Go to a better blog!

You can find a better version of my blog at http://www.adammarkus.com/blog/.

Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

April 28, 2011

I will be on vacation through May 15th

I will be on vacation and totally offline through May 15th so there will be no more posts until sometime around the 16th. If you are interested in my overall counseling services and would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form, which is publicly available on Google Docs and Scribedand then send your completed form to adammarkus@gmail.com.  You can also send me your resume if it is convenient for you.  Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to.  See here for why.

Bain & Company 2011 MBA壮行会

Bain & Company asked that I post this.

Picture (Device Independent Bitmap)
2011 MBA壮行会のご案内
日時: 2011524日(火)19時~2130分(1845受付開始)
会場: トラストシティカンファレンス丸の内
東京都千代田区丸の内1-8-1 丸の内トラストタワーN3
お申込み方法:以下MBA採用担当メールアドレス宛に ①お名前 ②ご入学予定のビジネスクール名③履歴書④ご連絡先電話番号と合わせてE-mailにて参加希望の旨ご連絡ください
Picture (Device Independent Bitmap)

How to pick a graduate admissions consultant

In the post, I provide some general suggestions for selecting a graduate admissions consultant.  I have previously discussed the whole issue of application advisers in Admissions Advice: Mentor, Consultant, Editor or Ghostwriter?, but I wanted to provide a practical guide for the purpose of admissions counselor, consultant, and/or adviser selection. This post does make use of a part of that earlier post, but I suggest reading both. I hope this post will help applicants find the right consultant for their MBA, LL.M., MPA, MPP, or other graduate school applications.

The Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) provides the following excellent summary of what admissions consultants do:
I have been a member of AIGAC shortly after its founding in 2007. I support the intent of the organization as well as the above definition of our role.

Admissions consultants are a mixed group. Typical backgrounds for admissions consultants:
1. Former admissions officers
2. Counseling professionals with degrees or certification in career counseling, social work, and/or a related field
3. Professional educators
4. Individuals with a strong academic pedigree who found they are good at helping others with the admissions process
5. Degree holders for the type of program they provide admissions consulting for

Are you offered a free initial consultation with the consultant you would be working with?
For me, at least, this is the most basic consideration there is.  If you can't have an initial consultation how can you determine who to work with?   No two consultants have the same opinions, bring the same experience, or will give you exactly the same advice.  Even with my colleagues who have worked closely with, we don't agree on everything, our methods, and certainly our personalities and personal perspectives are different.  Actually, for interview preparation, this can allow for a client to get multiple perspectives by having mock interviews with multiple consultants, which clients can us to their advantage.  However, when it comes to essay consulting, ultimately you will likely need to work with one person, at least primarily.   For essays, it is very hard to work effectively with multiple consultants effectively. You will likely spend more time and money with consultant on your essays than on anything else, so you need to make sure that there is a good personal fit between you and the consultant.

I would consider 30 minutes to be an absolute minimum for you to ask questions about the consultant's services and for the consultant to briefly give you a bit of trial feedback.  I schedule one-hour sessions which frequently last a bit longer than that because I usually provide 30-40 minutes of feedback based on initial questions I ask potential clients.  The amount of time I spend giving feedback is a direct function of how well the potential client has filled out my initial consultation form and the kind of questions they ask.

I assume that any counselor will provide you with an initial consultation form for you to complete. Based on what I have seen, my own form (Google Docs version/ Scribed version) is of medium level length.  I try to get potential clients to provide me with the most essential information I need to have an effective initial consultation and also to not overburden potential clients with burdensome documents.   Please complete the form in a reasonable level of detail so that the consultant has sufficient information about you to ask more than basic questions.  If you have not calculated your GPA, do it!   Especially with US schools, I can't effectively advise a client on school selection if I don't know what their GPA is.  Don't just leave answers to big questions. At least indicate that you don't have an answer. For instance,  if you don't have an answer to question like "What are your long term goals?" I suggest you just write down that you need assistance with this issue.

 I would personally worry about any consultant who does not ask you many questions because this likely means that they will likely work with anyone because they are simply trying to generate an income and not necessarily a positive admissions result. Popular consultants don't just have to work with anyone. They ask good questions to potential clients and try to engage with them in order to determine whether they want offer their services.

