I have received the following question a lot lately: "Should my presentation reflect the ideas that Booth espouses when introducing the presentation question?" The short answer is "yes," but the long answer is more complicated than that and is worthy of discussion here in this space. Not just for the way it will help Booth applicants, but because of the way it speaks to the whole idea of "School DNA" and how to assess fit with a program.
The content in question is simply the introductory content that Booth includes in its "presentation" question this year. In full the question reads:
"Chicago Booth values individuality because of what we can learn from the diverse experiences and perspectives of others. This mutual respect creates an open-minded community that supports curiosity, inspires us to think more broadly, take risks, and challenge assumptions. At Booth, community is about collaborative thinking and tapping into each other's different viewpoints to cultivate new ideas and realize breakthrough moments every day.
Using one of the photos provided, tell us how it resonates with your own viewpoint on why the Booth community is the right fit for you."
They go on to include technical requirements, but we don't need to get into those. I'm also not going to get into the presentation aspect itself, or the picture choices given. Rest assured that if you want to work with us on Booth, we assess each and every option and give advice on which photo you might want to tackle, as well as how to do it. But we can assess their intro content and give you some thoughts on what to make of it. Let's break it down in three sections: 1) why intro content like this exists, 2) how to use it for purposes of school selection, and 3) how to use it in your presentation.
1. Why does intro content like this exist? The first and most important thing to understand when you read an "intro" like this (and many schools have these) is that it exists in part to help you answer the question, but in even larger part to "message" to you. It's one more chance for the school to tell you what they are about, why they are great, why they are better than other programs, etc. If you read it carefully, you will see that they are not really asking you to do anything in particular with this info, or even respond to it. They are asking you to respond to a photo and then articulate why the Booth community is the right fit for you. Your own goals and personality may or may not directly connect to the things they are bragging about when talking about their own community - it is certainly unlikely to be an exact match, with your values overlaying Booth's exactly. So if you take this info and use it purely as content priming, you are probably going to arrive at a presentation that seems pandering - and all for no reason, as they included this to show off to you, more than they did to instruct your answer.
2. How to use this information in school selection. I include this mainly to say "don't bother." There are a million reasons to apply to a school. Just a few: brand, ROI, industry expertise, hiring pipeline, culture, location, friends went there or go there, a certain program of interest, teaching style, and so on. But one reason should not be "the flowery statement they made on the essay question." All these schools say stuff like this and its just marketing. If we understand that this is a message they are feeding you (and from point #1 we know it is), then we know its not reliable information for selection a school. (The implication here, in case you are missing it, is this: never pick a school based on the lines they feed you. You owe it to yourself to dig deeper than that and find our real reasons for applying.)
3. How to use this information in the presentation. Okay, let's be honest, this is what you clicked on the post for. The way you want to use this information in the presentation is to absorb the ideas more broadly into your analysis of self and of how you are approaching this school. Any Booth client of mine will know that hitting on risk tolerance is essential when applying to Booth. Not just because you want to give them that wrinkle on your presentation, but because you should indeed have some capacity for taking risks if Booth is going to be a good fit. It's more of a "push your chips into the middle of the table" kind of school than most. If you can navigate ambiguity, if you like being out on a limb and feel you grow when stretched, if you are unafraid of taking chances ... honestly, Booth is probably going to be a blast. If are the stereotypical movie character who believes in hierarchy, pecking order, strict categorization, and rules for everything, you will probably hate it. So for me, it's about making these notions part of your greater process of discovering school fit. And then, once you have pegged the school as a fit, you will easily and naturally find yourself in position to build your story around common pillars. Still, I know you want me to run them down line by line, so I will:
- "Diverse perspectives." We know from the intro content that Booth believes that individual perspectives are key, but you don't have to worry too much on this one because sharing your own perspective is inherent to a Booth presentation. But it does bring to mind something I found myself telling people all the time, which is "Double down on sharing who you are, rather than on trying to impress people." People are either impressed or they are not, based on your profile and resume - it's pretty binary. There is no need to try to "impress them more." Instead, allow them to get to know you. It seems simple, but it's very important and I would guess that half of MBA applicants fail to understand this.
- "Mutual respect" and "Open-minded." I put these together because what they are saying is they want an engaged community of respect and intellectual exploration. This is hard to convey in a presentation, but they can filter out people who don't fit this in the interview process. Therefore, I wouldn't go out of your way to try to "cover this" in a presentation, as it will seem like pandering. The exception here would be if your entire platform and reason for applying to Booth is because you are drawn to the Life of the Mind atmosphere at U Chicago.
- "Think more broadly." This more or less means thinking and behaving in an interdisciplinary way. Booth is part of a larger university community and acts like it - this is a place that values a deep interdisciplinary approach. Again though, it's more for you to know than to try to talk about. It wouldn't hurt to mention cross-functional projects in the interview, but if you try to do a presentation slide about how much you love broad, cross-discipline growth, you will come off as either very unlikeable or very fake. (Again, unless it is truly central to your profile and story.)
- "Take risks and challenge assumptions." I put these together because I do think this is core to Booth and should be core to your interest in the school and, therefore, any application you would forward. But it's not *because* they put it in this intro. It's in the intro because it's the foundation of the program. Do you see the difference? You are responding not to the content, but instead you would be doing what Booth is doing - recognizing something foundational and true and then speaking to it.
- "Collaborative thinking." The rest of the intro is very much advertising. I'd need another 1,000 words to do this one justice, but basically Booth (back when it was just Chicago GSB) used to be seen as a little more cutthroat and a little less social than some other b-schools (especially since crosstown rival Kellogg was always seen as the MBA version of a group hug). That couldn't be further from the truth now, so they just want you to know it. For purposes of "using" this information, I would suggest not forwarding a story of yourself that is solitary in nature. Include the people that matter to you and the people in your life that have shaped you. But seriously, if you plan to forward a presentation without other people in it, you are further off than one bullet in one blog can do anything to help with. Therefore, this is one instruction that you should definitely follow, but you would anyway.
When you break it down like that, you can see that this is really just a blend of the obvious/inherent (stuff you would grapple with anyway), some things that likely wouldn't be appropriate to tackle in a presentation, and then one gold nugget (risk) that you should have found, responded to, and made central already if you were going to make Booth a top choice for your MBA pursuits. The goal of this post is to help you recognize all three of those realities and learn from them. Know when you are being marketed to, know when to avoid falling into the trap of being the Type A personality that panders to the school, and know how to zero in on the DNA of a school. In this way, the Booth "intro" content is a truly great case study.
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