, and have a more well-rounded approach. And with the design thinking practicum, what also comes with that are roles around innovation. So for example, IDO, as a firm, Rotman is one of three schools that they recruit from in North America.

I think it's a testament to how the business design curriculum is impacting the diversification of where students actually go with their MBA, but also with the integrative thinking, as sort of a foundation for some of the more traditional roles that we may be known for.

Linda Abraham: What recruiters or companies, other than IDO, or what positions, particularly appreciate both the integrated approach and the design thinking approach?

Leigh Gauthier: Great. Well, I'll speak more to the design side because again, in the integrated approach, we're seeing traction across all industries and functions because it is a way of problem-solving that you could deploy anywhere.

But the design thinking, for sure, is a little bit different, and we've seen some very interesting innovation roles that are coming on campus. So besides the consulting firms that actually practice this type of thinking, you would see roles in, for example, marketing. We have a couple of students who have landed at the Nike Global Headquarters in marketing who were chosen distinctly because of their business design thinking. But we also have students who have landed in financial services companies, for example, in New York, where they are part of the Customer Experience Group. Even though it's a financial services organization they're using business design to think about their end user or their customer.

Linda Abraham: Niki, how would you describe the culture at Rotman?

Niki da Silva: Great question. I actually just joined the school this year, so I had spent a lot of time getting to know the culture over the past several months, of course, as someone who was newer, although not new anymore, to the school, in those first few weeks and months. And there were a few things that really stuck out to me in terms of Rotman's culture.

The first would be that there really is a culture that respects and values individuality. The diversity of students, not just from geography, but also a functional background really is something that is celebrated here at Rotman. I think Leigh could probably speak more to the career coaching mode, but there is a real desire to help students who have unique pasts, and define success in different and distinct ways. We really value their contribution and are excited about the diversity of our classes.

We think that sort of the secret sauce to integrative thinking is we're actively looking for people who have diversity of experience and are going to come and challenge the lenses that the rest of our students use to look at the world. So that's one, and I think I would say two others.

The second is that Rotman is a place where students really demonstrate intellectual curiosity. So there's a culture of that. There are literally three to four high-profile speakers coming through into our building weekly, and there's a real curiosity amongst our student body about understanding and challenging the way that they think, getting access to top thinkers and thought leaders, and really grasping the issues of the business agenda for firms or industries that they're thinking about, which is really refreshing. There's of course a practical component to any MBA student who is focused on their career, but it's really interesting to see the other side of the equation, around developing from a functional but personal perspective as well.

And maybe the third and last comment from my perspective would be that there's also a real culture of support and collaboration within our student body. I can think of one story recently of a student who's just joined us, who had a very high executive-level, client-facing role at McDonald's in Asia specifically, who partnered with another student in the class who had been running her own PR firm prior to coming to Rotman, and they actually held presentation sessions for their classmates, their peers in the program. So there's this real culture of support and collaboration, which I think is just a major asset for students that are studying here.

Linda Abraham: Great. Thank you very much. We have a question here from Kumar, who writes, "The website for Admissions says that you need a GPA of 3.0 to be eligible for admissions. My university has provided marks and percentages, and I do not know if I'm eligible per Rotman's criteria of a 3.0 GPA."

Niki da Silva: What I would suggest doing is we have a very direct feedback model. We don't want there to be any mysteries in terms of your eligibility to apply to the school. So Kumar could certainly contact us at mba@rotman.ca. You're welcome to send us even unofficial or scanned copies of your transcripts. We'll do the conversion calculation and confirm your eligibility according to University of Toronto School of Graduate Studies standards.

Linda Abraham: Great. We obviously have, just based on the names I see on the dashboard and the responses I got earlier when I asked where people are located, a very highly international group here today. How does Rotman do in terms of placement abroad? I assume that Rotman has an outstanding network in Canada, and perhaps in the northeastern United States, but how does it do if you don't want to live in those places?

Leigh Gauthier: Great question. And the truth of the matter is that's something that's very important to us because we're very keen to see Rotman graduates around the world. We think that's really why people actually come to do their MBAs, to have global experiences and to make an impact internationally.

