I recently came across a blog, MBA on the Horizon, by a “California girl on her way to b-school” with the intriguing nickname of ardentmeerkat (meerkats are fascinating little guys!) What struck me most is how she is doing everything right, yet in a recent blog post she wonders if she is doing everything all wrong (sort of.)
Ardentmeerkat, give yourself credit! Granted, starting the long and winding road to b-school is an arduous process. It takes time, clarity, organization, self-awareness, curiosity, confidence and sharp analytical skills. And then some. But you have to start somewhere, and ardentmeerkat, you have all of your ducks in a row. Impressively so. Don’t let those inevitable moments of self-doubt get you down.
So what can you learn from what ardentmeerkat has done so far? In a nutshell:
- Clear communication. She lays it all out in a way that is thoughtful, simple and clear. Even her moments of self-doubt are expressed in an easy-to-understand, almost linear way. No tortured or ponderous thought process here.
- Start the process as early as possible. The October deadlines may seem far away but they are right around the corner. Trust me.
- Get the GMAT over with as early as possible. For better or worse, a good GMAT score has become indispensable. Many, many people have to take the test more than once. You want to have time for this possibility. Moreover, you don’t want the stress of a GMAT test hanging over your head while you are working on your applications and holding down a full-time job.
- Thoroughly research your dream schools. Scour the Internet, school websites, books, your network.
- Go beyond the brand. Analyze what each school offers. Assess your fit with the school. This is crucial.
- Visit said schools. Sit in on classes, talk to students, network, get to experience the vibe and philosophy of the school firsthand. – Start thinking about your recommendation letters. Like all of us, your bosses/higher-ups are overworked. Writing a letter of recommendation takes time and concentration. It is not something to be taken lightly, neither by the applicant nor by the recommender. A good letter can be extremely valuable. And a bad one can be a drag on your application.
- Gather the essay questions from your target schools. Analyze them. Organize them in a spreadsheet. Ardentmeerkat’s excellent approach of answering each question by school, rather than by type of question, is far more likely to make the argument for a good fit.
- Reflect upon your career so far, as well as your strengths and weaknesses. Think about your long-term goals and why you are likely to meet them. Which messages do you want to send the schools? Which accomplishments or situations best illustrate those messages? Which ones best answer each essay question?
- Last but not least, take a break. Rest up. Enjoy your friends and family. Have some fun. Recharge those batteries because the road ahead is an intense one, particularly in this competitive year. You want to tackle it with a clear head.
Special message to ardentmeerkat. Setting pen to paper (or finger to key) is possibly the most daunting part of the process but many years ago, a former client shared with me a little tip he had learned at Kellogg called STAR. I pass this on to all of my clients and it works wonders, especially for the experiential questions such as “Tell me a time when…” “Describe to me a project in which…” And so on. S = Situation. State the situation and put it in context. What was your job/position, where were you (company/school/organization), what was the timeframe (was this your first year at this job? Were you on a fast track? Were you the President of the organization?), etc. T = Task. What task or responsibility were you given? What were the stakes? Why were you asked to take on the task? What were the circumstances surrounding the task? A = Action. What action(s) did you take? R = Results. What were the results (including on you, on the company, on your teammates, etc.)? What did you learn?
I have also seen this framed as SOAR, with O standing for Objective, rather than Task.
“Ardentmeerkat, you go girl!”