Interview with Michigan Ross’ Soojin Kwon and Diana Economy [Show Summary]
Soojin Kwon, Managing Director of the Fulltime MBA Program, and Diana Economy, Director of Fulltime Admissions at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, share a wealth of information about the Ross MBA program, admissions process, and how you can be admitted. In recent years Ross has increasingly focused on action-based learning, having students work in teams to solve real business problems for both local and international organizations. It’s no surprise, then, that in the application they are evaluating applicants on how they will thrive in environments such as this – from self-awareness to empathy to the ability to work with a team to arrive at the most equitable solution. Listen in for all you need to know to arm yourself for success at Michigan Ross!
Michigan Ross MBA: It’s about REAL, Clear, and Teamwork [Show Notes]
Both Soojin Kwon, and Diana Economy are returning guests to AST. I’m thrilled to have them back so that we can learn more about the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business MBA program.
For those listeners who aren’t that familiar with Ross’ program, can you give an overview of it, focusing on its differentiators? [1:21]
Soojin: There are three we like to highlight.
- You learn best by doing and there isn’t a better place to get your MBA than Michigan Ross. Our portfolio of action-based learning opportunities is second to none. In addition to MAP (more on this later) we have a whole portfolio of subjects that people can do under the umbrella of REAL – Ross Experiences in Action Learning.
- Go Blue Go Anywhere – that is our mantra. If you come here you can go anywhere – geographically, industry-wise, career-wise. Everything is your opportunity having the Michigan brand and network behind you.
- Ann Arbor provides the opportunity to be part of a tight-knit community. More than 90% of students come from outside of Michigan so they don’t have a pre-existing network, so the focus of their experience is their MBA and their classmates.
Ross appointed a new dean, Dean Scott DaRue approximately two years ago. He believes that MBA students should experience four things while in b-school: Start, Advise, Lead, and Invest in real-world businesses. He proudly announced at the AIGAC conference in June that Ross students in this year’s entering class will be able to perform all four functions. When do Ross students do all that? [3:10]
Soojin: Some of those things are co-curricular experiences. Some are through coursework like MAP, which I’ll talk about in a second, but some of them are parallel to the academic experience. For Start, they can get seed money for startups from our Dare to Dream grant money funded through our Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies. They can get advisory support for their startup ideas through our entrepreneurs in residence program, and they can learn how to start a business through our business development seminars. Students can do all these things at any time during their MBA program.
For Advise, all MBA 1s in the last quarter of their first year do MAP (Multidisciplinary Action Project), which are projects that can be anywhere around the world and in any industry, working on business challenges that existing organizations have that students help solve over seven weeks fulltime.
For Invest, students can help manage one of our seven student-led investment funds that total over $10M in assets, ranging from social venture to early seed to commercialization to real estate. There’s a real wide range that students can become involved in outside of their classes with advisors in each area.
The new element is Lead, which is through our Living Business Learning Experience, and the students can do this in their second year. It puts students in an existing business unit of a company like Shinola or Ford, and they work through the semester on some aspect of their business. As one example, a Shinola team helped launch the company’s audio business last semester. We are really looking at opportunities to put students in real world situations, with faculty guidance, but with real stakes on the line. It helps them be better prepared for the real world when they graduate.
Am I correct that the only required part of REAL is MAP, and the others are opportunities that students have? [5:30]
Soojin: Yes, that is correct.
Let’s turn to the application process. Diana, what role does the resume play in the evaluation process? [6:42]
Diana: The resume is my favorite part and the piece I look at first. When I open up an application, the very first thing I do is go to a candidate’s resume, because it is a snapshot of who that candidate is – their professional path, their accomplishments, and I can very quickly put a context around the rest of the application.
