‘WITHIN FOUR MINUTES, I KNEW I HAD TO GET NIKI TO ROTMAN’
So when Kevin Frey, managing director of Rotman’s full-time MBA program, met da Silva, then director of MBA admissions and recruitment at Ivey for three years, he was immediately sold. “Within four minutes, I knew I had to get Niki to Rotman,” says Frey. “She’s articulate, persuasive and passionate about MBA student recruitment and that was obvious within minutes. And she’s fiercely competitive–which in my opinion is a must-have in an admissions director in the current MBA environment. She’s the complete package.”
Da Silva was drawn to the school because of its charismatic and visionary leader, Roger Martin, who has transformed the place into a major player in business education in his 13 years in the job as dean. Martin smartly built on the school’s natural advantages. It is in a world-class city, Canada’s business capital, and is part of the most prestigious university in Canada. But Martin also has made the school’s MBA program truly distinctive, focusing the curriculum on integrative thinking and business design, providing one-on-one executive coaching for every student and raising the money to a new $93 million state-of-the-art building that opened last year.
The goal of admissions, believes da Silva, is to get as clear a picture of the true candidate as possible. “Everyone wants to get the candidate off the script,” she says. “We have to ask the things they’re not prepared to talk about. We screen on a continuous learning orientation, intellectual curiosity and horsepower, coach-ability and self-awareness,” she adds. “To be an Olympic fencer or a professional poker player is a bonus here. That is very Rotman. There is a real celebration of diversity at the school.”
CALLING APPLICANTS WHEN THEY BECOME ADMITS MAKES THE HARD WORK WORTH IT
Her favorite part of the job? Telling applicants they’ve been admitted to the school. “I want to be the very first to tell you you’ve been admitted,” is how that telephone conversation would start. “When you make that call, it’s going to change that person’s life forever. You hear screams on the other end of the phone. Some people cry. I love doing it.”
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At exactly 10 a.m. of a January day, da Silva has a scheduled admissions interview with a 24-year-old MBA applicant who currently works as a consultant for the Toronto office of a leading global firm. The slender woman with blonde over-the-shoulder hair could have easily walked off the pages of a fashion magazine. Dressed in a black slip dress with an elegantly tailored checked jacket, brown tights and black pumps, she is pretty, graceful and confident. She is wearing tasteful diamond earrings and her makeup is impeccable.
She sits down at a small round table in da Silva’s office where a ten-inch-high stack of red folders lay on the desk. The admission director’s office is painted in stark white, with industrial gray carpeting. There are no paintings, pictures or posters on the walls because da Silva only recently moved into the recently opened wing.
A TRACE OF NERVOUSNESS DURING A CRUCIAL ADMISSIONS INTERVIEW
The consultant is perched on the edge of her seat, bearing just a slight trace of nervousness. A small black notebook is at the ready to jot down a thought or insight.
“I’m already familiar with your application package,” says da Silva, who sits across from the candidate. “The strategy behind our admissions interview is to really use what you’ve already told us as the starting point for a conversation. Typically questions from my end will run 20 to 30 minutes and then I’ll leave time to cover your questions.”
After a knowing nod from the applicant, da Silva delivers her first question:
“Can you walk me through the highlights of your resume and talk a little about not just what you’ve done but why you’ve done it and what you’ve learned?”
“Right now,” the applicant answers, “I’m in strategy consulting and have developed a real focus on an industry. It’s been a great opportunity to advise clients both in the U.S. and Canada and to work with senior-level executives on strategic and operational issues. I have been able to build a brand for myself in the industry, through published research I’ve done and by interacting with clients and through industry events.”
THE QUESTIONS AND THE ANSWERS FLY DURING THE HALF-HOUR INTERVIEW
Back and forth, the questions and the answers fly.
“How did it happen that you started to publish white papers and build a brand?”
“What contributed to your promotion?”
“Are there brands or organizations you would like to work for?”