Some good questions to ask:
1.   Based on my profile, what is your assessment of my school selection? Do you think there are other schools that I should be considering?
2.  How can you add value to my applications? 
3. If you don't know about the consultants results and experience, you should ask about that. If you have such information, ask for any clarification you require.
3.  What are your methods?
4.  What is your availability?
5.  What is your around time on document review?
6.  Can you give me an idea about how the whole process would work?
7.  What differentiates you from other consultants?
8. What are your criteria for selecting which clients to work with?
9.  For applicants with an international background applying to US schools:  Have you worked with people from my country or part of the world before?  How much experience do you have working with international applicants? 
10.  For reapplicants:  How much experience do you have working with reapplciants? 
11. Whatever burning issues in your own background you really want to discuss. For instance, how to handle a prolonged period of unemployment or low GPA.


Good consultants:
1. They will listen to you and provide highly individualized advice.
2. They will understand your strengths and weaknesses as a candidate.
3. They will have a solid set of methods for explaining all aspects of the process to you.
4. They will be honest. (For example, when discussing school selection they will provide you with an honest assessment of how your GMAT, TOEFL, and/or GRE scores will impact your chances for admission to a specific school.)
5. They will become engaged with you and your life.
6. They will refine their advice to you as your sessions proceed.
7. They are great at brainstorming and helping you tell your story.
8. They will push you to revise your essays and, if applicable, push you to practice your interviews.
9. They will let you know when they think an application is done regardless of either your expectations or their financial benefit. That is to say, sometimes they will advise working on something more than you think and sometimes less than you expected.
10. They either have or know how to obtain any admissions information that you will need.

Bad consultants:
1. Don’t listen to you.
2. Their advice lacks any depth or specificity.
3. They lack integrity.
4. They will not push you to work hard.
5. They are basically indifferent to you as a person because they just consider it to be their job to review your application materials or prepare you for an interview, which they will do only formally.
6. They don’t have high standards.
7. You will notice that they quickly fail to learn more about you after the first couple of sessions.
8. They have rigid preconceived ideas that they will foist upon you.
9. They are more likely to act like editors than counselors.
10. They seem to lack key information about the admissions process.

You will quickly find that admissions consultants are either working as independent service providers or part of a service. The biggest potential differences between hiring an independent service provider and services are as follows:

1. Service structure. Independent consultants, for both good and bad, are not part of larger organizations and hence the level of service you can expect will be personal and will reflect the personality of the consultant. If you are someone who loves rules and regulations, a service is more likely to provide that level of bureaucracy. An independent consultant should be able to provide you with services in a more flexible manner.

2. Changing your consultant. If you eventually discover that you don’t like an independent consultant, there is no company to complain to, and depending on the way you are paying for the service, you may find yourself stuck with the consultant. On the other hand, if you use a consulting service, you will likely have the option of switching to a new consultant.

3. Choosing your consultant. Obviously if you use an independent consultant, you have chosen that person. On the other hand, if you decide to use a consulting service, depending on your contract, they may have the right to switch consultants on you. If you use service and don’t specify the consultant first, you may also find that the consultant you wanted to meet with is too busy to meet with you because they already have too many clients. BEWARE OF SUBSTITUTIONS! Most successful services have at least one well-known consultant, but since such individuals are a finite resource, not everyone gets to work with the star. Some clients get the other consultants. The other consultants can be great. Or the other hand, consultants can be someone the organization needed to fill a seat because of client demand. If you go with service, don't accept substitutions. Furthermore, if the consulting service does not offer a free initial consultation with the consultant that you want to work with, you should really consider other alternatives.

4. Getting multiple perspectives. One advantage some consulting services have over independent consultants is that they offer clients the possibility of getting the viewpoint of more than one counselor. While this can be quite helpful, it also requires managing the perspectives of multiple consultants, which will likely be less efficient, and may prove confusing. It may also be the case that such services will provide you with multiple perspectives, but none of those perspectives will be very deep because each of their consultants does not know you all that well.

While some services will claim that they have an informational advantage over independent consultants or other rivals, I think this is an increasingly difficult argument to make given the accessibility of free or low cost information.

”Does the consultant have expertise?” No matter whether you use an independent consultant or service, you should really consider that it is the consultant who will be impacting you. Regarding expertise, I think it is mistake to assume that you need to see a consultant who has an academic credential in your intended field of study. Just because someone does not have an MBA, LL.M., PhD in Electrical Engineering, a Masters in Art History,etc. is not inherently a problem. Instead you need someone who has expertise in the admissions process, in listening to you, in helping you tell the most effective story you can, and in helping you present yourself at your best.

-Adam Markus
アダム マーカス

If you are interested in my overall counseling services and would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form, which is publicly available on Google Docs and Scribedand then send your completed form to adammarkus@gmail.com.  You can also send me your resume if it is convenient for you.  Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to.  See here for why.

