Calling all MBA applicants in NL

Saw this and am passing it on, please note that this is all I know and I have no affiliation with this whatsoever. However, if you're thinking about going to a top-tier MBA school, this sounds like it could be of great help to your research of schools and programs. And I can't say it often enough, there aren't enough Dutch people pursuing top-flight MBAs, for reasons completely beyond me. So if an MBA is an idea you're toying with, and you're in NL, go to this and figure out if it's for you. Go NL!

"The Dutch Ivy Circle Alumni Association invites
you to its second
Amsterdam MBA Fair on Sunday 28 September, 2008, from 11am to 5pm.  

 We offer young professionals who intend to pursue an MBA,
the unique opportunity to meet admissions directors and alumni from the top
1 2  global MBA programs.

This MBA fair at the Barlaeus Gymnasium in Amsterdam will
give you access to the 12 most internationally renowned business
schools from the United States
( Chicago , Columbia ,
Harvard, Kellogg, MIT Sloan, Stanford, Tuck and Wharton) and Europe
(IESE, IMD, INSEAD, LBS). This is a unique opportunity. You
will meet admissions directors and alumni from the top 12
global MBA programs and you will be given a great platform
to share and exchange MBA information. The day is intended to make you
much better equipped to conduct your MBA selection and application processes
and increase your chances of acceptance at one of these outstanding business
schools. 

 During the morning you will have the opportunity
to ask questions about MBA programs in general. After lunch, you will
learn about the three schools you're most interested in. Representatives
from the Fulbright Foundation will provide information on sponsoring opportunities,
and the US
Consul will answer your visa questions. By the end of the day you will be
familiar with the added value of your preferred MBA programs, knowing which
schools best fit your competencies and ambition

Are you a young professional with three to four years
of work experience in the public or private sector? Do you have
ambitions that extend beyond the
Netherlands ? Do you intend to
pursue an international MBA in the next 1-2 years?

Then register at our website, www.amsterdammbafair.nl/registration. (Please
note that seats are limited. Places will be given on a first come first
served basis.) 

If you have already applied to Business Schools and/or you have been
accepted, this event is still a wonderful
opportunity to meet alumni and learn more about your preferred
school(s). And even if you are not planning to attend, feel free to
send us your contact information (and the schools you have applied to or were
accepted at) to ensure that you are invited to other applicant
events, like our pre-departure drinks at the US Consulate.

The Amsterdam MBA Fair is made possible thanks to the
generous contribution of our partners Aegon, A.T. Kearney, and
Booz & Company."


What every MBA2010 should know

*warning, if you're an MBA2010, this will spoil whatever it is that I'll say during Orientation. You can stop reading now and read it after Wednesday if you want to be surprised.*

So last year I wrote this post on what advice I would give the incoming class, and since I've been asked to be part of the alumni panel at MBA2010 Orientation this week, I thought it prudent to check out what I'd written last year. And you know what? It's good stuff, which I know is tooting my own horn (although most of the advice comes from a group of people, not just me). But useful. So I'll copy the whole thing down here again, as much as a reminder to myself about what I want to say at Orientation as advice for the incoming class.

From last year's post (original here):

"My list:
* Remember what you came here to do. I
wrote down what I thought I wanted to get out of my time at LBS, and
promised I'd try and fit as many things as I could in, and would only
do things that I'd love doing and got excited about. It is easy getting
sidetracked with everything that's going on, and that goes in
particular for jobs. I've been to Milkround presentations where I had
no business going to, just because I felt I should go to them. Just
because everyone else jumps into the river, doesn't mean you have to
also. Or something like this. You get my drift.
* Put learning before grades.
LBS is a grade-non-disclosure school which means no one except for you
will ever see your grades. Take advantage of this. Stretch yourself. I
took electives which I otherwise never would have taken. An internship
that was unpaid but was invaluable in figuring out what I wanted to do
next. Learning sometimes doesn't correlate with grades (and good
internships don't always correlate with earning lots of money), some of
my classes where I got the worst grades I learned the most from.
Always, always put learning before grades.
* Give back. I
believe in 'what goes around, comes around'; if you can help someone
else, do. It's good karma. If you are less altruistically inclined,
remember this: it will come back to you in spades, but not in ways you
can imagine now. If you trip someone up, they will remember and who
knows, they might just give a negative recommendation to their friends
who works for company X that you are just dying to work for.

