How to Act Like a Leader

Now that the HBS Round 1 application deadline passed yesterday, the next step for MBA hopefuls is to prepare for the Admissions Committee interview. There are four kinds of interviews that elite MBA programs use: student (Chicago Booth), alumni (Stanford GSB), video (Kellogg), and Adcom (HBS). Adcom is by far the hardest since you'll be talking directly with a gatekeeper who has already reviewed your applications and will be coming after you with tailored questions to poke holes in your application. In these interviews more an others, presence is a major key.

Our recommendation would be to come off as approachable when you arrive to interview and maintain that demeanor up until the interview. Once you get into the interview room, we recommend an authoritative demeanor. In the lecture below out of Stanford GSB, Richard Cox discusses how to accomplish each.

Richard Cox Lecturer in Management Stanford Graduate School of Business

Highlights:

  • 5 S's for Authority: Slowness in speech, Stillness in head, Silent pauses in speech, Symmetry in posture, and Space (taking it up)
  • 5 F's for Approachability: Filling space, Fast movement, Folded body, Fidgeting, Flirting (inviting others to share space with them)
  • Observe yourself and see how you come across. Filming yourself and attending improvisational acting classes can be a huge help.
  • Think about making a pump-up play-list from your favorite super hero movie to get yourself ready to appear on stage the way you want to

What Military Vets bring to the MBA classroom

Smoke

The former Director of Admissions at Harvard Business School Dee Leopold would famously tell interviewees that admitting a class of MBA students is similar to building a salad. Each student is meant to add a certain flavor to the overall mix. For investment bankers, it is economic intuition and modeling skills for the finance classes. For consultants, it is the marketing and strategy frameworks for those classes. But what is the flavor that we military veterans are meant to add?

As military veterans seek to achieve the benefits of an elite business school – higher paying jobs, vibrant personal networks, a world-class education – this is an important question to ask. Schools like Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB, Chicago Booth, and Wharton, look for students who will bring voice to certain perspectives in the classroom. When you write your essay, it is important to convey a narrative that gives the admissions committee confidence in your ability to play the role that they have envisioned for you. So what do they look for in vets?

Salute

Leadership Experience

Unlike your peers, who at most have indirectly supervised a couple other consultants on a client site, military veterans have an incredible wealth of leadership experiences. Veterans lead many times more people, in diverse organizations, in some of the highest-stress environments in the world. As you write your application, your resume should shout your leadership experience from the rooftops.

Socio-Economic Diversity

Many students at elite schools like Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, Chicago Booth, and Wharton come from elite private universities and have generally spent their entire working careers working with those who have done the same. Very few will interact at length with anyone who has not gone to college. In contrast, the military is an incredible melting pot of class. Officers from Dartmouth, UVA, and Notre Dame work side by side with those who dream of completing a degree online from Central Texas University, University of Phoenix, or University of Maryland University College. This experience often gives Veterans higher Emotional Quotients and the “common touch” needed to interact with people who are very different from themselves. That’s a valuable part of diversity that would likely be nowhere else in evidence at prestigious MBA campuses.

Sailors

Large-Organization Outlook

 Start-ups are “in”, but the fact of the matter is that it is always easier to go from a big company to a smaller one. Ex-military service members excel at big companies like Exxon, General Electric, and Eli Lilly, because they how to navigate large organizations. After all, with 3.1 million service members, there is no bigger American employer than the US Military. The ability to navigate complex power dynamics, advance causes through bureaucracies, and motivate subordinates are all topics that will be central to your MBA leadership classes, giving Vets a lot to contribute in them. 

International Exposure

One of the key issues students grapple with in business school is how to lead global teams that cross different time zones, work styles, functions, and cultures. While pretty much everyone in business school has traveled to other countries, few have substantial work experience in more than one country. Here again, military members often have an advantage, and can speak to the practical complexities that come with such work.

Ship

Geopolitical Perspective

When it comes to classes that involve government or foreign policy, often the rest of the class will instinctively turn to hear the perspectives of its Veterans. In addition to having the credibility that comes from wearing the uniform of your country, military leaders are trained early to have a global perspective – to look for geopolitical crises may arise and train to meet those challenges. Many other classmates on the other hand have spent little time thinking about issues outside their teams, firms, or industries.

How to get off the MBA waitlist (Part 2)

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(Click here if you missed Part 1!)

5. Mount an influence campaign

I would only recommend this if you (1) truly need to be admitted to one particular business school in one particular cycle and (2) you are comfortable taking on the social capital debt of such a favor.

The people who make up admissions committees are social animals like the rest of us and can be influenced by others. Specifically two types of people: VIPs with opinions that the Adcom would respect (e.g. famous CEOs, political leaders, and prospective donors with whom the school is trying to curry favor), and current students whom can vouch for your “fit” at the school.

When it comes to VIPs, either you have one or you don’t. Personal/family connections are often too weak to be meaningful, and the waitlist timeline is usually too short to develop a good relationship with a VIP from a cold start.

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When it comes to current students, start by looking at your network on LinkedIn and see who is currently at your target school. Look for shared connections such as employer, undergrad, or high school. If you find someone you know well, explain your situation and see if they are willing to vouch for your fit at the school to the Adcom, using your new awesome narrative (see point #1). 

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6. Be humble, be positive, be patient

Showing any sign of frustration with your situation is absolutely lethal to your application. Often, admissions deans are just itching to find reasons they can remove people from the waitlist – don’t give them one. Remember: you are the happy warrior, and the waitlist is a marathon, not a sprint.

7. Worst case scenario: use the lessons of the waitlist to make a better application next time.

Many schools look favorably on re-applicants and the classrooms are full of them. Next time, hire us the first time and we will make sure that you put your best foot forward.