One thing I think candidates do is they think they already have a resume so they just go ahead and take the one that exists. When you are applying to an MBA program you want to make sure your resume makes sense considering the program you are looking at and what you want to do next in your MBA, so you might take things off that are overly technical that don’t relate to what you hope to get from your MBA experience or differentiate you, and focus a little bit more on the impact you’ve had and how the organizations you have been a part of are better off as a result of you having been there.
A couple things I’ve noticed when people put together a resume that is really strong: ONE PAGE. Your resume needs to be succinct, and be thoughtful about the real estate you are using to articulate your experiences. Our career development office insists on one page resumes once students are in the program, so hopefully candidates are already there. Another thing that is important to know is the resume is the only thing our interviewer has. Our interviewers are trained alumni or student interviewers, and they don’t have access to the rest of the application, so the resume needs to stand alone as a talking piece. It needs to be fully comprehensive of who you are and you need to be thoughtful of what you are choosing to tell people. Another suggestion I have is to consider putting interests or hobbies at the bottom of your resume, as it could be a great starting point for a conversation, either in the interview or with the admissions committee.
What do you hope to learn about applicants from the three short answer options in your essay? [9:43]
Soojin: What we are really looking for is to get a better understanding of who they are, and how particular experiences they’ve had in their lives have shaped them – how they think about things, what their values are. We have three groups of short answer questions and in each group are two questions you can choose from, so we want applicants to answer one from each of the three groups. They are questions like, “I want people to know that I….” and then fill that in with 100 words. “I made a difference when I…” or “I was humbled when….” “I was out of my comfort zone when….” They can tee up an instance in their lives where they can tell us how an experience impacted them. It is the why aspect we are hoping to get insight into.
Ross’ mission is to “use business to create a better world.” Its criteria: Intellectual ability, Professional and personal achievements, Interpersonal, communication, and teamwork skills. How do the mission and criteria shape the application and evaluation process? [11:39]
Soojin: Alignment with our mission is one of the lenses through which we evaluate candidates. Identifying the right fit is a critical piece of what we do. We are looking for students to use their special powers – their skills, their knowledge, and their experience to make a positive impact in their organization, communities, and the world.
What is the evaluation process for an application? [12:33]
Diana: The first thing we do after submission is decide who we’d like to interview. Our interviews are by invitation only. The first stage in the process is looking through a candidate’s academic profile, their essays, recommendation letters, and resume to get a feel for their competitiveness in the overarching pool and who we’d like to get to know a little bit further in the interview process. Taking a look at all these pieces we extend interview invitations in one or two waves, and we are pretty communicative with candidates about the timing of the process.
Another pro tip for candidates is to follow Soojin’s blog – it is where we share a lot of what we are doing and what we are thinking in the process. We recognize candidates want to know what’s going on and we make sure to communicate with them.
Once interview invitations are extended, applicants have the option to interview on campus with participation in a team exercise or off campus with an alumni interviewer. Candidates do a one-on-one interview, and if they come on campus or international locations they do the team exercise as well. Once interviews are complete we review the applications again to get a better feel for who the candidate is. As we look to extend interview invitations it is about whether or not we want to get to know a candidate more. As we look to extend an offer of admission it is really about finding the right fit – diverse perspectives in the classroom and a balanced profile.
Can you describe Ross’ team exercise? [17:07]
Diana: It came about a few years ago when we realized we weren’t getting enough from the one-on-one interview when asking questions like, “Tell us about a time you worked in a team and how you contributed.” It wasn’t giving us a full picture.
Ross’ team exercise puts a group of 4-6 people together with the goal of developing a five-minute presentation proposing a business solution for a client. We give them a set of words to incorporate into the presentation like “media,” or “merger.” They will have current students and alumni evaluating their interpersonal and teamwork skills as they work together to develop the presentation. Candidates don’t know what their words are going to be, who their client is, or who will be on their team in advance, so candidates can’t really do much to prepare. We do that on purpose – we don’t want there to be the pressure to prepare. We really want people to be themselves.