So as I was saying earlier, one of the things that we're starting to see is recruitment from a number of multinationals who are looking at Rotman students because we have such diversity, in terms of their emerging markets and where they might find great roles for students around the world who are either from that area, or who have an interest in going to that area, maybe speak the language or know the culture.

So this is something that we are developing and attracting. In addition, for example, as the Director of the Career Center, I am headed to Asia for three weeks in January, again, to build relationships, to connect with our alumni, and to really find roles that are suitable for students who want to work globally and internationally. So I definitely say even though there's a large group of people who do want to work in Canada, for those who want to work elsewhere we, number one, encourage it, and number two, we are making those partnerships to foster that, and number three, they're seeking us out, which is really cool.

Linda Abraham: Yes. That is great. That's wonderful. So is recruiting up? Are graduates, members of the Class of 2013 optimistic? Are they getting offers?

Leigh Gauthier: We had a really good fall season. The cycle, for those who may not know it, for full-time recruiting starts in September for the following year, so we are just on the tail end of our major recruitment season for the fall, and we are very encouraged with the numbers that we're getting back. Of course, we're still in process, with regards to where we're at with that, but so far, things are looking really good and very encouraging.

Linda Abraham: That's great. I know one of the things that we at Accepted.com emphasize a lot is the importance of having a post-MBA goal before you apply, and one of the reasons is that internship recruiting starts so early after you arrive on campus. Do you agree with that?

Leigh Gauthier: I do agree with that. I think, fundamentally, anyone who knows where they want to go and what they want to do is going to be able to shape their experience to that end, and shape the network that they want to build, and really sink their teeth into that area, and we call it becoming a student of the function and a student of the industry. So I think that's very valuable.

That said, I also believe that the MBA is a fantastic way to transition into something new, and sometimes you just don't know what you don't know. So the way that we address that is we have individual coaches who can help the students regardless of what camp they are in, so that they can make the path for them that is going to be most successful in the end. So whether it's exploratory or whether it's targeted, we can help both groups of students figure it out.

Linda Abraham: That's great. Okay. Rohit asks, "I'm particularly interested in starting up [a business] after my MBA. I feel that, along with the resources in the University, the alumni network plays a key role in expanding one's network. I would like to know how strong is Rotman's and its alumni's entrepreneurial activities, and how can these networks help me while starting up?"

I'll tell you what, can we divide this, perhaps, into two questions, and that is, "How does Rotman School support, curriculum, people with an interest in entrepreneurship," and then, the second part of the question, which is, "What happens after you graduate?"

Niki da Silva: There is a two-part answer to Part 1 of the questions. The first part would be, and just to sort of reinstate the importance of that fabric of integrative thinking, I think that, in so many ways, the exposure for our students to quite literally a whole new way to frame and think about business results in unplanned ideas as they constantly think about new business models and new models that could apply as they're tackling various cases or reading the headlines. So I think the approach of integrative thinking is one that just wouldn't want to be missed as someone who has an entrepreneurial orientation, that there's tremendous value in some of the core of the curriculum actually being formed around a culture of innovation.

The second piece, though, and another part of what's new at Rotman, the list is quite endless right now, but housed in our new building is something called the Venture Lab, which is actually a live, on-campus business incubator, and actually allows Rotman MBAs, along with the rest of the University of Toronto, to compete for some live space to actually develop and explore and launch a business, literally right in the heart of our campus.

Linda Abraham: Isn't the technology that you're using for your video essay, isn't that from a Rotman graduate?

Niki da Silva: It is. Yes, absolutely.

Linda Abraham: Is it also an example of the incubator?

Niki da Silva: It actually launched before there was a physical home. Before the incubator existed. But I would imagine that would've been a winning idea to compete for some space. It started out of another program that's integrated with Rotman, called The Next 36, where undergrad students, or recently graduated students, participate in entrepreneurial ventures.

So there's definitely a culture of it at the school. The leadership team, particularly in the full-time program, our Associate Dean himself is a seasoned and very successful entrepreneur, Mihnea Moldoveanu. And that culture and love for business start-up is something that is definitely woven throughout the program from an academic or practical perspective.

