Archive for June, 2010

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Study MBA abroad and increase your creativity

There are many good reasons for studying MBA abroad. Work experience in a foreign country, changing geography, a step-up in salary and exposure to foreign cultures are all valid motives.

While these considerations are well-known to MBA applicants, ZoomInterviews would like to highlight an additional benefit of studying MBA abroad: living abroad increases creativity.

According to “Cultural borders and mental barriers: The relationship between living abroad and creativity” research by William W. Maddux from INSEAD and Adam D. Galinsky from Northwestern University, foreign living experience contains many critical elements necessary to help stimulate the creative process. 205 MBA students from a large US business school (105 Americans) participated in the research.

There are five big personal factors explaining creativity:

1) Extroversion (associated with sociability and the tendency to be gregarious);

2) Agreeableness (associated with cooperation, trust, and tolerance);

3) Emotional stability (associated with calmness, confidence, and lack of worry and insecurity);

4) Conscientiousness (associated with order, self-discipline, and consistency); and

5) Openness to experience (associated with creativity and curiosity).

While these factors are quite well researched and known, the impact of living abroad on creativity was not scientifically proved until recently.

According to the research, the longer participants spent living abroad (but not travelling abroad) the more likely they were to solve a specific problem in a creative way. The research also showed that an amount of time spent living abroad (but not travelling abroad) significantly helped to predict whether students could successfully conclude a negotiations process requiring considerably more than pure price aspects.

While living abroad is a significant and important factor for increased creativity, it also interesting to note how personality factors help to explain a successful outcome of the negotiations. As expected, it was shown that openness to experiences resulted in successful deals. In addition, extroversion was a significant factor, which makes sense given sharing information is crucial in reaching successful deals.  Agreeableness, on the other hand, showed a significant negative relationship to deal making. This indicates that negotiators who care too much about getting along with other parties can lose sight of their own interests and miss creative negotiation opportunities.

The study showed that adoption is the very psychological element that explains why living abroad is associated with creativity. Because culture is such a pervasive force, impacting and shaping literally every aspect of one’s life, adapting oneself to a new culture — learning how to behave and think in a different way — may make individuals chronically aware of multiple perspectives and approaches when dealing with mundane and novel situations, and thus may be associated with increased creativity.

The study showed that one needs to live abroad for at least a couple of years, and not only to travel, in order to increase creativity. We believe that a MBA abroad is a good opportunity to explore foreign cultures, increase adoption and become a more creative person. However, we should caveat this and mention that studying MBA abroad can potentially make the recruiting process more difficult for students planning to continue their career in their home country immediately after MBA.  Networking and interviewing from a distance may be very challenging. Creativity is only one of the many factors that should be taken into account when students are making the decision to study MBA abroad.

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Admission interview tips for military veterans

Veterans bring a lot to the table as MBA candidates. There are some really huge strengths that veterans have and comparative advantages over other applicants, and there are also some weaknesses that military candidates need to address in order to make their interview/application even stronger.

The strategy that a vet should use in the interview can change depending on who the interviewer is.  If the interviewer is a vet, the applicant should be more straight-forward with the military experience and can highlight other areas of his/her application.  If the interviewer is not a vet, the applicant should explain more of the military experience in civilian terms and can use “war-stories” to really grab the attention of the interviewer.

The strengths that veterans bring, and that should be highlighted in the interview are:

  1. Leadership and management skills at a very young age- many veterans will have combat experience and have led Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.  These stories are lay-ups and can really be interesting for a non-military interviewer.
  2. Understanding, reading, and motivating people- as officers in the military, vets are exposed to a wide range of man and women from multiple backgrounds, socio-economic status, and education.  For that reason, you must quickly learn how to read and understand people and as an officer you must know how to motivate them.  Often times, vets find themselves helping soldiers with family, financial, and life issues…and as a young officer you are quickly exposed to the role of counselor, mentor, and advisor.  Combine this with the experience of combat and you have a very mature candidate who knows human nature much better than their counterpart.
  3. International and Cultural Experiences- this is strength for those who have deployed or have sailed around the world.  The responsibilities of officers in dealing with key leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan are immense.
  4. Ability to work in a high-stress, long hour environment- this is another reason why banks and consulting firms hire ex military at large rates from business schools.  Veterans have worked long hours under intense stress and something in combat…Sitting at a desk and doing some excel work isn’t so bad compared to that.
  5. Perspective- Being at one of the top schools in the world is pretty easy compared with what veterans had to do before.

