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You can find a better version of my blog at http://www.adammarkus.com/blog/.

Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

December 18, 2014

IMD MBA Admissions Essays for 2016 Admission

In this post, I discuss the application essays for 2016 admission to IMD.  The essays have not changed from those used in Rounds 2-5 last year.

As most applicants  to IMD should already know, there has just been a major turnover of senior staff at the MBA, but the application form is the same.  As was reported in Poets & Quants, "IMD has announced an unprecedented shakeup in its MBA program, resulting in the departure of five officials who play central roles in admissions, program delivery, career services, marketing, and financial aid."  All of these officials resigned at the same time.  What this will mean, long-term for the MBA program is unclear.  In the P&Q article,  I think my fellow admissions consultant, Linda Abraham, has summarized the possibilities resulting from the all of the changes being made by the current MBA Program Director, Professor Ralk Boscheck:

"Some believe the shakeup will lead to more short-term turmoil for IMD. “I think IMD is going to struggle until the changes the new program director wants to make are implemented and prove popular with recruiters and students, added Abraham. “If the changes are successful and the results are realized quickly, IMD will bounce back stronger than ever. If the changes prove unpopular or the results take a long time to be seen, IMD will decline until the new program director is replaced. In the latter case, its reputation and brand will be weakened.”

If this gives you cause to reconsider applying to IMD, my advice would be to do your own research to determine whether IMD is right for you.  Visiting the school, talking with alumni, especially those from the Class of 2015 who are the first to experience Professor Boscheck's changes to the MBA program, and looking at post-MBA job placements from those graduating in recent years would be a good idea.  Regarding job placement data coming from IMD under Prof. Boscheck's direction, please see this P&Q article.

I still highly recommend reading my February 2014 and September 2012 interviews with Lisa Piguet,  who was formally IMD's Associate Director of MBA Admissions and Marketing as it is unclear that changes in admissions policy would result in that information no longer being accurate.  You might also want to read my interview with a with a former client who is a member of the Class of 2009. I think these interviews will provide you with some key insights into IMD. My report on my visit to IMD can be found here. You may also be interested in my report on my May 2012 visit to IMD.

In this post, I  first discuss IMD and then the three essays, the short questions on short-term goals and skills required to reach them, and the optional essay.

IMD (The Institute for Management Development), consistently ranked among the best MBA programs in the world, is a small intensive one-year program that starts in January.  IMD, along with Columbia January Term and INSEAD (INSEAD has both September and January start dates) are three of the best options for those who want to start in January 2016 at a top MBA program.

To learn about IMD, visit the website. You should download three PDFs from the website: "MBA Program Brochure," "MBA Class Profiles," and "Class and Placement Overview."  In addition, if possible, I suggest either attending an information session or visiting. Getting an alumni perspective would also be particularly helpful. Review the website completely and by all means read the MBA Diary to get IMD students' perspectives.  To learn about IMD faculty perspectives, please visit Tomorrow's Challenges.

IMD's small size sets it apart from other top programs, as its brochure states: "90 Exceptional People Who Will Shape The Future of Business." If you get into IMD, chances are quite high that you will go there.

When you think about IMD, two keywords to focus on are "international" and "leadership." Based on my experience working with clients admitted there for Class of 2015, Class of 2014,  Class of 2013, the Class of 2011, Class of 2010,  and Class of 2009, I can say that IMD is looking for those individuals who both already have and aspire to increased capacity in both being international and being leaders. Visiting the program in 2012 and through conversations with my former clients who attended IMD has only further convinced me that international and leadership are key to IMD.

In any given year, I work with only a few people applying to IMD because this is most certainly a very unique program.  Almost all of my clients who applied to IMD have been interviewed.  Even for the Class of 2012, when I had no admits, the two clients I worked with on IMD were offered interviews, but one was admitted to his/her first choice school and did not interview and the other, was unfortunately dinged after interview.  Getting dinged after an IMD interview, especially for candidates without solid English ability, effective presentation skills, and/or the perceived potential to work well in a small group is common enough.  In some cases, the candidate is indeed solid, but in the process of building the right class of 90 students simply does not fit. For the Class of 2013, I had two clients who who were offered interview, one was admitted. For the Class of 2014, I had two clients apply and both were admitted (one is listed as 2013 result because he/she was admitted to another school in 2013). For the Class of 2015. I had two admitted with five being interviewed (One client was admitted directly.  But the rest who interviewed were Indian males, two were waitlisted and only one of them got off the waitlist, but is going to INSEAD. Indian males face an uphill battle to get into IMD because the number of highly qualified male Indian candidates far exceed the school's capacity).

Even though the new essays are in some sense more challenging (though fewer in number) than the previous essay set, there is no MBA interview that compares to the day of trial that IMD puts potential applicants through.  Reading a report of an IMD interview makes me feel exhausted.  The particular style of group and individual interviewing and observation admissions does, is truly impressive and totally necessary given their class size and reputation.  The IMD interview eliminates those who will not be able to survive in a very intense program. IMD interviews a rather high percentage of those who apply, but again, the program is rather self-selecting so this percentage makes sense. Consider that IMD is trying to fill a class of 90.  They are working with limited numbers and I know that they are being highly selective when it comes to making final decisions.  As I mentioned in my school visit post,  I visited on an interview day and saw the candidates "relaxing" at lunch, when in fact they were being observed by the students they were having lunch with.  That is how much IMD cares about fit!  Finding the right 90 who will come together is what the IMD admissions process is about. The application serves as the basis to determine whether you should be considered for their interview, but based on what I understand the application can't mitigate a bad interview day.

Like its bigger rival INSEAD, IMD is truly an international program with a very diverse student body and faculty. You can actually view all of the current class as well as read a statistical summary of their backgrounds on PDFs found on the IMD site. Doing so will certainly help you understand that IMD students are incredibly diverse and multilingual.  I think it also important to keep in mind that being international is about being open-minded to diversity and to having mental flexibility.  Both through the essays and interview you will be assessed for capacity to be an open-minded person.