I have since thought of a few more:
* Have fun and lighten up a
little. Life's not that serious. Neither is an MBA. Work hard, but also
leave plenty of time to enjoy the good things in life
* Go outside
your comfort zone in terms of friends. If you come to LBS, there will
be around 60 other nationalities with you. And people from professional
backgrounds you had no idea even existed. Don't stick with what you
know. Or who you know. Venture out, get to know different cultures and
ideas.

I asked a few of my fellow alumni, and they came up with this (thanks to H, M and J and yes, the list is censored a bit):

* The best stuff happens outside of class
*  If you have never lived in England before, read Kate Fox's Watching the English. It will make life a lot easier
*  If you are single, this is probably the last chance you will have to meet large numbers of people of the opposite sex. [Natasja's edit: especially if you're female I would think, the male/female ratio is 75/25]
*
Only nerds, gifted individuals and private equity wannabes want to be
on dean's list. Nobody likes a wannabe. Everyone loves a nerd.
* Decide on your grading philosophy today.
* Try to focus on learning. Not grades. Learn to build your intuition, not memorize formulas.
*
Don't stare at the female professors. They will notice and they will
remember (Natasja's edit: huh? Ehm. I don't personally have any
experience with this, but will take my friend's word for this)
* There are good cheap eats in London. You just have to find them. Asking helps.
* There is life beyond Marylebone Road (aka the Bubble). Not just at night and in clubs. Explore.
* Get involved in clubs.  This extends your network and allows you to apply the skills you are learning.
*
Accept that the only way to make lots of money is to have no life. 
Work-life balance mean fine tuning budget/expenditure balance.
* London is the world's most expensive city.  Accept it now and stop whinging about it.
*
Understand that this is an opportunity to learn about yourself and
consider your next steps. you have another forty working years after
graduation to work. Don't fill your first year with too many electives
as you will change your mind after your summer internship in any case.
*
This is not your home and yes it is overcast here most the time – we
all already know that, you're not telling us anything we don't know
yet. Take advantage of the free museums, concerts, cheap arts and drama."

Oh, and if you're going to London Business School (must remember to be on brand and not say LBS all the time), you'll be seeing loads of this:

Lbs_front_lawn

My £0.02

2192041747_e6e167b2ba_bFor some reason that I haven’t quite fathomed yet, people are asking my advice about careers in branding/design strategy. I still feel like I’m feeling my way around in this whole field, but I guess in the land of the blind, I’m the one-eyed person that people seem to go to. Right. I don’t know how much sensible advice I can give on this, but here’s a quick stab at it. Here’s what I think you might want to be thinking about when you want to move into this field (and this is very UK centric in certain bits):

* Keep an eye on the trade press, Design Week and Campaign are probably most helpful; add Creative Review if you’re more design inclined. Do this over a period of time and you’ll start to recognize names and projects. Figure out who does what, who’s winning what business, and what companies interest you. Mind you, you can’t do this the day before you have an interview, it takes a good few months to build this up.

* Look around you. Take photos. Figure out who shops where, what shop sells what, eats where, eats what, reads what, wears what. Who shops at Waitrose? And Top Shop? And who reads Glamour? Pick up a random magazine and go through it to see what the hot topics are in that area. Read the Economist, Fast Company, Businessweek (esp the Design and Innovation section). Pick up a random magazine every now and again; find out what the readers of Horse and Hound are reading about.