Linda Abraham: Rohit was also asking about the alumni network, and I guess, post-MBA support.

Leigh Gauthier: I think what's really interesting is we always have every year around October, we have what we call Career Discovery Week to help students become exposed to opportunities that the Rotman MBA affords them. We had an entrepreneur panel, and it was one of the most well-attended and most popular events, if you will. So it just kind of shows you what type of students we're attracting. And we had numerous panelists who were there, giving back their time and talking about their post-Rotman experience, in terms of their growth and how they started their companies as a result. So number one, I'd say that it's a growing space for us, and that the alumni are coming back, and giving back, and helping give students a perspective. So I think that's important to know.

The other thing is that even further out the gate we've had some very successful ventures with some entrepreneurs who have gone on to do great things. If anybody wanted to, for example, type in "Rypple," which was recently bought out by a very large firm, they would see that that was a Rotman initiative started by a student who graduated from here.

And if I think about the current class, we have two students right now that I know of, and there actually may be more, but two that I can speak of well, who have created businesses, and, again, very successful in the online gaming industry. So there is definitely a part of the culture of being here, in terms of thinking about entrepreneurship seriously and being able to connect with like-minded folks.

Outside of Rotman, we have, for example, just a couple of, not even miles or kilometers down the street, is an incubator for innovation and entrepreneurship in Toronto called the MaRS District, and, again, which is helping folks commercialize. And as a school, we are very tapped into that network as well, and share best practices and resources as well, because we know that students are looking to do this, maybe not out of the gate after their MBA, but certainly at some point in their careers.

So I'd say there's a lot of resources, both through the alumni, and through just part of an organization like Rotman, University of Toronto, and, quite frankly, the City of Toronto.

Linda Abraham: Great. Thank you very much. You gave a great answer. Armin asks, "I'm very interested in Rotman's MBA program, but I will not be able to attend unless I acquire a full fellowship. Are those available at Rotman?"

Niki da Silva: Yes. It's a good question, because obviously the funding piece is an important one. We don't actually extend full fellowship or scholarship awards at this point. We certainly do have a number of very competitive half or more than half tuition awards, and that's a decision by the school to really try to attract and be as equitable as we can in awarding scholarship to the top candidates. So I certainly appreciate that the MBA is a big investment.

We do, however, have an interest subsidy program that all students can participate in, and do participate in, where Rotman actually does pay the interest on the student loan for the two years that Rotman students are in the program. So there certainly are initiatives in place to support the cost and the investment in the program, but there isn't something on that full tuition note that would be applicable in this particular case.

Linda Abraham: Okay. Great. Can you speak a minute about the video question, what to expect? I'm sure that's one of the more innovative aspects of the application process.

Niki da Silva: Yes, absolutely. It's certainly something that we were getting lots of question on. We really looked pretty carefully at what our process had been in the past, and historically had four relatively lengthy essays, and really felt as the MBA landscape has changed, and of course the Internet and chat rooms, and all of that has existed and created this culture or feeling that there was a right answer to those questions, or there was a marking guide. We wanted to do something that would be beneficial for us as an admissions committee in actually cutting through and cutting to the core of what makes candidates different and distinct and allow them an opportunity to speak to that in a pseudo-live way.

So there's no pressure to research and rewrite and edit. And certainly, we still do have two essays, but wanted to give a new medium, create a new medium for candidates to really present who they are, what they're all about. We want to see their personality. We want to see their passions and their interests, and how they answer what really are first-date type questions. We're asking people to reflect on how their colleagues might describe them, or someone who really inspires them, and to do so in a way that is, essentially, live.

The expectation is, as part of the admissions process, the third essay question is this video response where candidates create a profile, log on, can go through as many times as they want, sample questions that are not recorded, so they get comfortable with the technology. They get comfortable with their responses. You [calm] any nerves, you quell any fears that you have about the technology.

And we did feel that so many of our candidates – and we do Skype video interviews for anyone that we can't see face-to-face – that our candidate pool, they're comfortable with the technology, so we provided a platform to talk to us. So you log in, you get to practice as many times as you want, and then you get two questions. One is a question that goes to everybody, and then the second question is chosen from a random bank of at least 20 questions.

