What’s the worst thing about being rejected? You rarely hear why. The silence is understandable from the school’s standpoint. It can be an awkward conversation, one that could open a school up to litigation. From the student side, the question is always, ‘What am I doing wrong and what can I do to fix it?’
That’s where P&Q comes into play. This fall, we collected profile stats from candidates who were rejected by HBS. On the surface, they might seem like shoo-ins. Take for example the Harvard alum with a 770 GMAT and 3.9 GPA. Automatic, right? Guess again—first round snub! The same is true for the Wharton-trained investment banker with a 740 GMAT. How about the Ivy League strategy consultant who scored a 49 quant despite majoring in the liberal arts? Same result: thumbs down.
That’s where Sandy Kreisberg comes into play. The former head of communications at MIT Sloan, Kreisberg heads up HBS Guru, where he provides application and interview prep. A former Harvard writing professor, Kreisberg has helped hundreds of applicants get into elite MBA programs over the past two decades. He also serves as a columnist for P&Q, where he reviews applicant profiles and shares his unfiltered feedback on the gaps in their backgrounds and messaging. In this column, Kreisberg goes above-and-beyond, assessing profile flaws for seven applicants who were rejected by HBS in October. They include a transgender female in a bulge bracket bank, a rising star at a leading asset management firm (who’d scored four promotions in four years), and an auditor with a Top 4 firm who had a 750 GMAT and Master’s in accounting. What were his thoughts on the profiles? Here is some sample feedback…
“Based on your profile, I think it is more likely that [the] adcom questioned your need for MBA vs. getting a Public Administration degree at the Kennedy School. In your post, elected politics and public jobs are the totality of your experience. And beyond that, those are your goals.”
“You say your essay was about “my desire to start my own business to marry the passion I gained my experiences in early-stage companies with the analytical skills I learned in PE / consulting.” That is okay and certainly didn’t hurt you. But I’m not so sure about your post-MBA goal to do a startup in male-skincare. Did you really say that? It just does not compute given your work history. That goal alone, without further explanation, along with the short time you spent with each of your many employers would have been enough to get you tossed in the ding pile.”
McKinsey possesses a certain mystique. The oldest of the MBB trio, McKinsey is equated to an invisible hand – one whose influence stretches across every conceivable industry. Long known as the training ground for future CEOs, McKinsey boasts a 30,000 member alumni network that ranges from Sheryl Sandberg to Pete Buttigieg. In 2018, McKinsey added 1,100 MBAs to follow in their footsteps.
This year, P&Q profiled 15 of these hires, whose alma maters include INSEAD, Harvard Business School, Wharton, Chicago Booth, and Michigan Ross. We asked how business school prepared them for McKinsey, along with the advice they’d give to MBA students following in their footsteps. Our goal was to demystify what it means to be part of McKinsey, exposing readers to the types of training they’d receive and the level of expectations they’d need to meet. The biggest takeaway? McKinsey isn’t just a collection of “cool” resumes. They are bonded together in an egalitarian culture – one where their first duty is to speak truth to power.
“McKinsey is most often brought in when things are either unclear or not going very well,” writes INSEAD’s Jane Chun. “These situations are not easy to navigate, so it is critical to be skilled at having difficult, but necessary, conversations. These can manifest in a few different ways: perhaps it’s delivering constructive feedback to your manager, disagreeing with a client’s current strategy, or questioning the approach of senior leadership. We are encouraged to be diplomatic, but ultimately, we are expected to tell the truth.”
Sandy Kreisberg is back! As usual, he isn’t holding back. A bit gruff and ever salty, Kreisberg knows how to get attention. He doesn’t tolerate exaggeration, excuses, or vagueness. He just tells it as he sees it – and his eyes are as sharp as a baseball umpire.
In this January installment, he tackles admissions odds for six candidates who range from a boutique consultant who moonlights as a roller derby enforcer to a do-gooder banker with a 750 GMAT. Here is some sample feedback he gave in this handicapping piece:
“What you really need to do is start feeling better about your work history. You say that you have spent four years in an “engineering/operations role as a federal government civilian at a large repair facility supporting a branch of the military” and that you “support all phases of operations and held project role as the intermediary between active-duty personnel and the project engineering team.” I got only a so-so idea of what that means, and I am sure it probably sucks as much as you make it sound. You need to start talking like Trump and not some honest guy. Make it sound like a great job with the challenges of dealing with tech problems, dealing with military and civilian peers and supervisors, exposed you to the whole world of how projects get done, got you really excited about managing tech and cross-functional teams, blah, blah.”
“Work experience: Three internships. Sophomore summer at a nonprofit doing financial innovation work. Junior fall at a no-name boutique M&A advisory firm, working with some F500s. Junior summer at a F100 financial services company doing business analytics. Have accepted an offer to start full-time at a Tier 2 consulting firm.” Friend, those are jobs to be proud of, and good for you for hustling to get them. The problem is that 2+2 is really, really snobby, and they are not looking to admit works in progress or potential stars. They are kinda looking to admit, judged by their peer group, established performers and stars, period.”
You have to start somewhere. When it comes to Fortune 100 royalty, not every chief executive is an HBS or Wharton MBA. Instead, you’ll find plenty of rags-to-riches stories. Noel White, for one, earned his MBA at Oklahoma City University before taking over Tyson. Intel chief Bob Swan calls SUNY Binghamton home (at least for grad school). And then there’s the University of Tulsa, which lays claim to Walmart CEO Doug McMillon as its most distinguished MBA alum.
Not surprisingly, Harvard Business School and Stanford GSB include plenty of ‘name’ CEOs on their alumni rolls. However, the big takeaway is that top leaders can originate from almost anywhere. So don’t be too dismissive of that perfect fit outside the M7. Who knows, it may be regarded as a CEO factory in 20 years.
HBS has been described as the “West Point of Capitalism” – a place where leaders are forged through demanding programming, competitive peers, and intensive resources. Triston Francis, the co-president of the 2019 Class, even uses a magnifying glass analogy to put HBS’ influence in context.
“Whatever impact you are going to have, the scale and the platform allows you to take that even further.”
Talent too. You’ll find plenty of that in the Class of 2021. This year, P&Q profiled eight members of the incoming class. They include Elizabeth Breiter, a senior analyst for SpaceX who was once dismissed as a “C student.” Growing up, Tory Voight helped her mother clean houses. In college, she worked two jobs to pay for her tuition. Her gifts didn’t go unnoticed, however. After working in the Obama White House, she landed at Google working in its virtual reality division. Speaking of contrasts, the class also features Mark Giragosian. Before investment banking, he spent eight years with the Joffrey Ballet Company, even winning the silver in the 2009 New York International Ballet Competition.
Don’t t think this momentum stalls once students have “made it” into the class. In reality, their pace only picks up, observes Sana Mohammed. “Everyone I know is working on something,” she tells P&Q. “They may be working on a startup or an individual project or taking as many classes as they can. They are doing something that is keeping them intellectually engaged and driving them. That, in itself, is so unique. It is very easy for people to be complacent, but I don’t see any complacency here.”
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