With round one MBA deadlines just around the corner, thousands of applicants again face crunch time with one of the favorite admissions essay topics, “Introduce Yourself.” Some of the top schools, like Harvard Business School, ask the question quite explicitly while some, such as Northwestern’s Kellogg School, ask the applicant to think about business school as a catalyst for professional and personal growth, reflecting on past growth and future potential for development. MIT Sloan has introduced a video question, which gives you one minute to introduce yourself, and one shot at the recording. This echoes approaches used previously by Kellogg and McCombs and is joined by NYU Stern asking for six images with captions to describe yourself to your future classmates.
As the former head of admissions at Wharton, I always wanted my team to really get to know the applicant, well beyond his or her GPA and test scores. Such a question achieves this, though not surprisingly, the seeming benign topic is usually the hardest to address. Many candidates shy away from tackling this in favor of more pragmatic questions such as “Why do you want to go to school x, and what do you want to achieve with your MBA?” They are more straightforward and don’t necessarily require the same level of introspection.
In our coaching work at Fortuna Admissions, we often begin with these questions to lay the groundwork for the next level of reflection. But as we move forward with clients we help them to see just how rewarding and enjoyable it is to step back and really think deeply about who they are, and how their values and decisions have shaped their experience.
IT’S DIFFERENT THAN INTRODUCING YOURSELF AT A PARTY
Introducing yourself to someone new at a party or professional meeting certainly requires a different approach from introducing yourself to an MBA admissions committee that has already read your resume, and has supporting documentation of letters of recommendation and your online application. Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School puts it on very friendly terms, for example, asking you to imagine being in an airport with an admissions officer and using this opportunity to make a memorable impression.
Think of these questions as the opportunity to provide color and context to the application, bringing to life the lines on your resume or adding depth to comments made from your recommenders. You can take these essays as a valuable opportunity to make a deeper connection with an admissions committee member who most likely will be reading anywhere from 25-30 such files each day during the busy application season.
Before you start writing, we firmly believe in the importance of self-reflection and understanding your own motivation for applying to business school. What strengths are you bringing with you? What are the weaknesses that you want to develop? What are the things that get you out of bed in the morning, or the things that you would do for free because you care about them so much? We recommend white boarding all of the topics and messages that you think may fit into this category so that you can see them all in one place. That way, you can then begin to see which ideas belong with which examples, and the themes that are the most important to your story will begin to emerge.
USE EXAMPLES TO BRING YOUR STORY TO LIFE
After you have been able to shake out the important thematic threads, you will want to use examples to really bring your story to life; you want to imagine that the reader is in your back pocket, so that you are sharing with them how it felt at a decisive moment in your development, or the impact of a certain individual… and give them a sense of the color and importance of these events and people. Your goal throughout this work is to pique the file reader’s interest so that they are intrigued and want to learn more about you – i.e. invite you to interview!
Be aware that a key question in the file reader’s mind as they read your application is “what will you bring to the school community?” You should be planning to address what the school gets if they admit you; by highlighting your abilities and your engagement, the goal is to demonstrate that you will give to the school as much as you get. Will it be in your classroom discussions? Your sense of humor? How you rally your teammates? How you can engage across cultures? What is it, essentially- that makes you “you” and how does that make the school a better place?
It is easy to fall into the trap of repeating the facts and figures that appear on your resume. You should seek to avoid this repetition and instead really focus on additional information that is not readily obvious to the reader. Your professional experiences are certainly important, but they are not the whole story. Caroline Diarte Edwards, my colleague and former Director of INSEAD’s MBA Admissions and Financial Aid says of the school’s long-standing ‘candid description’ essay: ”I advise candidates to focus more on their personal backstory rather than professional accomplishments; this is in the question title (it asks for “personal characteristics”) but candidates sometimes miss this and use the essay to retell their professional story. But what the school wants here is to understand who they are beyond the resume, what makes them tick, and what made them become the person they are today.”
BE THOUGHTFUL ABOUT HOW MUCH YOU PLAN TO SHARE
As previously mentioned, admissions officers are reading somewhere between 25-30 applications a day, and are seeking authenticity in their file reading. Repeating themes that you think that the school will want to read means that you are not being authentic to your true self and your own story. This is the reason that schools even have essay questions to begin with; if they wanted to admit based on GMAT, GPA and resume alone, they could certainly do that but the classes would suffer from lack of individualism and true character.
While it is also tempting to hold nothing back, you will want to be thoughtful about how much you are sharing within the context of the essay. Sometimes too many themes mean that you are covering each point at only a superficial level without any depth and reflection. Instead you need to hone in on a few topics that you feel that you can comfortably cover in the word count allotted (or in the case of HBS, no more than two pages) and go into greater depth. You will want to stand out in the admissions officer’s mind as someone who presented with depth and passion, rather than an applicant who spread him or herself too thin and tried to exhaustively (and exhaustingly!) cover their history.
So, “introducing yourself” may seem like a tall order, however it presents a strong foundation to ask yourself the important questions about the next steps in your professional growth. The prompt allows room for reflection about how you became the person you are now, and where you see yourself growing with your next exciting challenges.
Judith Silverman Hodara is the former acting admissions director of The Wharton School and a director at Fortuna Admissions, a leading MBA admissions consulting firm
Round 1: October 4th, 2017
Round 2: January 4th, 2018
Round 3: March 9th, 2018
The school rolled out a new curriculum in the fall of 2012 to impose more training in leadership and writing, and to teach core subject areas such as finance, marketing, and operations in a more integrated fashion. These changes come along with the appointment of a new dean who has pledged to raise the school’s rather timid profile in recent years. Dean Bob Dammon, who had been on the school’s faculty since 1984, has pledged to lead a more aggressive effort to publicize and market the school’s strengths, raise more money to house Tepper in a larger facility, and increase the size of its relatively small MBA program by 50% to some 300 students.