ビジネススクール 米国ロースクール、米国大学法学院 大学院入学 カウンセリング コンサルティング 大学院 合格対策

April 27, 2011

INSEAD MBA Interviews

My analysis of the INSEAD application essays can be found here. My overall strategy for interviewing can be found here.
INSEAD alumni interviews, of which most applicants will have two of,  are not necessarily that hard in any obvious way.  The INSEAD website states that the majority of applicants will have two such interviews. Actually, I have never heard of someone only having one interview.   These interviews are about fit as determined by  alumni "gatekeepers." My analysis of INSEAD interviews based on my own personal knowledge as well as reviewing the reports of INSEAD interviews found at accepted.com and clearadmit.com.

During a Q&A I conducted with INSEAD's Deborah Riger, she discussed the whole issue of the two interviewers:

ADAM: Sometimes when I read or hear about INSEAD interviews, it almost seems like one interviewer is being intentionally aggressive and the other much less so. Sometimes I think this is probably just a kind of post-facto perception, but is there some real distinction between the two interviewers?

DEBORAH: The interviewers are given the same instructions. We don’t tell one to be more aggressive than the other. However, when possible, we do try to have applicants interview with one older alum and one more junior alum. We expect the more senior alum to have a stronger perspective on the overall leadership potential of the applicant and the future contributions one might make as part of the alumni community. We would expect a junior alum to assess the applicant from the perspective of a peer. i.e. Will this applicant be happy in the INSEAD programme?"

You may not necessarily find that more senior of the two interviewers is the more difficult one.  It is also possible that you might have two interviewers who are not necessarily that different in terms of their age.  Depending on where you are located, INSEAD may or may not have many local alumni to choose from.  You should treat each of these interviews as separate experiences and if the first one does not go as well as you expected, don't give up.  What matters is what both interviewers say about you.

You can provide your interviewers with either a resume or the application form information (non-essay pages) of the application.  Some applicants just provide the entire application.  I have not really detected any difference in outcomes between sending the application and sending a resume.

My colleague, H. Steven Green, has put the following organized list of INSEAD questions together by reviewing interview reports:

RESUME  (Expect answers to be probed for details.)
  • Walk me through your resume.
  • What do you do in your free time?
  • Tell me about yourself. / How did you get to where you are now?
  • Tell me about your career progression to-date
  • Why did you choose your current firm / current position?
  • Tell me about your current work responsibilities.
  • Tell me, in detail, about one project in your current job.
  • Tell me about your international experience(s) - both work and personal.
  • Tell me about the major milestones in you life since university graduation.

  • What are your goals?
  • What are your career goals after INSEAD
  • What will you do if you do not get the job you want after graduation?
  • Why an MBA?
  • Why now?
  • Why INSEAD?
  • Where else did you apply? How would you prioritize your decision if admitted to two or more?

  • What is special about you that will make me recommend you?
  • Tell me 3 strengths
  • Tell me 3 weaknesses
  • What is the biggest challenge you have faced?
  • When you are in a gathering, what attracts your attention first?
  • What makes you angry?
  • What are you most passionate about?
  • What do you find intolerable?
  • Where are your peers that started in the same class with you at your consulting firm?

  • What is your style of negotiation?
  • How do you deal with a boss who is not as smart as you?
  • How do you deal with a person who’s determined not to listen to you even though he/ she knows you are right?

  • Tell me about a time when you were in control of a project.
  • Tell me about a time when you were in a leadership position?
  • What is your leadership style?

  • What THREE things would you if a team member at INSEAD were not pulling his own weight?
  • Tell me about your teamwork experience.
  • Tell me about a time when you worked on a team.
  • Tell me about time when you had to deal with conflict on a team.
  • How do you handle cultural differences on an international team?

  • How has the economic crisis affected your company/your industry?
  • What is the main challenge your industry/company is facing?

Steve and I have been working together since 2001. Approximately half of my 11 clients admitted to INSEAD since 2008 have done mock interview preparation with him.  Many of my clients to other schools like IMD, Stanford, HBS, and LBS have also done preparation with him. You can learn about his interview preparation services here

You need to be able to explain in-depth why you should be admitted to INSEAD, what you can contribute, and what you want to learn. Be willing to openly discuss what soft and hard skills you need to improve/acquire. Show yourself to be open, dynamic, change oriented, and a highly motivated person because the alum will be.

Since there will be  time for you to ask questions to the alumnus, you need to give some significant thought to formulating those. Consider what year the alumnus graduated and any other background information if you can determine that through Linkedin or other sources of information. Develop  at least four or more questions to ask.

Whoever you interview with, they are likely to be quite friendly and the style of the interview is conversational.  Just because your interviewer is friendly, it does not mean that you are doing well. Don't assume a friendly interviewer is not actually a super critical one.  Take nothing for granted. Also keep in mind that the admissions process at INSEAD is holistic and a great interview is no absolute guarantee of success.