The IMD program is focused on making leaders, not just managers or experts in a particular business field. It is therefore not designed for those who primarily want to develop expertise in a business subfield. IMD makes the program's focus very clear on page 2 of the PDF version of their brochure:
Top executives of leading multinational companies tell us clearly: they need leaders, not managers. Leaders with the insight and ability to address issues and problems that are more complex and changing more quickly than ever before. Leaders who are confident, creating their own solutions to these emerging issues with integrity and high ethics. Leaders who understand themselves and how they interact with others. Leaders who understand the needs of their organizations and their business environments. Leaders who can drive change through innovation. Leaders who can move their businesses forward. The single aim of the IMD MBA program is to develop these leaders.

A review of the program structure makes it perfectly clear that it is not a degree for those wanting expertise in a particular business subfield (e.g. finance or marketing) because there is actually only one three-week period of study available for electives.


1.       Describe yourself in two hundred words or less.
In a Class of 90, there is no room for letting in someone who can't function well and does not have something distinct to contribute.   What are the key aspects that IMD really needs to know about you that will make them want to invite you for their interview?

The question is straightforward, but keep in mind the third question below.  They relate to each other. Essay 1 is about who you are now, while Essay 3  is about who you will become.

Think of this as a your “elevator pitch” to IMD.  Given the limited space I suggest you think very carefully about what to include. I suggest trying to focus more an analytical description of yourself rather than a life story.

Some Questions to get you brainstorming:
1. What do you want IMD to know about you that would positively impact your chances for admission? After all, you might consider getting the love of your life to marry you to be something really important to know about you, but will IMD admissions care? If what you write does not reveal (whether stated or implied) potential and/or contribution, chances are likely that it is not significant enough.
2. What major positive aspects of your life have not been effectively INTERPRETED to the admissions committee in other parts of the application?
3. Through the application form they will have learned quite a bit about your employment experience, so remember to focus here on who you are and not simply on what you have done.
4.  What could you discuss about yourself that you think would really help admissions understand you and want to admit you?
5. How can you make the most effective first impression?
6.  Are you being dull? Don't be! Mentioning "I studied hard to get a 4.0 in university " is most likely very dull and rather obvious.  On the other hand if you overcome great challenges to get such an academic result, you could have a great story.  Obvious stories are dull.  Reveal something important about yourself that goes beyond the surface level and could not be easily assumed from reviewing other aspects of your application.
An unrecoverable event could be a total complete failure with no upside.  At the extreme (and  the extreme is not necessary), this could be losing a client who you will never get back, getting rejected from an academic program, losing a job, making a terrible investment decision, being responsible for destroying a friendship or relationship with someone else, being the source of damage or harm to others, experiencing something tragic (death of a loved one), losing something personally valuable to.

What an unrecoverable event is not is a situation that one can overcome. Therefore a setback situation is unlikely to work well here if you were able to overcome the setback (hence recover from it). For instance, you provide an initial draft of a presentation to a supervisor who rejects it, tells you why, and then you provide a revision which she accepts. This situation is recoverable and hence out of bounds.   If  your supervisor rejected your presentation, kicked you off the project, and reassigned the presentation to a colleague, that would surely be an unrecoverable event.

They are looking to see how you deal with the worst in life.  They want insights into your resilience and self-awareness.  Don't write about something trivial here, real pain, tragedy, and failure are just what the doctor ordered.

A key question requirement is real learning because without that, you will not be answering the question. What is real learning?  Real learning means the insights gained during and after the experience are not obviously things you knew before your unrecoverable event took place. What learn might have helped you subsequently and ideally should have because the best demonstration of learning is application.

The basic components of an answer:
1. Clearly state what the situation was.
2. Clearly state your role.
3. Clearly state what was unrecoverable.
4. Explain what you learned (and, if possible, how you applied it).

3.       On your 75th birthday someone close to you presents your 
laudatio (tribute). It can be a friend, colleague, family member  etc. Please describe in detail what this person would say about you and your life. 
(300 words)
I think it is particularly interesting to use the word "laudatio" when it will be perfectly meaningless to many applicants unless they have studied Latin.  At least, based on my search of both the British and American English Oxford dictionaries, it is not even a Latin word that has been incorporated into English.  Hence only those with a background in Latin will even have an idea of what this is.    If you try Google, you will not find a actual description of laudatio in English very easily. The first English listing a found was for ""Laudatio Turiae", where "Laudatio" refers to an epitaph, which is a fine word in English.  I am glad that IMD choose to include "tribute" in parenthesis so that those without a Latin education will be able to understand the question.  Still I think the question could have been stated more simply.

Therefore, to restate this question in English and in way that will be, hopefully, easy for anyone to understand, I give you the following: On your 75th birthday someone of your choosing makes a speech in praise of your life from their perspective. 

Hence this question is asking you to imagine your future.  IMD wants to test your ambition and long-term vision.  What kind of life do you want to lead?  What will your future look like?

Keep in mind that is an achievement question. Just one focused on your future achievements. 

Think about what skill(s), value(s), or unique experience are being showcased: Your achievement needs to reveal valuable thing(s) about you. Some will call these selling points, but more specifically they consist of skills, values, or unique experiences. One might use a specific achievement to emphasize one's leadership skills,  one's ethical values, and to explain a significant barrier that was overcome. If you breakdown the meaning of an achievement it might easily reveal multiple important things about you.

Think about what potential for success in the MBA program or afterwards is being demonstrated by your future achievement: You may or may not be directly stating this in the essay, but you should think about what how your achievement reveals in terms of your potential. IMD will most certainly be considering how your achievement demonstrates your potential to succeed in their program and afterwards, so you should as well.