* If I were interviewing someone now, I’d probably want to know how much you know about the business already. What is your favourite brand and why (steer clear of Innocent though… lovely brand, but everyone likes it!)? Who or what would you love to rebrand? What’s a good book you’ve read lately? What do you think of the 2012 identity (check out this for some inspiration)? Who’s your favourite designer? Which brand identity project did you wish you had worked on? What was the last exhibition/show/concert you saw that you loved? Alright, that last one might not be terribly relevant, but I’d like to know that I’d be working with an interesting person.

* Research what the biggies in the business are doing: Pentagram, Wolff Olins, Interbrand, Futurebrand Landor, Lippincott.

* Read Truth, Lies and Advertising and Perfect Pitch by Jon Steel; Wally Olins on Brand, and I’ve heard good reviews about Stephen King’s A Master Class in planning

* Read some relevant blogs to keep up to date (or just to be awed by how clever and interesting others are): try Russell Davies, Brand Strategy Insider (which includes columns by our very own inimitable Prof Ritson who probably can’t believe I’m actually working in branding), Northern Planner, Faris Yakob. Check out this slide presentation by Idris Mootee (and the others in the series); see what the latest new trends are at Springwise. And randomly browse around blogs and websites too. Don’t forget randomness. And serendipity. Lots of beautiful things happen when the two collide.
 

Also, consider the differences between working at the client side and agency side. If you’ve not worked consultancy side before, consider carefully if you’re temperament is suited to it: a consultant leads a very different life from a client. A consultant gives advice, but never decides. A consultant needs to know a lot about a lot of different things. A consultant always works with deadlines, meaning that sometimes you work your bum off, sometimes you have little to do. A consultant works when the client goes home. Your client is always right, even if they’re wrong. A consultant is never responsible for taking the final decision (which for some is a good thing, for others it isn’t). As for client side: I have no experience with it, so I’m not a good person to ask.

Like I said, I’m probably not the right person to ask, I feel I’m still so new to this whole thing. But maybe this helps someone. And socks ruin Christmas. Just so you know.

Where was I? Oh, yes, networking

18122007534[photo left: temporary fake night club built for a film shoot (haven’t figured out yet which film) built on the spot where at weekends Borough Market is]

Where was I? Oh, right, networking advice. Some of you asked for some wise words. I’ll have to disappoint you, I’m afraid. I don’t think I have much to offer, but there you go.

The one thing you need to know about networking? Don’t.
That’s it. That’s my advice. Just don’t.

Oh, I can’t let myself get off this easy. I’ve thought a little bit about it, and examined why that was my first kneejerk reaction to being asked about advice about networking. I have seen too many cases already in my short life of networking gone horribly wrong. I’ve seen my share of slimey, insincere conversations with whoever is highest up the totem pole (ignoring everyone else) in that room with the only aim of scoring a little piece of paper with contact details on it (hell, I probably did it myself too, but I’ve blocked out all memories if I did). I’ve been elbowed, had my toes stepped on more than once, and all for that meaningless chat and little piece of paper. Do people get jobs that way? No doubt they do. Is it worth it? I don’t think so. Call me holier-than-thou (and regular readers will know that I feel strongly about stuff like this), but it’s just not right. I have a hard time putting my feelings into words other than ‘it’s just wrong’. It is. But if you need more evidence: you never know who will help you. We’ve all heard the stories about people who were rude to the receptionist, aced the interview but because they were rude to the receptionist didn’t ge the job. You never know who, when or where you will meet someone  who will give you your break. So best to be on your best behaviour at least most of the time. It’s the mum-rule: do as you mum told you when you were growing up: be nice.