Reported interview length for interviews is from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours.  It is a good idea to make sure that your own schedule is free for about 2 hours in the event that your interviewer wants to keep on talking.  The setting for these interviews is typically the interviewer's office or a cafe.

-Adam Markus

I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.

April 26, 2011

HBS 2+2 Program Class of 2016 MBA Essays and Recommendations

This post is focused on the HBS 2+2 program.  For the regular MBA program essays, see here.  For the regular program, recommendations see here. For HBS interviews, see here

In this very long post, I will discuss the HBS 2+2 Program Class of 2016 MBA application essays and recommendations. I have only worked with two applicants on 2+2, one who was admitted for the Class of 2014 and another who did not make the cut for the Class of 2015. I have also had comprehensive services clients admitted to the regular HBS MBA for the Classes of 2013, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, and 2005.  

For undergraduates, 2+2 offers a level of career and academic support prior to class entry that is unique in the MBA and graduate school world as a whole. I suggest reviewing the HBS website in detail for information regarding this program.


  • Learn as much as you can about HBS. If possible, go visit the campus. Visiting HBS, like visiting any business school, is one of the best ways to learn about it.
  • Attend admissions outreach events as these will give you an opportunity to hear from admissions directly and possibly interact with alumni
HBS is not right for everybody, so look at it closely to see if it right for you. HBS is very open about who they take.  Not everyone should apply or go to HBS.  For a happy story of HBS rejection, see here.

If you are thinking about applying to HBS, you should learn about the case method. One of the clearest explanations for the case method is, not surprisingly, the HBS website. Every MBA applicant could benefit from watching the case study video which will provide you with a clear 13 minute and 25 second image of what case study is about. You should most certainly look at videos found at the HBS' YouTube channel.

While Harvard Business School is most known for its use of the case method (80%), other top programs use it typically 30%-50% of the time with the remainder consisting of lecture, experiential learning, simulations, and other methods. By the way, if you want to know what HBS students read in addition to case studies, see http://www.computersexy.com/blog/2008/02/03/hbs/what-do-hbs-students-read/.

One great resource for cases studies is caseplace.org, where you can read cases written by and for top business schools. Many were published by Harvard Business School through Harvard Working Knowledge, Harvard Business Review, and Harvard Business School Publishing. Sources for other cases include Stanford Social Innovation Review,Knowledge @ Wharton, and MIT Sloan Management Review.

Sponsored by the Aspen Institute, "CasePlace.org is a practical and dynamic resource for up-to-date case studies, syllabi and innovative MBA teaching materials on business and sustainability— from corporate governance to sustainable development." Given the sources and purpose of the site, this is a wonderful opportunity to read cases on a diverse  range of subjects. If caseplace.org is not enough for you then you can also purchase case studies directly from HBS and other schools.

Please keep in mind that the objective is to get enough background to make good decisions about your applications, so don't feel obligated to spend so much time reading cases. Just spend enough time to know what the case method is and how it will impact your application decisions and admissions strategy.

The Essay Questions 
The 2+2 Program has four set essay questions.   I will discuss each of them in detail. 
Tell us about three of your accomplishments. (600 words)

HBS is about leadership. The HBS mission statement makes that clear: The mission of Harvard Business School is to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. As such HBS places a very high premium on applicants' leadership potential:
Harvard thus has a very open-ended conception of leadership, but they are rigid in the necessity that applicants demonstrate it. Even if a set of business school essay questions does not necessarily explicitly ask for you to show your potential for leadership, it should still be accounted for. Leadership is no easy thing. Nor is it obvious. The worst possible thing is to conceive of leadership as simple formal responsibility or a title because this conveys nothing about the person in that position. While some applicants will have held formal leadership positions, many will not.

Formal leadership positions are great to write about if they involve the applicant actually having significant impact, making a difficult decision, being a visionary, showing creativity, or otherwise going beyond their formal responsibility, but the same is true for those showing leadership without having a formal title.

If you are having difficulty really understanding leadership, I have a few suggestions.

First, one great place to read about leadership, and business in general, is Harvard Business School Working Knowledge.

Second, find out what kind of leader you are by taking this quiz based on Lewin's classic framework. I think leadership is more complicated than Lewin's framework, but this quiz is a great way to get you started thinking about yourself, a key part of answering any leadership essay question effectively.

Third, if you have not done so, I suggest reading relevant essays in 65 Successful Harvard Business School Application Essays: With Analysis by the Staff of the Harbus, The Harvard Business School Newspaper. Reading through the essays on leadership should help you to understand the great diversity of topics that are possible.

