Who Gets Into Harvard & Stanford’s MBA Programs Might Surprise You

Work Experience at Harvard and Stanford MBA programs

Work Experience at Harvard and Stanford MBA programs

Byrne: Matt, we’re getting a good number of questions, and I think we might want to turn to a few of them because they’re pretty darn interesting.  Here’s one from a person who is currently employed by Bain & Company. This applicant asking, ‘How I can best differentiate myself amongst the MBB applicants?’ Any thoughts, or advice, based on your experience?

Symonds: Clearly, for any of these successful applicants from MBB, business school isa natural next step, whether you want to make partner, or you want to transition out of consulting. Harvard asks applicants, ‘What more should we know about you?’ So I think that you use, perhaps, your academic success in undergrad, and the career that you’ve built with Bain as tremendous building blocks, but it’s that one more piece you need to differentiate yourself. Last year we had around a 50% success rate with HBS applicants, many from MBB and the Big Four, and it was interesting just how many of them, whether in their private lives, in the community, had some level of real engagement.

They hadn’t started walking puppies at the animal shelter a month before they applied to these business schools. They were doing things for 18 months, for four years, and were able to really speak about it with passion and purpose. My colleagues who were admissions officers at these school say, ‘You start talking to us about another PowerPoint deck that you put together for a client, or another M&A deal that you were working on’ and they will tune out. Back to CentreCourt, when Kirsten was talking about applicants to Stanford, they see this whole change lives and change the world thing, and so many applicants, from Bain and other great firms, will start to talk about how they’re going to change the world, whether that’s clean drinking water solutions or solving poverty. But if they don’t see clean drinking water in your resume when you’ve described that as your big vision, it’s going to make the school wonder just how legitimate or just how real is that vision. Bain will have kept you very, very busy in the early years of your career. The schools know the sort of hours that you’re working, but I think that the applicants who truly stand out have carved out the time to make commitments which demonstrate patterns. Ultimately, they demonstrate patterns of leadership. Both of them want to see whether, in a professional setting or in a community setting, it was a club that you were involved with at college. They look for these recurrent patterns of leadership and impact, how you make a difference. Bain’s a great place to start, and I think now you need to really explore the personal story to find those things that would really help you stand out.

Byrne: Matt, here’s another question. What percentage of the incoming class at these schools are business owners or entrepreneurs?

Symonds: Very few, and interestingly, the entrepreneurs that we identified almost invariably had the title of founder and CEO. It wasn’t someone who joined the startup in the early stages. They were one of the founders or the co-founders, and the numbers for Stanford are much, much higher, certainly, as a percentage of the class. I think the actual real numbers of entrepreneurs going into Stanford, were still, compared to the banks and the consulting firms, big tech, and others fairly small. I would encourage you to download this deep dive because I think we also identify that within 15 or 20 entrepreneurs who were admitted to Stanford and the 12 to 14 admitted to Harvard Business School, it wasn’t smart phone apps that they’d been developing. It was great to see that it was entrepreurship across a complete sector spread. It wasn’t all about technology. Some people had built restaurant chains, and others were doing it in the social sector. But the numbers are fairly modest. Fewer than 5% in the Stanford classroom, but nearly all of them had the CEO and founder title.

Byrne: Here’s another good one. Do you have any data regarding students who already have a masters degree and apply to a business school?

Symonds: We saw somewhere between 17% and 20% with a graduate degree. There’s a caveat there because a significant number of these individuals are applying for dual degrees. You know, the schools themselves report that as many as 25% of their MBA students are pursuing a dual degree at Stanford or at Harvard, whether that’s at the Kennedy School or an MS in computer science at Stanford. So very often they would start and do their first year in the engineering school or at Stanford’s d.school, or at the Kennedy School, and then would begin the MBA in the second year. So it was sometimes a little bit tricky to extrapolate from a LinkedIn profile, but I think, probably, it would be safe to say that somewhere between 15% and 17% already had a graduate degree when they were applying to school.

Byrne: Matt, here’s a question from someone who’s working at Google and is looking at the stats and seeing the predominance of consultants and investment bankers who are getting admitted. This person works in ‘advertisement at Google.” The question is, ‘Is it realistic to target Stanford or HBS “as a person who has experience in advertisement in Google?’

Symonds: It’s a great question because when we use these buckets, you could be the chief financial officer of a tech firm, and your career is very much about finance, or you could be in software development. For Harvard Business School, 13 of the admits had Google on their resume. Now, I have to say that Google had some of the most elaborate job titles. They had elite mentor at the Google launch pad accelerator program and deep-mind engineers, whereas at Microsoft there were two titles: there was project manager or mechanical engineer. So obviously Google has a lot of fun in the HR department coming up with these job titles, and I think that the great majority of them would be tech-focused. Now, of course Google probably has one of the most impressive sales teams, certainly, if you look at the revenue they’ve been generating in the last five or six years. So you should leverage that and say, ‘I’ve been able to collaborate with some very technical minds and build that bridge between technology and the end user.’ I think many more would have a strategic business development hat on, but if you have been able to play that sort of role, and helped the company to go into new markets, or identify new opportunities, even on the product side, I think that ability to have a dialogue across different parts of the company is important. Your focus might be sales, but if you understand the underlying technology or can identify opportunities and bring those to the attention of senior executives at the firm, that’s a great story to share with Stanford or any other top business school.

Byrne: Here’s another good question from a person at Deloitte who works as a business technology analyst. This person is asking, “Is it better to have worked for another company after Deloitte and then apply or stay at the same firm? because Deloitte is still a silver firm.’ It’s not MBB.

Symonds: If you look at these numbers, Deloitte has outperformed the rest of the Big Four by a country mile. One of the points of data we identified was that, on average, consultants, whether McKinsey, Bain, BCG, Deloitte, or others, on average have one year less work experience than admits from other sectors. The flip side of that is that those coming from the military have typically between 2 1/2 or three years more experience than the rest of the incoming class. So I think one of the things you can draw from that is that whether at the first stage and then staying at that firm, or making a switch, there’s this sense that you’ve often got tremendous industry breadth working in the consulting firms. So no, I don’t see in the numbers this need to move on. What we often see, I think, after two or three years is that schools are probably quite interested by those who make a move that also has a sense of purpose. An example might be the consultant who after two or three years then joins a microfinance bank, or they join the Obama or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They had this wonderful first step in their careers, clearly want to have impact, and have made a very conscious decision to join an organization like that. You can stay at Deloitte provided that you’re on the fast track.

Byrne: Matt, would you believe we’re out of time. I just want to point out to our audience that if you want one of these detailed reports, you can get one or both of them for free from Fortuna by going to their website here.

Symonds: We spent hours, days, weeks working on these, and to look at the stories of the architect from Uruguay, or the person working in agritech in the Midwest are fascinating. I have an even deeper respect for the work of these admissions officers. I know that there are some choices that you identify s being the safer or easy choices for them to make, and how it creates this kind of bubble. Nevertheless, they’re reading anywhere between 8,000 and 9,000 applications. And yet they are finding the candidate from Nigeria who is running a laundry firm after the first steps of his career at McKinsey. You’ve got to love that story. So please reach out for a copy of those deep dives. We’ve tried to just open them up and share as many of those job titles and experiences, and all of those personal stories, and would love to spend time with you finding out what your stories are, too.

Byrne: Thanks Matt.

To request a copy of the full summary report on the HBS or Stanford GSB Class of 2020, view the Fortuna Admissions Deep Dive Analysis of the HBS Class of 2020

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