Start Exploring the Resources from the school (Read the section within this article that talks about - what parameters to look at while researching on a school- What defines a school? Once you know what is missing for you- once you know what are you currently not capable of- and if you have a list of 10 things you would want – now – you just need to fill in the gaps- Sources for these- Networking attend school information seminars, do informational interviews, make class visits, explore the website of your programs( although – many applicants are limited to only exploring the website, but that is not sufficient. )
a. Handicap in Skillsets- we can also call it Academic understanding: How will the school help you with your current handicap in skill sets. If your target is to work with McKinsey, and you get recruited by McKinsey without an MBA, what are the key challenges you will face as a McKinsey consultant? What will go wrong if you are in a room with 5 other consultants? Let me share a perspective that may apply to some of you, while others may have to develop their framework to address "Skill handicap"
i. How will you know what research to conduct? How to look at an industry? If a client is facing a cost problem or a market entry problem, how will you even know what framework to begin with? It is like – You have been working as a functional specialist, but you need to see things which are currently bigger than you.
ii. Operations: You need to be exposed to very mature operational tools and metrics, and the best practices that will enable you to move into a lean and streamlined operational environment. Your job will primarily involve moving raw materials to finished goods in optimum quantities, with minimum investments, at the right time to the customers.
iii. Marketing: You need to have a great understanding of marketing and the dynamics that affect consumer behavior. Different products are driven by different consumer demands( Nike Vs. Boeing) and you need to be conversational across this function
iv. How would a strong investment in inventory affect the balance sheet of your company? And you need to get very conversational in finance and accounting
You need to have a very good understanding of the importance of finance. Why do companies strive to create an appropriate mix of debt and equity? What tools do companies use to measure the returns on equity? For some of you- WHAT IS EQUITY?
b. Approach to learning: You need to understand the school’s architecture of the curriculum. What are some of the key advantages you noticed in terms of the flexibility of the curriculum? While most of the schools will have pre-designed curriculums in the first few quarters and will allow a decent level of flexibility only towards the second half of the program, you still need to understand how the entire program is structured and what are some of the key advantages that the schools is trying to portray. Some schools will allow greater flexibility to its MBA Grad and enable them to make their own choices. On the other side, some schools will have structured curricula to give a broad orientation to its MBA grads and that is certainly important too. For example, Chicago Booth has the most flexible curriculum, and one can enjoy the widest range of electives starting from the first year. However, a student at HBS will go through a standard curriculum for the first three quarters as the school wants everyone to develop a strong general management perspective before giving the opportunities to the students to widen their choices by picking electives. Visit the academic portion of the school's website to understand more about the curriculum options. E.g. Ross school of business offers "MAP" to enhance the practical approach to learning and decision making and students get to work on real-time industry projects during their MBA program. How is the curriculum designed? How flexible can you be while experimenting with different majors? Remember: Some programs will not allow you to choose at a later stage. However, many programs give you the flexibility to explore a lot of opportunities. In fact, programs such as HBS, and TUCK, and Darden have the same curriculum for all first-year students. That allows you to experiment with different companies (marketing and finance), and you get to pick them later.
c. Teaching Methodology: If the school has a case-based approach, you need to emphasize this aspect. Talk about "How will the case-based approach help you?”. You do not need to have a generic reason. You do not have to praise the school and tell them that they have a case-based curriculum. They know it already. You have to find out why is a Case-Based curriculum important for you. If the lecture-based method appeals more to you, do mention it. In the nutshell, you need to have an understanding of the mix of the lectures, cases, and team assignments that the school has and then make a strong case for “Why are those things important to you? “
d. Working with cross-functional teams from various geographies: How will this help you? How will this help you when you are working for your target employer that employs people from diverse countries? Have you ever done business with Chinese? How will the diversity of the program help you when you are working on a Bargaining and negotiation exercise, and are negotiating terms with someone from Latin America?
e. The Faculty: Are there any Faculty that you were impressed with. Were you able to find the names of some rock-Star Faculty who could make a difference to your overall learning experience? And this is not about throwing in names by randomly researching on the website of the MBA program. Speak with existing students and alumni to find out who are the key people that are very popular in the student community? Who are the Faculty that are strong in your areas of interest? Who is strong in Consulting? Who is strong in Corporate Finance? Who understands the investments in APAC?
f. Electives/Key Subjects: What are 2-3 specific/unique academic programs or classes that appealed to you and based on your interactions with the current students, you realized how these will help you reach your goals? Explore the range of electives offered by the school and pick the ones that look appealing to you. And it is not about randomly throwing the names of some courses. If you have deeply researched and were impressed by an elective that will allow you to create a strong career in consulting, mention that.
g. Non-Academic offerings: What are the categories of clubs that you plan to join and contribute to( By seeking some kind of voluntary roles) in your target school? What are the "Outside the classroom" activities that the school offers to nurture its MBA graduates? Remember: It is not about giving a laundry list of those clubs. You need to address why they ARE IMPORTANT FOR YOU. Someone might say that "Kellogg has a very active consulting club that will offer me the opportunity to network with the alumni that work in the target consulting firms in North America. You might also talk about the experiences of one of the current students and how he described the dynamism of the consulting club, and how the case interview preparation and the other career workshops helped him build a strong case for a career in consulting. If the consulting club of your program is very active in strategy related roles in healthcare, and you are specifically interested in that area, do mention that, and emphasize on the importance of getting that opportunity. Similarly, You can also talk about the non-academic clubs that the students engaged in, and why do you feel such a personal immersion will enable you to groom yourself as a complete individual. Do not simply talk about the net-impact club. Rather, bring up some of the incidents from your life where you felt empowered by giving back to the society, and draw parallels between your past, and the opportunities that the school will give you in the future.
h. TARGET RECRUITERS: The companies that recruit from your school. The target list that you had in mind when you started thinking about an MBA program. While it is not easy to have a very clear target in mind, you still want to have some idea of your future employers. What are some of the big-4 and the boutique consulting firms that recruit from the campus? What are the positions offered by Microsoft or Amazon or E-bay at your target school?
i. Alumni Group: I have seen a lot of time people mention the size of the alumni body and the presence across the various countries. Well, think about it – You need to talk about the response rate of those people. When you spoke with them, were they delighted to know that you are interested. Were they willing to help? Could you feel the warmth or the connection that you were looking for? Chances are that it is not going to change too much for you and it is very representative of your experience with them when you graduate from the program. How would you feel to be a part of the alumni chapter of that school? Will you get good business partners, or recruiters or even mentors?
j. Overall Atmosphere: What elements of the school’s atmosphere, the nature of its students or the general sense you got aboutthe school through visits or conversations with students/alumni made it attractive to you? The diversity of the international students( number of countries represented by the student body), the class size( small or big), the percentage of internationals. Talk about How will your life be impacted while you are at the program. Now, I understand that not everyone can make a class visit. However, you can gather a lot of information about the program by engaging in conversations with the alumni and the current students.
k. Location of the school: Proximity to the employers or a serene small city environment or a place like New York City or a small town like Hanover( Dartmouth Tuck). Where would you rather be? Would you be in a small town like Charlottesville and study at Darden or would you rather be in a big city and study at NYU Stern? There is no right or wrong approach. It is about your personal preferences. It is about what you think is right for you.