OK, now that we have grounded ourselves in understanding the importance of leadership and begun to develop some possible leadership stories, how should you proceed?

Given the composition of the application for Class of 2016 admission, I think the accomplishment essay and setback essays are the most likely places for you to show your leadership potential. 

HBS has asked  some variation of this question for a very long time. According to 65 Successful Harvard Business School Application Essays, "This is one of those essays that is probably a permanent fixture in the HBS application (p. 121)." So far it has been the only question not to change. HBS has made this one of the mandatory questions because...
-Accomplishments reveal your potential to succeed at HBS and afterwards.
-Accomplishments reveal your key strengths.
-Accomplishments reveal your potential for contributing to your classmates.
-Everyone has had accomplishments, so it is easy to compare applicants.
-What you consider to be an accomplishment are real tests of your self-awareness and judgment.

The following grid is the kind I have used successfully with applicants preparing this question:

How to use this grid for outlining your answer to Question 1:

Row 1: "Stories." 
The first thing you need to do is think of the accomplishments. These will eventually take the form of stories, so that is what I call them. A few things to keep in mind:
  • Your accomplishments may be personal, professional, or academic. 
  • While it is very important that your accomplishments be distinct so as to reveal different things about you, there is no single formula for what their content must be. It really will depend on your background. Some people think you need to have one academic, one professional, and one extracurricular here. My experience with both admits and those invited for interviews is that this is not the case.
Row 2: "What skill, value, or unique experience is being showcased?" Your accomplishments need to reveal valuable things about you. Some will call these selling points, but more specifically they consist of skills, values, or unique experiences. One might use a specific accomplishment to emphasize one's leadership skills, another to show one's ethical values, and another to explain a significant barrier that was overcome. The point is that each accomplishment must, at its core, reveal something key to understanding who you are.

Row 3: "What potential for success in the MBA program or afterwords is demonstrated?" You may or may not be directly stating this in the essay, but you should think about what each accomplishment reveals in terms of your potential. HBS Adcom will most certainly be considering how your accomplishments demonstrate your potential to succeed at HBS and afterwards, so you should as well. One key way of thinking about the MBA application process is to see it as a test of potential. Potential itself can mean different things at different schools and so you must keep in mind differences between schools and, in particular, must pay close attention to what schools say really matters when they assess applicants. Harvard Business School Admissions states:
Therefore, please keep in mind that a core part of your own application strategy should be determining which parts of yourself to emphasize both overall and for a particular school. For example, at HBS, clearly "demonstrated leadership potential" and a strong academic background are necessary.   I have already discussed the importance of leadership, but academic potential is particularly important at HBS, especially because the forced grading curve makes it a uniquely challenging academic environment.

Beyond the potential to succeed at HBS, you may want to use one of your accomplishments to show why you will be able to reach your post-MBA goals. 

Row 4: "Will this be a contribution to others in the MBA program? How?" Just as with potential, think about whether your accomplishments demonstrate your ability to add value to other students at HBS. Given space limitations, it is not likely that you will explain how one or more of your accomplishments will be a contribution, but rather this is a strategic consideration. The dynamic nature of case study at HBS is very much based on what each student contributes. Think about whether any of your accomplishments demonstrate how you will likely add value to other students' HBS experience. Not all accomplishments will have this quality, but many will.

Row 5: "Why does Adcom need to know about this?" If your accomplishment has made it this far, chances are they. That said, I have two simple tests for determining whether an accomplishment really belongs in this essay. The first is whether Adcom really needs to know about this accomplishment. After all, you might consider getting the love of your life to date you to be one of your most substantial accomplishments, but will Adcom care? If an accomplishment does not reveal (whether stated or implied) potential and/or contribution, chances are likely that it is not significant enough.

Row 6: "Is this something Adcom could learn about you elsewhere? (If "YES," find another accomplishment)" The second and final simple test I have for determining whether an accomplishment really belongs in this essay is based on the idea that something that is totally obvious about you to anyone looking at your resume and transcript is probably not worth mentioning. If you were a CPA, having an accomplishment that merely demonstrated you were good at accounting would not be worth writing about. Instead it would be important to show something more specific that reveals something that is not obvious by a mere examination of the basic facts of your application.

Finally, as I mentioned above, what you include here is a real test of your judgment, so don't just write about your obvious accomplishments. Think deeply and come up with a set of unique accomplishments that reveal distinct, interesting, and the most important things about you that will compel admissions to want to interview you.

