Not long ago I worked with a client who had
recently left one of the military services. He had doubts about his chances at
the top b-schools because he didn't think his résumé was very impressive. He
kept saying that he had only been an enlisted man in the military; so how
could that compete with people who had been officers, or people who held management positions in the private sector?
In fact, his life story showed a lot of leadership. In the
service, he had worked his way up to sergeant. Having been a Marine myself, I
understood that was an important leadership position. This client would
have had to see both the little
and the bigger picture, relay information and messages up and down the line, and motivate people to do things and hold them
accountable for doing them. And I knew that
admissions committees would
appreciate what making sergeant meant, too.
Another thing in this client's military record that I knew admissions committees would like is that he'd been an aide to a
senior officer. That
gave him a chance to see senior leadership at work. I encouraged him to think about that experience and to write about it in his essays. He did, to good effect.
This client also had doubts about his academic preparation for business school. He'd grown up in a rural, low-income part of
the US and attended public schools. Again, he figured his profile couldn't match that of someone who'd gone to private schools
or big city public schools and who would have had access to all kinds of honors courses and extracurricular activities.
But again, his record showed much more accomplishment than he
gave it credit for. I was able to explain that committee members don't compare
applicants to each other the way he thought they did. They weren't going to look
at his application and say, 'he's got good grades, but they're from some little
public school, and this other applicant has the same GPA from a tough prep
school.' They were going to look at his accomplishments in the context of his
life circumstances and the options that were available to him. Again, it was
really a very impressive record. He had always applied himself and sought out
challenges and performed well. I assured the client that an
admissions committee would respect that.
I was proved right when every one of the schools the client
applied to accepted him.
Of course the lion's share of the credit for this success goes to the client. He put enormous thought and effort into his applications. He
joked to me once that, in terms of work on his b-school applications, "It's like I'm moving the piano and you're moving the piano stool."
But I do think I clarified his understanding of how competitive he was for the top schools, and what his strengths were, and how to highlight them.
I think I helped him get where he was going much sooner than he would have on his own. I'm happy to have done that.
- Contributed by Senior Consultant
Douglas Braithwaite. In addition to serving as Director
of Admission at Harvard Business School, Doug is also
the co-architect of the admissions process at
MIT's Leaders for Manufacturing Program.