Soojin: It’s not about how much knowledge you have about business, operations, strategy or marketing, it is about how you work with people in a new situation on an assignment when you have to figure something out quickly, be inclusive and respectful, and how you do that effectively. How you bring your team along.
What distinguishes applicants who get interview invitations from those who don’t other than stats? [23:36]
Soojin: It really comes down to the nature and impact of their work experience as well as their short term career goals. We look first at their resume to see if we understand what they’ve done and what they want to do in our community. In terms of career goals we want to make sure it is something achievable from going here. Do they have a clear idea of what they want to do while here and express it compellingly? Those two things plus strong stats are the primary drivers for getting an interview invitation.
Diana: Another thing I would say is that it is such an academically rigorous environment here when we invite someone to interview we are also trying to do so knowing that they already have the academic foundation to be successful but they that they will be well-positioned to perform in the environment as well.
What have you observed that applicants just don’t get about Ross? [25:03]
Soojin: Two things, both related to geography. People fall in love with Ann Arbor, which they tend to be surprised about. The other is our geographic reach around the world. Our graduates are all over the world, most highly concentrated on the east and west coasts of the US, not the Midwest.
Diana: We are just 20 minutes from a beautiful international airport so it is very easy for recruiters to get here and they are here all the time. The companies candidates want are here. You have incredible access to resources.
Ross has been absolutely crushing it in career placement. 97% of grads in the 2017 class had jobs within three months of graduation. 32.7% went into consulting. 23.6% went into tech, and I believe that Amazon is the largest recruiter at Ross. To what do you attribute that success, and can you discuss the lifetime career support that Ross grads get? [27:54]
Soojin: It is a result of a whole host of things. There is an infrastructure of support provided by our career development office that starts in the summer before students even arrive on campus. There is a 2.5 day career prep session during orientation, and then there is staff and peer coaching throughout the year. We also have small groups based on student interests that meet weekly to keep students on track. Our professional clubs meet on weekends, and students are investing a lot in getting up to speed on what they need to know about their industries, interviews, and companies. In terms of alumni career support we have a career coach dedicated to alumni, and alums have lifetime access to open enrollment exec education courses, tuition-free, offered in Ann Arbor, Hong Kong, Mumbai, and online as well. Some of these course are upwards of $30K so that is a big deal.
What advice do you have for applicants planning to submit an application for Ross’s Oct. 1 round 1 deadline? [29:35]
Soojin: I recommend they meet with current students and come to campus if they can to really see what the Ross experience is like, because that clarity and conviction can help make a more compelling application.
Diana: There is lot of info online, but you need to figure out what you want to get out of the experience, what you are motivated by. What energizes you? Hone in on that and keep that as your true north as you are going through this process and thinking about your professional path. We have over 200 student ambassadors on our website. You can filter by just about anything. If you do nothing other than read their bios you get a good sense of who is here at Ross, but you can send them an email to connect on why they chose Ross. Alums and the admissions team are also happy to talk as well.
What advice would you give to someone thinking ahead to a Fall 2019 or later application? [31:50]
Soojin: My advice would be to cast their net wide, get to know schools early, so they can invest time applying to schools they really want to go to as opposed to ones that just seem like the right school based on rankings or score range. Doing that deep level of insight is really helpful. Research a lot of schools before they narrow down too early.
Diana: If they are thinking about the next 12 months before engaging in the application process, what do they hope to get out of those next 12 months that make them a more differentiated candidate? It is a really competitive landscape so really be thoughtful about how they are contributing and leading.
What would you have liked me to ask? [35:16]
Soojin: What questions should applicants ask of schools – I would ask students or alums – did you love your experience and if so why, and ask every student the 2-3 highlights about your school. Listen for how they talk about it and what they highlight since there is bound to be great variability. Also ask about what can be improved.
Diana: This isn’t really a question, but I do get the comment all the time that there is something in the water at Ross. People love their experience, and are not checking the box. People here come and truly engage.
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