Tell us three setbacks you have faced. (600 words)
 This a new variation on the mistake/failure/setback question that HBS has been asking for a very long time.  it now fully parallels the structure of the accomplishments essay.  This is the first time that HBS has asked for three setbacks.  I think most applicants will find this question to be incredibly challenging.  Applicants usually have enough difficulty writing about one mistake, failure, or setback, so doing three is likely to prove initially daunting, but I think it might not be as hard as it initially looks.

I think we should first consider what a setback is and then think about how you can use setbacks to illustrate your potential to succeed at HBS and in your career.  

I find it easiest to understand what a setback is if we compare it to what a failure is. What is the difference between between a failure and a setback? I think the easiest thing to do is look at standard definitions of both words:

All setbacks can in some sense be understood as failures in sense of the seventh definition of failure cited above, but actually the difference is one of nuance: a setback does not carry with it any sense of finality. A failure conveys that sense of finality.

To use the experiment example above, "a setback in an experiment means the experiment could still succeed, but if the experiment is a failure, there is no chance for success. The only option is a new experiment.
Setbacks are thus the big challenges in your life that you have overcome.  Such challenges might be academic, financial, interpersonal, intellectual, professional, athletic, political, etc. 

Setbacks are great way of highlighting your strengths.  A setback can show how you performed at your best in a difficult situation. A setback can show you have matured as a person. A setback can show how you have overcome difficult problems in your life including such things as financial obstacles, health issues, and adopting to a new environment.

Just as with the accomplishments essay, you should write about three distinct setbacks.  Each setback should highlight something unique about you that is important for HBS to know.

The basic components of each setback:
1. Clearly state what the setback was. Given the limited word count available for telling three stories in 600 words, you need to provide a clear, but brief explanation of the situation.
2. Clearly state your role. Since this is your setback, you need to make it very clear what your role was.  For personal setbacks, such as overcoming an academic difficulty, this is obvious.  On the other hand, if you are writing about being part of an organization that experiences a setback, you need to make sure that you are focused sufficiently on your own role within that organization.
3. Explain how you reacted to the situation. What actions did you take to overcome the situation?  It is critical that you highlight specific skills or personal qualities that made you effective in overcoming whatever setback you faced.
4. Interpret the story: Explain the impact on you. If you want to control how your HBS admissions readers will perceive you, you need to clearly analyze the impact of the setback on you.  Just providing a short story is not enough, make sure you are providing 1-2 sentences that actually analyze what each story means.

Finally, keep in mind that the difference between setbacks and accomplishments can sometimes be just a matter of interpretation.  I therefore suggest you fully brainstorm a set of 6-12 possible accomplishments and setbacks and then determine which ones to make use of.  Always use your best stories.

Why do you want an MBA? (400 words)

HBS does not necessarily expect that you have a fully worked out life plan at your age, but you should be able to explain what motivates you to want an MBA.  Writing that you want an HBS MBA because it will make you rich and give you prestige is not option, so I suggest you focus on how you will use an MBA to become a leader who will make a difference in the world so that you can show fit with the mission of HBS.  For more about fit, see hereFor more about writing goals that are both ambitious and visionary, see here.

At a strategic application level, all applicants should go through the process of analyzing why they want an MBA in detail. Chances are quite high that if your are interviewed by HBS, you will be asked about your goals. Hence, having essays that account for your goals even indirectly or in limited detail is an important part of having an overall application strategy. 
Even if you know why you want an MBA, I suggest going through a formal process of MBA goals formulation. You can use my GAP, SWOT, AND ROI TABLE FOR FORMULATING GRADUATE DEGREE GOALS for this purpose (see below). I think Gap, SWOT, and ROI analysis are great ways for understanding what your goals are, why you want a degree, and how you will use it. 

(To best view the following table, click on it. )

How to use this table:

Step 1. 
Begin by analyzing your "Present Situation." What  roles and responsibilities have you had in clubs, part-time jobs, internships, volunteer activities, etc.? What was/is your functional role(s)? What was/are your responsibilities?

Next, analyze your present strengths and weaknesses for succeeding in your present career. In particular, some of your greatest strengths may have been demonstrated outside of work, so make sure you are accounting for them.
Strengths: What are you good at? Where do you add value? What are you praised for? What are you proud of?
Weakness: What are you bad at? What are you criticized for? What do you try to avoid due to your own limitations? What do you fear?
, analyze your situation in right now. What opportunities exist for your growth and success? What threats could limit your career growth?

Step 2. 
Now, do the same thing in Step 1 for your "Post-Degree" future after you have earned your graduate degree. IF YOU CANNOT COMPLETE STEP 2, YOU HAVE NOT SUFFICIENTLY PLANNED FOR YOUR FUTURE and therefore you need to do more research and need to think more about it.