Think about how your achievement could become a contribution to others in the MBA program: Think about whether your achievement demonstrates your ability to add value to other students at IMD.  IMD is very focused on understanding your ability to function as part of a group of 90 people. This is very much at the center of the education they offer and how they differentiate their program. What you write about your future potential long-term also reflects on your potential to contribute at IMD.

Finally, this is also a test of your ability to see things from someone else's perspective.  After all, if IMD simply wanted to know about what you think you will accomplish by the end of your life, they could have asked the question in a much more direct way. Instead you have to imagine yourself from the perspective of the person who is speaking about you.

Two Short Questions in the Employment Section
You have 200 characters each (NOT 200 WORDS!) to answer the following:
What is your career goal post IMD?
What are the skills you need to develop in order to achieve your goal?

These are very simple questions, which should require more time to think about than to write.  Given the limited space, you really need to provide as direct of an answer as possible to both questions.

While this might seem excessive, if you are not clear on the answers to the above questions,  you can use my GAP, SWOT, AND ROI TABLE FOR FORMULATING GRADUATE DEGREE GOALS for this purpose (see below). I think GapSWOT, and ROI analysis are great ways for understanding what your goals are, why you want a degree, and how you will use it.

The following image may not work for all browsers. If so, see here. Click to enlarge it.
How to use this table:
Step 1. Begin by analyzing your "Present Situation." What job(s) have you held? What was/is your functional role(s)? What was/are your responsibilities?

Next, analyze your present strengths and weaknesses for succeeding in your present career. REMEMBER:WHEN YOU ARE THINKING ABOUT YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESS DON'T ONLY THINK ABOUT WORK, THINK ABOUT OTHER ASPECTS OF YOUR LIFE. In particular, some of your greatest strengths may have been demonstrated outside of work, so make sure you are accounting for them.
Strengths: What are you good at? Where do you add value? What are you praised for? What are you proud of?
Weakness:What are you bad at? What are you criticized for? What do you try to avoid due to your own limitations? What do you fear?
Next, analyze the environment you work in right now. What opportunities exist for your growth and success? What threats could limit your career growth?

Step 2. Now, do the same thing in Step 1 for your "Post-Degree" future after you have earned your MBA. IF YOU CANNOT COMPLETE STEP 2, YOU HAVE NOT SUFFICIENTLY PLANNED FOR YOUR FUTURE and therefore you need to do more research and need to think more about it.

Step 3. If you could complete step 2, than you should see the "Gap" between your present and your future. What skills, knowledge, and other resources do you need to close the gap between your present and future responsibilities, strengths, and opportunities?

Step 4. After completing Step 3, you need to determine how an MBA will add value to you. It is possible that an increased salary as a result of job change will be sufficient "ROI" for the degree to justify itself, but you should show how a degree will allow you to reach your career goals. How will the degree enhance your skills and opportunities and help you overcome your weaknesses and external threats? If you can complete Step 4 than you should be ready to explain what your goals are, why you want a degree, and the relationship between your past and future career, as well as your strengths and weaknesses.

The above table will also help you answer such common interview questions as: Where do you want to work after you finish your degree? Why do you want an MBA (or other degree)? What are you strengths? What are your weaknesses? What are your goals? Thinking about these issues now will help you to develop a fully worked-out strategy for how you will best present yourself both in the application and in an interview.
After going through this formal process, review what you know about IMD again. In your answer to the question, please focus on showing how IMD will help make your post-MBA future objectives a reality.  BOTTOM LINE: Conceptualize this as a business plan with IMD as a partner who will help enable that plan.

Is there any additional information that is critical for the Admissions Committee to know which has not been covered elsewhere in this application?
If you would like to comment on career gaps, education, GMAT/GRE, a disability or illness, please use this space. (Optional)

While I suppose it is possible to answer this question with "No," in most cases I would not recommend doing so.  I always tell my clients to write at least one positive thing in this essay even if they must deal with a negative subject as well.

For some applicants who have to discuss something negative such as a low GPA, the topic for this essay will be clear enough. Just make sure your answer is a clear and believable explanation and not an excuse.

In terns of writing something positive, think about one or two topics that you believe would help admissions to understand you and support your admission. Be careful that you do not pick a trivial topic or one that really has been handled in another essay.  Whatever you do, make sure what you put here does not look like it came from another school.

Finally, best of luck with your IMD application.

December 11, 2014

Why you were not offered admission: It is not just about you!

In this post, I discuss why a reject is not always best understand as a problem with the application or the applicant.  For understanding some of the reasons why your application and/or interview might have been flawed or why you might have been selecting the wrong school(s) to apply to I suggestion seeing “A guide to my resources for reapplicants” which links to other posts  I have written on this subject.  In addition, my posts “Beating the Competition, Gaining MBA Admission: Macro-Numbers,” “Beating the Competition, Gaining MBA Admission: Averages & the 80% Range” and “The Portfolio Approach to Graduate School Application Strategy provide advice on school application selection strategy.”

“Why was I rejected?”

“I thought my interview went so well…”

“I got admitted to X school but not to Y school. Why?”

“My friend/colleague/sibling with a similar background to me got admitted, why not me?”

While my primary objective as a graduate admissions consultant is to help clients prepare applications that will get them admitted, one of my other responsibilities is to address questions like the above.  Since I work mostly with MBA applicants (and significantly less so with those pursuing Masters in Law, Finance, Law, Public Policy, and the occasional Ph.D.), most of the time I am concerned specifically with the issues related to Business School admissions, and in particular admissions at top US and international programs.

While I will be discussing  some of the ways that an applicant might get rejected because of things outside of the applicant’s control, I am not trying to provide anyone with an excuse.  The factors I look at are explanations which impact results. Here I will consider some of the factors that may have quite a bit to do with who gets admitted to top US and international MBA programs.


