Secrets of Top Business Schools: An Interview with John Byrne (Poets&Quants) 

by Craig Morantz on Sep 15, 2015 5:50:28 PM

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John Byrne has over 30 years of experience in business and admissions. He was the editor-in-chief, first at Fast Company magazine and then at Bloomberg Businessweek before he started operating Poets & Quants, a famous business school blog. 

I had the chance to sit down and chat with John in our live webinar Secrets of Top Business Schools last week. 

John wasn't shy in sharing some controversial opinions on the GMAT, some of the practices that top schools are missing the mark on, as well as providing tips that can be implemented at non-top schools to improve recruitment, assess students better and boost yield.

You can listen to the talk below. 

If you’d rather not listen, you can read a lightly edited transcript of the conversation below.

Craig: John Byrne, for some of you doesn't need an intro but I put together some background on him. John's the former executive editor of Business Week Magazine, he was the Editor-in-Chief at businessweek.com and the Editor-in-Chief of Fast Company Magazine. As the editor of Business Week he was the one who created the first regularly published rankings of business schools, way back in 1988. I think forward to today, there's a number of different top 100’s and it seems to be a very important list for all of you to get on and to get to the top. John is also the author of eight books on leadership and management, including two nationwide best sellers.

But what this audience is probably most familiar with about John is his role as founder and Editor-in-Chief at Poets and Quants. What I've noticed in his articles is they're always well researched, often insightful and what I like best is, often controversial. In my opinion he is the authority in the business school arena and more specifically the MBA ecosystem and that's why I'm really excited to have him here. He's not afraid to share his opinions and hopefully we'll get some of that today. Welcome John.

John: Thank you Craig, glad to be here.

Craig: Just a quick plug about Poets and Quants. The blog has over one million page views per month. I think that's a very inspiring number for anybody to get to. How long has it taken to get to that number?

John: That was probably about three and half years into it. Now we're five years in, we just closed out our most successful August. We hit about one and a half million page views in August which is great for the summer doldrums, you know? In fact, it was it was our fifth best month ever, even though it was August.

Craig: Wow, that's great. So, who am I? I haven't published any books like John and twenty-five years ago when John was creating that first top 100 business school rankings list, I was in high school. Ironically enough with no plans to go to University because I had already started my own business. I did however recently score seven out of eight on our GMAT quiz which I'll send everyone after the webinar. Since high school I've started five other companies and I really love to build and scale businesses. That's what I'm currently doing at Kira, where I've been the CEO for just over a year.

Again a very quick plug before we get on with what we're here to talk about. Kira is a video admissions platform that adds a competency based interactive video and written component into any school's existing admissions application and right into your CRM. It gives admission teams the tools they need to find and attract better students and, what I love is, uncover important traits you just can't see in an essay. Of course when you're doing a recorded video, you also virtually eliminate fraud. Over a hundred schools are using Kira to build what I like to say will be their strongest cohort ever. We really believe that students are more than their grades.

Today we're going to cover three main topics but before that, John you've told me a lot about the elite group of top business schools. On a very high level, are there really secrets that these top business schools get together and trade?

John: I doubt that they're real secrets here but they do share on a regular basis, best practices, in terms of how to recruit students and what regions of the world are new places where they're devoting more resources to recruit people. They share scholarship data, which many in the audience will know has become a very important part of recruitment. Essentially, there is a two tier pricing system that has evolved considerably in the last five years if not longer, where there's a sticker price and then there is the price that people are paying for essentially high GMATs. Outside of Harvard and Stanford, which still contend that their scholarship aid is for merit, most of the other schools are using it to either fill in for diversity - attract more women to their programs which has become almost an arms race in the past year in particular, and then simply to buy high GMATs.

Recruitment

Craig: There’s lots of things we could cover when sharing the secrets of top business schools, all the way from the marketing and the curriculum to alumni but we've narrowed it down to three pillars, recruiting, assessment and acceptance. Even though this is an unscripted Q&A I wanted to at least have some structure to the discussion, so let's discuss the challenges that schools are facing around student recruitment. John, what do you think are some of the recent challenges schools are facing with recruiting? Is it just certain schools or does everybody face these same challenges?