And I think, in terms of what to expect, it's just an opportunity, and I would encourage candidates to take it as an opportunity to be comfortable in your own skin and show us who you are, and feel that you'll have an opportunity to actually differentiate yourself as a candidate and be admitted based on your unique story.

Linda Abraham: And when you say that candidates can practice, they just practice using the technology, they don't really practice their responses? Or they can also practice their responses to the questions?

Niki da Silva: Yes, that's a good point to clarify. They get a sample question so they can practice that particular sample question multiple times as they get comfortable. It doesn't count; it's not recorded, but it is an accurate reflection of how the video pops up, they get the question, their screen starts counting down in terms of 45 seconds, and 30 seconds left, and then their webcam starts recording, and then they get to also see, there's a timed count down for when their response should be completed by.

Every candidate I know who has submitted the video essays so far has done at least one or two rounds of the sample question, just to get comfortable with it and figure out how it all works, and ensure that their webcam is positioned as they want it, and the volume and everything is all working. So we really wanted to ensure that we included that, to alleviate any anxiety. And we really wanted to pilot it this year, and position it as a pilot and see what we would learn from it.

So far it's been fascinating. It's been really telling that the content in some of those answers actually does give you a different perspective that you didn't yet see in the application. So far it's been a successful pilot, I would say.

Linda Abraham: Great. And I'm curious about it. I Skype all the time. I'm reading books to my grandkids on Skype. I talk to people on Skype, I use Skype constantly. I've got to tell you though that when I'm sitting in front of a video camera attempting to film a video on admissions for clients, it's a very different experience. And I think it's probably taken me at least two or three years to start getting comfortable with it. I don't do it every day, but it is different because there's no feedback whatsoever. Unlike with Skype, even if I'm doing a live webinar, I can watch the dashboard, I can see if people are here or not here, I can ask questions. There can be interactivity. But obviously you have the interview for that, and it'll be very interesting to see what comes of it. Again, I salute you for the experiment.

Niki da Silva: Sure. And I think you're right, and part of the reason that we kept the response time short and sweet was exactly that, that it isn't a live feedback environment, and we didn't want a 30-minute, multiple question interview. We wanted two quick and relatively painless questions.

Linda Abraham: You didn't want a speech, a graduation, a valedictorian address.

Niki da Silva: Exactly, it's about being concise. You're not auditioning for valedictorian just yet, I suppose.

Linda Abraham: Right. Ricardo asks here, "What is the minimum GMAT score for international students whose English is not their native language, like people from South America, Italy, Spain, etc.?"

Niki da Silva: Great question. I guess I'll speak to that. There isn't technically a minimum GMAT requirement for anyone, which includes either international or domestic students. I think, for candidates, part of knowing your strengths and weaknesses is deciding if your application will be competitive.

That said, the general GMAT range would be 600 and above. The average GMAT score was 673 for our recently admitted class. I'm always hesitant to talk too much to averages though because they obviously imply that half of the class was admitted with a score below the average, and even within the range, there are exceptional cases of candidates who had GMAT scores under 600 who were admitted because the rest of their profile was exceptional.

So for Ricardo's question, what I would say is, again, we are very happy to provide feedback. Please contact us, and we can talk to you about your profile. We actually do something called pre-application meetings – and they can be international or local – we schedule a candidate, and talk through your profile, and give you some feedback. And we might say, "You know what? Your GMAT score isn't the high part of your profile, but it's competitive enough based on the rest of your application. I'd encourage you to apply." Or, worst-case scenario, we'd give you the feedback that said, "Listen, you have a lot to offer, but your GMAT score might be a deal breaker based on the rest of your profile, so why don't you just think about rewriting?"

So it's not cut and dry, which I think is the right approach. It does really mean that every story is a little bit different. So unfortunately, I can't give you a hard and fast line in the sand on GMAT score.

Linda Abraham: Okay. Sandeep asks, "Information Technology, Technology Management is not featured very much in the MBA specializations offered by Rotman. Is it offered as a specialization? What are the opportunities available for students who opt for those specializations, if available?"

