Should You Hire an MBA Consultant?

I received an email from a blog reader earlier this week about MBA Consultants.  Essentially, this person wanted to know my take on them.  I responded back asking if it would be alright if I wrote a post about it instead of responding in the email because I’m getting this question more and more as we get into the throes of the application season.

1.  Hey consultant!  are you qualified?

Let’s say I wanted to go to Harvard Business School.  I would rather take advice from someone who has been to and graduated from Harvard Business School than someone who hasn’t.  That’s a no brainer right?  Well I think there are many consultants out here who have not attended these top schools and yes feel that they are qualified to advise others on how to get into them.  It’s like really… you’re telling me how to get into HBS and you didn’t even get into or go to HBS?  What do you know?  in a nice way of course  😉

My Veritas consultant did go to Harvard Business School.  She now works for the Boston Consulting Group as a recruiter at Stanford Business School.  So right there it shows me that she knows what she’s talking about and that it would be who of me to take her advice.  She’s been through the business school process herself and got into (AND GRADUATED) what I consider the top business school in the world!  So that in and of itself makes her qualified to be a consultant in my eyes.

Furthermore, now that she works for BCG at Stanford doing recruiting, you can imagine how closely she has to work with the admissions committee.  So needless to say…she’s qualified!  From what I know about Veritas, this is not an isolated incident.  All of their consultants have backgrounds as such.  Many of them have worked on admissions committees at these top schools.  So yes they’re qualified.

Tip 1 – They are going to be objective in your candidacy and tear your application apart, which is good, so you have a right to know about them and why they’re qualified.

2.  How hard will you work for me?

If you’re vetting consultants, you should definitely look into this and compare packages.  The first questions I would want to ask is how many other applicants they’ll be working with in the season you’ll be applying.  I mean someone can be an incredible consultant but if they’re working with 15 candidates, how dedicated will they be to your candidacy?

Even though I have a consultant, for some reason I don’t feel that I’m in a position to complain at all since the package was a prize.

Tip 2 – Ask the potential consultant how many other candidates they’re working with.  If you speak with the owner of the company ask them, how they decide who to pass your application too.

3.  How much should you prepare before hiring a consultant?

Well I’m not sure with other MBA consultants, but with Veritas… you better have a laid out plan as to where you want to go and what you want to do hahaah… at least that’s how I feel.  So back in March I was sent a 3 paged questionnaire to fill out for my consultant.  You may be thinking ok that doesn’t seem that difficult.  You have the normal questions right…like… Name, address, gpa, undergrad institution… ok that’s fine…  but then.. BAM:  Why an MBA?  Why now?  Professional History?  Career aspirations? Potential Recommenders?

In total that questionnaire took me about 4/5 hours to fill out and ended up being I want to say like 9 pages – NOT DOUBLE SPACED!  Some of you may be thinking – well that seems like a lot to do!  Well yeah it is… but in all honesty, if you’re thinking about going to business school and you’re to the point where you think you may need a consultant to help you out… you should have all of those questions answered already.  The formality is simply putting it down on paper.

Mine was 9 pages and took 4/5 hours for two reasons.  The first is that I felt that I finally needed to do a brain dump (I really hate this corporate buzz word, but it’s fitting in this sense) of everything swirling around in my head and the questionnaire gave me the outlet to do so.  The second reason I wanted to do a good job is because I thought that by giving my consultant the most information possible, she would be in a better position to steer me in the right way.

I don’t think I’ve been bound to what I said back in March, because my plans have changed slightly since then, but it provides an incredible baseline for the both of us.  Also, you realize how much work you really need to do.  When I get some extra time, I’m going to go back through the document and see how naive I was back then haha… that’ll be a real confidence booster!

Tip 3 – Do you and your consultant a favor:  Do your research and come with a list of schools you wish to apply to.

4.  What a consultant is not.

A consultant should not be used for the purpose of deciding which schools you should apply to.  I mean they should manage expectations if you go to them and say I want to go to Insead and that’s the only school I want to go to.  Then they should come back with… do you speak 2 languages fluently and are you ready to learn a 3rd one while in school?  If the answer is no, then they should advise against applying to Insead since that’s a REQUIREMENT.  No, I’m not joking… it’s a requirement at Insead haha… talk about a high barrier to entry, huh?

Tip 4 – Do not expect your consultant to pick your schools for you.