John: I'd say today the most significant challenge for a two-year full time program is the fact that the available pool, particularly the domestic pool, has declined fairly steadily. It's almost a mystery on some level why the decline has occurred domestically because all of the indicators show that the MBA is still a great degree to have. Yes, the return on investment today on the degree is not what it was in the heyday of the '80s and '90s, however it's higher than pretty much any other degree other than a computer science degree and the employment rates at graduation and three months after pretty much knock out every other option.

It's an advanced degree that's much easier to get obviously than a law school degree, law schools are in tremendous trouble actually, or a medical degree.

It's kind of surprising that the domestic pool has shrunk. That shrinkage has been made up largely by applicants from China and India, many of whom have other challenges. In particular, in China you have the language difficulty which is huge and in India you have the look-alike problem where so many of the candidates are all basically software engineers who have one skill set and if you're building a diverse class that's really not all that helpful.

I'd say the biggest challenge is just the size of the pool and the mystery is why it hasn't expanded more broadly. Particularly in the US. I think another challenge that people have had in recent years has been attracting more and more women. Everyone knows that in med school and law school it's roughly 50/50 between men and women, but business schools have significantly trailed that. In most programs it's about a third today. In this past year or two a number of schools have gotten to forty percent or above but not without considerable effort. Mainly what they've done to get that kind of high percentage, forty plus percent, is dolled out a lot of scholarship money, have been very active in the Forté foundation recruiting activities, they've enlisted their alums to go out and literally recruit and be on panel discussion.

Harvard for the first time this past summer literally invited undergraduates from women's colleges to come and spend a long weekend on campus, engaged them in case studies with top faculty to give them a taste of what business school would be like even though most of the people who came were juniors, there were some seniors in there as well and a few sophomores. When you speak to the kids, this is really fascinating, they all have this myth about what a business life would be, they don't quite understand what you would learn in business school, most of them thought it would never be for them, and frankly they went out of curiosity more than anything else.

I think there's another trend there that's also favoring more women in two year programs, that is the fact that people are getting married at a much older age. One of the general beliefs was that women were more likely to go into law or medicine because they can get it over with quicker. They can go direct from undergrad, whereas any really good business school you'd probably need three to five years of work experience. That delay just pushed everything forward and made marriage, family more difficult. With the general demographic trend showing that people are getting married later and later, that's less of a problem for many women.

Craig: Let me jump in and ask something kind of along those lines. There is a disparity between some schools, when it comes to application rates. You shared with me recently some schools are flat while some are up over twenty percent in recent years. This is not the number two school and the number 120. Why is there such a disparity and feel free to share which schools that you've reported on, why their enrollment numbers have increased so much?

John: Yeah. Well you look at Michigan they're up 31% and you know there's always an explanation of one kind or another that really gets at the heart of the matter. What happened at Michigan essentially was that their program for co-signer loans for international students had expired, they had nothing in place for a little bit. They were hurting very badly on the recruiting side and in the applicant pool side because fewer international applicants applied. They fixed that problem and they've been much more aggressive in the marketplace to get that31% increase this past year.

Yale which is 25% up, that's a function of momentum. They have a new dean Ted Snyder who had really elevated the University of Chicago's Booth School and before that UVA's Darden School. This is his third time as dean. He does get good publicity and they've just opened up a brand new building which is a huge improvement on where the school had been, it had been scattered among various old mansions on the old campus but there was no real core and the facilities were not modern at all. Now they have a terrific facility, they have a strategy to be the most global business school in the US if not the world. They've worked hard on that strategy and they have done some very innovative things. In other words they've gotten a lot of good press and that's really increased the applicant pool to the school.

Needless to say they've also improved in the rankings for the very first time last year. In the past year they've been in the top 10 of the Financial Times ranking. There's no doubt that improving in ranking does help increase applicants.

Craig: What you mentioned about Yale sounds expensive and  long term. What are one or two small things that you think can be done to improve recruiting besides getting higher in the rankings?

