“You really ought to read more books — you know, those things that look like blocks but come apart on one side.”
Can you believe we’re already in the middle of this whole application adventure?
Way back in May, when you thought you had all the time in the world and you were coming to the EssaySnark blahg casually for amusement, rather than searching through frantically to figure out how to write a last-minute admissions essay, we started a sort-of series we called The Strategy of Authenticity. If you missed it, here are the main posts:
- The Strategy of Authenticity
- What does authenticity mean… for Stanford?
- Authenticity means sharing who you are
- Authenticity and MBA career goals
- How to show your authenticity: Storytelling
- Authenticity Test
The thing with authenticity is — whether in life, or in your MBA apps — most of the time, when you’re not being fully authentic, you may not notice.
Being authentic is being honest with yourself.
It’s being real.
It’s listening to yourself, and how you sound when you talk to your boss (do you suck up with her? maybe even a little? it’s ok, we all do) and how you talk to your mother (are you sharp or short with her sometimes, because she irritates you, and because you know you can get away with it because she’s always going to be there for you?).
In the MBA application process, being authentic requires some real introspection. You have to figure out why you want this and go beyond the very basic and obvious answer.
We know you want to make more money, and do something different with your career. We understand if you’re feeling bored and a little restless, or that your life is at a dead end.
But what is REALLY driving it?
Is it because you have a friend who’s getting his MBA and you feel competitive with him, because he always gloats a tiny bit when he achieves something, and makes you feel bad about it?
Is it because you want to make your parents proud of you?
Is it because you know you didn’t do well in college, that you were somewhat of a slacker and just coasted, and you know that you’ve been coasting a bit ever since, and so part of you wants to prove to the world that you’re not a lazy bum and that you are worth something, and getting an MBA will establish that?
Is it because it’s just the next thing on the to-do list, and you’re running the rat race of college-job-marriage-MBA-buy-a-house-kids and you want to get to that next level so you can do the next thing that’s expected?
There is nothing wrong with any of those reasons. Most people will have some combination of them rattling around in the psyche or the soul. We’re not suggesting that any of that belongs in an MBA application, but it sure can be useful to know for yourself why you’re doing it.
If you don’t know, then it’s an awful lot of effort to put into all of this.
If you’re only interested in the MBA because somebody you know has an MBA, then by definition that’s not authentic. That’s copycat. What are the reasons for YOU? What do you expect to get out of it? Not just a better job and a higher salary. Those things count. But here we’re talking about the optimization of a life. Namely, yours.
Putting some thought to these questions may seem too difficult, or too useless. After all, no matter what you come up with as the answer for what’s driving you towards pursuit of the MBA, it’s not likely to change your push to get in. It’s not like you’ll go to the effort of doing some inquiry on your motivations, and then come out of that exercise and decide not to do it.
However, it just might help you to be more confident in how you articulate your plans. Such as in an interview context.
When your interviewer asks, “So, why do you want an MBA?” you’ll be incredibly convincing when you introduce your career goals by saying, “Actually, I’ve put a lot of thought into this, and the reason for an MBA for me right now is….”
For those of you planning for Round 2 and wondering what on earth any of this has to do with your essays, we will offer the very straightforward observation that the primary reason that most people’s essays to bschool are so sucktastic is because they are completely lacking in authenticity — and the crux of the problem is, the writer of said essay has no clue that they’ve fallen into the trap of fakeness. This is why starting early is important, and planning for many, many rounds of rewrite and revision. You need to plan for the near-inevitable experience that the first drafts you write will simply be awful vacuous fluffbombs of drivel. You will THINK that you answered the question, but anyone who’s got any experience reading MBA essays (which is everyone that matters, namely your adcom reviewers) will instantly see that you have not.
Or, that you’ve answered in a completely roundabout and milquetoast way that does not reveal anything of substance.
Or, you’ve simply said the same exact thing that is so automatic for people to say. Stuff about “the network” and the world-renowned program and oh I’m just falling over myself to tell you how great your school is.
None of that works in an essay.
But that’s almost guaranteed to be what you come up with on your first attempt.
It’s just what humans do.
This is why essays are so difficult to write. This is why the task is so ginormous.
It’s because you need to go beyond the automatic stuff that other people do; beyond the first-blush idea of an answer. You have to actually present meaning, and context, and clarity of thought.
Not a trivial exercise.
You also need to stop, and ask yourself “What are they asking?” The essay questions are across the board challenging. They may SEEM straightforward and simple, but they all are opportunities for you to go deep. Those who stay at the surface with their answers are those who miss out on a massive opportunity. It’s only when you investigate what’s being asked and you ponder it for a significant time that you are likely to come up with the most compelling way to respond.