The actual level of competition at top MBA programs  is somewhat confusing as raw acceptance rate numbers or number of candidates interviewed or yield (percentage admitted who attend), can cloud the actual level of difficulty. (See my posts “Beating the Competition, Gaining MBA Admission: Macro-Numbers,” “Beating the Competition, Gaining MBA Admission: Averages & the 80% Range” for my my recent posts looking at the MBA application numbers in detail.) Numbers can confuse the issue, especially if one makes the mistake of comparing undergraduate rates of acceptance to graduate school  rates of acceptance.  For example, an American applicant with an  undergraduate degree from schools like Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Princeton, MIT, and University of Chicago, all schools were the acceptance rate is less than 10%, might look at HBS’ 11%-13% rates of admission as not necessarily harder than anything they already experienced and might take schools with MBA acceptance rates of around 20% like Yale SOM  and Chicago Booth in stride.  For those 2% who passed the Indian Institute of Technology’s (IIT) entrance exam, even the 6-7% admission rate for even Stanford GSB can look deceptively easy. Whether it is a Japanese who graduated from The University of Tokyo, a French applicant from one of the grandes écoles, or anyone who has graduated from a  top school worldwide, MBA acceptance rates might not necessarily look daunting. However the problem is that the MBA pool of applicants is filled with elites who have graduated from such schools. Wharton actually makes this issue rather clear: “In any given year, approximately three-quarters of candidates are admissible based on academic factors alone. “ The IIT graduate suddenly finds herself not competing with everyone who takes the Joint Entrance Examination in India, but with those who passed it.  While she is also competing with those who have gained admission to other top Indian institutions, she is surely no longer in a pool of general applicants. Hence, she finds herself competing with a relatively small number of applicants. She gets into HBS, but rejected from Stanford, while a friend with a similar background has the opposite result.

Further confusion is added in when one considers the full-time employment experience of those who apply to top schools.  Here again, the vast majority of applicants have already gone through an intense selection process to gain employment in either companies with global or national prestige or smaller elite firms.  Whatever the industry, the applicants to top programs, are, in general, coming from companies with highly selective hiring processes. Hence the MBA applicant pool is filled with people who have typically succeeded at least professionally, if not academically.

Too many qualified applicants: The overall result is that the pool might be statistically less competitive, but actually is more competitive because the high percentage of those who apply are actually fully qualified to attend the program.  The practical need to limit the size of a class ultimately limits the number of those who admitted, no matter what the level of qualification.  Combine this with the practical resource limits most schools have on conducting interviews and the need to be as selective as possible by not admitting too many qualified applicants, and it is clear enough why the number of qualified applicants far exceeds offers of admission.

The need to diversify the class: Combine too many applicants with the need to diversify the class by gender, nationality, profession, educational background, and intended post-MBA industry and the actual level of difficulty goes way beyond what ever number you can think of. Male Ivy League educated McKinsey consultants with degrees in economics suddenly move from being elites to typical applicants when it comes to MBA admissions at Stanford or HBS.  The IIT graduate with a degree in engineering degree now working in investment banking is no longer all that special when it comes to getting into Booth or Wharton.  While some applicants have an easy time differentiating themselves because of a very unique objective background through the combination of their profession, education, nationality, etc, many will have to depend on purely subjective factors (found typically in essays and recommendations, but extending to any interpretative content in the application form), and, if they are interviewed, by that extreme exercise in extreme subjectivity. And since everyone is unique, at least subjectively so, without objective measures of uniqueness, it is harder to stand out. The real rate of acceptance at a particular school might be 20%, but it also be 75% for one type of applicant and 10% for another.  Such numbers, even if they could be internally generated in the admissions office, will never see be made public.  Hence acceptance rates overall might be a very bad guide to any particular applicant’s chance of admission.

Another very important consideration are the needs of an institution and its stakeholders.  The application process is not a level playing field at many institutions.  No admissions officer who wants to keep his or her job is likely to admit this.  Influences on who gets in take many forms and vary from institution to institution. Without naming names, I will give examples of some very specific ways in which the process favors certain candidates over others.  Given a limited number of seats, each time an institution provides such special consideration, the applicant pool as a whole is negatively impacted.  While some might wrap themselves in the language of fairness and desire to holistically review each applicant on the basis of their uniqueness, some applicants are more inherently desirable to an institution than others.

Some of the top US MBA programs regularly send their admissions officers to meet potential applicants at select companies around the world.  These are not regular information sessions, but frequently small group sessions where applicants are given the opportunity to interact with the admissions officer.  It is quite reasonable for admissions to conduct such events because they want to recruit those who are coming from top companies. These maybe companies that actually hire many graduates of the MBA program, so making such a visit is a way to maintain the relationship with a company that hires the program’s graduates.  The MBA program and/or university  make also have longstanding relations with said companies because of alumni in very senior positions, so this might also be justifiable on the basis of maintaining good relations with important alumni. However, if you are not amongst those who have access to such events, you are at a disadvantage in terms of your l evel of access to the admissions office.

Influences on admissions decisions involve everything from schools where informal notes written by an alumnus or current student are taken into consideration in the admissions process to pressure from a well placed alumnus or the fundraising arm (development office) of the school to guaranteed seats for a particular company.  In regards to the last practice, I know of one top MBA program that has guaranteed seats for a limited number of applicants from particular companies in the US and Japan (and I don’t know their relationships elsewhere, which I am fairly certain they have).  I have seen an applicant offered multiple interviews and subsequently admission at least partially on the basis of who his or her family is and with clear pressure from the development offices of four schools. And I know directly from alumni that sometimes those notes they send do have impact on the process.  If you detect any particular moral criticism on my part, it is not actually the case. I think institutions have a right to take multiple issues into consideration when determining who to admit. Fairness and transparency maybe something one can expect in the legal system, but admissions officers are not wise judges, they are employees of an organization who are rewarded for supporting the overall needs of that organization.  (For an analysis of admissions officers, see here.)  The thing to keep in mind is that institutional interest might work against your application, which has nothing to do with the quality of your application or you as an individual. If a school can only interview and eventually admit a limited number of people, those applicants with institutional advantages both help themselves and hinder the rest of the applicant pool.  On the other hand, if you had institutional interest working for you and still did not get in, chances are really good tha t there was a problem with your application or with you. A really bad interview can kill whatever institutional influence may have been present.