John: I think program innovation can do it because if you can innovate in a way that's not even unique but it's unusual and can attract attention, it can help you. Everyone's focused on things like social media, more traditional marketing, direct mail and all that, but I actually think that really smart program innovation can make a very big difference in getting the word out and get more interest in the school.

Also here's the other thing I think that really needs to be communicated which we try to do on our site. There's some people who are currently making so much money and have already achieved a certain level of success - they feel that if they can't get into a top five or seven program, the MBA isn't worth it. If you look at the return on investment numbers for MBAs, it turns out they're not all that different when you go pretty far down in the pool. I think there's just not enough general understanding of that. It turns out that one of the reasons why people out of the top schools make so much when they graduate is because they enter with fairly high salaries to begin with. If you go down the ranks, the salaries are lower and the out-coming salaries actually have a larger percentage increase associated with them.

That information needs to be more broadly distributed by the schools. I think that it would help increase their pools to put more emphasis on ROI and how it compares with other schools and if they put more emphasis on program innovation that will attract attention to the programs. I think a third really important element is enlisting alumni in the recruitment process. There are a number of different ways to do this. Some do this just city by city, bringing the alumni together and having a discussion about current economic trends or business ideas and using that event for recruiting.

Some schools are doing that with great success. Let's face it, when an applicant or potential applicant meets a successful alum from a school, that's the most positive reinforcement of the school's value proposition that anyone can get and it's very personal. You can do that, it doesn't cost you any money really because in most cases alumni events at different cities around the world can be sponsored by the alum's employer after work, just drinks, cocktails before dinner. That's a very effective way to do that.

Craig: Yeah I've seen the graduate school at the University of San Francisco doing that very well.

John: Yeah, it's powerful.

Assessment

Craig:  It's a good segue into our next topic which is assessment. This is obviously something that's very near and dear to the Kira team since we're an assessment platform. But what I wanted to ask John was, what are the trends in assessments that you're seeing? What are top schools doing to improve how they assess applicants? Because in my opinion it hasn't changed in a long time.

John: You've got two things going on I think that are important to mention. One is, largely because of US News' rankings and because of the general perception that a higher GMAT score means you're getting a smart candidate, which is not necessarily true, there's been this race to get higher GMATs. What you're seeing is a lot of the scholarship money going to increase your average GMAT score, you're seeing some schools are at an all out race to get the highest GMAT score they possibly can.

What's interesting here is this is occurring at a time when there's probably more increased skepticism about those high GMATs than ever before. That's occurring at the same time where I see more and more schools putting greater weight on admission interviews. In part that's occurring because there's a sense that more the candidates than ever before are packaged by admission consultants and that the admissions interview, depending on how it's conducted of course is a very good way to get through the packaging. Obviously an admission consultant can't come with someone and answer the questions that are being posed in a one on one interview like they can help craft and edit essays or just create a profile for a candidate.

Those are the two contrasting trends, higher GMATs because of pressure largely from the rankings, more reliance on admissions interviews than had occurred in the past.

Now the whole GMAT thing, I will just say, if you look at some schools and what's happened with the GMAT it's kind of striking. Number one example I'd say is Wharton where the average GMAT has gone up fourteen points since 2012. In three years Wharton has increased the GMAT from 718 to 732 and that's the average. Which basically puts them in the 96th percentile of GMAT test takers.

To put that in perspective Wharton is now seven points higher on its average than Harvard business school and it's equal to Stanford. It's clear no school would be increasing their GMAT by fourteen points in three years without a very conscious and deliberate effort to do so. Wharton is not alone, Chicago Booth is also very aggressive in this race. They haven't gone as high as fourteen points in three years but they're way up there among the highest increases. I think there's this thing going on also between Wharton and Chicago, it's very competitive right now. Why is that a bad thing I think? I think it's a bad thing because there is definitely an over reliance on GMAT scores because of the pressure from US News rankings.

Craig: What aren't they finding though? If GMAT is the test that they're all wanting to use in the rankings, what aren't they finding from the applicant inside of the GMAT? What is the GMAT miss? What doesn't it tell the school?