Step 3.
 If you could complete step 2, than you should see the "Gap" between your present and your future. What skills, knowledge, and other resources do you need to close the gap between your present and future responsibilities, strengths, and opportunities?

Step 4. After completing Step 3, you now need to determine how an MBA will add value to you. It is possible that an increased salary as a result of job change will be sufficient "ROI" for the degree to justify itself, but you should show how a degree will allow you to reach your career goals. How will the degree enhance your skills and opportunities and help you overcome your weaknesses and external threats? If you can complete Step 4, then you should be ready to explain what your goals are, why you want a degree, and the  relationship between your past and future career, as well as your strengths and weaknesses.

The above table will also help you answer such common interview questions as: Where do you want to work after you finish your degree? Why do you want an MBA (or other degree)? What are you strengths? What are your weaknesses? What are your goals?

Simply stating what your goals are and why HBS is the best place for you to accomplish them is not exactly what you need here. Instead, you need to articulate a vision related to why you an MBA. You need to focus on your motivations as well as your idealized career outcomes.

Making your career goals sound exciting requires thinking about whether these goals are compelling. Admissions committees ask applicants to write about their goals after graduate school, but can applicants actually know what will be on the cutting-edge by the time you graduate in 2016? While many applicants will be able to successfully apply with relatively standard goals ("I want to be a consultant because..."), putting together a truly outstanding career vision is one way of differentiating your application. But how?

Don't know anyone in your intended field? Network! One great way to start that is through LinkedIn. Another is by making use of your undergraduate alumni network and/or career center.

Learn what is hot now and try to figure out what will be hot by the time you graduate. Now, of course, this is just a plan and chances are that what is hot in your industry or field now, may very well be cold in the future. The point is to come across to the Harvard Business School as someone who is not only well informed, but has CUTTING-EDGE knowledge. Some great general sources for learning what is hot:

HBS Sources: One of the best places to learn about what HBS perceives as cutting-edge is through HBS. You should most certainly visit Harvard Working Knowledge, Harvard Business Review, and Harvard Business School Publishing.

LinkedIn Answers: I would suggest that everyone join LinkedIn and make use of LinkedIn Answers. LinkedIn Answers is a great way to tap into cutting edge expertise (including my admissions advice!). Follow LinkedIn's rules and you will often be able to obtain excellent information.

Hoovers: For information about specific companies, Hoovers is just a great way to learn about key facts including competitors (a very useful way of knowing who else you might want to work for and to learn about an industry). While primarily focused on the US, Hoovers does have listings for companies worldwide.

Vault: For scope of coverage, this site is a must. Vault includes both career and admissions information. It includes both company specific and industry-wide information.

Other sources: Read magazines, websites, and books that relate to your intended field.

The writing process: After going through a process of reflection and analysis, prepare a version of this essay that includes everything you want to say. Next begin the process of revision. Here are a few key things to consider when revising:

1. Think about the most important thing you need admissions to know about why you need an MBA. Begin your essay with that. Chances are good that on your initial draft the most important thing is somewhere in the middle or end of your essay.
2. Prioritize the rest of your content: What do they really need to know? You probably have lots of details that can be cut.
3. Make a formal argument: Your essay should be neither a set of disembodied points or a summary. Instead, it should be a formal statement about your career vision. It may very well partially take the form of a memo or it may be rather creative. The important point is that the reader should be able to understand it clearly and be convinced by it.

Next, once you have put together your answer, consider how the rest of your application supports what you say in it. Without over-marketing yourself, or even necessarily writing it directly in the essays, make sure that your past accomplishments and other aspects of your application show how your potential will contribute to your future career vision.

My final point is that HBS is looking for people who want to be leaders, not mere managers. They are looking for people who will use their "one precious and wild life" to achieve great things, not those who will be satisfied at being back office mediocrities.  If you can't articulate an exciting vision of your future now, when will you? 

What would you like the MBA Admissions Board to know about your undergraduate academic experience? (400 words)
Consider the emphasis that HBS puts on academic ability:

The likely structure for your answer here may very well be similar to the accomplishments essay. That said, while it is possible to write on multiple aspects of your academic experience (two to four different topics), it is certainly possible that you might want to focus on only one topic here.

While this essay may seemingly focus on an academic topic, it is very possible that the theme actually relates to your leadership potential, career vision, personality, or some other topic that you have not effectively addressed elsewhere.  As with any topic, you should ask yourself why does  Adcom need to know about it? 

You should not focus on a story about your non-academic undergraduate activities. Clearly this is not part of what HBS is asking about. You can easily discuss extracurricular activities in the accomplishments essay, but not here.

