Former Investment Bankers, Current Admissions Experts [Episode 227]
About a year ago I received an email from someone interested in working for Accepted. She had admissions office experience, an MBA from a top business school, and investment banking experience on Wall Street and in Hong Kong.
About a week later, I received another email from another potential consultant who attended a different top MBA program, but also had admissions office experience, an MBA from a top business school, and had worked in investment banking in both Wall Street and Hong Kong. And their first name was the same, though spelled slightly differently.
Madelaine Baker and Madeleine Wang, welcome to Admissions Straight Talk!
Can you each tell us about your background prior to joining Accepted? [1:50]
M. Baker: My first experience in MBA admissions was working at MIT Sloan in 2002. Then I decided to go to business school – I went to Columbia. After b-school I decided to work on Wall St. I worked as a banker off and on for about ten years in New York and Hong Kong.
At CBS, I was always involved in admissions. When I decided I didn’t want to be in investment banking anymore, I contacted Yale SOM and worked as an outside admissions reader there. Then I joined Accepted!
M. Wang: After my undergrad, I worked in investment banking in New York and Hong Kong before business school. While I was in business school at Wharton I decided that I wanted to take on a part-time job as a grad member on the admissions committee – I really enjoyed it, and it was an important part of my b-school experience.
After I graduated I worked in management consulting. I was an active Wharton alum, interviewing candidates, etc. I also worked with people in my firm who were applying to business schools, and I really loved that process. Over the last few years I decided to take my work in a different (more flexible) direction, and that led me to Accepted.
You both spent a lot of time in financial services. What are critical qualities that investment banks and top financial services companies look for in applicants? [5:32]
M. Wang: I would say that I would look for strong quantitative skills. From a resume perspective that can be demonstrated by statistics, a high GMAT, and work experience that shows strong quant ability. From a personal perspective, they look for very hard workers – investment banking is very demanding. So banks are looking for candidates with drive and resilience.
M. Baker: They’re looking for smart, motivated candidates that have the grit and determination to succeed. And somebody who’s willing to play well on a team. I think that’s what b-schools want to see, too.
That’s just what I was going to ask next – do you see b-schools looking for the same qualities? [8:25]
M. Baker: Absolutely – very similar qualities. Quant skills will get you in the door, but they’re not enough – you need to be a team player. You need to be resilient and persistent.
M. Wang: I think some qualities are the same – being smart, having perseverance. But when you’re building a class for business school, you’re also looking at different things because you’re looking for a diverse group that can teach each other – so you’re looking for a diverse range of interests and leadership skills.
Were the criteria different for consulting? [11:45]
M. Wang: They’re similar in that you’re looking for highly intelligent people, but they’re also a little more diverse than banking. There’s more emphasis on problem solving, and more emphasis on someone who presents very well, because of the level of client interaction.
In looking at b-school admissions, do schools take into account a student’s goals and what employers in that industry will look for when they consider an applicant? Or do they consider the applicant’s skills more broadly? [13:15]
M. Wang: In looking at an applicant, you want to make sure what they’re saying makes sense and that it’s a logical/realistic path for them. In b-school people often discover new interests. So you’re looking broadly at whether someone has the qualities to be successful post-MBA.
M. Baker: That’s true and schools understand that people change paths. But schools look closely at the goals people describe in their applications with the idea that those goals should be realistic and achievable.
You both worked in Hong Kong, Are there elements in the admissions process that Asian applicants tend to be unaware of or underestimate? [16:05]
M. Baker: The number of applicants coming from Asia is so much greater than the seats available. The GMAT scores from Asia tend to be higher – so applicants have to be sure they’re not just planning to stand out through high scores. They need to stand out through a unique story, not through their stats.
M. Wang: Highlight your achievements without being overly modest.
What surprised you working in the admissions office? [20:40]
M. Wang: It was eye opening in a good way to see the sheer diversity of people who apply and go to business school. The diversity of backgrounds was something I learned from. Wharton is known for having strong finance, but there’s a huge diversity in terms of people’s experience. The negative that surprised me as someone who’s very detail oriented – there were apps that came in that weren’t proofed. (Language errors made by native English speakers, sloppy mistakes such as leaving in the name of another school – easy things that applicants could have addressed.)
How has your perspective changed since becoming a consultant? [23:15]
M. Baker: I remember reading applications for Yale – it’s easy to forget how much work goes into preparing these applications. To me that was eye opening – how much time and work is involved.
M. Wang: Post-MBA I’d worked with applicants before joining Accepted. I really realized how much being able to write reasonably well matters. When you’re reading applications on the adcom, all you have to get to know an applicant is on the paper in front of you.
To be able to present yourself well really matters, and I see that so much as I review early drafts.
What would you say about the different cultures of the business schools you’ve experienced? [28:00]
M. Wang: Wharton is one of the larger schools – the sheer diversity of the offerings stands out. The size of it allows it to have a great set of resources, and it was a great benefit. There’s also a great alumni network. I felt that the school was very collaborative and teamwork-focused – possibly more than I even expected. It’s constantly improving itself – it’s very responsive to student feedback. It’s a very dynamic program.
M. Baker: My first experience was at MIT Sloan. I remember it as an extremely smart, tight-knit community. Students are so energetic – they’re always organizing and doing things. It’s a tight-knit, nice community.
CBS, as part of NYC, is a much bigger school. There’s a big emphasis on teamwork, and it has an excellent network (which is instrumental in organizing trips downtown). The cluster system breaks down the large school into smaller communities. And the women’s network is really strong.
Yale is completely different. I wasn’t as involved in the student community since I was reading applications. But the campus is collaborative, international, and places a big emphasis on teamwork.
Did you also review the Yale video? [35:00]
M. Baker: They’re really revealing. You get a sense of who the person is and how they present themselves.
It’s insightful into how prepared applicants are – how did they dress? Did they check the lighting?
How can you prepare for a video question? [37:20]
M. Baker: First of all, you do have to prepare! Some people think you can wing it. Record yourself and review the recording (and have someone else review it and give you feedback). You really, really want to practice it.
M. Wang: You want to practice enough that you can relax in front of the camera so you come across as personable.
Madelaine Baker, any tips for European applicants? [41:00]
Coming from Germany, the grading is pretty straightforward.
If English isn’t your first language, then proofreading is important. And it can be helpful to get advice on content in letters of rec to see how Americans read letters of rec.
Can you share some tips for people applying this year? [42:15]
M. Wang: Get started right away, if you haven’t already. Early planning requires getting your test scores and list of schools together so you have enough time to work on your application materials.
M. Baker: If you haven’t started, you need to get on it as soon as possible.
Have someone proofread your application – even if you decide not to work with a consultant. There’s nothing worse from a reader’s perspective than a sloppy application.
Think about the story you want to present to admissions, then sit down and write.
Do you have advice for people planning ahead to next year or later? [45:10]
M. Baker: Think about what the gaps are in your resume – volunteer work, leadership, etc. Take a step back and think about what you can work on over the next year to strengthen these soft spots.
M. Wang: You should also think about – if you’re moving toward a career change – starting to explore the new career, so that you can be sure about the choice you’re making and have knowledge and experience you can point to when you apply.
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