John: Mainly misses EQ. To the extent that it even gets a overall ability to complete the core curriculum successfully because that's the only correlation and incidentally the correlation there is even quite thin, surprisingly given how well embraced the GMAT is. Here's the big question, why do you favor a GMAT in excess of 650 or 600, because 600 or 650 would give any one reasonable confidence that the person would be able to complete the core curriculum. The reason why the schools are in a mad dash to be above 700 and into the 730s right now is mainly because of rankings and nothing else.

What they're losing is candidates that long term will be far more successful than people who've practiced well for a test. There's some fascinating research that came out of the Rotman school where Rotman looked at all of its graduates over a period from 2008 to 2013, over one thousand MBA graduates in that time frame. What they looked at is their employability, what was the likelihood that they would be employed three months after graduation. They went back in their application files, and they actually found that what correlated most to whether a person got a job or not were three primary aspects of their application file.

It was undergraduate grade point average; it was much more correlated with getting a job than the GMAT. Admissions interview scores were highly correlated for getting a job three months after graduation. And here's one aspect of the GMAT that actually correlated well, it was the AWA part of the GMAT, the Analytical Writing Assessment. Those three factors were deeply correlated with whether or not they could get a job three months after graduation, which after all in a professional school is really the bottom line. Are you employable and will a company want to hire you?

The GMAT was barely correlated if at all to this. If you think about it, undergraduate grade point average, the beauty obviously is it's a longer term measure. Problem with GPAs is they're not necessarily comparable across all the schools as a GMAT score might be. Admissions interviews, at Rotman the admissions interviews are done by staff not alumni or second year students so they tend to be a little more rigorous. Obviously that's a very time consuming thing to do if you want to do it with recruiting staff. Interestingly enough if you look also at what schools do it with a recruiting staff, you find that those schools tend to pay more attention to it.

A good example would be at the top end of the scale, Harvard. We asked admission consultants, the top fifty firms in the world, to tell us what they thought the most important criteria was in assessing candidates. When you ask them how much weight Harvard placed on admissions interviews versus Stanford or Wharton, Harvard essentially came out with double score of Wharton. Meaning that the admission consultants who are seeing all these candidates and whether or not they get accepted and how they get accepted are saying that Harvard values the admissions interviews twice as much as Wharton. At Harvard of course they're all done by staff.

John: Ask them about GMAT, they also say that Wharton more than any other school among the elite schools place greater emphasis on GMATs than the other.

Craig: Right but GMAT's not going away, we like GMAT, but it's good that you share your honest opinion. It's not going away, so how do we help schools? Is it to put less weight on it? Is it to test more on EQ? I know you recently shared a great Malcolm Gladwell quote, with me. I think it was something like "The most successful people aren't geniuses but they do have above average intelligence."

John: Exactly.

Craig: But they have higher emotional intelligence. How could schools possibly uncover this better? Just through interviews?

John: Primarily through interviews and putting more emphasis on the whole application. What has been achieved by the person so far? What are they doing that suggests leadership potential? There are two good examples here where a school made a conscious effort to de-emphasis GMATs. One is UCLA. Great school, great MBA program, consistently ranked in the top 15 or so, they decided five years ago that they were going to pay less attention to GMAT and more attention to EQ. EQ is measured largely by admission interviews. They knew that they would take a hit in the US News ranking but they also knew that the recruiters would come away much more satisfied with the graduates that they got and that over time that would increase a number of other variables that would make the investment in EQ make sense because US News of course weighs more carefully than just a GMAT, puts much more weight on employability and starting salary, average salary, and bonus.

If you looked at compensation and employment, if you were able to get some significant increases in those measures by focusing on more well rounded people who have professional presence, who are articulate, who immediately make a good impression, which is what you're going to get when you put more emphasis on the admissions interview, the GMAT is going to matter a lot less. So they took a hit on GMAT, a short term hit. By taking the short term hit they got increased data on the comp side, the employment side and ultimately on the recruiter side and the recruiter survey that US News does. It took longer for them to make an increase in the rankings but in fact they did.