That’s where the authentic is revealed.
Want to read more? Check out this article called If This Is How You’re Doing Authenticity You’re Doing It Wrong or, semi-related, is this one from Stanford Business, Authenticity’s Paradox: If You Flaunt It, You Lose It which is about the trend for authenticity in business (think craft beer, artisanal cheeses) yet has a nugget or two of useful insights about personal authenticity, too.
And, if you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and dive in, the Complete Essay Package can help you to do the digging required on core topics for your first set of essays, to give you a guided tour through the process of finding out what these important answers are for yourself — to the great benefit of you, and the adcom, in your apps.
On the theme of GO DO SOMETHING!! today we’ll crib this incredible list of how-tos inspired by Elon Musk.
Most people will find most of these suggestions totally intimidating. And that’s kind of the point, right?
If you want to have an incredible, unusual, not-normal life, you have to do incredible, unusual, not-normal things.
Our suggestion? PICK ONE and commit to it.
Here is the 30 point checklist for accelerated learning .
- Be yourself to the point where you get picked on and bullied.
- If you’re interested in something, binge on it, become obsessed, addicted, and then pull yourself out and get clean.
- Drop out of college or drop back in if it makes sense.
- Move from your hometown and travel the world. [ES: Or go to bschool in a new country for 2 years!]
- Ask your family for help (it’s the only way you’ll discover how much they care).
- Humble yourself and stay at a youth hostel or camp if you have to.
- Practice living on $2 a day to remove your fear of poverty.
- Cold call or cold contact anyone you need to.
- Become personable and develop the ability to build trust and rapport with those you connect with in person. The real world matters.
- Try many different jobs. If you have to, go to the unemployment office and get started doing anything.
- Get out of your comfort zone, and go see the companies or people you admire in person. You might be too nervous to talk to anyone at first, but that will pass.
- Take jobs that are dangerous if you have to. If you view risk as something everyone else should take, but not you, then you’re a coward.
- Go on a road trip or travel cross country.
- Work and collaborate in business with your family. If you can’t collaborate with them or they only want to drag you down, move to collaborating in business with your friends. If you can’t collaborate with your friends towards a shared goal, find better friends.
- When you’re ready, ask friends, mentors, and investors to invest in you. If you’re serious, tell them how serious you are, and then prove it to them.
- Publicly state that certain projects, initiatives, or companies you’re an employee at will not fail. Cut off retreat or put yourself in a position where you will never accept failure.
- Stop caring about branding and formalities. Care about being truthful and sincere with your words, vision, and ability to make friends that share your mission.
- Invest all of your money into your projects when you believe in them. If you believe in them enough, have your friends and family invest, too.
- Argue with your friends and makeup afterward. If you have to, push to have a friend ousted from their job if it’s in everyone’s best interest. The best friendships endure chaos and emerge stronger.
- Avoid it at all costs, but once you’re generating enough income, borrow money if you have to.
- Generate confidence in your imagination, ability to figure things out, and your ability to create money. Generate so much confidence that if you (like Musk) buy a one million dollar car, don’t insure it and wreck it… dust yourself off and hitch hike your way to meet the venture capitalists you were en route to meet.
- Put off your honeymoon if something more important comes up. If your spouse can delay gratification, and you can articulate an argument, they’ll understand. [ES: We’ve heard of more than one BSer who did this for GMAT prep or essays!!!]
- Travel the world, and if you come to the brink of death or face dangers, then fight like hell to live.
- Appear on TV, media, or the news before you’re ready. Watch all the people you thought were friends laugh, disappear, or grow uncomfortable about your ambitions. It’s the only way you can separate the fake from the real.
- Don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself publicly. Watch how a single “embarrassing” video, startup, or project is enough to make most people shut-ins or quiet for the rest of their lives.
- Grow and learn so quickly that every six months you look back and are mortified by what you were doing six months ago.
- Learn how to make arguments and use a first principles approach to challenges. Once you establish that something is possible, then you can get to work increasing the probability that it will occur.
- Let yourself pursue hundreds of side projects until you learn this is a hamster wheel to nowhere. Once you learn this lesson, you’ll be able to seize the right, handful of opportunities when they arrive. When they arrive, commit and invest yourself fully into one thing until it’s successful.
- Form lifelong friendships based on shared philosophies, actions, loyalty, trust, and respect. Put those friendships to the test in your ventures. The real ones will emerge stronger than ever.
- Get married and have kids (You can either be Cooper or Doctor Maan from Interstellar). Musk has five kids. Bezos has four. Think it’s an accident? If the first marriage doesn’t work out, try, try again. [ES: Not quite so sure about this one, but whatev.]
