Exclusive Interview: GMAC President Sangeet Chowfla On The MBA’s Future

Chowfla speaking to students at the NYU Stern BAM Conference

Chowfla speaking to marketing professionals at NYU Stern

One other point: I think we tend to correlate hiring intent with industrial cycles. We ask corporations whether their goal is to expand their business or control costs. In times when organizations are focused on controlling costs, MBA hiring tends to decline. To the extent they hire graduate management candidates, they tend to hire specialized marketers. That’s what we’ve been seeing for the last five to six years in recessionary times. Right now, we’re seeing the number of companies focusing on business expansion is growing. And that directly correlates with an intent to hire MBAs as opposed to hiring specialized marketers. So there is a little bit of a shift coming in as a result of that trend also.

 These days, the great debate is whether you should take the GMAT or the GRE. If a stranger came up and asked which one he should choose, why would you tell him to take the GMAT over the GRE?

That’s something I get asked all the time…many a time by people in my family.

It basically goes to this: The GMAT is the predictive gold standard for graduate management education for people who are really focused on that particular career. If you’re a candidate out in the workforce and looking at an MBA program, you’ve made a decision to go into that tree of education if you will. The GMAT is the right one for you. It is the most predictive. It is also the most widely accepted. It not only says something to the business schools that you are actually serious about your business education, but it also enables you to learn information about yourself.

And that’s something I can’t stress enough. The GMAT should really be seen not just as part of an admissions process, but also a tool for a candidate to evaluate his or her strengths. An analogy we use is that if you’re getting ready to run a marathon, you’re going to actually end up doing a fitness test. [Like a marathon], the GMAT will give you information about your strengths, areas where you actually need to brush up on before you get into business school. Also, your selection process: It helps you pick the school where you will thrive because we have 60 years of history about the GMAT, predictive validity, and the ability of the test score results to predict how well you are likely to do. Business school is one of the largest investments you will make in your life. And we like to think of our GMAT as potentially one of the advisors in the process.

What have you been hearing recently from test-takers, either through outreach or your staff’s data collection? What has surprised you? How do those sentiments reflect trends in the marketplace?

I think we made the process – and this is not just the GMAT but the graduate management education admissions process – more complex than it needs to be. One of the things we hear from prospective candidates is applying to business school is very hard. And it creates a lot of anxiety in candidates. We do have evidence that people keep putting off applying to business school because you have to take the GMAT, [fill out] different applications, use different formats for different schools, and [follow] different deadlines and different processes.

As an industry, we have an opportunity to make ourselves a little bit friendlier and more approachable. We’re definitely focused, from a GMAT perspective, in terms of doing that. We have an initiative that we call “Make the GMAT Easier to Take, Don’t Make the GMAT Easier.” We’re not trying to lower the standards of the test, but [asking ourselves], ‘could we be more approachable?’ We provide more diagnostic information to students. But, ‘could we give them more information about why they got a particular score so if they want to re-test, they have a study guide that they can build based on actual information? Our overall goal can be summed up in this simple initiative around reducing anxiety and making it easier for people to apply to business school.

Discussion topics suggested by attendees for the 2015 GMAC Leadership Conference

Discussion topics suggested by attendees for the 2015 GMAC Leadership Conference

The GMAT provides a side-by-side measurement of candidates’ analytical, quantitative, and communication skills. In fact, you could argue that GMAC is indirectly doing the work of employers. That said, employer needs are continuously changing. What have schools and employers been telling you about what they need from the GMAT? And what other tools or solutions does GMAC have in the pipeline to help test-takers with their careers?

When we take a look at feedback from employers, probably the biggest thing we’ve done in the past is introducing integrated reasoning. Because what schools and employers were telling us is that the business environment is becoming increasingly more complex. The amount of information and data available to a manager, from a variety of different sources in real time, has been growing exponentially. As a result of that, we’ve partnered with 700 business school faculty to build integrated reasoning, which is measuring a candidate’s ability to take a variety of information data streams, synthesize them, extract the core messages out of them, and come to a conclusion. This is becoming increasingly important for all of us now in our everyday life. That’s a concrete example of an effort that we did to respond to recruiter and employer needs and partnering with the business school faculty to adapt our instrument and give some additional information to schools in that regard.

Other things we keep hearing about, obviously, are the importance of leadership, soft skills, communication, teamwork – areas like that to be successful in the workplace…not only the facts you learn but how you deploy those facts. We introduced Reflect a couple of years ago, a tool that candidates can use to understand where they are on that front and develop learning tools and strategies to get better in different situations.

In recent years, you have introduced several solutions to help test-takers. How have such tools enhanced the value you offer to them?

Two very specific examples about things that we’ve done in the last year are the score cancel feature and the enhanced score report.

The score cancel feature essentially allows students, at the time they finish the exam, to say, ‘Well, I wasn’t really comfortable with the way this worked out. Let me cancel this particular score and probably then take the exam all over again.’ It is incredibly popular. We see positive behavior and we’ve had positive feedback for that particular feature. And more-and-more students say, ‘If If I take the exam and have an off day, it’s not going to show up on my record forever.’ So it just gives confidence to the student.

The enhanced score report tries to get at it from another way. It’s basically telling students instead of just getting your total, AWA and IR score, we can actually give you much more information about how you did in subsections like data sufficiency, graphics interpretation, quant subsections, and verbal, and so on. So ESR can help you build test-taking strategies about the timing of answers, how long you took to answer various sections, etc.

The idea is to give a student much more information than he or she used to get in the past about how to [prepare] for the test so they understand themselves better, understand their strengths and weaknesses in a more granular fashion, and can then develop learning strategies so they will do better in a future test should they choose to do so.

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