SHE FIRST SAT FOR THE GMAT A MONTH BEFORE HER MARRIAGE
She began studying for the GMAT in the summer of 2015, immediately trying to overcome what she knew would be a significant hurdle. “I have never been a good standardized test taker,” she concedes. Plus, it didn’t help that she was a serious student athlete in high school, playing tennis. For years, she would go to school under a condensed curriculum from 8 a.m. to noon, and then train or travel for the sport all afternoon. At times, Fournier would go on the road for up to two to three weeks at a time to play competitive tennis. Not surprisingly, her foundation in math was not strong.
So her regimen to do well on the GMAT, especially the math, was a bit of a slog. She would work all day, study for the GMAT at night and on the weekends when she wasn’t traveling to Chicago to be with her fiancé. She first sat for the exam in May of 2016, a month before her marriage. Fournier was disappointed in the result: A 690 overall score, with a 39 on the quant section and a 44 on the verbal.
Two months after her wedding, in August, she took the test again and did slightly worse: A 680 with the same quant and verbal scores. She cancelled it, and then the newly married pair finally went on their honeymoon at the end of the summer when Sébastien’s internship with Bain & Co. was over.
‘PEOPLE SAID YOU SHOULDN’T BOTHER APPLYING WITH A QUANT SCORE BELOW 46’
Refreshed from the trip, she returned, signed up for an online tutoring course and took the GMAT again in November of 2016, the third time over a six-month period. This time, the result was better, if still below the average and medians for the schools she intended to apply to. Fournier scored the minimum 700 she wanted and had upped her quant score from 39 to 43, but lost a couple of points on her verbal score which dipped to 41.
And now the round two applications were all due six weeks later. She took two weeks off over the Christmas holidays and bore down, doing a bit of skiing in the morning but working on essays every afternoon and every night. Fournier had at least one advantage: She had vicariously experienced the whole process before with her now husband. So she knew exactly what to expect and what was expected by the schools’ admission officers.
Still, there were obvious worries. “I was really nervous about it because some people say that if you get below a quant score of 46, you shouldn’t even bother applying to Harvard and Stanford. Well, I was way below that and wondered how I would apply. I couldn’t find any success stories like mine. I felt very unoptimistic about my odds. My husband kept encouraging me and I took some support from the fact that the schools were all saying they approach the admissions process holistically. I wanted to believe that. If what they say is true, I thought, I should get some positive results. So I thought hard about how I could use the other parts of an application to highlight my strengths and explain the obvious issues.”
HER HUSBAND AND FRIEND TOLD HER SHE WAS PLAYING IT TOO SAFE
Among other things, she had one ace in the hole–her work experience. Fournier had spent five years at Walmart Canada, having joined the company fresh from her undergraduate school in a highly selective one-year leadership development rotational program. In fact, only ten out of more than 600 applicants were hired for it. She spent a year and one-half as an associate category manager, a junior buyer, before gaining a promotion to a full buyer. Fournier was then poached by the corporate strategy team where she became the youngest senior manager at the Canadian head office. Three promotions in five years clearly showed she was a highly promising and successful young professional.
So before she started writing her applications, she did her own evaluation of herself, a full 360 assessment on her GPA of 3.48, her 700 GMAT, and her basic resume. “Those things are all black and white and you can’t really change them,” she explains, “but I wanted to closely look at my strengths and then be really honest about my weak spots. I was worried in a very Canadian way that I would be underplaying my strengths or that I wouldn’t be honest enough about my weaknesses.”
What came out of that exercise was that she had an okay GPA, certainly not the best, a weak quant score on the GMAT. and a below average overall score. On the plus side, however, Fournier had been a successful student athlete and had racked up quite a successful track record at Walmart, with three promotions in five years, including being the youngest person at her level. So she focused on those core strengths.
She asked two people to do this assessment with her: Her husband and a close friend who also was applying to business school. She then used another trusted friend who had no interest in business school read her essays and provide advice.
Their feedback: She was playing it too safe. Nervous that she wouldn’t come across as a successful candidate, she was overly cautious in communicating her goals to the schools. “It would have been really easy for me to say I work in corporate strategy now and I enjoy the work but I want to see more variety so I want to transition to management consulting,” she says. “I thought this would be an easy sell and they wouldn’t worry about my employability. But it didn’t sound like I was excited about it. It didn’t sound authentic because I didn’t really want to be a consultant.
THE FIRST RESULT: A REJECTION FROM COLUMBIA WITHOUT AN INTERVIEW
“My husband and friend said your passion isn’t coming across. So the essays aren’t doing the job they should be doing. I threw that out and spoke from the heart. I am a vegetarian for enviornmental reasons and what I want to do is bridge the gap between social enterprise and for-profit in that space. I really want to use the MBA to work for an organization that develops and promotes sustainable and healthy food. I don’t think we are going to see a real step-change in society until the for-profit sector gets involved in this.”
If anything, the two organizations she would most want to work for are hardly in the mainstream of MBA recruiters. They are Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, early stage companies based in California that make plant-based meat. “I’ve had tons of opportunities at Walmart, but the reason I wanted to leave is I don’t feel the work I do is aligned to what I most care about. I want to do the MBA to be more true to myself. After I got that feedback, it was like a light bulb went off. It was a huge risk, and I hoped it would resonate.”
She methodically completed her round two applications, making sure that every question–whether in the app itself or an essay–contributed something new and valuable about her. Fournier also made sure that any bragging wasn’t done by her but by her recommenders whose memories she refreshed with projects she had done for them. Fournier made sure that no point or fact was made twice. That would only waste space and opportunity.