Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"We're all friends at business school."

Remember how I was going to meet up with my frenemy, AF about her business school applications?

Well I finally did meet her for coffee. I gave her some advice on ways to reposition her story and suggested things that she could do at work to strengthen her application for next year. I chose not to suggest that she was targeting the wrong schools, but instead told her that she might want to talk with an admissions consultant about her school list. Thanks to those readers who offered their suggestions on how to handle the meeting. The experience was not as painful as I was expecting and she took my advice graciously. Perhaps she has been humbled by the process.

Anyway, talking with her made me think more about social pressures--especially in business--to maintain positive relationships with pretty much everyone: old friends, classmates, colleagues. Whatever you do, "Don't burn bridges," the old mantra goes. The social networking phenomenon only serves to intensify this pressure to connect, connect, connect. Time to link in. Accumulate hundreds of "friends" who are loose acquaintances as best. Start following people.

Regarding bschool next year, I am worried that the pressure to be friends with everyone in my class will lead me to develop a greater number of frenemies, people I don't care for but with whom I have to maintain good relations. I remember visiting Stanford last year and talking to a colleague who I thought was friends with someone else I knew. When I asked what the mutual "friend" was doing for his summer internship, the colleague told me he didn't have a clue. "I thought you were friends," I asked.

His dry reply: "We're all friends at business school."

Friday, April 24, 2009

Don't they know who I'm going to be?

No money for me. I was summarily rejected from that scholarship for which I interviewed a few weeks ago. As I mentioned earlier, I didn't feel great about the interview, but I'm a little annoyed not to get any feedback. Rejection stings.

When I informed my boss a couple days ago, he told me a funny little story: when he and his partner were raising money for their first independent endeavor and were rejected by an investor, they would console themselves and say, "Don't they know who we're going to be?!"

Love it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Calling All MBA Bloggers!

I just added a gadget to my sidebar that will ultimately include a step-by-step process for applying to business school, as outlined by the MBA blogging community. I have just a couple posts up so far and need help filling out the rest: school selection, visiting schools, admissions consultants (or not), essay writing, getting good recos, overall timing strategy, interviewing, WAITING, navigating scholarships/loans, prematriculation, ultimate school decision-making, etc.

Please leave a comment or send me an email with the link(s) of good posts on these topics from the MBA blogging community. Self-nomination is highly encouraged! You can see that the "Deciding to Apply" entry on the current list is my own... shameless, I know.

Thanks to MissionMBA for inspiring me with his great post on profile-building, now included on the list. And thanks to ClearAdmit for inspiring me with the Best of Blogging award sub-categories. I guess I'm a bit of a copy-cat.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Rising Student Debt

Yikes! The average debt of American college seniors is closing in on $25K. A recent NY Times article focuses on undergraduate debt as a burden on freshly graduated job seekers, but I imagine an identical article could be written about recent business school grads. The double-edged sword, of course, is the rising cost of education (e.g., GSB total budget is up ~5% from last year) coupled with a dearth of lucrative jobs, especially in the financial sector.

I should probably consider removing my DEBT/saving cash "in and out" entry on the left...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Blogosphere Gender Identity

It is amusing to me that admissions consulting blogs such as ClearAdmit and Stacy Blackman always refer to me as "she" when they use gender-specific pronouns and that readers typically address me as "dude" or "man" in emails and comments. I have deliberately remained gender-neutral on this blog and will continue to do so to preserve anonymity, so keep on guessing!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Frenemy Advice

"Frenemy" (sometimes spelled "frienemy") - Noun - a portmanteau of "friend" and "enemy" which can refer to either an enemy disguised as a friend or to a partner who is simultaneously a competitor

While my definition isn't exactly the same as Wikipedia's above, I do appreciate the term. It is a fitting description of someone in my life who I will refer to here as AF. I met AF through a mutual friend a few years ago. I have always found AF to be arrogant, aggressive, and completely lacking self-awareness. When I ran into AF at a Stanford GSB info session last fall, I was immediately accosted - "Are you applying R1?" "Where else are you applying?" "It's gonna be tough this year, you know..."

I have managed to avoid AF until recently when we ran into each other walking around town. We exchanged quick pleasantries and I learned from AF that she did not get into any schools. Later that day AF send me an email asking if I could offer feedback on her applications. I agreed and read through all of AF's materials.

Now I have to meet her to deliver my verdict, er, I mean opinion. AF's apps are fine, nothing stellar, but nothing terrible either. To use a phrase from GSB Admissions Director of Outreach Eric Abrams, her apps were not among the few "Oh, Honey..." applications Stanford gets every year, which are presumably tossed into the round file. How do I tell AF that I just don't think she will ever get into his target schools? And is it my place to tell her? Having gone through the process exactly once, I am no expert. I do have a general feel for how things shake out in the application process after lurking on various forums and blogs and watching friends and colleagues go through the process; based on that feeling, I don't think AF is going to make it. Do I tell her to target other schools or just suggest ways she could improve her current profile?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

New [Superlative] Mentor!

