April 16, 2013
To support my efforts here, I get daily alerts from Google spiders who hunt for news about, or otherwise concerning, MBAs and the GMAT. Every now and then one of these alerts will contain a snippet of information from the interwebs that subsequently does its job and inspires a post. One such link led me to this CNBC article about a new start-up called Hourly Nerd.
Hourly Nerd is a by-product of Harvard Business School’s FIELD curriculum—a fairly recent addition to HBS pedagogy and one I have written about before here and here. Soon-to-be Harvard MBAs started Hourly Nerd with the intention of matching money-starved students with time-and-money-starved businesses. The model actually reminds me of one used by crowdSPRING: a service that matches those in need of graphic design services with those who can provide them, all at a below-market price. For the record, I like the model.
When reading the aforementioned article, I could not help but be reminded of one of the most critical lessons I took away from my time in b-school. I learned this from the incredible people at The Idea Village, an entrepreneurial champion and incubator proudly based in New Orleans, Louisiana. I did a lot of work with The Idea Village; specifically, I worked as a consultant to several of their clients across a range of projects.
When smart, driven people take on short-term, limited-scope projects the expectation is that they will be able to walk in, grab all the information needed via a quick conversation, get the project done independently in only a handful of hours, and present the deliverable to an endlessly-grateful client.
Of course, this is not how things work. It always takes longer and is always more work than initially conceived by either party. Granted, this reality check is not knowledge privileged only to experts nor can it only be derived through extensive experience in the field. What often does go unnoticed or unconsidered by even the most seasoned among us, however, is the toll the outside consultant will exact on the client beyond monetary compensation.
It is easy for the consultant to feel almost as if they are doing the client a favor. What the consultant fails to realize is that every second spent by the client on this project with the consultant costs that client time and money—both resources that would have definitely been expended elsewhere and likely will be anyway.
Similarly, a paying client is often under the illusion that since someone has been hired to complete a project, the client’s major responsibilities begin and end with cutting a check. Not so. Consultants require much, much more. Not only must the scope of the project be articulated, agreed upon, and often changed throughout its course—a very demanding task, to be sure—but also the consultant must be made to understand all the soft stuff that surrounds the project. Examples of the soft include: the company culture; the history of the project to date; why the client is moving on the project now as opposed to before or after now; what can vs. what should vs. what will be done with the deliverable after the consultant finishes; overall and specific expectations of a completed project… the list goes on.
In short, the disruption caused by the consultant must be considered, respected, and taken into account. Yes, a consultant is hired to do a job and the contract is entered into voluntarily by both parties. It is unavoidable that resources must be allocated and expended—money and otherwise—to ensure the job gets done right. However, empathy for the client by the consultant can and will go a long way, both in terms of quality of process and quality of the deliverable.
Any experiences out there on this point? I’d love to hear from you.
While admissions officers want to know that you are interested in their schools, they are not interested in reading about your love for their school at every single turn. Some candidates mistakenly believe that they need to tie in aggressive and enthusiastic statements about how they will improve their skills at their target schools in each essay, regardless of whether the school asks for it or does not.
Let’s consider this (entirely fictitious) example of an individual who writes about how he started a small business for the Yale SOM essay question, “What do you consider to be your most significant accomplishment? Why?” Consider the following hypothetical conclusion:
“In starting ABC distributors, I learned a great deal about entrepreneurship and I hope to formalize this knowledge at the Yale SOM. Only with Yale’s vast entrepreneurial resources and profound alumni connections will I be able to take my next venture to a higher level. At Yale, I will grow my business skills and potential.”
While there are many problems with the two sentences above – they are cloying and there is no real substance – the most egregious aspect is that Yale never asked for the applicant to discuss how the school will affect his/her abilities going forward. So, the “Why Yale” component is just empty pandering.
As you write your essays, you should always focus on answering the essay questions as they are written and should not try to anticipate unwritten questions. So, if your target school does not ask an explicit “Why us?” question – Harvard Business School does not ask “Why HBS?” – you should not find a way to sneakily answer that question in other essays. The admissions committee is not asking this question for a reason. (And, yes, we have helped many candidates succeed in their applications to HBS without addressing this unasked question at all.)
