P&Q: And how do you know this?
Kreisberg: I did about 120 mock interviews last year, and as part of that, I read 120 essays from the stack of the 1,800 kids who got interviewed. That is actually an amazingly large data base. Some of those essays were better than others, but most of them were not going to move the needle much. Dee and I agree about this, although she did not say this in her interview. It was hinted at in her blog, where she said if you took 50 essays of admitted people and 50 essays from dinged people, you’d be hard pressed to say much from the essay alone. That is sort of true, if all those essays were from the 1800 interviewed people.
None of them would be damaging. That is the real point. I also read another 50 or so essays from kids whom I consider high performers who did not get interviewed, as part of doing ding reports and just my 24-7 back-and-forth with HBS applicants of all types, including kids who were dinged last year. A surprising number of those essays actually were damaging. Some, a few, obviously so, and many just annoying in some hard-to-articulate way.
P&Q: What do you mean by hard to articulate? Aren’t you Mr. Articulation?
Kreisberg: OK, my friend, as you know, I am easily roused. Annoying and damaging essays frequently involved issues of taste, not obviously bad taste but subtle things like how you said things, how your mind seemed to work, how you presented decisions, how you bragged or did not brag, how you accounted for influences, what takeaways you created from situation 1, 2 or 3. How “triumphalist” you were or were not, how stupidly proud you were of totally ordinary events in the life of any consultant or finance person, and how you defaulted to leadership stories instead of growth stories.
P&Q: Stop right there, isn’t leadership the holy grail at HBS?
Kreisberg: Yes and no. It is one thing if they ask an essay with a prompt that says Discuss three leadership experiences, as they have in years past.
At that point you are free to discuss leadership experiences because, well, they asked! And you are already on some weird rhetorical planet where talking about leadership is, like, OK. If they ask an open-ended question like this year’s, and your go-to idea of an answer is to discuss THREE PRETTY BANAL LEADERSHIP experiences, from Planet Leadership, and your McKinsey competition is discussing how they have grown from meeting people including ordinary people in unexpected places, well, who you gonna like more?
P&Q: Sandy, you are sounding a bit Stanford-y.
Kreisberg: Dirty little secret number #2, also not touched upon, obviously, in Dee’s interview: Most Stanford essays can be easily retro-fitted into HBS essays and 1. they will not damage you, and 2. they may even help.
P&Q: From your perspective, what did Dee say about essays in the interview?
Kreisberg: And I quote, “We saw such variety that it was stunning to see that some people would approach it one way and others completely differently-and they are both accepted.”
P&Q: And what is wrong with that?
Kreisberg: Aside from being a bit light on helpful, specific information?
It is just hot tub stuff.
P&Q: But she also said, “There were wonderful essays from people who didn’t end up getting in. It was good for us to walk the talk that this is one element of the selection process.”
Kreisberg: Agree. Score one for her. But the more valuable information is that bad essays DINGED admissible people, not that great essays did not save inadmissible people.
P&Q: Well, I see your point, but I credit her with saying that a great essay will not save you if you are otherwise lost. What else do you want to get off your chest?
Kreisberg: Entrepreneurship. This is obviously a big issue for HBS. Why should an applicant spend all that time and money going to HBS when the press is full of stories of kids just starting companies and making fortunes and having fun. Here is her answer:
“There are people who have been entrepreneurs already and it’s pretty high, maybe a little more than 20% by the time they enter the class. There are people who are at big companies now who want to be entrepreneurial, and there are people who think they want to work for big companies and then start their own companies. So everything is just much more organic and swirling than static in putting yourself in a category.”
P&Q: What is wrong with that?
Kreisberg: John, what does it mean? You are apparently still in the same reality distortion field she put you in when she said it the first time.
It’s near gibberish of a very Dee kind, with swirling organic material, just like the salad class she is composing by having tomatoes talk to kale.
I’d like to know, as a breakout, how many kids she admitted from start-ups. I’d also like to know how many kids with NO start-up experience got admitted by saying they want to be entrepreneurs. You actually asked her this, and her answer is Dee-licious:
Byrne: “Is it damaging to tell admissions that you would like to start a business with your MBA? Some consultants think that could torpedo a candidate because he or she could very well end up unemployed.”
Leopold: “No. Wanting to do a startup would be great. I think we’re all so over that. Maybe that fits back to something that is also true. We don’t think you know what you want to do before you come here. You can say you want to be X and then you come here and everything changes for you.”
She followed that with some shaggy-dog outlier story about a guy attending his 5th reunion, who if I remember correctly, did not say he wanted to be an entrepreneur when he applied and did not become one, but did spend a summer at a start-up. How did you let her get away with that?