You’d Never Believe These MBA Applicants Were Just Rejected By Harvard Business School

Mr. Product Line Manager

  • 750 GMAT (47 Q/47 V)
  • 3.92 GPA
  • Undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from small private engineering school
  • 3.90 GPA
  • Master’s degree in mechnical engineering from same school
  • “College is well known within the engineering school circle, excellent career focus and respected within the region as far as engineering talent it produces, but not at all a feeder to top MBA programs”
  • Work experience includes just over four years at a small niche aerospce firm with promotions from a systems engineer to senior systems engineer to a product line manager
  • “Typical PLMs here have 10+ years experience. Prior to PLM, my role was half R&D and project management, half BD/sales support with decent international experience. Company is not a feeder to MBA programs”
  • Extracurriculars include term as fraternity president and club athlete in college; Woodworking, camping/hiking, golf, intramural sports leagues post-college
  • Essay focused on “a ‘call to leadership’ story showing my progression from an introverted engineering student in college content with doing math problems all day to a leadership position at my company in a short time. Highlighted a defining moment in college, first major leadership test as frat president, how I’ve applied those skills at work to get where I am”
  • Recommendations from manager and senior colleague with a very close working relationship
  • Post-MBA Goal: Short-term transition to strategy consulting, with long-term goal in corporate strategy at a technology/engineering company
  • 27-year-old white male

Sandy’s Analysis: It’s really hard to break out of the white male box, and while there is lots here to like, there are other guys with the same story and more, who also attended more selective colleges, had more selective jobs, blah, blah.

You might think that company NOT being a feeder program to HBS could be a plus, and I guess in some cases it could be, but you just did not win that little lottery given the context.

“Extracurriculars: Fraternity president and club athlete in college. Woodworking, camping/hiking, golf, intramural sports leagues post-college.”

Hey buddy, I like you, but this could be read by the hipster chicks on the adcom as an application dated 1955. It’s just Häagen-Dazs vanilla.

“Essay: Sort of a ‘call to leadership’ story showing my progression from an introverted engineering student in college content with doing math problems all day to a leadership position at my company in a short time. Highlighted a defining moment in college, first major leadership test as frat president, how I’ve applied those skills at work to get where I am.”

Ha ha, and just what could be wrong with that, you may ask??? It’s just quite fair in my book. I got a feeling it headed more towards a brag story than one about influences. In general using the HBS essay as a platform to tell admissions bout accomplishments is a dangerous way to go. I’m not saying you did that, but offering advice to the great unwashed (and so far un-submitted) here. And if I might continue, this formula stuff of saying, as frat president I learned these leadership lessons, A, B and C, and here is how I applied them to my jobs to get promoted, is a no go.

The adcom chicks don’t go for that story. Seriously. It is no longer in your voice, it comes off as talking points about leadership. And let me end by saying, ahem, LEADERSHIP is often not a good topic to write about, although saying why could take years to explain.

The dirty little secret is that HBS doesn’t care so much about leadership. They care about your GPA/GMAT, select jobs on your resume, diversity and stories about overcoming adversity.

Leadership?

“We don’t need no stinkin’ leadership.”

About the Author...

John A. Byrne

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.