Some of the potential weaknesses that should be addressed:

  1. Experience and understanding of the business world- any MBA applicant coming out of the military should really do their homework in preparation for the interview.  They must know the differences between Industries and must know what route they are planning to take after school.  Having some specific firms or careers in mind, with a large amount of research done before the interview, will be key to success.
  2. Analytical ability and experience- In the military, vets are rarely using excel spreadsheets or financial models.  Any vet who can talk about some sort of analytical ability or experience they had in the military will be in a better position.  Just having an example where they used a logical approach to solving problems will also help (think Hypothesis based research).
  3. Using military jargon- you need to drop the military jargon and get to know how to explain your experiences in “civilian” or business terms. Do your research and talk to other vets who have gotten their MBA.
  4. Not being comfortable talking about yourself or speaking in the “we”- in the military, it is frowned upon to talk about your successes in the first person…instead solders always mention what they did as a team.  While, this team-oriented approach is strength, not selling yourself to the interviewer can hurt as well.  Vets must be comfortable marketing themselves.
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Good Interviewing Skills Start with TOEFL – by Strictly English

Undoubtedly, talking is our primary mode of communication; we speak about 16,000 words a day (which would be about 45 pages of typed text). Yet, all this talking does not mean that we are excellent verbal communicators. This is never more apparent than when we must speak publicly, for example, when giving a rocket pitch or accepting an award. It takes a lot of practice before we can get up in front of an audience and speak spontaneously.

For many of you, your first public speaking event may be your first interview (for employment or for admission to graduate school). Such speaking requires that you have:

  1. a well-structured organization of your ideas
  2. a good balance between general statements and specific details
  3. a concise presentation of your points
  4. an awareness of time management
  5. a desire to be both entertaining and informative
  6. a speaking speed that is neither too slow (and boring) nor too quick (and confusing)

This is a lot to be thinking about while also trying to say what you want to say.  When people give interview answers that are too long or too short, or when they are boring their audience, it’s usually because they are focusing on something else, like their structure, or their details, and forgetting about time management or audience response. Remembering everything at the same time is very hard to do!

In short, good speaking does not come naturally; it is a learned art.

So where can you begin studying the “art of talking,” or what the ancients called “rhetoric”? Many people gain a mastery of rhetoric from membership in their high school debate club. But if you’ve graduated from high school then it’s too late for that.

Thankfully, non-English-speaking applicants to English-speaking universities have a chance to improve their public speaking skills when they prepare for the TOEFL test, which asks them to respond orally to 6 different prompts. The prompts are often quite similar to questions you might be asked about in a job or admissions interview, such as descriptions, explanations, and summaries. Therefore, by carefully and rigorously studying for the Speaking section of the TOEFL test, you will also be learning many valuable interviewing skills. To feel most comfortable in an interview, you will want a Speaking score of at least 26 (out of 30). At this level, you have proven to the test raters that your speaking is confident, entertaining, clearly organized, and well-supported. In addition, TOEFL gives you between 45 seconds and one minute to answer your questions, which is about the same amount of time you should take when answering interview questions. If you want to spend more time answering a question, it’s always good to stop at the one-minute mark and allow your interviewer to respond before you continue.

It is also important to note that ETS, the company that rates the TOEFL, has recently begun allowing schools to hear your responses to the Speaking prompts. This means that you can no longer hope that your interview will compensate for a low Speaking score on the TOEFL. If the school hears your poorly-spoken TOEFL responses, then you might not be asked to have an interview.

For all these reasons, we at Strictly English TOEFL Tutors suggest that you work as hard as you can on increasing your TOEFL Speaking score. It is definitely the one skill on the exam that will benefit you long after test day!

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MBA social immersion – a student perspective

Coming into the MBA program, I expected a sophisticated social scene reflective of future business leaders.  I imagined stylish cocktail hours with men in blazers and women in pearls discussing geopolitics, economics, charity and sailing.  My view was based more on pictures from Brook Brother’s advertising campaigns than anything based in reality.

