Friday, March 27, 2009

BusinessWeek Q&A With Beth Flye

For anyone that missed it, here is the BusinessWeek Chat Transcript from the Q&A session with Beth Flye, the admissions director for Kellogg.

It's a short piece that doesn't have any startling revelations, but here are a few of the takeaways I got from it.
  • Apply in Round 1 or Round 2. Most of the incoming class is accepted in those rounds
  • Be yourself in the apps
  • Finance, consulting, and marketing are the 3 most represented sectors at Kellogg. Where my engineers at?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Developing Soft Skills

One of the things I'm looking forward to the most about grad school is the opportunity to develop my soft skills throughout the program. This is one of the areas where I feel that the engineering undergrad was woefully inadequate. In my opinion, soft skills were all but ignored during undergrad. I brought this point up with one of my mentors at IBM, a program manager turned people manager that probably relies on those skills the most everyday, and he agreed with me wholeheartedly.

Sure, we had some group projects sprinkled throughout the classes, but it was not enough given how important those skills have been at work. During my six years at IBM, I have rarely worked on a project that did not involve working on a team of varied individuals. As my role grew in the area, I had to work across departments and organizations, and I quickly learned the value of negotiating, compromising, and knowing the right people.

I've been able to pick up a lot from mentors and by observing the coworkers that I admired, but I still feel like I lag behind, especially when it comes to my contacts. It doesn't help that I also ignored networking during the first 3 or so years, instead opting to focus purely on my technical abilities. Fortunately, I've always been a people person, and I was able to hone my interpersonal skills via my outside activities, particularly rugby in college, so I'm not completely inept in this area.

Now that I've committed to grad school, I've started placing more emphasis on soft skills, paying more attention to how I react to situations and modifying my behaviors as I deem appropriate, reaching out to other professionals, and focusing on the networking, and I'm seeing dividends. I already have two leads on internship/job opportunities; one within IBM and one outside.

It seems that there is plenty of truth to the adage "It's not what you know, but who you know," although knowing something helps :)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Preparing for grad school (or lack thereof)


rs_IMG_0720, originally uploaded by oneillo.
After completing the grad school applications in October, I resigned myself to the notion that I'd end up at UT and remain in Austin (though I hoped otherwise). This had the unintended benefit of keeping me relaxed throughout the entire process. In fact, I didn't even check the BusinessWeek forums until after I had been accepted to my first school, Kellogg.

Unfortunately, the flip side was that I didn't prepare in any way for a potential move. As a direct result, I have spent the past month trying to get my house ready to sell as soon as possible. This has absorbed all of my time and prevented me from taking care of school-related tasks, like searching for a place to live in Evanston and looking for scholarships. It has also distracted me from some of my extracurricular activities and hobbies.

I'm hoping to complete the remaining work this week and put the house on the market the first week in April. Afterwards, I'll be able to focus on preparing for grad school.


Friday, March 6, 2009

2009 Day at Kellogg 1 Digest


20090206_DAK1_thekeg1, originally uploaded by oneillo.

Although I had pretty much decided on Kellogg when I attended DAK, the weekend was still a great way of affirming my decision. I left Evanston with a warm feeling in my chest, having spent two full days wrapped in the warmth of the ultimate Kellogg Snuggie.

I won't provide an in-depth review of DAK, as D.G. and Soni have already done a bang-up job of covering the weekend, so here are some of my highlights and thoughts on the weekend.
  • The first person I met at DAK was D.G., whose blog I had been secretly following for some time (small world)
  • I previously and unexpectedly met my DAK roommate (great guy) at the Super Saturday Berkeley interview event (smaller world)
  • I was shocked to find another Austinite at the event
  • I asked the keynote speaker the first question after overhearing a girl a few rows back say "Oh god. I hope someone asks him a question." I don't remember the particulars of the question, but it had to do with changing one's approach to tackling difficult situations
  • One of the technology management professors was refreshingly candid when he told me that the curriculum would probably be much easier than the engineering undergrad
  • I know I look young for my age, but Northwestern undergrad students look like they are 10. I was waiting to see one slip a protective sipper lid over their beer
  • From what I understand, KWEST is the best thing ever....ever....seriously.....ever
  • I was pleased to see myself in the DAK wrap-up video multiple times; I didn't count, but it was 3 times total
To see my videos and pictures from the event, head on over to http://www.flickr.com/photos/oneillo/sets/72157614364199959/. I'll leave you with a video of a great guitar solo by Shahid Hussain, of MBA blogdom fame.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Advice on the Application Process

It took me two years and 3 rounds of applications before finally getting into one of my target business schools. During that time, I:
  1. submitted 10 applications
  2. wrote 40 essays
  3. interviewed 6 times
  4. was accepted to 4 programs
  5. spent thousands of dollars in the process (flying out to interview gets expensive)
Although I don't consider myself an expert on the application process, I do believe that I have enough experience to offer some advice to future applicants. As always, take this advice with a grain of salt, as your mileage may vary.

