Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Heading to HBS Tomorrow

I will be at HBS tomorrow and Friday for the Admitted Students Welcome (ASW) weekend. I have never visited the business school and am very excited to hear the HBS pitch, to meet other admitted applicants, and to catch up with a few Boston and Cambridge-based friends.

I have been amazed by how surprised friends, family, and colleagues are to learn my intention to turn down HBS for Stanford. Both are amazing schools and I guess the Harvard name still rules supreme. However, Stanford's smaller size, its geographic isolation from other top business schools in sunny VC-centric Palo Alto, and its lower acceptance rate created a mystique in my mind that HBS never could top. I love Stanford for so many other reasons (e.g., culture, curriculum, entrepreneurship/VC expertise, emphasis on EQ, etc) but I will admit that this aura of exclusivity and differentness adds to my Stanford love.

Anyway, back to HBS because that is what this post was supposed to be about. I learned earlier this week that HBS is planning to "increase the size of the MBA program slightly this fall" from an average of around 905 the past four years to...TBD I guess. This plan was mentioned in a letter from Dean Jay Light to HBS alumni as a way to increase the school's revenue. I wonder if this move is also a reaction to what I assume are record applications. To me, it seems bizarre that the largest business school (both by enrollment and endowment value) in the world is growing its class size to increase immediate revenue by an absolute maximum of $2.3 million per year (assuming the class size is increased by 50 people and that none of the students have any financial aid).

Yes, annual alumni giving might increase in the future with the larger class size. And the touted far-reaching HBS alumni network would be that much bigger. However, I imagine that this move could make HBS alumni feel less connected to the institution and therefore, less likely to donate and less likely to help student and young alumni in their networking efforts.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

First Bschool Homework!

HBS sent me a case study they want me to read for my Strategy class on campus this Friday. The gall, the nerve -- homework before I'm even enrolled! The email did stress that I would not be required to participate in discussion, but rather that the reading would enhance my classroom experience. So I will be reading Bitter Competition: The Holland Sweetener Company versus NutraSweet in the next couple days.

This case's title seemed familiar and I realized that this is the case discussed in HBS's online video, Inside the Case Method. I watched this short video when I was prepping for my HBS admissions interview and it's actually informative and interesting.

Monday, February 23, 2009

IN: Cover Notes; OUT: Cover Letters

As a fairly recent college graduate with an "informal mind-set," I feel the need to break it to the New York Times' Career Couch -- cover letters are indeed on their way out of the door, at least in the traditional sense. (Random aside, wouldn't "career coach" be a better title for the regular column?)

The recent article makes several good points, namely that it is still important for a job applicant to introduce himself with some non-résumé text, that it is vital to keep the language concise, and that following up with a hard copy may yield more interviews. (I find the last point a little hard to believe given how dismissive my peers, older colleagues and I are of paper mail, but I will give it a try when the time comes.)

However, I have to take issue with the necessity of formal cover letters, especially in this challenging job landscape. Let's say you get the 200 résumés for a job opening that this article references. How in the world are you going to sift through all that drivel (e.g., "my skills are well-suited to blah blah blah," "I will apply my enthusiasm for yada yada")? Short answer: you won't.

Wouldn't one or two paragraphs in the body of the email be enough of an introduction? I think so. And let's not dismiss the fact that we laid-back Echo Boomers are not merely the lowest on the totem pole of job applicants; we are the upcoming generation of recruiters. Most of the head hunters I have met are under 35-years-old.

So here are PAFAW's rules for writing a cover note -- not letter -- note:

1. Keep it short: 2-3 paragraphs max. (two is the sweet spot)

2. Answer three questions:
- who are you?
- why are you interested in the job?
- what skills/qualifications do you have that will help the organization reach its goals? (okay, so I kind of stole the last one from the article)

3. Do NOT rewrite parts of your résumé in paragraph form.

4. Do NOT be repetitive. If you have already said it somewhere else in the note, move on.

5. Get a second and maybe a third pair of eyes on the document before hitting the send button.

PS: if you look to the left, you will find a new sidebar with PAFAW's running list of "ins" and "outs" as they relate to my posts. Enjoy!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Unexplained Anxiety

On Wednesday night I was walking to dinner with a couple of friends and I had this inexplicable uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I have been a ball of anxiety for the last six months -- from cramming GMAT studying into three short weeks in July to procrastinating during August and finally getting my act together in September and October to polish off my round 1 applications only to settle into the 3-month waiting game that can best be described as a complete mindf*ck -- so this feeling was not new to me.