The MBA admissions process like any applicant selection process that is not based on pure objective factors is inherently subjective and subject to chance.  The interview process is especially subject to luck: Get the right interviewer and you get in, get the wrong one and you don’t. One thing I really like about HBS interviews is that they are conducted in an extremely consistent way by highly trained admissions officers. They are still subjective evaluations, but at least the evaluator is highly trained and disciplined. Compare HBS interviews to Columbia Business School interviews and you will understand what I mean.  CBS provides applicants with a list of local alumni that they can select from.  Based on what I can see, these alumni have no significant training and follow the written evaluation document they have been provided with to whatever extent they want.  The number of extremely unfair and unprofessional interactions my clients have experienced at the h ands of CBS alumni interviewers is far to many and extends around the world.  While many clients experience professional CBS interviews, some are given extremely easy interviews, while others are treated with contempt by their interviewer.  This is the luck of the draw at its extreme and no amount of work on application or preparation for interview can make up for such things.  Eliminating alumni interviews entirely, as Wharton has done, is one excellent way to reduce subjectivity at its most awful.

While the interview is the most overt example of subjectivity coming into the mix since it involves human interaction, anyone who actually reads applications for a living (admissions officers and admissions consultants) has to take great care in the way they read and controlling for their own opinions. No one is a perfect reader and no one is objective.  Admissions consultants, at least the good ones, take their time to read an essay (and read it again and again) in order to provide effective advice.  Admissions officers have limited time for each application and even accounting for multiple reads by different officers, the degree of attention each application gets is not consistent.  In other words, get read by the wrong person and you might end up rejected, get read by the right one and you might get in.

Finally, it would be a mistake to think of admissions officers as judges who bring fairness and consistent attention to their work.  Like in any organization, the quality of the human capital in an MBA admissions office is highly variable.

-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.

November 04, 2014

Wharton MBA TBD Interview Workshop in Tokyo

My colleague, John Couke, and I will be offering a Wharton Team Based Discussion Workshop in Tokyo on November 18th at 8pm.  This is NOT a distance based session, so you must be in Tokyo to attend.  My post on Wharton interviews can be found here.

Wharton MBA Team Based Discussion Interview Workshop
Date/Time: Tuesday, November 18, 8pm-9:15pm

Location: E4TG    Isshin Building 5F, 2-11-7 Yaesu Chuo-ku, Tokyo
東京都中央区八重洲  2-11-7 一新ビル 5階

This workshop is for those who will be having a Round 1 Wharton Interview. It is focused solely on the Team Based Discussion. It will consist of a simulated 35 minute TBD based on the actual topic being used. After that the remaining time will consist of feedback and discussion. Both Adam and John will be observing. In the event that the number of participants is over 8, the group will be divided into 2 for the simulation with Adam or John observing.

The feedback session will focus on such topics as
(1) Delivery of an effective 1 minute proposal
(2) Effective listening
(3) What makes for good team interaction?
(4) The role of body language

Please note that the 1-to-1 interview will not be covered in this session.

Cost:   10,000 yen paid in advance by bank transfer received by 11/15/2014
13,000 yen if paid in cash on the day of the event.

Prepayment is mandatory, so if we cannot confirm your payment by the15th , you will need to pay in cash on the day of the event.

Recording: We encourage you to audio record the workshop. To protect your personal information please do not reveal anything about yourself that you would be uncomfortable having recorded by other participants. Therefore changing the name of your company, clients, etc. is highly advised during the participatory parts of the workshop.
To make a reservation and arrange for payment, please email John Couke at john.couke@gmail.com.

-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.

November 01, 2014

Preparing for Wharton Interviews for the Class of 2017

In this post, I discuss how to prepare for Wharton Interviews for fall 2015 entry. My post on Wharton’s essays for the Class of 2017, can be found here.

There are two parts to the Wharton interview, the team-based interview and one-to-one interview.  Each part can be prepared for. I am assuming anyone who is reading this post has actually been invited for a Wharton interview and has reviewed the official information regarding it.