My expectations of old money social grace began to fade after navigating the pools of vomit that lined the halls on the first night of the incoming student retreat.  I reckoned that the incoming students were simply over-jubilant to begin their journey towards top business leadership and that this was likely a one off event.   My notion of MBA social grace was completely dispelled about 20 feet further down the hall as one of my colleagues lay almost nude, with only a hand towel covering his groin. From above the brow he was leaking blood and uttering something in German.

I started to feel more like I was in the film “Animal House” than attending a social function at a top MBA program.  While this event was extreme and not indicative of the day to day social life of MBA’s, it is accurate and reflective of the often intense nature of the MBA social scene.  For many students this was their first opportunity to unwind after 3-5 years spent as hard laboring analysts at investment banks, consultancies and corporations.  For this group the pressure of the daily grind was finally being released and there was little time to waste in getting wasted.

It was interesting to observe that social relations often closely resembled high school albeit with drinking permitted and financial resources that allowed for luxury transnational travel.

Just like high school, the MBA campus is the ultimate rumor mill and the way events become twisted often stands to make the protagonist either a mega-villain or a super-hero.  It’s important to remember that what happens in your most inebriated moments is likely to appear within minutes on Facebook, courtesy of your efficient BlackBerry and iPhone wielding colleagues.

With this introduction in mind we’ll first walk through some of the popular MBA social events in an effort to maximize the opportunities you’ll have for fun and creating meaningful and lasting relationships with your colleagues.


At the beginning of the MBA program sleep will be scarce due to the combination of settling in to a new city, academics and the beginning of recruiting.  It’s well worth missing out on some potential sleep in order to get to know your fellow classmates.  Relationships established at the beginning of the program are absolutely vital in the formation of study groups, interview preparation teams and for planning travel excursions and adventures.

At many of the top programs, social groups and strong cliques form quickly based on career ambitions, countries of origin and background.  Establishing a wide base of friends at the beginning of the program will allow you to transcend social boundaries that will restrict some of your colleagues to a narrow set of social events with only a select group of people.  It is difficult to sufficiently emphasize how fun and rewarding it is to have a broad group of friends in your program.  Diverse friends will not only provide an opportunity to expand your cultural horizons, but also to connect with a variety of people with immensely interesting experiences and ambitions.

Pre-MBA Trips

Most of the top MBA programs usually kick off by offering incoming students the opportunity to participate in adventure trips either in the United States or abroad.  Trips may include excursions into the mountains, snorkeling at the beach, exploration of a major city or volunteer work.  These events typically have between 8 and 15 students and are an excellent way to unwind before the program starts, while also establishing strong relationships with a tight knit group of your incoming classmates.

Orientation events

Every school offers a set of orientation events that may include barbeques, museum outings, bar crawls, team scavenger hunts and baseball games.  The events are good fun and help expose you to a larger number of your classmates.  If you’re coming from abroad, these events provide a good opportunity to familiarize yourself with some American social customs as well as the city that will be your home base for the next two years.

Incoming student retreat

Although some of the excesses of the incoming student retreat were described at the beginning of the chapter, the overall event is not characterized by debauchery.  Typically incoming MBA’s will spend 2 nights at an off-campus location where they’ll have a chance to meet each other and participate in sports, cocktail hours, dances and ropes courses.

Weekly drinking events

Weekly drinking events are par for the course for every top MBA program in the land.  Whether it’s “Mangled Mondays”, “Wasted Wednesdays”, or “Thirsty Thursdays”, there is a fraternity-like devotion to the class drinking events amongst a segment of the MBA population. Each school has its own unique twist on the concept.  The events are so important that in a poll at one top business schools, the 1st most influential student group was the Investment Banking Group followed immediately by the group that organized booze outings.

The weekly drinking events never cease to amaze.   During the recruiting season some of the most composed students loose it completely on the one day per week that it’s officially permissible to completely let go.   At one of the events in the middle of the interviewing season, I recall one female colleague becoming so inebriated that she vomited in her Prada purse before breaking out in tears after not hearing back from any of the banks she interviewed with several days prior.  Within minutes of expelling the contents of her stomach, she received a call announcing an offer for a position in an investment bank.  Legend has it that the woman from human resources considered rescinding the offer after observing her drunken demeanor on the phone.  She rallied, ordered a bottle of champagne, and kept her job offer.