So what do I recommend? Make connections. Have honest and open conversations, show interest in everyone and everything around you, think about what you can contribute to the person you’re talking to. Think of what interests and matters to them and how you can be of service. Think of everyone as people, not the obstacle you need to cross to where you want to go. Seek to add, not to take. Have something interesting to talk about and something interesting to ask (if you’re stumped: read widely (e.g. newspapers, Economist, trade rags)). Smile and be gracious. Don’t take up too much time. Follow up and say thank you if someone’s been helpful (but make it personal, don’t send out a formulaic email, that’s worse than not doing it). Keep promises. Listen, especially when someone is trying to tell you something. 

R1 results for LBS came out earlier this week. To everyone who got in: congrats and welcome! To the waitlistees: don’t lose hope. To those who got a ding: I’m sorry, it’s rough getting a ding.

All MBA’s are evil

2052757092_d1864813daIt’s kinda hard to miss it’s nearly Christmas if you’re living in the Western Hemisphere and you’re leaving the house at the moment. I for one am looking forward to going home for Christmas, help my mum cook, celebrate a belated Sinterklaas and spend time with my family and friends that I don’t see nearly as often as I would like to.

In this season of unbridled shopping (I’m actively avoiding going into central London on weekends, the tourist-shopping-crowds are horrendous… I love you, dear tourists, but please don’t stop in the middle of the street to take a picture and then get cross if a bus honks at you, carry a tube map with you (pick up a free one from any tube station) but don’t stop and read it right at the entrance of Leicester Square station, and please please please remember that there’s a reason why all the Londoners stand on the right hand side of the escalator. Oh, I had no idea I had all this pent-up frustration in me. Mental note to self: remember you were a tourist once and made these mistakes. And many more. Multiple times. I think I must be turning into a proper Londoner, they (or should I say ‘we’) like nothing more than to moan about tourists. All this as an aside.) I’m not trying to go nuts.

After that rant, something more in keeping with the spirit of the season. No, don’t worry, I won’t sing, you’re probably right in guessing that my voice needs a little bit more practicing in showers.
For some strange reason that I can’t quite fathom myself, I’ve become quite the activist lately. There’s a lot wrong with this world and I’m sick of being apathetic about it. Sick and tired. So slowly but surely I’m trying to right a few small wrongs. I’ve bought carbon-offsetting for all my flights for 2007 and intend to do so for 2008 too (amazingly, it costs very little too). I’ve written to British Airways to ask if they could offer carbon offsetting with their booking procedure (right before the annoying ‘do you want a hotel’ advert they display), have written to Eurostar asking if they can offer competitively priced one-stop tickets to any Dutch stations (as they do for the Belgian stations) so it becomes more financially viable to travel to NL in a carbon-neutral way, I’ve signed a bunch of petitions (asking to ban styrofoam, to get the Climate Change bill accepted in the House of Commons (x2) amongst others), made a micro-loan through Kiva. Not enough to save the planet, or make a big difference, but maybe my small actions will add up to something bigger. And I’d rather do something small than nothing at all.

I’m trying to be less evil. The world has enough evil, apathy and cynicism in it. Time for some kindness. I believe that if we all do a little bit, lots of little bits will ad up to a lot (consider compounded interest for the (would-be) MBA’s). I realise that sometimes it doesn’t feel like that, and it’s easy to become cynical and find flaws in anything and anyone who’s trying to make this world a better place. I’m not saying become a happy-clappy-noncritical person. All I’m saying is that this is our world. We are the people we’ve been waiting for to change the world. Now go and do it. And if that seemingly selfless aspect of it doesn’t convince you, consider this: all research into happiness shows that helping others gives you a huge sense of happiness and wellbeing. If you need some inspiration to make this world a little bit of a better place, check out these resources:
* Change the World for a Fiver (book) and the accompanying website
* The Everyday Activist (book) and the accompanying website and blog
* UnLtd, a London organisation that supports social entrepreneurship
* Room to Read, a charity close to my heart, with a mission of educating children
* Kiva, become a investor
* Freecycle your unwanted stuff
* Plant a tree
* Perform random acts of kindness
* Smile at the people around you
* Give to your favourite charity

My plans for 2008: do more good, be less evil.