Niki da Silva: So yes, there isn't an Information Technology specialization in the program. I think the main reason for that is as the curriculum has evolved over the past several years, and with the recent revamp, Information Technology has become a discipline that actually cuts across functional areas, and is a core part of decision-making, evaluating cases, evaluating business models.

So I would say that's an important question, and it's important for us to highlight that it's something that we do think carefully and critically about in ensuring that that's included in the contents of the program, but not just for an elective. It's actually critical that all students have a solid foundation in technology and information technology. There certainly are courses that would be possibly more aligned with some of the Information Technology kinds of skills that may or may not be – it's tough to know without having a live dialogue, what exactly are you looking for? Oftentimes, I find that that's maybe not the question. So sometimes students will start saying, "Well, do you specialize in Information Technology?" And then you find out, well, they have an Information Technology background. And I often say, "Well, think critically about whether you want a business school to teach you more about IT or if you actually want to round out your skill set?” So that's probably a good live dialogue for us to have after this.

Linda Abraham: Very true.

Leigh Gauthier: I’m not 100 percent sure if I have the right angle on the question, so hopefully this will at least be helpful in general. So definitely we do have a fair amount of students who do come in with a technology background, and they're looking to leverage that, in terms of career, in terms of their next step. And sometimes they're looking for technology-specific roles, and sometimes they're actually looking to work in a technology company.

So one of the things that we do see often in terms of career paths for students with a background in IT is to move into a consulting role. We have several firms on campus who specifically recruit for someone with that background, and they would be, for example, names like Deloitte, Capgemini. McKinsey has a technology group that hires here. Capco, etc.

And we're seeing a lot of the banks, as well, the big Canadian banks, posting a lot of internal consulting roles that sometimes have a very favorable view on students who are coming with some sort of technology background. Because as you can imagine, technology in the banks, to what Niki was alluding to earlier, is very significant in terms of what a new grad would need to know, even from a strategic perspective.

So I think there's that side. But with respect to those who are looking to go into the industry, per se, I mean, certainly, this past summer, we had students go to Google, for example, in Canada. We had a student doing the Microsoft internship in Singapore. We've recently had students land full-time at Amazon. So really depends, again, on the question. I hope I've been able to address at least a little bit of it through those two aspects of the answer.

Linda Abraham: Great. Thank you very much. I have a question for you, Niki. When you are evaluating applications, and the numbers are in the ballpark, the stats are competitive, what puts one applicant in this pile and others in the rejected or waitlisted pile?

Niki da Silva: Yes, that's a great question. Because I think that's the right way to frame it. The first part is being eligible for admission, which is meeting those benchmarks or minimums, and the next, and the fun part, is where admissions becomes more art and less science is who do you actually select? So at a high level, I think there are really two critical questions that we want to be able to answer in order to say yes to a candidate. And the first is do we think that this person is going to not only be successful in the MBA program, but is also going to have an impact on the Rotman community? Because we really do look at each seat in the program as putting together a fascinating piece of a puzzle, and we want to ensure that we're admitting students who are going to work well together, who are going to have a positive impact on the school. And of course, they are forever alumni, and carry the brand with them. So we really want people who are going to get involved and make a difference.

So that's part of it. And you can demonstrate that through your passion for the school; you can demonstrate that through a track record of having an impact. There are, of course, a number of different things that students have done to be successful from that perspective.

But the second, I think, and the reason that Leigh, I'm so lucky to work with, Leigh is such a fantastic colleague and to have such a collaborative relationship with the Career Center, who sit on our admissions committee, who we work with literally on a daily basis.

Leigh Gauthier: We do.

Niki da Silva: We really want to admit students who we think we will be able to support in achieving their career success, however they definite "career success." So having a sense of what your skills are, and being able to articulate that through some degree of self-awareness, through talking about experiences that you've had when you've had to be persistent or perseverant. And you've had some successes and some failures. Those are the kinds of things that we look at, because we know that the job search can be a roller coaster for so many candidates, and we want to ensure we're admitting people that we think will both be successful, but that we'll be able to support on that journey.

Linda Abraham: Great. So it would boil down to what you can contribute, really?