The school pub

A number of the top business schools maintain their own pub or have a pub in proximity which for all intents and purposes is the official school pub.  This is typically the lurking ground of stressed out first year students, but it’s still a great place to convene after class and exams.

International student parties

The most exciting events are often hosted by the international students.  Whether it’s a picnic get together put on by the Russian students, a Dawali celebration hosted by Indian students, a traditional Brazilian barbeque or a big night of salsa dancing organized by Latin American students, there is no question that these events are some of the most fun and culturally enlightening.  There are few opportunities in working life to be exposed to a wide array of different cultures and learn about how business is conducted in other parts of the world.  Make an effort to expand your horizons and attend events put on by students outside of your immediate group. It will pay you back in both fun and an enhanced cultural perspective.

Dartmouth Winter Carnival

Dartmouth is the only top business school to host an annual social event that manages to attract attendees from all the other top business schools.  It is an epic party and winter festival typified by competitive ski racing, snowball fights and late night dancing.  The event is a perfect opportunity to meet MBA’s from other top schools and build your network.

MBA Poker Tournament

Every January for the past few years, Harrah’s Entertainment has organized a Texas hold’em championship for business schools across the country.  Typically the event has been most heavily attended by students from Harvard Business School and the University of Chicago.  The stakes are high with over $100,000 in prize money.  Harrah’s also uses the event to recruit MBA’s into careers in the gaming industry.  It’s a fun time and if you’re an international student, it provides solid rationale for making a trip to Las Vegas.

Kentucky Derby

For whatever reasons, MBA students at top programs love the Kentucky Derby.  Perhaps it’s the statistics involved in handicapping, the thrill of outright risk taking in making bets or the plentiful booze provided in the infield.  Either way, the event regularly attracts a loyal following from America’s top business schools.  Typically students rent an RV and journey to Churchill Downs for the day before the Derby and the day after.  The event can be something of a mess, but you’re sure to form tight bonds with the 7-8 fellow MBA’s that are part of the adventure.


Every school has its own version of a theatrical program that mocks the eccentricities of MBA life.  The program usually takes several months to produce and includes comedic skits, song and dance.  Participating either as an actor or organizer is an excellent way to become close to your colleagues also working on the program and generate some notoriety from being on stage.

Formal events

Every top MBA program organizes several semi-formal or formal events each year.  This is an opportunity to find out who cleans up well and who knows how to dance something beside bump and grind.  The venue for the formal events ranges in caliber. Some may be hosted on campus while others are big blow-outs held at swanky hotels or other prominent locations.  These events provide an opportunity to escape the pub scene and go out proper.  Be forewarned that the process for finding a date is more similar to something from high school than anything you likely experienced as an undergraduate.

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Start early to bolster your candidacy – by Stacy Blackman

All aspects of the MBA application process will benefit from careful preparation. From your initial planning all the way to the interview, there is a lot to gain from investing hours up front. If you are planning to apply to business school in the fall, you may be wondering what you can do now to prepare. Aside from solidifying career goals and researching target schools, you can take several actions to improve your candidacy now that will pay dividends in the fall.

Community Involvement

Now is a great time to deepen or establish your involvement with a community organization. Consider roles that will allow you to take a leadership position and create real impact before September. Offering to organize an event is a great discrete activity that will allow you to work in a team, have an impact, and show results. For more information on various opportunities to get involved, visit our post on extracurricular activities.

Academic Enhancement

Whether you had issues with your GMAT score or your undergrad GPA, you can take action now to improve your overall academics before the fall.

If you took the GMAT once or twice and did not receive the score you think you are capable of, consider a prep course to enhance your skills and remind you how to solve those high school math logic problems.

An undergrad GPA hovering around 3.5 is generally considered fine. If your GPA is a 3.2 or below, or you majored in liberal arts, you may consider taking quantitative classes to enhance your academic profile. The MBA canon generally consists of Calculus, Statistics and Microeconomics. If you took any of those classes in undergrad and scored a C or below you should certainly re-take the classes now. Where you take the class is much less important than the course material and grade (aim for A’s!!). The local community college is a fine option.