For a business school that has produced eight Nobel Prize winners, Tepper has been surprisingly circumspect in tooting its horn. As Dammon told The Wall Street Journal shortly after his appointment as dean in May of 2011, “We don’t talk about it much to the external marketplace, and I am going to change that. If we are going to be recognized for the quality of the program, we need to make sure the outside world knows about us. And if we want to move up in the rankings, that’s also a necessity. I want to be as visible as I possibly can.”
The new curriculum includes a BaseCamp exercise during orientation that immediately teaches students how the key disciplines of business come together in an integrated manner. “In Base, we give students the 30,000-foot view of business and how finance, marketing and operations fit together,” Dammon tells Poets&Quants. Incoming MBA students, among other things, study Amazon.com from the financial, marketing and operations perspectives and learn how each discipline supports the e-commerce giant’s overall strategy. “When students get into the core classes, they now understand the importance of each discipline to the health of the overall company and how those things come together.”
The core curriculum, which pretty much absorbs the entire first year, begins with a solid foundation in what Tepper describes as the three fundamental scientific disciplines – economics, behavioral sciences, and quantitative methods. The school doesn’t separate incoming students into cohorts that move through all these courses together. This approach is why the school sees itself as a smaller and more intimate academic cousin to Chicago Booth and MIT Sloan, though those rivals have far greater resources, stature and prestige among the major MBA players. What Dammon is hoping to correct is the notion that Tepper is merely a quant school overflowing with engineering types with high IQ but relatively low EQ.
As one recent Tepper graduate put it, “the ‘quant’ reputation of the school can be a double-edged sword. Two-thirds of the student class will come from an engineering background, so you cannot draw upon the varied business experiences of others, as this is probably their first exposure to business education, culture, and corporate environment. This can also lead employers to look at Tepper as a pool of students to fill the more technical or back office support roles in their businesses. Additionally, there is a learning curve for interpersonal soft skills for those from more technical backgrounds. So even though students are very bright, they may not appear to be as polished as their peers from competing business schools.”
All of this background makes the new curriculum changes, where were beta-tested on about 100 graduates in the Class of 2012, far more relevant. The alterations were informed by surveys of students, alumni and employers who believe the school could do more to prepare Tepper MBAs in the soft skills of managing and leadership. New students are now given a four-hour test assessment that measures their abilities as managers on nine different dimensions. Then, a customized action plan is put together for each student and bolstered through one-on-one coaching throughout the course of the two-year program. “Other schools all have leadership courses where you sit with 70 people to study leadership,” says Dammon. “But we are giving students a customized program of coaching and workshops that extends throughout their full two years.”
The school made room for the new leadership and communication sessions by expanding its entering base camp to three weeks from two and by shaving half a week from its mini-semester format so that each mini is now six and one-half weeks rather than seven. That said, Dammon wants to retain what is best about the school. “We take an analytical approach to the MBA,” he tells Poets&Quants. “We think that really gives students the skills they need to tackle a very complex world. This is critical. We are a rigorous program. We don’t want people who don’t want to work hard. We have two years to prepare people for a 40-year career. That is a challenge. The best way to do that is to give them the skills that will help them solve problems today and many years moving forward. So we teach the quant and analytical skills to understand the world and the leadership skills to change the world.”
Nice sound bite there. Still, this is a seriously research-focused institution. In fact, Tepper has one of the largest PhD programs in business, with nearly 100 students. Dammon says Tepper boasts the largest Phd student to faculty ratio of any of the top business schools. In any given year, the school will admit between 12 and 15 PhD students who each get a tuition-free education and an annual stipend of $25,000. That commitment to train PhDs, largely for other schools, costs Tepper $6 to $7 million a year.
In any case, the flexibility of the second year curriculum—virtually all elective courses—continues to offer students the opportunity to further integrate what they’ve learned, to explore the areas in which their career interests lie, and to gain additional breadth across management areas. The school offers more than 120 electives in various areas. All students also have a capstone course requirement. Among recent choices available to Tepper students was an A.T. Kearney project where the consulting firm brings in 15 to 18 of its clients who bring projects for student teams to tackle over a 12-week period. Another capstone sponsored by Deloitte Consulting had a group of MBAs attempt to figure out what millenmials are looking for in cars.
Three months after graduation, 92 percent of the MBAs in the Class of 2012 had received a job offer, marking another strong year of recruiting. The mean salary for the MBAs in the class of 2012 is $107,700, a record-high for the Tepper School.
This year’s high employment rate, combined with a 91 percent rate for 2011, marks a return to the robust levels that were the norm before the recession hit, said Stephen Rakas, executive director of the Career Opportunities Center at the Tepper School. “We ended another successful recruiting year despite the lagging economy,” he said. “Tepper students are performing very well in the job market.”
The Employment Report of the MBA Class of 2012 also revealed a shift in career focus. Thirty percent of the class found a job in consulting, where the starting salary averages about $122,000. Tepper School MBAs also gravitated toward jobs in marketing functions (25 percent) and the high technology (21 percent) and biopharma healthcare industries (10 percent).”We are moving ahead as a school in consulting, technology and health care,” Rakas said. “We have one of the highest percentages of biopharma health care of any top MBA school.”
While job offers in those fields grew, those in the financial sector declined to 19 percent, down from about 40 percent in its heyday. “That reflects a shift in all of the top MBA programs,” Rakas said. “I speak with a lot of colleagues. There are just not as many opportunities in financial services, nor do we see the same level of interest from many students.”
The job offers are already flowing into the MBAs in the Class of 2013. As of the end of October, 50 percent of the second year MBAs had a job offer in hand, compared to 38 percent during the same time last year.