Now the guy who is the head of the MBA program at the time, Andrew Ainslie, is now the dean at Rochester Simon school and he's employing the exact same strategy there, they're de-emphasizing the GMAT rather than throw all their money at GMAT candidates to prop up the GMAT, what they're doing is putting more emphasis on EQ, more emphasis on admissions interviews and professional presence. They're hoping it's going to pay off for them the same way that it paid off for UCLA. But there is a short term hit, there's no doubt about it.

John: I actually think the adoption of your platform by originally Rotman, Kellogg, Yale is a function of this, because the spontaneity or the addition of having the video interview question is really extremely helpful. Having sat in admissions committee meeting at Rotman and watched the admissions committee look at those videos and talk about them was a really eye opening experience because you can tell an awful lot by a spontaneous video question - how it's answered and how the person shows up, how articulate they are, how they're dressed. It's amazing how much you can tell. For schools that cannot interview everyone, and let's face it very few do I think it's basically Kellogg, Tuck and Duke, and Duke is scaling that back because it's just too time consuming. What the video does is get you a piece of the EQ to determine whether you should put someone in the interview pool to begin with. I think that's actually a very valuable piece of the puzzle here as an offset to simply getting high GMATs.

Yield

Craig: Yeah. We're going to move on to the acceptance portion, the third pillar. A lot of people talk about their yield and schools want to improve their yield and build a strong cohort. What have you seen top school doing to improve that yield? Again we can talk about big picture longer term, spending millions of dollars to improve their yield rate but what are some of those things that you're seeing that are easy to implement and quick?

John: An easy thing would be an early decision round. It's surprising how few schools have it. Columbia most notably has it. What you're doing obviously there is you're essentially making a person say "Hey, I really want to go to your program." There's ways to incentivize that person to want to go, you could say that a higher percentage of the people will get discount on the tuition. You could create some special kind of programs, like undergraduate schools do that tend not to be done in graduate schools, some sort of honor seminar that you get admitted to if you were admitted in the early round.

It's surprising that more schools don't do those kinds of things. Particularly schools that are not ranked in the top 25. Making people feel special counts for a lot, in everything in life. I think if people had early rounds and they said that they were far more likely to get scholarship aid and they would be put in some sort of honor seminar and just made to feel special. It's a big deal and I think that would increase yield for a lot of schools.

Obviously using alumni. After a person is admitted what all the best schools are doing is they'll have as many as three different alums who come from similar industry background or in the case of a woman that they're trying to recruit, three female alums call that admit to seal the deal. That is usually very effective. Stanford which has obviously a smaller program than Harvard or Wharton or Columbia or Kellogg or Chicago, literally their admissions director Derrick Bolton makes the personal phone call to each person who's admitted. That personal touch matters to a lot of people, it really does.

I know at some other schools that's more likely to happen because the actual number of people going to the school is not large, but that's like a must, a good admit weekend that really shows the school off and gets the current students deeply involved in the recruitment. It's a must along with those alumni phone calls to follow up on the admit letter. All important things.

Craig: I like that personal touch. It's almost bringing marketing back in at the end. Use it upfront during the recruiting and again at the end.

John:  Some schools may even get faculty, this is not always the case because faculty tend not to want to do these things but some faculty do, and if you know a person's interest is finance you can get a finance professor to call a kid. If you know the kid's interest in entrepreneurship, then you get an entrepreneurship professor to call the kid. That packs a lot of wallop. I know it's very hard to enlist the help of faculty but clinical faculty in certain areas obviously would be much more amenable to putting in a call to some people you really want to get, because after all, I think one of the more transformational aspects of higher education is connecting with a professor and having a professor as a mentor. So having a faculty member actually reach out to an admit and say "Hey, I've looked at your file I really would look forward to having you in my class. I think you would really excel here. Here's why. I'm anxious to have you in the school and anxious to help you succeed." That's really powerful.

Craig: Yeah. You mentioned scholarships earlier on in our chat and I think you've touched on some incentives as we started talking about yield but what do you think about scholarships as it relates to yield and how can they be used differently than they were being used at the beginning of our conversation?