During my Stanford interview, my alumni interviewer, a young private equity VP, explained his challenges moving to the geography in which we both currently live, a "tier-2" city with a very small business community. Given my desire to move back to this area in the long term, he recommended networking as much as possible in my desired post-MBA field before leaving for business school because so much business here is conducted in person.

To that end, I have reached out to a few leaders in the local venture community over the past couple months. And this morning, I felt like I hit the jackpot: I met a young, bright, HBS-educated VC. Yes, I'm sure there are many of those floating around, but I connected with this person and have a feeling (hope) that we will stay in close touch. She is smart, "balanced," friendly, doesn't have a tech background (like me), and has lots of ideas on who I should talk to in the area and possible ways for me to get into the local start-up/venture capital community. She has already offered to make two great introductions.

Plus--and this is huge--her firm hires MBA interns! Obviously, she didn't offer me a job, but I imagine I will at least be able to interview with her group in the fall. She didn't have a lot of great ideas for how to combat my tech/engineering deficiency, and acknowledged that that has also been a major challenge for her. However, she make me feel like it will be an additional challenge, NOT an insurmountable obstacle. Readers: any thoughts on how to tackle this deficiency?

Goodbye "Maybe MBA"

An excellent MBA blogger from Booth says goodbye. From her post and the comments that follow, it sounds like she may have been chased offline by the administration and/or fellow students, which is really too bad. Freshness and honesty are trademarks of great blogs, such as hers.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Global Study/Service Learning Trips for 2009-10

Stanford sends weekly Monday emails to the class of 2011 and in the email I received yesterday, they included the list of locations for Global Study Trips and Service Learning Trips for next year. These trips are ways to fulfill the global experience graduation requirement.

2009-10 Global Study Trip locations
Argentina and Chile
*Beirut and Paris*
Ghana and Senegal
Indonesia and Singapore
Saudi Arabia and U.A.E.

2009-10 Service Learning Trip locations
California and Nevada – Water, the Lifeblood of the American West: Mountain Snows to Faucet Flows
*China – Energy and the Environment*
India – Health Service Provision at the Base of the Pyramid
*South Africa – Education and Leadership Development*
Thailand and Cambodia – Innovations in Human and Economic Development

I asterisked the ones that appeal to me at first glance: the China service learning trip, the Paris/Beirut global study trip, the India global study trip, and the South Africa service learning trip.

Strangely absent from the trip offerings are any service learning opportunities in South America. Also, I wonder why there are fewer than half the number of options for the global study trip than there were in 2008-09. Is this another sign of Stanford GSB financial troubles?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Speaking of Scholarships, Here's One for You

I got an email last weekend from Eric Bahn, the founder of Beat The GMAT (who is a class of '04 Stanford undergrad alumnus living in Palo Alto), asking me to inform hopeful class of 2012 readers about the organization's annual scholarship:

"The 2009 Beat The GMAT Scholarship competition--co-sponsored by Manhattan GMAT and Stacy Blackman Consulting--features 5 prizes worth $14K. This is the fourth year we're hosting this competition, which has become the largest GMAT scholarship program on the Internet. The deadline to apply is May 8, and more info can be found here: http://www.beatthegmat.com/scholarship.html"

Scholarship Interview

I recently had a phone interview for the scholarship I applied for. It is not a ton of cash in the grand scheme of things (~5% of my total 2-year package) but every little bit helps, right?

Anyway, my interview made me realize how tired I still am of the entire application process. My voice was a little shaky at the beginning. I talked too fast. I struggled not to ramble. Even though the questions were pretty standard--walk me through your resume, what are your goals, tell me about your volunteer experience--I didn't feel great about it.

If they like me enough, I will have to go to their headquarters for an in-person final interview. My worry is that I will be invited on a final round interview and then not get the scholarship. So I will have wasted my time and money (they make the applicant pay for all travel expenses). Plus, I don't have that many weekends left at home before I start my summer travels.

Of course, I will be thrilled if I actually get the scholarship, but I have a premonition that I won't. I will keep you posted.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Stanford GSB Personal Statement

I am continuing to work through Stanford's required pre-matriculation work. Earlier this week, I finished the math and Excel assessors. And on a plane a couple days ago, I tackled my first-year personal statement, which is a "memo addressed to [my] advisor/Critical Analytical Thinking seminar instructor [which] include[s] whatever [I] think will be helpful to [my] advisor for making important decisions about [my] academic program."

Below are the academic goals I included in my memo:

1) business plan development skills
2) advanced finance skills and improved macroeconomic understanding
3) skills for developing and utilizing frameworks to understand and solve problems
4) communication, relationship-building, negotiation, and management skills

PS - My plane was for a trip to San Francisco. I had to take a non-Stanford related trip and it was wonderful. I was able to walk around and get a better feel for the city. I know I won't be living there but it's nice to start to get comfortable with my near surroundings. Plus, the weather was phenomenal.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Compelling Article: "Why I Blog"

I am working my way through a pile of magazines that has accumulated unread over the past couple months and I picked up an old issue of Atlantic Monthly. Well I guess it's just called The Atlantic now, but I prefer its former title. In its November 2008 issue, Andrew Sullivan, among the first recognized journalists to embrace blogging, discusses the medium in his aptly titled article, Why I Blog.