Finally, I should point out that I don't see any advantage to using this essay to explain a bad GPA. Instead focus not such an explanation, but on making a clear argument for why you are strong candidate. There is an additional information section on the application which is long enough to provide a brief explanation of anything problematic in your academic background.

Questions for Recommenders 
For the 2+2 MBA program, you will need  two recommenders. I like the HBS recommendation form best because it is short and sweet. Other MBA programs torture recommenders with a series of typically 6-10 questions, while HBS takes a recommender-friendly approach.   For more about recommendations in general see my previous posts, "10 KEY POINTS FOR WRITING AN EFFECTIVE RECOMMENDATION: WHAT EVERY RECOMMENDER SHOULD KNOW" and "Further Comments on Selecting the Right Recommenders."   Another thing that I like about the HBS recommendation questions is that they are found on the HBS website and don't require registering as a fake recommender to obtain.  It is really annoying to have to go through the process of a registering as fake applicant and then registering fake recommenders in order to look at recommendation questions! I try to avoid doing that.  Some schools seem to think that no one has figured out how to get access to these things or that there is something wrong in having applicants have easy access.  Applicants need to see the questions because there is a very good chance that they will need to advise recommenders on the questions, especially if their recommenders are not familiar with this process.   Why make something that should be so easy to obtain so difficult?
Recommendations must be completed online. The form includes the following four essay response questions. I will analyze each question.
  • Please comment on the context of your interaction with the applicant. If applicable, briefly describe the applicant's role in your organization. (250 words)
 Adam's Quick and Dirty Interpretation: HOW WELL DO YOU KNOW THE APPLICANT AND WHAT DO THEY DO?

As I emphasized in my 10 Key Points Post, "#2: YOU BETTER KNOW THE APPLICANT OR CREATE THE APPEARANCE THAT YOU REALLY DO," it is critical that the recommender establish the legitimate basis upon which they are making this recommendation.  A clear description  which is explicit about the time knowing, organizational relationship to, and extent of observation of applicant is critical.  In addition, this answer should, even though it is not stated, begin the act of advocating for the applicant (My key point #10: BE AN EFFECTIVE ADVOCATE FOR THE APPLICANT).  In the process of describing the applicant's role in your organization, highlight the ways they have added value to the organization. 

  • How does the candidate's performance compare to other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? (250 words)

Directly compare the applicant to his or her peers in the process of explaining the applicant's role in your organization or similar organizations.  While you should not unrealistically overstate the applicant's role, I highly recommend that you clearly indicate what makes him or her special.  You will not be helping the applicant very much if they are not positively distinct in one or more ways.  Provide at least one very concrete example of what makes the applicant special in comparison to others.
  • Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant's response. (250 words)

I consider this to actually be the ideal question for determining whether a recommender actually knows an applicant well.  After all, casual acquaintances, your dad's friend, the President of your country,and other such personages that often take the form of bad VIP recommendations, cannot effectively answer this question. As this will be a situation where you are criticizing the candidate, Key Point #7: BE CRITICAL, BUT NUANCED applies. Clearly describe what the candidate did that resulted in you providing feedback.  Next describe how the applicant responded.  An effective and applicant friendly answer here will be one where the applicant learned from and was, ideally, able to implement your feedback.  Assume that HBS believes that great leaders learn from their mistakes and they are trying to gauge the extent to which the applicant has the potential to be such a leader.

  • Please make additional statements about the applicant's performance, potential, or personal qualities you believe would be helpful to the MBA Admissions Board. (250 words)

Other schools will often ask two questions or more to address this same issue as HBS does in this one question.  What I really like about this is that the recommender is not forced to fit the applicant into a specific category. Such attempts at fitting round pegs into square holes can certainly take much time for a recommender to address. HBS makes it easy for recommenders to focus on what they consider most important to say about an applicant.  This space should be used to focus on the absolutely critical selling points about the applicant that the recommender really wants HBS to know.  Core accomplishments, interpersonal and/or professional skills, and future potential are the ideal topics to write about here.  
Finally, I just wanted to mention that given that HBS has the largest alumni network of any MBA program, it is not necessarily the case that one should prioritize obtaining recommendations from HBS alumni.  If you are fortunate to have such a person who can effectively recommend you, that is great, but selecting an HBS alumni simply because they are an alumni is not necessarily smart because there will be so many of them. The most important thing is to have a recommendation that will really standout and fully convinces HBS about your past accomplishments, suitability to enter HBS in 2014, and future potential. 

-Adam Markus
 アダム マーカス

If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form, which is publicly available on google docs hereand then send your completed form to adammarkus@gmail.com.  You can also send me your resume if it is convenient for you.  Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to.  See here for why.
Real Time Web Analytics