John: Yeah. You know there's two theories about how to use scholarship money. One is spread it out thin and make everyone feel wanted, the other is don't spread it out thin but place your bets big on the people you really want and try to land them. I think that there's some research that shows if you actually spread your scholarship aid more broadly, that it could have more impact overall but you might lose some of the better candidates.

Again this is like short term, long term issue with the GMAT on the assessment side. The short term impact of spreading your money thin, like a five-thousand-dollar scholarship, a ten thousand scholarship to greater numbers of people versus a full ride or a half ride, probably will have better impact for you because really for many kids it's just the feeling of being wanted, it's not necessarily for everybody that they really need the money badly. Because in most cases I think the ROI is good enough that people are willing to get into debt to get an MBA degree and willing to get into debt at a fairly serious number, fifty thousand and above. I think the feeling of being wanted is more important than the feeling of having little or no debt. Particularly if you're a program that can demonstrate good ROI.

Craig: Which goes back to part of the recruiting. I think you were mentioning schools need to a better job of communicating that their program, even if you're not top ten, can actually have a strong ROI.

John: In fact, stronger than a top ten in most cases incidentally.

Craig: Because it's less expensive?

John: Two reasons. Because the kids coming into those programs make less money coming in, so their foregone earnings are less, and because those programs are generally less expensive. If you look at pricing versus rank it's pretty well correlated that the higher the rank of the school, the more money they can charge in tuition and the lower the rank the school is the less pricing power they have. It's surprising how strongly correlated that is. If you are a lower rank school, in most cases your tuition will be less, in most cases the people coming in will earn less and therefore coming out their ROI will be significantly higher than ROI even at the best schools.

In fact, in Harvard it's surprising how low the ROI is compared to many public schools in the twenty-five to fifty (ranking) range.

Craig: Interesting. So let's go over some final thoughts here. We covered the recruiting, the assessment and the yield. I like when you talked about how program innovation for recruiting is probably going to be the number one thing that a school can do right now and could do pretty quickly. Somebody did put up a question that was towards this. "What impact do you think the specialty master's programs are going to have on the MBA?" I think, if I could put some words in your mouth you might say that that's part of program innovation, and that's going to increase people applying to your school. What I've noticed is some schools ten years ago had an MBA program, now they have an MBA in mining, an MBA in finance. They've got all kinds of different ones.

I think the other thing you said about recruiting is that they have to get good at marketing themselves and they need to communicate that even if they aren't a top ten, that their ROI can actually be greater. I think that's a good point, a challenge for the marketing departments at the schools. Also on the recruiting side you suggested enlisting alumni in the recruiting process. I was talking about the University of San Francisco earlier, every month they have an event with sponsors. We don't all have our schools located in San Francisco so it's not like we have Tesla where they got to do an event and they go up to Napa but yeah, I guess you've got to get creative wherever your school is and enlist local businesses to help you sponsor event, get alumni to come out because combining an event with alumni and the recruits is really powerful.

You talked about assessment and that really putting a higher emphasis on interviews and if you are going to use the GMAT specifically the AWA because the Analytical Writing deeply is connected to the success of getting a job and whether somebody will want to hire you. I think one of the things that you said really that stuck with me there was putting more emphasis on the potential of the applicant. That's the EQ part, that's where you've got to get good at interviewing, good at assessing, not just looking at test scores and grades but does this person have the potential to be a great student, not just a good one. I like that.

Finally on yield you said a couple things but the first thing you said was adding in an early decision round and maybe adding incentives. People want to feel special, they want to feel needed, so to get an early round and early offer out, getting alumni, getting faculty, getting whoever is on the team to call, get in touch with those people, tell them it's a great school and you're still selling at that part of the process. That final thing was potentially spreading the scholarship thin versus making larger offers. When you do that you make everyone feel wanted or you can just go with fewer and deeper.

That's my recap, any final words of advice from you to all of the admission teams on this call?

John: Well maybe I'll just go back to that question about one year specialized master's program and the impact they're having on the MBA. I think the short term impact is that they're cannibalizing the MBA degree. Many are finding that the one year master's is enough and they can take it earlier, but I think that there's a long term impact that we've yet to see. I should mention that I also think this has jumped the shark, in other words there's now too many one year specialized master's programs, I think that it's going to be much harder moving forward to get people into them simply there's so many choices and a number of them are online now. That's I think is an early strategy it will last ten, five years. It was very lucrative for a lot of schools and helped offset declines in full time MBA programs but some schools have over 20 one year specialized master's programs, it's kind of gotten crazy.