My favorite parts of the article are when he discusses the immediacy of blogging--the urgency with which bloggers blog--and the reader-writer intimacy that results:

"Even the most careful and self-aware blogger will reveal more about himself than he wants to in a few unguarded sentences and publish them before he has the sense to hit Delete. The wise panic that can paralyze a writer—the fear that he will be exposed, undone, humiliated—is not available to a blogger. You can’t have blogger’s block. You have to express yourself now, while your emotions roil, while your temper flares, while your humor lasts. You can try to hide yourself from real scrutiny, and the exposure it demands, but it’s hard. And that’s what makes blogging as a form stand out: it is rich in personality."

Since starting this blog in February, I have often felt the overwhelming need to post after reading something interesting about the MBA world or hearing something I thought readers might care about. I have also had the desire to share more of myself than I thought was permissible in an anonymous blog. And I do feel strangely connected to you, dear reader, even though we will likely never meet.

Monday, April 6, 2009

5 Tips for Skill Assessors

For those of you who are not attending the GSB next year, you can skip this post.

For those of you who are, read on if you would like my suggestions for tackling Stanford's required pre-matriculation skill assessors, especially the tortuous Excel assessor:

1. The Excel assessor uses the latest version (the one with file names .xlsx) so if you are on a Mac or an older version of Excel, you will likely struggle. Be ready to be frustrated and read on.

2. Go through it VERY QUICKLY once. Do not waste time trying to figure out answers that you do not immediately get (unless you are totally unfamiliar with Excel, in which case this post may not be for you either and you should probably read through one of the books recommended on the pre-matriculation website). I wasted so much time trying to figure out the idiosyncrasies of each formatting, printing, and saving function when in reality, I can figure this stuff out in <1 minute just by fooling around or by getting it wrong once and finding out the answer.

3. Review the questions you got wrong.

4. Immediately do another assessor. It will be much shorter because the computer will take out all subjects on which you did well. For example, if you got about 50% correct, expect the next assessor you take to be about 40% shorter. At least that is how I think it works from taking it three times in a row.

5. Repeat until you have reached the minimum acceptable cutoff.

Don't try to do both the Excel and quantitative assessors in one go unless you are happy to sit at your desk for a minimum of three hours. Last thing: the quantitative/math assessor has much less calculus than I was expecting. Aside from a few questions, your GMAT prep should suffice.

Sorry this post is so dry, specific, and generally boring. Let's get this crap out of the way so we can travel!

4/7 UPDATE: I lied about the lack of non-GMAT content, namely calculus and trig. I just completed the quant assessor and there is a fair amount of calc, in particular. However, it is pretty basic and if you have studied it in the past, it should look familiar. As I said, just go through the test quickly and either guess or answer "I don't know" for the questions you don't immediately understand and then go through the program's online content/tutorials to reteach yourself the stuff you missed.

Apples to WTF? Continued

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you will remember that I interview for my undergraduate alma mater and have been frustrated by the lack of correlation between my interview evaluation and the admissions decision.

I am pleased to report that this year my university seems to have taken my opinion as a volunteer interviewer into account: the two applicants to whom I gave the highest ratings were waitlisted and the other five applicants were rejected. Small sample size I know, but it seems like a decent correlation in comparison to prior years. I am a little disappointed that neither of the outstanding applicants was accepted, but I will hope that one or both with make it off the waitlist and join the class of 2013.

Though I still have reservations, I will likely continue to interview next year from Palo Alto.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


It is starting to feel more official. On Tuesday I received access to my Stanford GSB email account. Now I have to try to figure out how to get it to work with my mobile device.

One cool thing about the mail program is that I can look up all admitted applicants who have submitted their deposits as well as current students. I wish Stanford had a more comprehensive search program like HBS's "classcard" database, which allows you to search admitted students by undergrad institution, location, company, etc. I'm sure that I will have access to a complete directory as a student, but it would be nice to start figuring out who is going to be in my class.

And congratulations to all round 2 admits! Hope to see you in Palo Alto.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Yale's Endowment & Its Famed Manager

In its April issue, Condé Naste Portfolio published a fascinating article about Yale's long-time endowment manager, David Swensen and his propagation of university endowments' move toward alternative investments, including private equity, venture capital, real estate, and commodities, among others. It is staggering that some of Yale's peer institutions shifted as much as 80% of their assets into alternatives.

As we have heard for many months and as this article reiterates, endowments at virtually all institutions, including Yale and those that followed its model, are suffering right now. Total assets are down by 25-30% or more. However, it is important to remember that alternatives as an asset class are not down as much as U.S. equities. So while alternative investments limit an endowment's liquidity, which can be a critical problem for a university, it is not clear that institutions that stayed away from alternatives entirely would have fared better on a returns basis.

"There was truly no place to hide," explains Sandra Ell, Caltech's chief investment officer.