Niki da Silva: Exactly. And which kind of ties in, I think, Linda, to your question about what is the culture of this place? And it really is somewhere where we celebrate each individual person and like to think about their unique place in the program and what they can add. So we really do look for people who have something unique and valuable to contribute and are passionate about what we're doing, and about joining a program that really is doing something innovative and unique in this MBA space.

Linda Abraham: Great. What role does post-MBA hireability play in admissions? It's probably more for Niki than Leigh, but, I mean, Leigh, do you ever, are you ever called in to look at an application, or Niki, when you're evaluating applications, are you thinking, "Is this candidate realistic in his or her goals, or are they hireable?"

Niki da Silva: I'll jump in and just frame how we make admissions decisions. So I guess the structure of that, we actually do have Leigh literally involved in the decision on whether or not we admit all candidates. We have a structure within the admissions committee where the Director of Careers, Leigh, sits on that committee, and we discuss candidates. I think it's just fantastic and so highly valued expertise to have, in looking at applications and saying, you know, "This individual maybe wants to work in strategy consulting. Do we think that they have the right transferrable skills? Do they at this early point in the hiring cycle, do we have any kind of initial feedback on whether that's realistic or achievable, and what have our conversations been?”

So it does actually play an important role. It's certainly not the only component of an admissions decision, but I think any school that doesn't think about that is doing candidates a disservice, to be totally candid. It's the reason that students are pursuing an MBA, and if we didn't consider whether or not we felt like we could support you in that success, we wouldn't be making long-term decisions. We would be trying to put bums in seats, which is definitely not what we're about.

Leigh Gauthier: I would just echo what Niki said. I think when we look at our stats, and we are all governed by the MBA CSE terms in how we report, and you'll see a telling number on the reports that say, "What is the percentage of students who are actually seeking?" And that number is high, and that's high because students come to do an MBA to transition to careers, to accelerate in a current career. So I think anything to do with hireability is an important aspect of helping the candidate achieve their goals through the MBA.

Linda Abraham: Okay. Great. Niki, could you comment on how the interview is used in the admissions process? I know that it's by invitation only, and I believe 100 percent of your admitted applicants are interviewed. So how is it going to supplement the video? How is it used?

Niki da Silva: Yes. So you're exactly right in the process of invitation, and that all candidates who are ultimately admitted were interviewed. I think, in many ways, the interview becomes an opportunity. It's sort of like the second stage of the process. So the first stage is the initial read and review of the file, of meeting the benchmark criteria around experience and academics, and then the interview becomes a two-way dialogue about whether or not this is a match.

So in many ways, it's like a job interview where we want to select the best candidates, who we think have something unique and valuable to contribute to Rotman and in their careers as alum of the school, but we also hope that candidates are using the interview as an opportunity to select us, and determine if that match and fit exists.

For many candidates, it's sort of a stage two in the process. The interview reaffirms what we thought prior to meeting them. For other candidates, it uncovers that maybe the fit isn't there after all. So I think it's an incredible valuable part of the process for us, and there's a range of influence in terms of the interview. In some ways, like I said, we're better understanding what we already thought, but in other ways it gives candidates an opportunity, who didn't present as strongly as they could on paper. They haven't yet benefited from the fabulous career coaching that they'll get in the MBA program.

And you're really pleasantly surprised, and think, "Wow, I'm really glad we had this conversation, because otherwise you were selling yourself short." So it can be a very refreshing process, at least from the school's perspective.

Linda Abraham: Right. Thank you. Armin has a follow-up question on our discussion on hireability, and writes, "Speaking about hireability, does that mean that applicants in starting positions, such as assistant, etc., will not be graded favorably for admission?" How much do you weigh the title as opposed to what they're actually doing?

Niki da Silva: Yes. That's a tricky question because you're right, Linda, it's not just about title, but – and of course there's a range of experience. The average student has four years of experience. But there's a range. We recommend that you come in with two. We're more interested in the skills than the title. So have you had an opportunity to build relationships, to make decisions, solve problems? It's tough to say. It's certainly not based just on title because there are also people with fantastic titles that aren't successful, so we really look to you as a candidate. I guess in some ways it's your job to tell a really compelling story about what you've done, why that'll be valuable, and what it'll allow you to contribute in the program.