1. Establish mentors as early as possible in your career - You are eventually going to need recommendations for every application, and it is always better to have them written by folks that are familiar with your personal development, accomplishments, and career goals. Furthermore, a good mentor will be personally invested in your growth, and that will probably cause them to spend more time writing a good recommendation. Even if you don't plan on applying for grad school, setting up a network of mentors early in your career is extremely valuable.

2. Find something to do outside of work that you are passionate about - Anyone can get good scores on the GMAT and during undergrad, so you should look for ways to differentiate yourself from the crowd. In my opinion, one of the best ways to do this is get involved in something outside of work that you are passionate about and commit to it for an extended period of time. Besides the personal growth and fulfillment that you'll get from doing something constructive outside of work, you'll end up with an extra "star" on your MBA application. For me, this was mentoring/tutoring minority students, both through individual volunteer opportunities and professional organizations. It can be anything for you.

3. Prepare for the GMAT - Do not take the GMAT lightly. It doesn't matter how smart you think you are (coincidentally, I consider myself a friggin' genius), or how well you did in undergrad, etc; take adequate time to prepare for the GMAT, since your score is an extremely important factor in determining what schools you can apply to. I was pretty cocky when I took my first practice test, and it was a sobering experience. Afterward, I decided to sign up for a prep course ($1000 was a drop in the bucket for what I got out of it) and spent 2 months preparing for that test. I contribute my high score directly to that preparation.

4. Put some thought into selecting the schools that you will apply for - Avoid the knee-jerk reaction of applying for the top 3 schools (I'll admit I'm guilty of this) just because they are the top 3 schools. You should spend some time selecting the schools that you will apply for based on whatever criteria matters most to you, e.g. location, career objectives, teaching methods, costs, etc. Your genuine excitement and desire to attend a school will show during an interview; on the flip side, your lack of excitement will also shine just as bright, so you might as well save yourself the $200+ for unnecessary apps.

5. Be yourself in the essays - You will find plenty of examples online and in MBA prep books of admitted students' essays, but here's the thing, just because the essay worked for one person, doesn't mean it is going to work for you. Not only that, but every person is markedly different in personality, background, objectives, etc, so don't waste your time trying to emulate other applicants' essays. Use the essays as a way of differentiating yourself from the crowd, emphasizing your strengths and experiences, and highlighting what makes you unique. Here is a small snippet from one of my favorite Harvard essays in the application that got me an interview, which I subsequently blew.
I once made the mistake of trying to score a goal on my own in a rugby game. I had the ball with 50 yards to go, the field looked clear, and all I could think about was scoring for the first time. Unfortunately, I did not notice the defender rapidly approaching me from the side; I was brutally taken down, and worse yet, I lost the ball. I came away that day with the most valuable lesson that I would learn from playing rugby: the importance of relying on one’s team.

6. Prepare for the interviews - Do not take the interviews lightly. I don't care how charming you are to talk to or how amazing your background is; you will be surprised at how nervous you can get interviewing for one of your dream schools. There is a good chance that you already spent a lot of time to even get that interview, so spend a little more time prepping for it. There are plenty of resources online to get an idea of the types of questions that you will be asked for a given school. Learn enough about the school to give compelling reason for why you want to attend, and then focus the rest of your time refining your story (why an MBA, career objectives, etc).

7. Don't dwell too much on rejections - It happens. Unfortunately, the entire process is mysterious, and I don't think it is possible to accurately predict who will and who won't get accepted into a school. If you don't end up at one of your top choices, it is not the end of the world. In the end, your success and career will be built around how you perform, not on the name of the school that is on your MBA.

Best of luck on those applications!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Thanks

Like most of my accomplishments, big and small, I would have never gotten into Kellogg without help from my friends, family, and colleagues. I am extremely grateful for the time that they took to write my recommendations, review my essays, stage mock interviews, and discuss the decision.


This post is just another way for me to acknowledge their contributions and express my heartfelt gratitude.