5.  Do not take things personally and don’t get defensive.

This one is a biggie.  Remember their goal is to get you to a point where you can say.  If I spend any more time on my application it won’t get better.  This is the best application that I can submit.  I will tell you now that the consultant will and SHOULD expose the holes in your candidacy.  It’s definitely counterintuitive.  We all want to go with our ideas that we think are great whether it be topics for essays or what we think we should highlight in our application.  A good consultant will say whether he/she (not “They” because “consultant” is singular therefore it needs a singular pronoun  😉 )  thinks that your ideas are good.  Don’t get me wrong, the consultant won’t simply say that it’s a good idea or bad idea, but a GOOD one will work with you and help you formulate the correct plan.  It may not be that your ideas are bad, but it just needs to be done in a different manner.

Tip 5 – If you have or find a consultant that agrees with you on everything you present to them… ask yourself “Why am I paying you?”

6.  No relevant question is inappropriate?

Ask these questions:

How many times do we speak?

Is there a time limit during our calls or meetings?

Do you reformat and/or help me with my resume?

How many times will we go over my essays?

Will you help me pick recommenders and tell me how to approach them?

Have you worked with other candidates applying to school X?

Tip 6 – Remember that you’re paying THEM thousands of dollars… in the end they work for you so you should be able to get any question answered.

7.  Expose yourself because you’ll cut through the bullsh*t.

This is a big one for me.  I know where my weakness is.  It’s my GPA.  It’s not that I’m dumb or stupid, but I wasn’t focused in undergrad.  I went to school on a full academic scholarship but had no desire to go to business school post-undergrad.  So with that came some complacency.  I know that my weakness is my GPA and I’m ok with that because I think the rest of my application will outshine my sub-par performance.  I was upfront about this with my consultant back in March.

I didn’t see a point in hiding this information from her because A.) It would be exposed anyway and B.) By being upfront with her, she could start to formulate ideas for how we can remedy the situation.  It’s tough to be upfront about holes in your candidacy because we all want to focus on the positives, but hey guess what people… the Admissions Committee will focus on the negatives if you don’t explain them!

In my case, my consultant keeps reiterating the importance of the GMAT…hahaha…how cyclical right?

Tip 7 – Expose your weakness so you can take steps to mitigate it.

8.  Are you my shrink?

I don’t know how most MBA Consultants feel about this but when I have a lot swirling around in my head about the process itself or something that has happened with work, I may email my consultant to get her thoughts.  Sometimes I’m just looking for either validation or some objective thoughts.  I’ve typed some really long emails to her before and she always responds.  She doesn’t type paragraphs back to me, but I wouldn’t expect her too.  At the end of my rants I always ask questions and she ALWAYS answers those.

I think this goes back to their qualifications… if they’ve been through the process of applying before, they’ll understand why you’re feeling the way you are.

Tip 8 – It’s OK to rant and rave, but ultimately what are YOU doing about it?

9.  A La Carte services?

If you can’t afford a full comprehensive consulting package, definitely look into a la carte options.  In my opinion at the very least, the essay editing is the most important for crafting your story.  In all other areas numbers will speak for themselves.  Our GPA’s and GMAT scores will inevitably be compared to those of other applicants.  Our essays are where we can separate ourselves from the masses.  The $200-$300 you may spend to have someone review your essays is worth it, and I’ve heard this from multiple sources.

Tip 9 – Remember…you’ll be competing against people who have used these services and have very refined applications!  At first I thought, “Who can afford this?”  For instance an 8-school package from Veritas is $8,100!!!  I mean I know there are people out there in certain industries–cough banking cough–who can write a check like that without even batting an eye lash. To them that’s just a great weekend of partying!

My experience with my consultant thus far has been great!  The more I interact with her and hear her thoughts, the more I wonder how people can go through this application process without a consultant.  We have not gotten into speaking on the regular simply because my top application is not out yet, but I know that if I email her… she’ll respond.

You can read more of Richard Battle-Baxter’s blog posts at “Ellipsing My Way…To Business School.”

  • Lim

    Its ok then.That’s the trickiest part to me. 1. An entrepreneur from south east asia who have only worked with family members in family business. (Never had a superior nor line manager) 2. People in my region don’t speak or write in English. 🙁 Still in the process of figuring out solutions to the obstacles

  • Haven’t gotten that far yet. The most we’ve talked about re: recs is who I should approach.

  • Lim,

    I am more curious concerning consultant’s help and involvement in the recommendation part. How do they usually help in this aspect?

  • I’m going to respond to this in a couple of weeks after another round of reviews.

  • Sandeep

    Thanks Richard for a comprehensive writeup…..that gives good analysis of how to approach and what to consider before approaching a consultant.
    But I would like to ask you..if you have prepard before approaching….big is the diffrence you found in your essays and other app material NOW? Do they really dig out your story that welll…..

  • Appreciate the good entry, informed me a lot especially the depth of the survey they use.