On Age Discrimination In MBA Admissions and Rookie Hype

I’ve been hard pressed to achieve an insomnia-free night as of late; and to be fair to my fellow pre-MBA applicants, I must concede that I am probably not unique in that respect.

At first glance, I’m just another one of thousands of applicants who has recently turned in a set of Round 1 applications at some very selective schools. If you scratch just beneath the surface, however, you will find not just another guy concerned about how the ad-coms will receive his application, but a 30-something with an underlined fear surrounding a certain data point on his profile, wondering what effect it might have on the final outcomes of his first round candidacy bids come January/December (or even his ability to garner invites to interview–yikes!).

On My Greatest Fear

You see, my name is mbaover30, and I have a phobia. Enclosed spaces? No. Arachnids? Child’s play. Serpents? Well, yes, but that’s another issue for a different blog. My biggest fear right now is MBA admissions age discrimination.

Now, I know that in MBA land–especially within the walls of the ultra-PC Top 25 kingdom, even the mention of “discrimination” of any kind could be enough to make even the most stoic of ad-com members clutch pearls and faint on site; therefore, let me explain so that my statements do not come across as inflammatory.

First I’ll say that I am neither accusing anyone of age discrimination nor am I even fully acknowledging it as an undeniable reality in the top MBA admissions game. In fact, I’ve caught wind of bits and pieces of empirical data (that I will present momentarily) suggesting that this whole notion might be nothing more than an urban legend–but I’ll get to that later.

I’m also not the kind of guy to have a hot finger for the “discrimination” button. When most people cry “discrimination” within earshot of me, my most likely (*not “only”) response over the years has been “Well, have you considered that it might just beYOU? Maybe they just don’t like/aren’t impressed with YOU?”

At the same time, I feel the need to address this–both to get it off my chest and to throw an additional layer of perspective into all the chatter that exists within MBA blogs, chats and discussions all over cyber space on this topic.

On Rookie Hype

Several months ago–just a few days after I arose from the battle ashes of the GMATwith a quasi-victorious final outcome, I came across this article on the Clear Admit Blog, one of several admissions blogs that I keep up with on a regular or semi-regular basis.

It covers the findings of research completed by professors Zachery Tormala and phD candidate Jayson Jia from the Stanford Graduate School of Business (The GSB) in conjunction with professor Michael Norton of  Harvard Business School (HBS) on the subject of what is commonly referred to as “The Rookie Hype Phenomenon”.

In their research, they conducted several studies comparing people with experience vs. those with potential. Here’s what the Clear Admit blog wrote about the data they collected:

[from http://blog.clearadmit.com , unedited]

In one, they ran Facebook ads touting a real comedian, one version emphasizing the comic’s potential and the other emphasizing his achievement. The ad containing the tagline “Critics say he could become the next big thing” did more than twice as well (as measured by click rates and fan likes) than the one containing the tagline “Critics say he has become the next big thing.”

Another study called on participants in a lab experiment to play the role of an NBA team manager, evaluating players based either on their actual scoring statistics or their projected stats. In this experiment, participants not only showed a preference for the rookie over the veteran player, they indicated they would pay the rookie an average of $1 million more than the proven veteran.

In a third study, participants were asked to choose between two applicants for a management job, one with demonstrated achievement and another with high potential. “We had a question about how objectively impressive the person’s resume was at present, and participants did say that the achievement guy was more objectively impressive,” Tormala says. “Yet they were more excited about the person with potential and more interested in hiring that person. So people see the objective difference on paper, yet still get more excited about the person with potential.”

  • Having managed employees of all ages, I believe your assertion that employers are looking for graduates under-30 who can be worked to death for a few years.

    However, what about a 45-year-old MBA graduate who is chomping at the bit to get back to those 80-hour weeks (because his/her youngest child just went off to college)?

  • I did. I appreciated it, but I was a little startled when it first popped into my iPhone

  • Tzeeentch99

    Hey MBA over 30, did you get an email from wharton explaining their new interview process?

  • SV

    Over 30 means s/he shouldn’t have any trouble getting Plan B over the counter. Thanks Jeff for your concern.

  • Jefferson

    It may not. Just make sure you have a plan B.

  • IndianOver30

    Great post! I can’t but correlate to your comment on promotions. Having been in the same boat last year, I am also trying to convince the AdComs in my essays about the choices that I made. Hope it works out… wish you good luck!

  • Thanks for adding to the discussion, Roger

  • Congrats Tzeentch and yes, its ALMOST water under the bridge. I’ve kicked it for this past week but now its time to warp up my Sloan app, which includes (ta da!) a rewrite of all essays. I can definitely see the light at the end of the tunnel though. I wanted to write this post back in June/July when I first saw the study but wouldn’t have dreamed of spending that much time writing anything but an app essay seeing as I had 5 sets of them staring me in the face.

  • Tzeeentch99

    Don’t worry so much dude, I’m a fellow R1 applicant like yourself that just submitted all reamining of his b-school applications 1 hour ago. I’m rewarding myself by spending the next week just lazying around, relaxing, catching up on tv-shows and movies I’ve missed from focusing on the apps for hte last few months. I’ve also started hitting the gym again and doing yoga. I just want to recommend sounds like you should take a 1-2 week break. After all, its all water under the bridge at this point.

  • Roger

    Good stuff. You covered quite a few points in there…I think at the end of the day it’s quite simple — you need to have clear goals, good communication skills and a little bit of luck. With all 3 — even HBS is not impossible despite age or anything else. My feeling is that — there are well meaning consultants out there who are advising kids on a whole host of issues and unfortunately — a few generalizations have made their way into how we think about schools. Admission consultants are great for international students and those who don’t have clear goals — but at times the consultants fail to see beyond the numbers and their own stereotypes / experiences. So they end up discouraging candidates from following their dreams by citing lack of work experience or blue chip name recognition etc.