I will not disclose the contents of the specific team-based question that Wharton has asked  interviewees to prepare. I do know the question and it surprised me that was quite similar to one asked last year for R1.  I do provide analysis of the TBD discussion question to my own clients, but will not do that here.
Here are some basic group interview strategies to keep in mind:
1. Be someone who makes clear and effective points in the conversation, but does not dominate the conversation.
2. Don’t be rude to others. Rude jerks are the easiest people to get rid of when evaluating participants in a team based discussion. Stanford Professor Bob Sutton’s No Asshole Rule surely applies here:  CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT IF YOU ARE AN ASSHOLE.
3. Listen closely enough to others in order to say something that builds on or reacts against what other people are saying. Refer to what others are saying in order to build consensus. Clients who were dinged last year after interview from Wharton frequently told me that they did not listen enough to others. Those that did seemed to have a better outcome.
4. Try to provide constructive communication that moves the discussion forward to a positive conclusion. Make an effort to include others in the conversation.
5. Don’t be afraid to make a less than perfect point. If  you were about being perfect, you will never get enough speaking time and perceived as shy and ineffective in team situations. That will get you dinged.
6. Synthesize and summarize the team’s conversation in order to move the conversation forward.
7.  Use hedging language and other forms of consensus building language. Try to avoid being dismissive of the views of others.
8. If you are having difficulty understanding someone because of their accent or because of your poor English listening skills, still engage in non-verbal demonstrations that you understand what they are saying.  Non-verbal communication will surely be observed, so if you look confused or frustrated that could be used against you.
9. Smile and show eye contact with other people.
10.  Make sure that you don’t slouch in your seat, but are sitting tall and look like a positive and engaged person.
11. Be willing to serve as the group in a functional role: timekeeper, notetaker, or facilitator.  Making a contribution is of bottom line importance.
How I prepare my clients for the team discussion: The main thing I can do is go over the question and make sure my client’s prepared opening comments are effective.  The nice part of the Wharton team discussion is that you do have the question ahead of time.   I would review my client’s opening answers.  I assess each opening answer on the following basis:
1. Does the suggested answer address the topic directly?
2. Is the suggested answer one that other group members and the interviewer can easily understand?
3.  Can the answer be communicated very briefly? Given time limits you will need to communicate it very briefly.
4.  Is the answer interesting/original/creative?
5. Are there any negative aspects to the proposed answer?
I can’t effectively prepare someone for the actual dynamics of a group conversation, but by at least making sure my client’s opening is solid, I know they will at least be well positioned to start strong.

Based on what my clients reported to me and the public reports on Clear Admit for the interviews for 2013 and 2014 entry, the 15-minute one-to-one interview is likely to consist of 4-6 questions, which I have divided  into the following two categories. I will obviously modify this section if the content changes once 2014 entry reports become public.

It appears that all applicants were asked both of the questions below.  Be prepared to provide your feedback on the team-based interview.  Assume that this is a test of your self-awareness of group dynamics, an opportunity to explain the role you took in the group, and a chance, hopefully to correct any misperceptions of yourself on the part of the interviewer.
1) How do you think the team-based interview went?
2) Was your behaviour typical of how you work in a team? / Was your behavior in the Team-Based Discussion representative of the way you typically act in group settings?
How I prepare my clients for this part of the interview: I can’t really do that because it is based on what actually happened in the interview.  The only thing I can do is make sure that my client realizes that they will be asked such questions and that they should be mindful of the role that they performed in the group. For example,  if the interviewer perceives you, as say, overly reserved or overly aggressive, you need to be ready to discuss that issue.

TYPICAL INTERVIEW QUESTIONS (Assume 2-4 such questions)
For a more extensive list of Wharton 1-to-1 interview questions, see this post.
This is the standard part of the interview. If you are doing more standard interviews, it will be easy to prepare for this part.  For advice on more standard interviews, please see my MBA Application Interview Strategy. I highly recommend reviewing your resume and Wharton essays as part of your preparation.  You should surely be able to explain why Wharton in particular is the ideal place for you to study.  You  should have 1-2 questions available. If you are interviewing off-campus, you should have questions ready for an admissions officer. If you are interviewing on-campus, you had better be prepared to have questions ready for both an admissions offer and a 2nd year student.
Do you want to highlight anything in your application?
Introduce yourself
Discuss your career progress
Tell me about a time when you worked in a group in which everyone did not agree and how did your team resolve the situation?
What is your post-MBA goal?
Why MBA?
Why Wharton?
Do you have any questions for me?
Anything you want to add?

How I prepare my clients for the individual interview: I would typically ask my clients these questions in a mock interview.  It would not be completely realistic because I would go over all the above questions just to make sure that my client was covered for all the above topics. If we were preparing for more standard interviews (Booth, Columbia, Kellogg, Haas, etc.), it might not really be necessary to go over this part of the interview for Wharton. For more about my interview services, please see http://www.adammarkus.com/services/.

-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.

October 09, 2014

HBS Admissions Interviews for the MBA Class of 2017

In this post I provide advice for HBS Admissions Interviews for the MBA Class of 2017.


In my experience, applicants who succeed at HBS MBA interviews go to their interview with a sense of confidence based on having done careful preparation. My clients who have failed the interview stage have often done so because of related reasons: lack of confidence and/or preparation.  Of course, there are times when the post-interview reason for getting dinged is never clear. The reality of having too many well qualified applicants means that many who would certainly make the post-interview cut don’t, simply due to lack of available seats. While these issues could be the same for any interview, the reality is that HBS admissions interviews are more intensive than that of most other schools. Failure to take this interview sufficiently seriously is a recipe for disaster.

My interview-only and comprehensive service clients have been admitted to the regular HBS for the Classes of 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, and 2005. My clients' results and testimonials can be found here. In addition to providing comprehensive application consulting on HBS, I regularly help some candidates with HBS interview preparation only. I have worked with a large number of applicants from Canada, Europe, India, Japan, other parts of Asia, and the United States on HBS application. I think that this range of experience has helped me understand the many possible ways of making an effective application to HBS.