Linda Abraham: Great. Thank you very much. What do you feel are the most common mistakes MBA applicants make? And maybe because of your respective responsibilities, maybe Niki, you can talk about more in terms of the application itself, and Leigh, more in terms of just overall planning and career planning. What are the biggest mistakes?

Niki da Silva: I'll take a stab at it from the application perspective. And I think one of the mistakes that candidates make is, in some ways, underestimating the time and energy and what ultimately happens, which is you really pour your heart and soul into the application process, and it becomes so much more than just filling out the essay questions and the online form, and it becomes this really introspective look at, "What do I want to do with my life?"

So some candidates underestimate the amount of time that it's going to take to apply to multiple programs, and that results in cutting corners within their application. And they may do things like not spending enough time editing or proofreading. It's always detracting to see a typo, or the wrong city in your admissions essay. Despite the fact that you might have a great background, that's the hardest thing to recover from.

So I think one of the things that is probably the biggest fatal flaw is not spending enough time, or not planning well enough. How long it's going to take to secure references, to do your research, to write a GMAT, to write essays, all of the above, and then that results in maybe a less compelling story.

The other thing that I would say is, a lot of candidates spend very valuable, limited word count talking a little bit too much about why a school is fantastic. So if you have 250 words, I would say maybe that's how you start the process, is you're sort of explaining why you want to go to a particular program, but use the application to highlight what makes you unique and valuable as a candidate, not necessarily why a school is great. You'll have an opportunity to talk about why you think you want to go there in something like an interview. But I think many candidates make a mistake of not getting specific enough about their experiences.

Linda Abraham: Right. Good point. You know why you're great, right?

Niki da Silva: Well, it's sort of implied, if you're applying to this school, we think you believe there's something valuable that we can offer you, and we'll happily explore that. But I always just feel badly. You get so many words, and sometimes candidates maybe feel the need to flatter the school. And it's appreciated, but not required. So those are a couple of thoughts from my perspective, or from an application perspective.

Leigh Gauthier: Yes, and I would just add that – and it's very similar, along the lines of what Niki said – it's just, candidates really knowing their strengths, and really knowing what their story is, and what their differentiators are. Because really, I think, it parlays over into work, as well, and that's what our employers are looking for.

I said earlier, of course someone who knows what they want to do is a great thing, and many students who do know what they want to do are able to articulate that very well. It's important to also be able to articulate what strengths you bring from a career perspective. And so for those who are a little less sure, and are on more of an exploratory path, but really know they want to do something in business, I would be looking for something that would be able to articulate that they know what they're good at, as a foundation. They know what their strengths are, and they're going to leverage that knowledge of self to build an amazing career after their two years at Rotman.

Linda Abraham: Great. All right. Thank you. I had a call yesterday from an applicant who wanted to know what I thought of his competitiveness at a particular school. And he gave me a stack of what he was working on, normal stuff, and then I asked him, "What do you want to do post-MBA?" And he gave some very general answer. And I said, "Okay, and why do you think this school?" And he gave a more superficial answer.

And we talked a while longer, and I said, "Look" – and he hadn't taken his GMAT yet. That was the other thing. So I said, "Well, if your GMAT comes in, in this range, in terms of your qualifications, you probably would be competitive at your target school. But I've got to tell you, your goal did not sound particularly well thought-out, and your reasons for this school were pretty superficial. Now, that's okay on a call with me, but I don't think it'll really fly in the application." And he started laughing. He knew that he just kind of spoke off the top of his head. And he knew that he was being superficial and shallow in his response. And as you both are pointing out, that just will not cut it in the application itself.

So I think at this point, I want to bring this to a close. It's been a delightful hour. Thank you all for participating today. Special thanks to Niki and Leigh for joining us. Applicants, if you have additional questions for our panel, please email any questions to mba@rotman.utoronto.ca.

We look forward to seeing you at future Q&A's and admission events. Coming up next, we have:

Visit our event schedule page for our full list of upcoming events and details, or to register. You can also subscribe to our events list by clicking reminders on our event schedule page. And at this point, again, thank you so much for coming, and best of luck with your application.

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