Of course, if your target school explicitly asks a “Why us?” statement, then you should certainly do your homework and answer it. Again, it is all about the question itself.
November 28, 2012
One of the most common questions we hear from applicants is “What type of candidate is HBS/Stanford/Wharton/Chicago Booth/etc. looking for?” Of course, the answer to that question is that schools do not want only one type of applicant. Instead, each school is seeking to assemble a diverse class and thus wants to be able to identify distinct qualities in each candidate.
Although trying to simplify a school’s approach to admissions (“Kellogg wants team players!”) can be appealing, you should avoid trying to fit some perceived mold, because doing so will only mask your true distinct qualities. Rather than pandering to a stereotype with regard to your personal/professional experiences or changing your stated goals to match an imagined bias on the part of an MBA admissions committee, you should spend a great deal of time brainstorming to best understand how you can showcase your own unique traits. By showing that you offer something different than other candidates, you have the greatest chance of succeeding.
June 11, 2012
In an attempt to decrease the import of personal essays in the admissions process at Harvard Business School (HBS), the university has cut in half the number of required essays. Down from four essays of up to 2,000 words, the coveted institution will now require just two essays at 400 words per. Here are the questions:
- Tell us about something you did well. (400 words)
- Tell us about something you wish you had done better. (400 words)
Isn’t the brevity and imprecision sublime? A recent blog post by our partners over at mbaMission comprehensively and deftly analyzes the HBS essay questions as well as the impact the new requirements will have on applicants. This is a highly recommended read. The insight offered can and should be generalized to personal statements for all MBA programs.
John A. Byrne of Poets&Quants wrote an article on this, as well. As both Mr. Byrne and mbaMission discuss, HBS claims the new essay approach is a reflection of their 2002 decision to interview all applicants being seriously considered for admission. [FYI: Roughly 25% of applicants are asked for an interview and approximately 12% of applicants are granted a seat in the lecture halls.] In another interesting twist to the process, those who sit for an interview must submit another 400-word essay within 24 hours of the interview for a chance at a “last word.”
Time will tell if Harvard keeps this new essay structure (managing director of MBA admissions and financial aid at Harvard Business School, Deidre “Dee” Leopold, labeled the change as an “experiment”) or if it will have an impact in peer institutions’ admissions processes. HBS competitors like Stanford, Kellogg, and Wharton currently require 1800, 2200, and 1500 word essays, respectively.
Read the mbaMission post here.
January 5, 2012
Harvard Business School gets a lot of press. HBS is a giant in the field of graduate management education and is a coveted appointment to many aspiring MBAs. Institutions around the world look to HBS for leadership in the field of management education. I would literally be amazed if any student of business, graduate or undergraduate, had not read at least one Harvard Business Review case study and/or white paper. In fact, the case study method for educating business managers was started at Harvard and has subsequently influenced business education across the globe (although, cases have been made against the case study). Well, change may be afoot once more and Harvard’s class of 2013 will be the first guinea pigs.
In a recent Economist article, HBS’s new FIELD method is profiled. FIELD stands for Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development (kudos to the marketing geniuses at Harvard to brand experiential learning). The crux of the new approach is to get business school students out into the world and developing through application the management skills they are learning in school.
To me, the program sounds fantastic (despite being underdeveloped), and I am glad this approach to learning is getting some deserved exposure. What bothers me about the article is how novel the author seems to think the method is. HBS did not invent this wheel, though I can already see the historical writing on the wall. Whatever. If the world wants to laud Harvard for inspiring educational innovation, then fine. The most important thing as far as I am concerned is not who did what first, but rather that this is what is done.
My experiences with spearheading experiential learning programs during my MBA education were pivotal. A week in the field can yield more learning than a semester in the classroom. If the school you ultimately attend does not offer such opportunities, then create them. If you need some help on that, send me an email.