Everyone said that once I got into one school, I would feel so much better. Well, I did feel a little better back in December when I got my first acceptance. But that contentment quickly faded away and was replaced by overwhelming nervousness about HBS and Stanford. A month later, I got into HBS and was feeling good. I went out to celebrate and got the call from Stanford while I was partying with friends. Honestly, what could be better?

For the past month, I've been perusing the admit websites, filling out financial aid forms, and planning the next six months of my life. I told my employer that I'm out in May. School doesn't start until September. I should be sitting pretty.

So why is my mind still not at ease? Is it that I am so used to the feeling that there is always something next that I can never relish in my current situation and my past achievement? In college, I worried about grades. By sophomore year, I was nervous about my lack of internship experience. Senior year, I didn't just want a job; I wanted the right job. During my first two years working, I was constantly concerned that I had said or done something stupid and that my colleagues thought I was an imbecile. I was nervous that I didn't know what I wanted to do next and that I wasn't ready to go straight to business school. And for the last year, I've been worried about getting into school.

Now that I'm into Stanford, am I allowed to release the worry and enjoy my life?

(At least until the summer internship search begins next winter)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

MBA Job Market

An employment report of Stanford's class of 2008 showed up on the GSB admissions blog last week. I hope that my two years at the GSB will help me figure out how to get a $200K signing bonus (the upper end of the signing bonus range). Kidding. Well, sort of. But seriously Stanford, give us some real news -- what is going on with the class of 2009? What about the class of 2010 summer internship search?

Just two days later, the HBS Director of Admissions blogged that 77% of those seeking employment in the Class of 2009 have received offers. That number sounds high at first glance but let's note a couple things. The first is that we have nothing against which to compare this percentage. What was the figure in February 2008? Feb 2007? The Feb 2006 number had to be amazing given how frothy the market was back then. The second thing to note is that she clearly says they have received offers, not that these students have accepted offers. There is a big difference between getting a couple offers that you are loathe to take and having a job offer that you are thrilled to accept.

Meanwhile, the MIT Sloan career development office told Business Week in its grimly titled February 2 article MBA Job Outlook Dims that about 50% of the class of 2009 have job offers, flat from last year. Over at UCLA Anderson, about 33% of the class of 2009 have a job lined up, "down significantly from January 2008." UVA Darden students are in better shape, 67% of whom have job offers -- still down from 81% this time last year.

Business schools admissions officers are clearly trying to reassure applicants that there will be internships and jobs for them in the future and that leaving their current jobs is not foolish. I personally don't have the option to stick around with my current employer, so they need not try to convince me. I'm convinced!

PS: If you're interested in Stanford employment reports going back to 2003, click here. I'm too lazy to dig through those but let me know if you learn anything interesting.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sticker shock: $200K

I just received a prematriculation email from HBS informing me that the Class of 2011 budget is now available. Total for year 1, including living expenses = $76,600. Stanford's budget was available a while ago and its year 1 budget = $84,071 (how wonderfully precise!) if you include the pricier study trip.

A couple things to note (besides the obvious shock at the implied $150-200K price for an MBA):

1) HBS's class of 2011 budget is $550 lower than this year's cost summary. Wow, I wonder if Harvard is adjusting because of the tough economic climate! I somehow doubt that. In fact, upon closer examination, it looks like tuition, health care, and board have all increased while room & utilities has somehow fallen by $3,240. Hmmm... given that they don't differentiate between on and off-campus dwelling students and that the majority of students live on campus, I have to assume that HBS housing is taking the hit, but it does seem strange. Stanford's budget is up $3,737 from last year, an almost 5% year-on-year increase.

2) Stanford's tuition is $5,171 higher than Harvard's next year, coming in at $51,321. What is that about?

3) Each school includes a note indicating that this budget is for a "moderate" lifestyle. Well, given that every bschool student I know travels every chance he/she gets, I'm guessing that $5-10K should be tacked on just for travel. Regular trips abroad, skiing, and to wine country typically qualify as lavish, not "moderate."

I am ready to join the league of debt-laden students. Yes I am.