Before reading this post, I suggest reviewing some or all of the following previous posts:
-MBA Application Interview Strategy
-General Characteristics of Admissions Officers, Students, and Alumni Interviewers
-Recovering from a bad answer during an MBA admissions interview
-10 Ways to Blow an MBA Admissions Interview
Keyword: A selling point or even a weakness Stories Questions It Might Answer
  1. Development of 6-sigma strategic framework for XXX, inc.
  2. Discovery of accounting errors during first year of work.
  3. Senior thesis on the S&L Crisis
  1. Name three words that describe you (This would be one)
  2. What are your strengths?  Why? (This would be one.)
  3. How do you solve complex problems?
  4. How could you contribute to your classmates?
  5. What skill are you most proud of?
In addition to outlining key words and stories as discuss in my general post on interview strategy, you actually more directly connect this to the specific four criteria (See my essay analysis post) that HBS values in order to see how well you are covering each of the criteria in your interview preparation. The chart below will help you map out your own HBS interview strategy.
Keywords: A selling point or even a weakness Stories Diversity A Habit of Leadership Analytical Aptitude and Appetite Engaged Community Citizenship Questions It Might Answer
Development of 6-sigma strategic framework for XXX, inc. Analytical -Name three words that describe you (This would be one)
-What are your strengths?  Why? (This would be one.)
-How do you solve complex problems?
-How could you contribute to your classmates?
-What skill are you most proud of?
Cooperative Overcame team conflict when developing 6-sigma strategic framework for XXX, inc. -Demonstrates
consensus based leadership
-Can lead others
–Name three words that describe you (This would be one)
-Tell me about a project that you've worked recently where you exhibited leadership.
-What kind of leader are you?
Review your entire application (not just resume and essays, but everything including the transcript) very carefully and consider what your interviewer might ask you to explain more thoroughly. Remember: Anything is fair game. Assume that the weakest parts of your application will be topics in the interview. Assume the worst-case scenario and be very prepared to address their concerns. Given the annual failure rate at HBS, if you have any academic weaknesses (low GPA, a relatively weak TOEFL, insufficient proof of a quantitative background), be ready to address those issues. Be prepared to tell new stories and alternative versions of the stories you told in your essays.
Most questions will not be odd, but they may be unexpected. On the other hand, the reports that I get from my clients and a number of  public reports indicate that the majority of questions are actually common ones.  Be able to articulate clearly what you want to learn at HBS and what you can contribute. While it is important to be able to discuss leadership, don’t assume the interview will be entirely focused on it. The interviewer will come in knowing what they want to ask you.
His general conclusions about HBS interviews:

  • Expect to be asked for more details about most every topic discussed
  • Expect topics to change as the interviewer will pursue detailed answers to topics that interest him/her
  • Expect questions to feed off your responses rather than to be scripted
  • Don't be surprised if the interviewer does not allow you to ask questions: they treat this interview as a chance to learn as much about you as possible in a limited time
  • Bottom line: Harvard interviews are quite rigorous compared to other MBA admissions interviews
  • How do you want to impact HBS?
  • Who is a leader that you admire and why?
  • Name a business leader you admire (non-government).
  • Tell me about a time you had to work with someone you did not get along with.
  • Give me an example of a project you've had a difficult time with.
  • Tell me about a time when you raised an unpopular idea?
  • What do you feel you need to improve most at your current job?
  • What would your supervisor say is a weakness?
  • How would your colleagues describe you?
  • Your recommender mentioned that you excellent at what you do: Why do you think that is?
  • Give me an example of a project you've had a difficult time with.
  • What would a peer that knows you well say you should keep doing, start doing, or stop doing?
  • Is there anything that would surprise me?
  • What do you do when you have a really bad day?
  • What TV shows do you watch?
  • What sources do you use for news?
  • Given what you know now, if you could go back to university and pick your subjects, which ones would you?
  • What motivates you to get out of bed every morning?
  • What drives/motivates you?
  • If you could have lunch with anyone in the world who would it be?
  • Who would you want to sit next to in your first year at HBS?
  • What would be your dream job?
  • How would the people who know you best describe you?
  • What are people surprised to learn about you?
  • How do you fit with different cultures?
  • What's a question that you thought I was going to ask you but didn't?
  • Is there anything else that you haven’t mentioned in your application that you would like to share at this time?

-Further Comments on MBA Admissions Interviews 
-When to start MBA interview practice? How to prepare?
The above posts are my general remarks on MBA admissions interview strategy and apply here.

TAKE PREPARATION FOR HBS VERY SERIOUSLY! Any experienced admissions consultant will tell you that the HBS interview is one that really does require preparation even for those who previously aced alumni interviews.  My colleagues and I have often become depressed about cases where we had great applicants who did not take the HBS really seriously.  By the same token, our clients who really prep for this really do have a much higher rate of admission.  I have had clients who might do 5-20 hours of self-preparation for every hour of time spent with a consultant.  One of my clients admitted to HBS did 2 hours of prep with myself and another counselor and an additional 100 hours on his own. He already had been admitted to Kellogg and Booth, but knew HBS would be different.

I believe in the value of active interview preparation. That is to say, instead of focusing only what questions you might get asked, focus on what you want to say about yourself. A basic any school approach to this would be to connect key words and stories that you hope to use. Given that you can’t know exactly what you will be asked, you can at least have prepared for discussing key things that you want to get across to the interviewer.  The following is an “any school” chart:

Active Interview Preparation Chart
(You can cut and paste this into MS Word or Google docs)

HBS Active Interview Preparation Chart
(You can cut and paste this into Google Docs or Microsoft Word and alter it to include more rows.)

To use the above chart: Try to develop 10 or so keywords and stories that relate to HBS’s four criteria for admission. Don’t forget to include weaknesses when you do so.  Your objective is be ready to tell your best stories as effectively as possible. Use the above chart to help determine which key words and stories will convey the most about you.  Remember that you want to use stories that are different from the ones you used in your essays. You might be asked about something in your application, which you should be prepared to discuss, but also assume you will need to provide new stories as well.

You need to know your application very completely as you will be asked by adcom about its content.

If you think that either your English ability and/or interview skills are somewhat weak, be prepared to do extensive practice both with other people and alone. The self-study component can be particularly effective if you are trying to cover a huge range of questions and also master telling your best stories.