All of these things on this checklist are accessible to you right now.
This was cribbed from The Mission, a pretty amazing resource if you’re into changing
the world yourself.
Following on with the theme of the week about change and making the most of this roll you’re on right now, we offer this.
From the NY Times, Will you sprint, stroll or stumble into your career? (warning: source article is really long) we’ll present this somewhat condensed snippet, where the authors talk about some different patterns observed in college students and how their career track after graduation:
Graduates who linger through their early career often didn’t take college seriously. They put the social scene before academics, avoiding rigorous majors and courses… What happens after they graduate? … Poor academic performers were more likely than other recent graduates to be unemployed, stuck in unskilled jobs, or to have been fired or laid off. Where students went to college didn’t matter two years out, the sociologists found, as much as what they did while on campus. “The most important choice students can make is whether they are on the party-social pathway through college,” Dr. Arum said, “or are investing sufficient attention and focus on academic pursuits.”
Well that’s pretty black and white, isn’t it?
The American culture certainly fetishizes the go-getter. The MBA application process also, whether intentionally or not, seems to place a premium on finding out what big mountains you claim you want to conquer and where you will go in your life.
But what if you’re just not wired that way? What if you’re the more laid-back type? But hey, you still want an MBA, and you want to mix things up and see where you can go from here?
Nothing wrong with that. This world needs way more followers than it does leaders — and it takes a lot of maturity to be a good follower.
Or maybe you were on the party path in college, but somewhere along the way since then, you decided, “Hey! I’m gonna be somebody!” And you’ve since been making efforts to build your career and achieve.
EssaySnark is a firm believer that as long as we are breathing air on this planet, then we need to be finding ways to give back and contribute. The contribution one soul makes does not need to be on a grand scale. It does not need to be something that any other human even notices. If YOU know you’ve contributed, that’s enough.
We just urge you to find a way to do so.
It need not be through massive bow-to-the-emporer capital letters Career Success!!! It can be on a very small scale. But you should actively pursue it — if nothing else, actively pursue the pursuit of it. Don’t be passive in life. Don’t drift. That’ll only set you up for lackluster mindstates or worse, abject depression later on.
And if you have been one of those conquer ’em all types, then don’t be too smug about it. Even if you have been driven for success all along, whether by parents or by self, and you’ve been moving steadily forward up the ladder since the day you were out of diapers, there are still ways that things can go sideways.
This must-read article from The Kellogg School talks about the ways we self-sabotage and how a career can get derailed — not by external forces like layoffs, or the very-real issues of bias and discrimination that can restrict opportunities, but by the person him or herself.
From the article:
[I]t pays to understand whether aspects of your own attitude and approach to work may also be holding you back.
It may either be illuminating or totally depressing to read that article.
On the one hand: “Wow! I might be holding myself back?! What can I do to not do that?”
On the other hand: “Damn. I know that I do this. Can I ever change?!?”
We believe that you can!
As they say, knowledge is power.
You’re young enough — all of you — to not have ever made any mistakes that you cannot recover from (we don’t actually believe anyone has ever made unrecoverable mistakes in the history of Mankind, however the older people get, the more it may seem to appear that such mistakes are possible). Making the most of your lithe limberness and taking advantage of today’s opportunities is what we’re about on the blahg this week.
Here’s another quick one: How to Jump-Start Your Career
We may have a few more Food for Thought posts in the coming days.
How about you; any insightful or transformational or otherwise thought-provoking articles cross your path lately? Leave the links in the comments, we’d love to see them!
This* is offered mostly for EssaySnark’s American readers , who often, we find, have some blinders on about how the world is changing.
Sure, maybe not directly related to the bschool admissions process — but why else do you want an MBA besides to get rich?
(Yes we’re jaded today.)
*Note: The article was originally published in 2011, in case you need context when reading it.
You may also be interested in:
Since the admissions season hasn’t really started (even though it has) we’re going to throw out some useful and productive ways for you to keep yourself busy and your head in the game for this whole MBA shindig you say you’re interested in.
We’re gonna give you a reading list.
Today we’re offering a random assortment of books that we find interesting and relevant for one reason or another for Brave Supplicants and others who profess to be interested in business.
‘Cuz after all, getting an MBA is about studying business, right?
These are in no particular order, but the first has – lucky you – been made into a movie. We mentioned it here a few months ago and maybe you’ve seen it.
