Friday, July 22, 2011

What do you Recommend?

It's hot. The Weather Channel says that it's 97 degrees right now and that temperatures will reach 102 by the afternoon. People are being warned to avoid outdoor activities between the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., lest they want to die. Still, I'm sitting in my air conditioned office thinking to myself that I'd rather go for a 10 mile run at noon than confront what faces me next week.

July is coming to an end and August is drawing near. August brings the release of the LIVE APPLICATION. Although essay questions are released between May and July, business schools don't open the floodgates for thousands of applications to pour through until early August. Round 1 applications won't be due until October, but now is the time to start assembling the pieces. While it's up to each individual applicant to get the the online app filled in, the essays written, the GMAT taken, and the transcripts uploaded there is one critical component that is out of our hands. The recommendations, the part of the application where one to three people corroborate that you are in fact the innovative, collaborative, genius business leader of the future that you've said you are. Recommendations, the one section of the application where someone else can sink your battleship (and sink it hard). Recommendations, the reason for fifty-leven rounds of the always fun "Did you submit it yet?" game. Next week I ask my current manager to be one of my business school recommenders.

"Good luck," my co-worker told me yesterday when I mentioned that I would be asking my boss for a recommendation. From his tone I could tell that his words were more warning than well wish. It's not that going back to business school is taboo at my company. In fact a good number of employees leave every year to attend Top 25 schools. Some do it on the low, but most people let their plans be known from the get go, receiving the support of their direct manager and business unit. I can already envision the conversation with my manager.

Pick up the telephone and dial. Ring, ring, ring...
Manager: Hey Cheetarah, what's up!
Me: Hi Manager. you know I took the GMAT in May and want to get my MBA. I need a LOR from my current manager and was wondering if you would be willing to give me a strong recommendation.
Manager: Sure! I'd be willing to give you a recommendation to St. Joe's or Temple.
Me: Ummm...yeah, about that...I'm thinking more along the lines of University of Chicago, Columbia, Kellogg, Stanford, etc.
Manager: Cheetarah, those don't sound like part-time programs in Philadelphia.
Me: Hmm...that might be because they are full-time programs that would require me to leave the company.
Sound of manager's head exploding over the receive blows out Cheetarah's eardrum. End scene.

Okay, maybe I'm being a bit over dramatic. However, like my co-worker, I just don't think it's going to be a "Rah-Rah, Go Cheetarah!" conversation. She's going to ask questions, lots of questions. Why do I want to go full-time? What do I think I can get from a FT program that I won't get from a PT one? What will this mean for my future with the company? Do I want a future with the company?

I'm trying to be savvy about this. In spite of what my friends say (and I know they mean well), there is no guarantee that I will get accepted into a program. Applicants are high, but admit rates are low. While I am confident that I will get in somewhere, I just can't 100% bank on it. With that in mind, I'm positioning this to my manager as a longshot that I want to take to avoid one day regretting not taking it (does that make sense). Even if I do get into school (please, please, please God let me get in), I still want to make the most of my employment while I'm here. There is a job that I've had my eye on for 3 years. It will give me the opportunity to manage a large team and I'm positioning myself to move into one of these coveted positions in the area when it opens up. I don't want the fact that I'm applying to business school to negatively impact my chances. It would suck to stay in a holding pattern for months because there's a (hopefully good) chance that I won't be here by this time next year. I've played the "pass-on-a-good-thing-now-in-anticipation-something-better-later-on" game and it's left me empty handed more often than not. While I don't want to stay here forever, I would be a fool to not gather all of the transferrable skills I can get while I'm here and leading a large team is definitely transferrable.

My worries extend beyond the explanations of why I want to apply to full-time programs and the progression of my career. I checked out Stanford's Leadership Behavior Grid and immediately curled into the fetal position and began tremble.
Evaluate the candidate across the following leadership behaviors. Strategic Orientation:
1) Understands the immediate issues of work or analysis
2) Identifies opportunities for improvement within area of responsibility
3) Develops insights or recommendations that have improved business performance
4) Develops insights or recommendations that have shaped team or department strategy
5) Implements a successful strategy that challenges other parts of the company or other players in the industry

Really Stanford?! 22-30 year old industry changers? Why don't you just go recruit Mark Zuckerberg now? I work with and am friends with some very smart, motivated, results-driven people and I don't know anyone who's working on the upper end of that spectrum. My manager if nothing else is honest. If she's honestly evaluating me according to that type of criteria I don't have a snowball's chance in hell of getting in anywhere. I do realize that schools don't expect us to be fully formed. If we already exhibited every leadership quality they ask for to the highest degree we probably don't need to go to business school. At the same time, how can a person highly recommend someone that they've just said falls in the middle of the spectrum on most measures? It seems like an oxymoron to me.

I've trolled GMATClub, Poets & Quants, and consultant blogs enough to know that recommenders need to be managed. I have every intention of guiding my recommenders in the direction I need them to go. I've designated key themes that I want each recommender to discuss in regard to my candidacy. In mid-August I will provide them with a binder that includes due dates (2-3 weeks prior to the real due dates) for each school to which I'm applying, key themes I need their letters to focus on, a leadership behavior guide that includes specific examples of how I've demonstrated traits like leadership, innovation, teamwork, etc. and the results, and a resume. I will also review the Leadership Grids (like Stanford's) with them to discuss where my actions and results align. However, my direction can only go so far. Ultimately they will be the ones filling out the grids and writing the letters and I'm waiving my right to see any of it. All I can do is lead them to the river and hope they take a big old sip of the Kool-aide.

But before we get to all that I've gotta ask her first. Ugh, I'd rather go for that 10 mile run right now.


mindstatements said...


Just reading your blog and got here from your response on the MBA Tour comment. Love the blog I am going through the same process so I wish you well. I was also at the MBA Tour and saw a bunch of people who were'that guy/girl'. Anyway I will be following your blog!

Good Luck !

Caitlin said...

Love your writing. I believe you could be a good writer hah~~~