Note: All figures are for a single student living on campus (Stanford differentiates; HBS does not)

Thoughts on "Ahead of the Curve"

I picked up Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School as another way to distract myself from my online BW Forum and blog addiction. Also, I wanted to get the dirt, so the speak, on HBS before heading to their admitted students weekend at the end of the month. Wait, you may ask, isn't this blog about someone who plans to attend Stanford in the fall? Yes, it is. Stanford has always been my dream school and I have every intention of matriculating there in September. However, I have never visited HBS and if I am going to turn down "the single most influential institution in global business"1, I want to know what exactly I'm turning down. Hence, the upcoming visit and the book.

The author, Philip Delves Broughton, provides a quick, enjoyable, blog-like read in his book, which sheds light on HBS's culture, grading, classroom environment, and employment season. He is conflicted from early in his matriculation -- genuinely appreciating the in-class learning opportunities while simultaneously disdaining many his classmates for their relative youth, what he considers their single-minded drive for money and recognition, and their embrace of HBS's monolithic culture.

I thought that the author's criticism (as applied to ALL business school students, not just HBS students) is generally spot on and recommend his book for anyone interested in American business education. However, it is important to take all that he says with a grain of salt because the author graduated from HBS in 2006 behind the curve in arguably the most important metric of all -- gainful and satisfactory employment. He chronicles his foray into entrepreneurship and his four months of interviewing with Google, but never finds the help wanted posting he seeks:
Absurdly profitable company seeks journalist with ten years' experience and a Harvard MBA for extremely highly paid, low-stress job in which he can wear nice suits and loaf around in air-conditioned splendor making the very occasional executive decision. Requirements: acute discomfort in the presence of spreadsheets, inability to play golf, poorly concealed loathing of corporate life, knowledge of ancient Greek.2
1. Philip Delves Broughton, Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School (London: The Penguin Press, 2008), front flap
2. Ibid, p. 210.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Apples to WTF?

I interview for my undergraduate alma mater. I meet each applicant at a coffee shop near my office, ask softball questions about academic interests, extracurricular experiences, why XYZ College. The only hard ones I throw in are, "How would your closest friends and family describe you?" and "What are people surprised to learn about you?" both of which I was asked in my HBS interview. I give each applicant the opportunity to ask me questions. The whole thing takes about an hour and is quite painless and predictable, in my opinion.

However, almost every interview leaves me disappointed and I'm wondering if that is because I just went through the business school application process and have unreasonable standards that should not be applied to 17-year-old high school seniors. You be the judge:

me: So talk to me about your interest in XYZ College.
interviewee: It has a great academic reputation. Plus, I like the east coast.
me: Have you thought about what you might study?
I'm thinking about studying economics.
Oh really, tell me why you're interested in that subject.
interviewee: My dad is in business and that always seemed interesting to me. XYZ College doesn't have a business major, so I figure econ is the closest.

Some of these experiences are cringe-worthy. Two applicants this year did not contact me to schedule their interviews. Their mothers did. One student called me up, asking to schedule an interview with an entirely different college. Another turned the interview around and started drilling me about my career progression. One told me at least three times how combative he is with his teachers and other students. The other end of the spectrum includes applicants with 3-page résumés, rehearsed platitudinous answers, and plastered smiles. Once a year, I encounter a talented, articulate, thoughtful young applicant. And that applicant usually gets rejected.

So it is not with sadness that I inform you that college interviewing has ended for the season. I do wonder if the two applicants I rated highest this year will be admitted. Last year, I gave just one "outstanding" rating and that applicant was rejected. Maybe XYZ College is just humoring old alumni who want to stay connected to the school. If so, dear alma mater, please spare me.

Late to the blogging game

Since I first received a couple invitations to interview during the class of 2011 round 1 business school application cycle, I have been completely addicted to online forums and blogs pertaining to the MBA admissions process. I'm talking about student blogs, applicant blogs, admissions consultant blogs, the schools' own admission department blogs... plus, the dreaded Business Week forum. Thank god I didn't discover any of these online time drains until after my applications were submitted.

I thought that an acceptance or two would curtail my obsession, but to no avail. My significant other sometimes finds me reading threads debating schools to which I never even considered applying late into the night. Sick. Also, I've found myself a bit jealous of those applicants who began blogging early in the process and can track their ups and downs during this challenging time. So in an effort to divert my energy to more productive use and in recognition that I need an outlet for reflection, I have decided to start my own blog, which may or may not chronicle my experiences before, during, and after Stanford Graduate School of Business.