It’s called The Big Short and the movie we talked about is certainly worthwhile, but the book is, too. It’s about the economic crisis of 2007-2008 and it explains in lay terms how everything fell apart and which parties’ bad behavior compounded to create the threatened downfall of the entire economic system. It’s by Michael Lewis (Moneyball , Liar’s Poker , The Blind Side, and other incredible stories) and the movie was directed by Adam McKay (Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and other brilliant pieces of art).
Michael Lewis has this gift of educating you without you noticing it. The guy is amazing. Highly recommend all of his work.
If you’re interested in business then you need to understand how the economic forces (and incentives) contributed to the problems that we all lived through.
One that has not yet fully played out is (no coincidence) another Michael Lewis contribution: Flash Boys goes into the technology behind high-frequency trading and its implications for all of us, that most people are totally unaware of. We were reminded of this just recently when seeing Steve Wyman’s comments from Wynn Casino’s Q1 earnings call where he complained about the “unconscionable manipulation” of the stock market and he referenced this book. If you want to go deeper into that world, then this blog will lead you to all sorts of places.
Again, if you’re interested in business, you need to be aware of how these things work and the changes that are going on in the world of finance.
Another book that relates to Wall Street but this time from the perspective of the young analysts that work there is Young Money by Kevin Roose. This book came out at exactly the same time as Flash Boys (unfortunate timing, actually, as Flash Boys eclipsed it a bit, in our opinion) and we’ve mentioned it here on the blahg before mostly because it’s so darn relevant to so many of you. This one is about culture. The author followed a crop of new college grads from Princeton to the major New York banks and told their stories; it’s a bit biased (anti-bank) but it’s still very much worth reading.
All of the books we’ve named above are relevant to you even if you don’t think you care about finance.
Now, on the MBA specifically, we’ll toss out a mention of two books coming from opposite ends of the argument:
The recently released You Should Totally Get an MBA by Tuck grad Paul Ollinger
And on the flip side: The MBA Bubble: Why Getting an MBA is a Bad Idea by Mariana Zanetti
In case it’s not clear, that’s meant as point and counterpoint.
We have not read that second book. Obviously EssaySnark’s position is that the MBA is indeed worth it, but if we understand Zanetti’s argument, it’s essentially that there are too many people out there with MBAs and the degree does not hold its value. We’re not going to condemn the logic of that (except to say, wouldn’t that also hold true of the bachelor’s degree then??) since like we said, we haven’t read it – but we don’t think it’s all that relevant to our audience here on the blahg. Most of you do, in fact, want to go get an MBA, for whatever reasons you hold. There might be value to you in reading that book as a way to evaluate and possibly question your motivations, to cross-check your assumptions before plunking down all this time and money and effort to trying to get into bschool, so we’re tossing it out there as a resource to consider (again, untested; we have not read it – but hey, what’s with that cover image, is the author saying that anyone holding an MBA is an airhead?!??).
The other book we’re mentioning because, well, the guy who wrote it is pretty funny. He’s, like, a comedian, and his Twitter is worth a follow . (Oh hey while we’re at it: Are you following EssaySnark on Twitter too?)
So is the “Totally!” book worthwhile for you?
We hafta say…. Prolly not. 🙁
Not if you’ve already made your way to this blahg, it’s not.
Because it’s too high level and basic. He does stuff like tell you about GMATClub as if you’ve never heard of it. Yeah, that. If you’ve managed to find EssaySnark, then we’re assuming you’re a little bit further along on the learning curve for the MBA application process than that.
This book would be AWESOME to kick down to a little brother in college who’s thinking about his options and what to do with his life. Or to that second cousin twice removed who hits you up on Facebook because his mom told him to ask you if you’d help him get into grad school.
We have to throw Ollinger some major points though. We’re definitely kindred souls. Like in chapter 3 where he corrects you before you blunder:
[Y]ou are seeking admission to “business school,” not to “MBA school.”
Just typing those words here is painful.
Saying “MBA school” is like saying “diploma school.” Doctors don’t go to “MD school.” Lawyers don’t go to “JD school.” So badass future holders of the MBA don’t go to “MBA school.” They go to business school.
As you can see, we feel the same:
The phrase "MBA school" is so annoying.
— Essay Snark (@EssaySnark) July 26, 2014
There's no such thing as "MBA school." Do people talk about wanting to go to "MD school" or "JD school"?
— Essay Snark (@EssaySnark) October 21, 2014
LOL "Col MBA schl" MT @brainpicker Off to teach a class at the Columbia MBA school on networked knowldge+combinatorial creatvty is.gd/vsmCr5
— Essay Snark (@EssaySnark) October 3, 2011
(We assume that we both came up with those examples independently.)