What to do about interview jitters?

1933037094_9a0b2c5663[if you look closely, you can almost see where I work on the photo on the left.]

It’s that time of the year again. Leaves are falling, I’ve scrambled to find my gloves and buy a cool new hat for the winter season and the MBA application season has started in earnest. This Friday the interview invites for LBS R1 candidates will be sent out, and I feel a duty to make some (hopefully useful) remarks on the whole interview-thing, in a paying-it-forward kinda way. So I started writing until I remembered that I have already doled out more than enough advice in the past, and looking back on it, there’s really nothing to add. So I’m going to be shameless and copy my previous advice below (original post here). Anyone who’s got anything to add: please be my guest and add a comment.

On b-school interviews
Be early, no need to stress out about being late if you can help it.

If you’re unsure of the dresscode, ask (there’s nothing worse
than being over or underdressed to help increase nerves for no good
reason).

Think ahead and plan some answers to common questions (why the
MBA? Why this school? Why now? What do you want to do post MBA? Why
you? Examples of teamwork, leadership etc), but don’t rehearse them to
the point where you become a robot reciting pre-rehearsed answers.

Have
something interesting to say (ideally, you are an interesting person
so that shouldn’t be too hard).

Prepare some questions for the
interviewer and try to make them interesting (what did you like best of
your experience? What electives did you particularly like? What is the
one activity that I should not miss?). Remember this is as much an opportunity for you to find out more about a school as it is for them to find out more about you.

Do not drink during the
interview (as in: drink alcohol. Any other beverages I have no particular view on).

Know your application inside out and
expect detailed questions.

Don’t be rude or disparaging.

Be honest. Be
nice and gracious.

Don’t slag off anyone (former bosses, other schools). See also the previous points on not being rude and being gracious.

See also this about my own LBS interview and trawl the other blogs to see what their experiences were.

Be yourself. Oh, that’s a tricky one. You’re nervous, want to make a good impression, and in my case I had no real idea what the perfect business-school student was like, but I was quite sure they probably didn’t resemble me. I had the best interviewer though, he made me forget all about it, and was interested in me as a person. And I decided that since I had no idea what a typical MBA was like, I might as well be myself. As you can tell, it must have worked, reader, I got admitted.

Enjoy it!

[edited: ok, so I did have more to say than in the original. I could’ve known. Once I get myself talking, it’s hard to stop. So I added the bit about being yourself and enjoying it. It seemed like those were sensible things to add.]

Fringe benefits

1217219024_84e74c1d3aSometimes the big things in life come with unexpected smaller side-effects. Take my job, located in between Southwark and London Bridge. It’s a great location, close to the river, but most of all, close to Borough Market which is an unintended, but very welcome side effect. Every Friday I roam the market at lunchtime (or preferably slightly later when it’s less busy). I know there’s a lot that true-blue foodies can say about Borough Market (it’s expensive, it’s snobbish at times, overcrowded with tourists at times), but I still love it passionately. I love the sights and sounds, the wonderful products (Polish sausages, chocolate and real truffles, more butter you can swing a stick at, meat (it’s the rabbit season at the mo’), scallops, tomatoes, garlic, jams, and of course my usual lunch: German Bratwurst (with curry gewurz ketchup in my case, reminds me of home), and a ton more foodie-goodies I’m forgetting to mention. Reading a book this morning (Lewis Hyde’s The Gift: How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World) where the author talks about the gift economy reminded me of another reason why I love the market: because every purchase is a little bit of a gift. It’s much more human buying something off a vendor of the market than in the anonymous supermarket. You chat, you talk about the produce, you banter, and occasionally you haggle. Try that at Tesco. Buying something off the market feels like a gift, not a chore. It’s something you want to do, rarely something you need to do. Which as soon as I wrote it down made me feel snobbish. I give up, no more excuses or explanations. I just love the place.