John: Now long term on that, I actually think that once someone gets a taste of graduate education they want more, to the extent that most of the people who are going into one year programs are undergrads, direct from school or only out a year or two and unhappy with the jobs that they got. They might be coming back for more, for a full time MBA experience three, four, five years down the line. I think a good percentage of them will. The early bet is yeah, it's hurt some MBA programs but I think the long term bet is that once you get a taste of going to a really good school and having a great graduate education, you want more.

Craig: One person here asks "Given the importance of the interviews, which ways can professional admissions consultants now add value for applicants in interview preparation? Or is this just again going do we want these consultants helping people with interview preparation?"

John: I don't think you have a choice really, I think increasing numbers of people are hiring admission consultants and to hire for mock interviews incidentally is the cheapest part of the admissions consulting pricing. You could go through mock interviews for only a few hundred dollars at most admission consultants. I think a lot of kids are doing that. That said, you can't prepare someone for all the questions they're going to be asked and generally any good interviewer can kind of suss out whether or not a person's answer are scripted or rehearsed, and obviously that's a big problem, right?

I think still that the one on one interview is still a very powerful tool to assess talent because even above and beyond what they say, it's how they say it and how professional they look. Are they people that you can imagine being impressing employers two and a half years down the road. That's something that no matter how prep they have, you're going to be able to assess regardless of whether they've had a mock interview helper or not.

Craig: Right, yeah. Another question was "Have you seen success stories where schools looked for students in the gray area and kind of found those hidden gems?" I know you had said something about a lot of the Indian applicants will have a similar skill sets. We hear schools talking about this gray area where maybe if it's even domestics, that they raise the bar to an 86 average or to a 650 GMAT, but then there's this huge group that just sit in this gray area. Have you see success stories where they have picked out the gems? And how did they do it?

John: Yeah. Here's the problem with admissions and I think everyone would admit this. It's essentially a risk averse process, it's like hiring. What you're looking for in general is how do you minimize the risk of a bad admit. The way you minimize the risk is frankly generally an elitist way. What undergraduate institution did they go to? If they went to an undergraduate institution where there's a significant screen and it's highly selective, that minimizes your risk presumably. If they have a high undergraduate GPA typically from one of those schools that minimizes the risk that they'll flunk in an MBA program.

If they go to a highly selective employer who has a fairly significant screen on people and they screen out people they don't like, that minimizes your risk. And the same thing with GMAT. The problem I think that all admissions officials fight is this risk adverse culture and these decisions where you try to basically minimize mistakes. I think everyone tries to go for the sort of gray person or the more non traditional candidate that you take a bet on but those are few and far between to be honest. I think everyone tries to do those and getting those people in sometimes is a fight in the admissions committee meeting and seeing those people do well is the greatest any, I think, admissions person could have. It's a shame that those bets are few and far between is my sense of it.

Craig: One other question somebody came back with regarding the Rotman study, they asked "Isn't it surprising that prior work experience didn't influence post program results?"

John: Yeah it is. I totally agree with you. In fact the only way it did influence the results was this way, if someone had ten or more years of work experience and they got into the MBA program they had employability problems, and I could understand why, because they're so far out of the mainstream of the class. People aren't looking for graduates with that much experience, they actually have trouble finding jobs. So it actually on one level correlated in a negative way.

But you're right, I would have thought that a good solid work experience should have really nicely correlated, apparently it didn't. It was more of a neutral factor. That may very well be because out of the one thousand plus MBA graduates that they had, they all had similar work experience so it wasn't differentiating enough.

Craig: John thank you very much for your time. I really appreciate it; I owe you one. Thanks for everybody for attending and you haven't been on Poets and Quants for all the latest news on graduate management education, please do visit.

 

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Written by Craig Morantz

Craig is the former CEO of Kira.