The actual how to get in advice? Pretty darned lightweight. This person is not an admissions consultant. He has not been in the trenches with applicants. He doesn’t claim to be offering admissions advice per se, so perhaps we should not fault him for that – but we figure, if you’re going to be spending your hard-earned money on a “I wanna MBA!!” book then it probably should have a bit more hardcore value in helping you get in. Like we said, the guy is entertaining (at least on Twitter – didn’t actually LOL in reading the book but we did crack a smile in places) however the actual info quotient in this one is probably not worth the $$ for most of you BSers. Of course, it might make a very a good Christmas present for someone you know who’s in the earlier stages of the process!
Finally, and also in the category of maybe not worth it for most of you, but one that hit our radar based on, again, the subject of working on Wall Street:
Opening Belle would probably be what they call “chick lit” – it’s a novel about a female MD (Managing Director) at a finance firm when the economic crisis began. The author, Maureen Sherry, is a Columbia MBA and was an MD at Bear Sterns, so she’s writing from a place of experience, though the story is fiction.
It’s a bit heavyhanded on the sexism angle so this won’t appeal to everyone, but she does a decent job of explaining some of those market forces that Michael Lewis goes into in greater depth. If you want a beach read this summer (and probably more so if you’re female) then perhaps it’s worth picking up.
So there you have it, a list of books you (might) want to check out. If you’re planning on applying to bschool this year then getting in a habit of work during your spare time is a very good practice indeed. Picking up a business-y (or MBA-ish) book or two and making a point of reading through them quickly can help you exercise those outside-of-work productivity muscles.
Soon enough you will be up to your ears in essays. Dipping a toe into this world, particularly if it’s all new to you, is a good way to get started.
Disclosures: Affiliate links to Amazon in this post mean that if you click through and buy then EssaySnark gets a few pennies for sending you there; also, Ollinger sent us a free promo copy of his MBA book (thanks dude!!) though he never asked for a review and all opinions expressed here are clearly the ‘Snark’s alone.
We caught an interesting video recently where Doug Oberhelman, CEO of Fortune 100 company Caterpillar Inc., was interviewed by Duke Fuqua’s Dean Boulding. The whole thing is an hour long and it’s worth listening to in its entirety, however if you don’t have an hour to sit down and do that right now, then at least read through this post. We’re going to call out one segment specifically where Mr. Oberhelman talks about business cycles and specifically the question of growth. You may recall that we mentioned growth in the context of a discussion around Kellogg’s focus, and so we thought this might also be interesting and useful to hear. The relevant comments start at 21:43 into the conversation and we’ve embedded the video to start exactly there:
Here’s a quick synopsis:
Dean Boulding mentioned that Oberhelman was appointed to CEO in 2010, and things have been rocky for Caterpillar in that time. Oberhelman then gave a recap of revenue history for the past ten years which is a shorthand way of discussing the business cycle: high revenue levels for the company in 2004; 2008; 2011; 2012; and projected in 2016.
He then tells a story about living through earlier recessions, including 1981 when he was in Uruguay and the petroleum market crashed, oil was $35/barrel. “I watched countries go bankrupt, companies go bankrupt, families lose everything in that period of time, but you learned how to survive, how to thrive and do things, manage your balance sheet.”
“The world is still adjusting to the collapse in the oil markets in 2012… We’re suffering with 2.5% GDP growth. Very slow growth. You don’t add people, you don’t spend money, it’s very difficult to see growth with 2.5%. The world needs 3 to 4 [percent GDP growth] to really add jobs. We haven’t seen that since really ’07, ’06, and that really is the core of this.”
So, “growth” as a concept certainly sounds sexy, and like we said in those comments about Kellogg’s focus, it’s applicable in certain companies and certain economic environments. Every CEO dreams about growth. But there are limiting factors.
Listening to top execs at major corporations talk about the economic climate is often a great way to gauge where things may be going. If you’re interested in a career on Wall Street then you (hopefully) already know this, since that’s a huge input affecting stock prices. The quarterly earnings calls are very scripted at most companies but they also let you get a glimpse into how companies are thinking about the current and near-term realities. So whenever a bschool is hosting one of these forums, they’re very often worth watching, and we’re pleased to see more and more schools posting them on YouTube. Duke does it frequently and we have seen some great ones from Berkeley Haas with Dean Lyons Speaker Series too. If you’re currently feeling like you’re in an in-between time on your bschool planning and you don’t know what you should be focusing on, well, focusing on the state of the economy and how businesses are dealing with today’s environment is not a bad thing to pursue.
If anyone out there knows of similar interviews with key executives that offered useful insights or helpful explanations to where the business world is at, feel free to share them in the comments.