Another book which was delivered by my friendly Amazon delivery guy was A Technique for Producing Ideas, which yielded some useful advice for people working in advertising, which I think has a relevance far beyond advertising too:
‘This then is the whole process or method by which ideas are produced:
First, the gathering of raw materials — both the materials of your immediate problem and he materials which come from a constant enrichment of your store of general knowledge.
Second, the working over of these materials in your mind.
Third, the incubating stage, where you let something beside the conscious mind do the work of synthesis.
Fourth, the actual birth of the Idea — the ‘Eureka! I have it!’ stage.
And fifth, the final shaping and development of the idea to practical usefulness.

The principle of constantly expanding your experience, both personally and vicariously, does matter tremendously in any idea-producing job.’

[note: the above image is of my friendly Bratwurst guy, but not at Borough, he’s at the Covent Garden Night Market which was held in August.]

So if this is 30

15092007440… I’m liking it a lot! I had a wonderful birthday, both in NL with my family and in LON with my friends. I was so touched by the kind gifts and flowers (thanks for the flowers, mr P, they are lovely!) and emails, texts, comments on the blog, voicemails and cards , I felt like a queen. I can highly recommend turning 30 to anyone! And as all 30 somethings have been telling me, 30 is the new 20. Although I must admit that I’m much happier now than I was at 20, give me 30 anyday!

I’ve been thinking a bit about what the right questions are to ask. I’ll explain. I still get a bunch of emails from prospective applicants asking me all sorts of questions. I’m happy to oblige and answer to the best of my ability. However, after another one of these emails, I shook my head and said to my housemate, ‘the answers to these questions will not make the decision to pursue an MBA in general, and at LBS in particular, any easier. All I’ll do is satisfy a craving for what will turn out to be largely useless information. These are the wrong questions!’. Upon  which my very wise housemate asked ‘alright, if you know so well, then what are the right questions to ask?’. Ouch. She had me there. I don’t know. And although I’ve spent a few days thinking about them, I still don’t quite know. But I have come up with an analogy which might help a little.

See, it’s a little like buying a house/flat/piece of real estate. You ask what you think is important from the outside looking in. Some of these questions will be the right ones. Some of them won’t be. But you won’t know which questions fall into which category, until you experience it. And even then it might be hard to figure out what clinched the deal for you. If I think back on the property I bought way back when (my lovely 2 bed flat), I bought it after seeing it for 20 minutes, and having spent less than a day in that neighbourhood. It could’ve gone horribly wrong. But it didn’t. Did I ask all the right questions? Nope. Did I ask some stupid, inane questions that didn’t even matter to me once I settled in? Yep. And that’s what it’s like when you’re thinking about an MBA. I thought I was going to be active in the Women in Business club and asked questions about it, turns out that didn’t turn me on one bit and I wasn’t involved at all. However, if you asked me 3 years ago I would’ve said that mattered to me. I thought I wanted to go on an exchange and it turns out I did and I’m very happy with that choice. I had no idea I’d be involved with the Marketing Club or the Yearbook. I had an inkling I wanted to be a student ambassador. The catch 22 is that you won’t know what will matter to you, what will clinch the MBA deal for you until you do it. By which time obviously it’s too late to ask questions.

I’ve asked a bunch of people what types of things clinched the deal for an MBA/ an MBA at LBS for them and it’s rarely any of the things that any applicants asks me. It’s never about lecture methods, or scholarships or workload. It’s about atmosphere, great electives, your classmates, what you bring to the table, what opportunities you can create.

Alright, so I might need to develop this train of thought a bit more. Does it make any sense to anyone, this analogy?

Image top left: the box of the champagne for my 30th birthday.

