Adam Hoff

Getting an MBA While the World Falls Apart (2018)

Getting an MBA While the World Falls Apart (2018)

There are times when things feel so crazy, out of control, and even hopeless that our own individual pursuits start to feel trivial, selfish, and even misguided.

I can remember vivid moments over the past 10+ years where I had a distinct feeling of living the wrong life, given what was going on around me.  When the financial collapse took hold in 2009, I thought to myself "why did I leave corporate law - where I could be part of the solution - to instead help people apply to business school right in the teeth of a recession?"  I watched "Making a Murderer" on Netflix and kicked myself for not remaining a lawyer ... but this time not a corporate lawyer, but instead a constitutional attorney like the individuals portrayed early in that documentary series. And now, as police/citizen animus and race problems in America reach new heights, as the EU teeters, as a sitting US President remains clouded in controversy, and as [seriously, enter any of a dozen paralyzing issues] I sometimes am not even sure what I should be doing.  But I do know it doesn't feel like enough; it feels to insular and self-absorbed and small.  But then it occurred to me: I bet a lot of people feel that way, including my past and present clients pursuing an MBA.  So let's talk about that.

The Hard Part of the MBA Interview - How to Survive It

The Hard Part of the MBA Interview - How to Survive It

This article is a bit of a repeat from one we wrote last year, but it's key this time of year, when it seems like every day a client is getting ready to take on an MBA interview.  

This particular piece is about a harsh reality of that process, which is that every interview is going to take a dip, or hit a rough patch, at some point ... through no fault of anyone involved. Why is this? And how can you address it? Let's dive into it.

Harvard and Kellogg: a tale of two business schools?

Harvard and Kellogg: a tale of two business schools?

Very rarely do we get caught up in trying to spot trends in terms of which schools are "hot" at any given moment.

This is mainly because narratives tend to overreact in the moment, only to fade over time ("Wharton is going off the rails" - 2013 .. "Stanford is mired in sexual harassment scandal!" - 2015), but also because so much of trying to spot these trends is about reacting to anecdotal evidence from a small sample size.  Put another way: you are just hearing your clients buzz about schools and express their opinions.  Is that enough to go all-in on?  No, definitely not.  But can you sometimes spot an interesting new trend or pattern?  I think yes, sometimes you can. 

How to Finish Selecting the MBA Programs to Which You Will Apply

How to Finish Selecting the MBA Programs to Which You Will Apply

Today's post is one that can be used by just about any MBA applicant, as it has to do with rounding out your list of schools to which you are applying. So let's dive into how to finalize selecting what MBA programs to which you should apply.

Should You Care That an MBA Program is Good at Marketing Itself?

Should You Care That an MBA Program is Good at Marketing Itself?

This post is going to feel like its about Wharton, but its not - not really.  I'm prompted to write it because of Wharton, but it is about a larger issue, which is whether or not you should have a takeaway when you see that an MBA program is going all in on its marketing.  Should you read into it or ignore it?  And if you do search out some meaning, is it is good or bad thing when a business school suddenly seems to have hired a new marketing whiz who knows how to game the headlines?  Let's dive in. 

Columbia Business School Strategy Memo Excerpt: How to Write Essay Question 2

Columbia Business School Strategy Memo Excerpt: How to Write Essay Question 2

Every so often, we like to put an excerpt out there from one of our school-specific Strategy Memos.  Full disclosure, the main reason to do this is to show off how we approach the process and to give potential clients a sense of what they might get (across the board, with all their schools and all the questions) if they become clients.  But we also try to coordinate these with moments where we can get some really helpful strategy out there - basic, core ideas that will help people avoid pitfalls, even if they don't have help in executing perfectly.  In this instance, Columbia Business School's Essay Question 2 is a nice overlap that allows us to do both.  So let's dive in.  

Taking MBA Admissions Feedback With a Grain of Salt

Taking MBA Admissions Feedback With a Grain of Salt

I have been getting a lot of emails lately that center on the same basic idea: "I got feedback directly from the admissions office and they told me X."  Sometimes the feedback is ultra specific ("you should seriously consider retaking your GMAT") and other times it is extremely vague ("there were elements of your application that just weren't quite where they needed to be"), usually somewhere in between.  The question is: should you put stock in what they are saying?

