Don't Leave Your Canvas Blank


It’s the time of the year when, along with my colleagues, that I spend a lot of time speaking to hundreds of bright energetic prospective Executive MBA students from Minneapolis to Munich to Manila. It also coincides with getting bleary eyed from reading through application essays, poring over resumes and seeing what an applicant’s recommenders have to say.

What’s the primary purpose of all this activity? First and foremost is the chance for both parties to get to know each other better. Hopefully this leads to the right decision regarding the pursuit of an Executive MBA at Chicago Booth. Sometimes the match is there and sometimes it isn’t. However, I know sometimes a match could be there, but at the time of the decision there’s something missing.

Where can it go wrong?

Sometimes, perhaps the result of reading too many “how to get into business school ” books an applicant forgets to be themselves. I call them “Stepford Applicants” after the famed 1972 film classic, “The Stepford Wives”. Next! Fortunately this doesn’t happen too often with Executive MBA applicants.

And at other times, while they leave no question unanswered, their answers add up to a nearly blank canvas leaving scant information to make a proper decision.

At Chicago Booth we firmly believe the past is a good predictor of the future and that rigorous questioning often uncovers the truth. So I spend a lot of time going back to the person’s past. Why major in electrical engineering at University? What was attractive about the first job? Why pick up your life and move half-way across the world?

I’m always surprised that otherwise accomplished individuals are not able to convey very deep self knowledge. Without it (i.e., self knowledge) it is very difficult for a candidate to be very convincing of demonstrating a good fit with the challenge of an executive MBA program. We’re looking to match unique individuals with the unique nature of Chicago Booth.

So at this time of year, as some of you think about applying to an MBA program, don’t forget to be yourself and please take the time to think how your past has established the roots that will enable you to be a successful Executive MBA student.

Glenn Sykes