Leadership and Management Potential

Being promoted between now and the fall would be the ideal scenario, but you don’t have to wait for your boss to act in order to enhance your overall leadership and management potential for business school applications.

Volunteer for that cross-functional team or project, offer to help your boss with a tough long-term goal, or get involved with employee groups at work whether through volunteering in the community or promoting diversity in your company. Letting others at work know you are interested in developing your people skills may uncover more opportunities to go above and beyond, and provide great material for your resume and essays.

As you prepare for application season, make sure you are taking action that lines up with your passions and overall goals. If you are preparing for your long-term future with excitement, you will be far more effective!

This post provided by Stacy Blackman Consulting

Founded in 2001, Stacy Blackman Consulting has helped thousands of MBA applicants gain admission to the most selective business schools in the world. The Stacy Blackman team, comprised of MBA graduates, former admissions officers and expert writers, editors and marketers, helps clients develop and implement a winning marketing strategy. Stacy Blackman clients have a significantly increased probability of admission to top schools and are frequent recipients of merit scholarships. The company is regularly featured in publications such as BusinessWeek, the Wall Street Journal and the Economist. Visit the Stacy Blackman blog for daily news updates and admissions tips, and check out the company’s e-publications for more in depth school by school guidance.

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Cultural Adaptability among American and European Business Students

Perceptions and stereotypes play an important role in our lives. Sometimes they distort our decisions and make our communication with others more difficult. Some foreigners have a perception that Americans are more conservative to foreign cultures than other nationalities and find it more difficult to integrate in a multicultural environment. ZoomInterviews took a closer look at this topic and our findings contradict this view. According to “Cultural Adaptability among American and European Business Students” research recently published by Bill McPherson from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, American business students are more open-minded and more culturally flexible than European students are.
The study measured students’ rankings on the four cultural adaptability scales: emotional resilience, flexibility/openness, personal autonomy and perceptual acuity. These rankings reflect students’ ability to adapt and change to working and living with different cultures.
According to the research, American business students are more emotionally resilient (46.2% USA, 36.7% European showed good performance in this respect). A person with high emotional resilience scores can regulate his or her emotions, maintain emotional equilibrium in a new or changing environment and deal with the setbacks and difficult feelings that are a normal part of the cross-cultural experience. Emotionally resilient people like new experiences and have confidence in their ability to cope with ambiguity. However both categories have percentages (31% American and 40% European) that fell below the average.
According to the research American business students are more open and flexible (28.3% USA, 24.9% European). However, the analysis indicated that significance was not achieved on this scale. The Flexibility/Openness scale measures the extent to which a person enjoys different ways of thinking and behaving that are typically encountered in the cross-cultural experience. Open, flexible people have a positive attitude toward the unfamiliar.
Perceptual acuity is associated with confidence in one’s ability to accurately perceive the feelings of others. It is also associated with valuing other cultures and being willing to suspend judgment of others. American business students have a greater ability to learn and interpret the gestures and body language of different cultures (32.5% USA, 22.6% European).
American business students have a much stronger personal value system (51.3% USA, 33.0% European). The personal autonomy scale measures the extent to which an individual has developed a personal system of values and beliefs that he or she feels confident enough to act on in unfamiliar settings. At the same time, the scale examines the extent to which an individual respects others and their value systems. Finally this scale examines the pressure to change felt by a person in a cross-cultural environment. American students should be lauded for their strong sense of self awareness, self confidence, self-directness and strong belief system. This can be a double edged sword, however, when these beliefs and principles are so strong that they may cause conflict when then asked to accept others different from their own.
To sum up, American students, by pure percentages, fared better in all the four scales.
In our view, these results should encourage Americans to look for international education and career centered opportunities with more confidence. Europeans should also change their perception about Americans and communicate with them with a realization that Americans do have the ability to be flexible to different cultures and integrate within a foreign environment. In turn, Americans should appreciate that European students usually have excellent language skills, may be more globally aware and are more sensitive about developments in neighboring countries. While these qualities were not mentioned in the research, they are very important for success in international business.
Finally, the results suggest that there is still work to be done on all scales to make our future global managers more successful. All students can benefit from being culturally adaptable-whether within the organization or when working on international assignments the research. Business schools should continue to develop their curriculum and extra curriculum activities to hone the international and cross cultural adaptability of their students.

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