Dean Garrett's bio on the Wharton website has now been revised (September 2015) - maybe someone over there finally read this post?
You may – or may not – know that Wharton got a new dean this past summer. Dean Robertson stepped down and Australian Geoffrey Garrett came into the role. We have been trying to discover what Dean Garrett will be doing at Wharton (we’ve been trying to find this out for months now; we do know that he likes to attend American baseball and hockey and tennis games — he had literally dozens of tweets about that Phillies game — guess it was important?) … and we wandered over to the About Wharton pages and found his bio.
And with that, a teaching moment for all of you revealed itself. Here’s the first paragraph of Dean Garrett’s profile :
Dr. Garrett was a member of the Wharton faculty in the Management Department from 1995 to 1997. Prior to his return to Penn, Dr. Garrett held several academic appointments. He was the founding CEO of the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, and he later served as Dean of its Business School. Prior to returning to his native Australia, Dr. Garrett was President of the Pacific Council on International Policy in Los Angeles and Dean of the UCLA International Institute. Most recently he served as Dean of the Business School at UNSW Australia.
Question: Can you tell us, from reading this paragraph, what he did when? Can you figure out the sequence of positions he’s held? Are the “several academic appointments” a separate thing, or is that phrase meant to describe the jobs that appear thereafter in the paragraph? What, exactly, is his career history?
All you Brave Supplicants take note: When you’re giving your adcom reader an introduction to your background, and expressing how you’re qualified for the career goals that you’re describing in your essays… YOU CAN’T DO IT LIKE THIS.
His bio was not written for admission to bschool so it’s perhaps a little unfair to critique it that way – but it was written, we assume, to impress the reader. And it was written to COMMUNICATE.
Which is what you need to also be doing in your apps.
The main mistake being made with that is it is not in any order. You should be going either chronological, or reverse-chron — but you can’t do this jumping-around thing. Or if you do, you need to include clear time markers to your reader. Like, include the years. (On a resume, it should be listed with month AND year.) If you don’t do this, then the reader may suspect you’re hiding something.
Even if the sequence was clear, it’s still not what you want to be doing in your apps. Let’s say that again: You should never present your background in summary form like this in an MBA essay. The main reason is that your adcom reader also has your resume and work history available. That paragraph just offers a summary of the background for someone who DOESN’T have the resume. For an essay, you always want to go beyond the resume. Instead of just giving a linear recitation of the wheres and the whens, you would want to talk about the whys or the hows or the otherwise-relevant angles that gives your reader some insights. There are very very few cases in a bschool essay where it adds any value to literally walk through the background in this way, yet we see people doing it like that all the time. (We are not suggesting that Dean Garrett’s profile should be done differently; we’re trying to show you why you should not do it this way in your essays.)
Instead of just a fact-based list of positions held, what you want to do is to extrapolate a key event or contribution that you made, or some other point of significance about your time in that role, and highlight THAT. Yes, you should also be including the dates and details of which company and which job, but don’t leave it at only that superficial level. You want to be using the essay to go beyond what the adcom already has available in the other application assets.
It will require some thinking and revising and tweaking and fine-tuning to get this right. As basic as it seems, you can’t just slap down a few lines about your background and call it a day. It will need to be finessed.
And, pretty much any essay that asks you about goals – or about why you want to go to that school (such as Wharton) – you should be including some of this foundation material. You need to help the reader to see how the MBA and the future goals are appropriate for you, and that is best DEMONSTRATED with this sort of presentation.
If you want to see Dean Garrett in action, here’s a TEDx presentation he did in 2012:
(apologies to Dr. Garrett but that has got to be one of the most boring TED talks we’ve ever seen)
For more on this issue in your bschool apps: Timewarps (September 2015)