5 Steps for Negotiating Your Offer of MBA Admission (Updated)

5 Steps for Negotiating Your Offer of MBA Admission (Updated)

Today's blog post builds on a post I've been working on for years, where I continue to add thought about the art of negotiating your MBA offer of admission.  I've long said that "negotiation" is not what you do when it comes to securing more financial aid from a business school.  The term of art for what you are going to be doing is "asking."  Let me explain and try to add clarity around questions that often come up.

The Chicago Booth Waitlist Video Assignment

The Chicago Booth Waitlist Video Assignment

Let's get into this Chicago Booth waitlist video a bit.  It always causes people to feel tremendous stress when they see this option because they immediately think "how can I create an amazing video that will blow away the admissions committee?"

This is especially stressful when there are caveats like not having strong skills in areas like shooting film or editing or things of that nature.  So the first ting to do is stop, take a breath, and reframe the entire operation. 

Monday MBA Resource: Behavioral Interview Questions

Monday MBA Resource: Behavioral Interview Questions

Time for another edition of Monday MBA Resource, where we share the things we are reading, watching, and listening to that might be helpful to people in the MBA community.  Some are more focused on applicants, others are better for students, some for both - but all of them offer great insights that are worth soaking up.  Three weeks ago we broke down the Knowledge @Wharton podcast and people seem to really be enjoying it.  Two weeks ago it was one of my favorite articles in years: "Happy Ambition: Striving for Success, Avoiding Status Cocaine, and Prioritizing Happiness" by Ben Casnocha.  Last week was The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox. Let's hope we can keep it up with this next entry, which is this blog post:

Why I like the Economist MBA Rankings

Why I like the Economist MBA Rankings

The latest MBA rankings from The Economist are out and people are understandably freaking out about some of the odd placements that you can find in their list.  Poets and Quants has already done an impeccable job running all this down, so I am not going to try to repeat all the great work John Byrne already did.  But you should definitely check out the P&Q piece on it.  What I want to talk about is why I am happy P&Q ran that extensive post on those rankings (rather than dismissing them) and, indeed, why I am happy these Economist rankings even exist. 

Responding to your HBS decision (2016)

Responding to your HBS decision (2016)

This Wednesday (October 12) is one of those days on the calendar that tend to stop everyone in their tracks and dominate the headlines.  Nevermind that the Duke Fuqua or Dartmouth Tuck deadlines are right around the corner - no, it's all about the final HBS Round 1 notification deadline.  Interview or ding?  Rather, interview or ding or deferral, as that appears to be a popular option this year as well.  Let's make sense of things and offer some advice on how to respond from here.  We'll group it result-by-result.

MBA Candidate Differentiation: Do NOT Try This at Home

MBA Candidate Differentiation: Do NOT Try This at Home

Time to go full PSA here.  I'm talking all alarms ringing, sirens, whatever it takes to get your attention.  By "you" I mean: anyone applying to business school.  You need to stop doing something immediately.  Here it is: 

Stop trying to "differentiate" yourself.  

Or at least, stop doing it without a professional by your side.  Let's dive into the 4 Rules of Differentiation before someone gets hurt. 

Rule #1 - Do not "differentiate yourself" with a panicked career change.  

Rule #2 - Listing a hard job to get as your short-term goal is not "differentiating." 

Rule #3 - The "quick and easy" place to differentiate is in the WHY of your long-term career goal.  

Rule #4 - The real, pure way to differentiate yourself is to do the app right. 

Recommend Reading for MBA Applicants: "The Obstacle is the Way" by Ryan Holiday

Recommend Reading for MBA Applicants: "The Obstacle is the Way" by Ryan Holiday

Partly because I've been reading some great books lately and partly because I want a break from writing about essays, I am starting something new - offering "recommended reading" to MBA applicants.

