Confessions of An MBA Consultant

I’d rather listen to Celine Dion on a loop, I think to myself knowing there has to be a torture less painful than listening to a business school applicant recite his resume line by line.

Getting to know a new client is ordinarily a pleasure, unless he or she drones on about “what” they’ve done rather than why.

“Minnesota,” says today’s candidate, Alan.

“Mendota Heights actually,” he explains. “It’s a suburb of…”

Minneapolis, I chime in.

“Right, Minneapolis. Then I went to Penn undergrad.”

He stops, bites his lip, then continues.

“Well, after a year at…” he says rushing and apologetic. “Then I went on to a mid-level firm in…”

Chicago, I guess to myself without looking at his resume.  

 “San Francisco,” he says.

Same thing, I think.

“So?” he asks.

So what? I reply.

“So what are my chances of getting in to…?”


Harvard and Stanford, I interject, knowing full well this kid isn’t planning on going home with an MBA from the University of Burbank.

In more than ten years as a B-school admissions adviser, I’ve been asked thousands and thousands of times some version of: “What Are My Chances? Am I Going To Get In? What’s It Going To Take?”

Much of the time, even top candidates like Alan are not going to get in. Not because they are unqualified or didn’t deliver when it comes to their GPA and GMATs, but because they are clinging to the notion that a perfect score will make them the perfect candidate. They believe they are “what” they’ve done, not why.  As Alan’s adviser, it’s my job to get him ready. That means it’s my job to tell him the truth.

  • CarlaLee

    Business schools aren’t looking for future best friends, they’re looking for future leaders. Sounds like your Air Force Pilot would have been perfect.

  • Tenlobaadmit

    Wishful thinking I’m afraid.

    I have a close friend who is an Air Force pilot. We were
    talking about some guy from his squadron who is hardly a nice guy – arrogant,
    self-centered and has zero sense of humor. “So how did he graduate from the
    Flight Academy?” I asked. “Don’t you have to fill sociometric peer evaluations
    every few months? I thought there is very little tolerance for such characters.”
    “We do, and he always got poor ratings. But in the air, nobody can shoot this
    a**hole down”.

    My point is that schools making us think that all
    they really care about is character and personality, while not totally a lie,
    is quite far from the truth.

    If Alan had gone to work as a teller after college “because
    he wanted to really interact with the bank’s most valuable assets – the customers,
    and have more personal interactions than in an investment banking role”, then
    he would have to work very hard to make top schools see beyond that line in his
    resume. It’s sad but true.

    Of course, each one of us has a former classmate who was a teacher/park
    ranger/playwright before business school. Yet, the rule of thumb is that a
    strong resume and track record have way more value than a good story.


    Well, the short answer is that schools and corporations are
    slaves to rankings. Business schools don’t exist in order to promote social
    justice. They won’t admit anyone who they don’t think is employable or that
    hurts (or might hurt) their ratings. This is why the average GMAT scores are so
    high among admits, this is why having McKinsey or Goldman-Sachs or an Ivy
    League name on your resume goes a disproportionally long way in this process
    and this is why the average age of the class is going steadily down.

    My philosophy is this: Schools created an image of the “ideal
    manager”. She’s a leader, a strong team-player, analytical, a confident
    decision-maker and one that sees the big picture. Show them that you are these
    things and “prove” that others think just as highly of you as you describe
    yourself (through promotions, raises and the recommendations) and you have most
    probably secured an interview invitation.

    Going “too deep” into the personal circumstances and how
    they shaped the candidate’s personality is not useless, but it should always be
    remembered that the application gives you limited space to present yourself. It’s
    you pitching yourself as a future graduate that will make them proud, not a
    therapy session.

    I know that it is important that the candidate will be “a
    hard driving outsider, determined to succeed” and “willing to take risks”, but
    it is also a double-edged sword. I am sure that Raj Rajaratnam and Jeff
    Skilling fit the overachiever-risk-take profile.

  • Wow. One of the best reads I’ve done on the topic. Bravo!

  • Yvonne

    I love this! very engaging and with a great tone. I
    look forward to reading more.

  • Naveed

    A nice read, Stacy. In the future, could you enlighten us more on the journey of undergrad/recent graduates who will will take the GMAT and go to b-school in 2/3 years?

  • Arthur F

    I like the way this article explains the point about white spaces defining who you are beyond your resume.

  • dstyles

    white spaces…I like it.  thanks for sharing your story.

  • Justin H

    I recruited MBAs at Microsoft for 5 years and this is exactly how we look at people. But, you said it even better. Folks, listen to this.

  • Thanks for sharing Stacy!

  • Stanford 2014

    Great article! This applies to so much more than just applying to B-School. Thanks Stacy, great life lesson!