A point I continually make to own clients who have been invited for the HBS interview is that proper preparation for this interview really requires that you look for all the weak points in your application: Rip yourself apart in order to try and determine what you need to be especially ready to address. Getting a fresh perspective by reviewing your own application is certainly helpful. In addition, you should consider having one or more other people who can help you prepare for this and who will review your entire file. If you use any paid services, make sure that the mock interviewer (admissions consultant, admissions counselor, interview coach) will be reading your application first and developing a list of questions based on that review and with an understanding of what HBS asks, otherwise they are not really helping you prepare for an HBS interview. When I do mock interviews for interview-only clients, I always ask to read their applic ations if they are not doing a blind interview. For schools like HBS and MIT, which are never blind, reading the whole application (especially the essays) is critical for simulating the real thing.

The questions you get will be specific to you.

In addition to my own knowledge, I have reviewed reports of Harvard Business School interviews found at accepted.com and clearadmit.com.  My colleague, Steve Green, has collected and organized some of the commonly asked questions from those sites.
Here are the questions Steve has collected and organized.
  • Explain your career path. / Take me through your resume.
  • Describe your career progression, and talk about the most important things you learned about yourself along the way.
  • Why did you choose to join this company?
  • How did you pick your current job?
  • What are the best and worst things about your current job?
  • How did you end up at your company?
    • What do you think about their training program?
    • What’s the company’s position compared to its competitors?
    • What was different about your previous job compared to this one?
    • What was the most surprising aspect about this company when you first joined?
    • What worries you about the company?
  • Explain your career path.
  • Why did you want to work in _____________?
  • How has your leadership evolved with your promotion(s)?
  • Who do you admire in your current industry?
    • Where is the industry heading?
  • Who do you admire in your post-MBA industry?
    • Where is the industry heading?
  • Tell me about your typical day?
  • How do you find the time to do all you do?
  • What's most important to you outside of work?
  • Why did you choose to major in X at your undergrad university?
  • Why did you enjoy (SOMETHING FROM UNDERGRAD)?
  • What is your career vision?
    • What are the steps you plan on taking to get there?
    • What are the challenges you will face?
    • How will an HBS MBA help you?
  • Why do you want an MBA?
  • When did you decide to get an MBA?
  • Why HBS?
  • In class, what type of profiles are you looking to meet? From who would you like to learn something?
  • What can you contribute to HBS case method discussion?
  • What experience outside the classroom are you looking for at HBS?
  • What will you do if you don’t get into business school?
  • If
    we called you and said there is only 1 seat left in the class and 10
    candidates remaining, what would you say differentiates you from them?

  • Tell me about a project that you've worked recently where you exhibited leadership.
  • What kind of leader are you?


  • How did you find the application process? Did any of it surprise you?
  • Is there something about you that has not been addressed in your application?
  • What is a recent non-fiction book you've read? (FOLLOW UP)
  • What is the most recent fiction book you've read?
    • What do you think the author was trying to say about society?
  • What is the most interesting article you've read lately?
    • Did you agree with it?
  • What is a common misperception people have about you?
  • Can you tell me about a time when people's perceptions about you turned out to be wrong?
  • What words would people use to describe you?
  • What would your 5 closest friends say about you? Why?


Assume there will be at least one question for which you might not be ready for, but don’t panic. Take a deep breath. Answer the question and do not become flustered. Be ready to answer questions about a hypothetical case study, conflict with colleagues, and the latest book you read as these have all been reported frequently.  For example,  If you are asked what is your favorite flavor of ice cream is (I have had clients asked questions almost like this) and you hate ice cream say that.  If you like ice cream just briefly state why for whatever flavor you like and assume that the interviewer is just seeing how you react to a question you were not ready for.

Adcom interviewers are usually friendly, but to the point. They don’t do stress interviewing at HBS exactly, but they will question you intensely. They will be taking notes. Anything you say can be subject to inquiry, so speak concisely, answer questions precisely, and try to avoid voluntarily bringing up any topics that you really don’t want to talk about. Assume the you will be asking follow-up questions, expect to be able to analyze/explain in a great deal of depth. Your interviewer will know exactly what he/she wants to ask you because the purpose of the interview is (1) to see if you look as good in reality as you did in paper and (2) to address any concerns that they have about your suitability for HBS.

Don’t Psych yourself out! It is particularly important that you don’t worry too much about your perception of the interviewer’s attitude as this can be a particularly good way to become nervous.  I have had too many reports of clients doing this with HBS.  Your interviewer maybe less friendly or more friendly, maybe more aggressive or less agressive, but whatever their attitude focus on your answers.  Feel free to panic and cry after you have exited the interview, but avoid doing so during it.

Have Mock Interviews that reflect both the range of questions and various kinds of interviewers you might encounter.   If I do multiple mock sessions with the same client, I will use different interviewer personalities.  Here is how I helped a client who was admitted to HBS for the Class of 2016 (The client’s full testimonial can be found here):

“Adam digs deep into your application to understand your vulnerabilities and asks challenging questions to prepare you for the worst.  He also exposes you to a number of interviewing styles that you may encounter at HBS – from the amiable interviewer who lets you take the discussion in a direction of your choosing (which can be very dangerous), to the probing style that challenges your statements and changes directions on a dime.”

The friendly interviewer will let you hang yourself, the aggressive interviewer will challenge you, the indifferent interviewer will give you very little feedback so you have to take charge, and  the rude interviewer will interrupt you and appear condescending. At HBS,  you are not likely to encounter a rude interviewer (That type is most common amongst alumni interviewers), but friendly, aggressive, and indifferent are very common types.   Whether you are being made to feel good about the interview or not by the interviewer,  your  mission is still to convince this interviewer that you are right for their school.  While you may have some idea of the personality of your interviewer before you interview, chances are you will not. It is therefore particularly important to prepare for a variety of different types of interviewers.

Reported interview length for all interviews is 30 minutes.  HBS is totally consistent about this.  So part of effective preparation on your part, means really considering time management and not wasting time in the interview by providing answers that are too long.

For more about my interview services, see here.
See here for how to answer the HBS Post Interview Reflection.
-Adam Markus

-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.
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