Now, please understand that I know you are busy.  You are working, applying, and trying to live your life - possibly even still wrestling the GMAT to the ground.  It's probably not the ideal time to be picking up books, right?  On the contrary!  You are at a unique point in your life right now - shifting between what was previous and what is next.  You are probably still fully engaged with work (as you should be, as the typical upcoming Round 1 applicant still has a full year of work to go), but there is part of you that is stepping outside the day-to-day rat race and thinking about the big picture.  "Now" is one big incubation period.  If you are taking your apps seriously and working with a great consultant/coach, you are going to be thinking stuff in a way that might start to become pretty illuminating.  I've long felt that applying to graduate school *should* be an arduous process - not just in terms of nuts and bolts, but in terms of personal introspection.  It's a golden opportunity to learn something about yourself and to improve as a person. 

Soliciting Letters of Recommendation: Remember the Rule of 10%

Soliciting Letters of Recommendation: Remember the Rule of 10%

When it comes to recommendations, the first thing that any applicant needs to understand is how they work and, therefore, how they should handle them as part of the process.  We sum up this analysis with something we call “The Rule of 10%”: they count for about 10% of a decision, they should be about 10% of your focus during application season, and you should contribute about 10% of the work that goes into their outcome.

Obviously, these are all gross estimates and generalizations, but it shakes out to about right and its easier to use 10% than “a percentage that is a LOT less than you think it is.”  The bottom line is that most applicants assume a much higher level of importance, they spend far more time thinking and worrying about them, and they get far too involved in their production (the biggest issue of all).  Let’s work through all three:

One Easy Way to Personalize your MBA Essay Content

One Easy Way to Personalize your MBA Essay Content

This is a post I write basically every year because it comes from what I'm seeing each round, every day, on basically every application.  That drum beat is really rigid, hard-to-read Why School X sections on essays.  

I give the same note to every single client so now I'm giving it to everybody: the simplest and most important thing you can do to improve your Why School X portion of career goals essay is to personalize any and all content.   This is a great way to avoid writing something off-putting, as well as a quick and easy method for making your essays warmer, more personal, and easier to connect with. 

What an Aspiring MBA Can Learn from Daily Fantasy Sports

What an Aspiring MBA Can Learn from Daily Fantasy Sports

I've been around DFS to know that many "MBA types" do really well as players, due to comfort with quantitative analysis, modeling skills, and even the ability to build robust and sophisticated trading algorithms.  But even if you are not a finance wizard and/or a sports fanatic, can you learn something from Daily Fantasy Sports as an MBA applicant?  Oh let us count the ways: 

Forget Star Wars. The MBA talent wars are coming to a b-school near you.

Forget Star Wars. The MBA talent wars are coming to a b-school near you.

Forget Star Wars. The MBA talent wars are coming to a b-school near you, according to a recent survey by Poets & Quants.

With admissions officers more active than ever in recruiting today’s best and brightest, P&Q asked a group of leading MBA consultants where their top clients are heading for their graduate educations. And their answers may surprise you.

Personalizing Your Interest in an MBA Program

Time for a quick blog post that comes from what I'm seeing each day, which is really rigid, hard-to-read Why School X sections.  I give the same note to every single client so now I'm giving it to everybody: the simplest and most important thing you can do to improve your Why School X portion of career goals essay is to personalize any and all content.  

What do I mean by "personalize?"  Simple: make anything you write about the school specific to you, your experience, your desires, or what you require from a program.  Never just state absolutes, generalities, or even known truths and facts - always make them personally-held viewpoints.  Examples are the best way to understand this (after the jump): 

MBA Candidates: Knives Down!

MBA Candidates: Knives Down!

PSA time. 

To all MBA Candidates out there, especially those of you racing to hit the HBS deadline on September 9th ... please, for the love, know when to set your essay down, put your hands in the air, and say "time."  I borrow from Top Chef and call it "put your knives down!"  It's that moment in the show when the buzzer has sounded and they have no choice but to put the chef's knife down, put their hands in the air, and accept that their dish is finished.  In our situation, there isn't a buzzer (yet), but we can still use the principle.  In fact, one of the great ironies of the Top Chef "quick fire" challenge that gave me this expression is that some of the best dishes on that show come because there IS a buzzer - it keeps the contestants from noodling and tweaking and, basically, ruining a great plate of food.  So ... how can we use this for our MBA apps?