What every MBA2009 should know

1222534451_e5b22041ff
I was asked to be part of an alumni panel (alumni panel… oh boy. How do you know you’re well and truly not a student anymore? When you get asked for one of these!) talking about what things someone would have told us before doing an MBA, or more politically correct: what advice would we give to MBA’s just starting out. After much deliberating, and asking a few of my fellow alumni, I came up with the following short list and thought it might be helpful to put on here.

My list:
* Remember what you came here to do. I wrote down what I thought I wanted to get out of my time at LBS, and promised I’d try and fit as many things as I could in, and would only do things that I’d love doing and got excited about. It is easy getting sidetracked with everything that’s going on, and that goes in particular for jobs. I’ve been to Milkround presentations where I had no business going to, just because I felt I should go to them. Just because everyone else jumps into the river, doesn’t mean you have to also. Or something like this. You get my drift.
* Put learning before grades. LBS is a grade-non-disclosure school which means no one except for you will ever see your grades. Take advantage of this. Stretch yourself. I took electives which I otherwise never would have taken. An internship that was unpaid but was invaluable in figuring out what I wanted to do next. Learning sometimes doesn’t correlate with grades (and good internships don’t always correlate with earning lots of money), some of my classes where I got the worst grades I learned the most from. Always, always put learning before grades.
* Give back. I believe in ‘what goes around, comes around'; if you can help someone else, do. It’s good karma. If you are less altruistically inclined, remember this: it will come back to you in spades, but not in ways you can imagine now. If you trip someone up, they will remember and who knows, they might just give a negative recommendation to their friends who works for company X that you are just dying to work for.

I have since thought of a few more:
* Have fun and lighten up a little. Life’s not that serious. Neither is an MBA. Work hard, but also leave plenty of time to enjoy the good things in life
* Go outside your comfort zone in terms of friends. If you come to LBS, there will be around 60 other nationalities with you. And people from professional backgrounds you had no idea even existed. Don’t stick with what you know. Or who you know. Venture out, get to know different cultures and ideas.

I asked a few of my fellow alumni, and they came up with this (thanks to H, M and J and yes, the list is censored a bit):

* The best stuff happens outside of class
*  If you have never lived in England before, read Kate Fox’s Watching the English. It will make life a lot easier
*  If you are single, this is probably the last chance you will have to meet large numbers of people of the opposite sex.
* Only nerds, gifted individuals and private equity wannabes want to be on dean’s list. Nobody likes a wannabe. Everyone loves a nerd.
* Decide on your grading philosophy today.
* Try to focus on learning. Not grades. Learn to build your intuition, not memorize formulas.
* Don’t stare at the female professors. They will notice and they will remember (Natasja’s edit: huh? Ehm. I don’t personally have any experience with this, but will take my friend’s word for this)
* There are good cheap eats in London. You just have to find them. Asking helps.
* There is life beyond Marylebone Road. Not just at night and in clubs. Explore.
* Get involved in clubs.  This extends your network and allows you to apply the skills you are learning.
* Accept that the only way to make lots of money is to have no life.  Work-life balance mean fine tuning budget/expenditure balance.
* London is the world’s most expensive city.  Accept it now and stop whinging about it.
* Understand that this is an opportunity to learn about yourself and consider your next steps. you have another forty working years after graduation to work. Don’t fill your first year with too many electives as you will change your mind after your summer internship in any case.
* This is not your home and yes it is overcast here most the time – we all already know that, you’re not telling us anything we don’t know yet. Take advantage of the free museums, concerts, cheap arts and drama.

All of which I think is sound advice.

The 5 things you should know

Yoursign
Here’s the 5 things you should know if you’re sending me an email as a prospective applicant:

  1. Tell me where you found me / how you know me / if we’ve met before. Please. My memory’s usually reasonably good, but I meet so many prospective applicants (or at least have done in the past few years) that I can’t remember everyone, hard as I try.
  2. Do not under any circumstance tell me a) your GPA b) your GMAT (and DO NOT, and I repeat DO NOT even explain which math/verbal scores you had) or c) TOEFL scores. I don’t give a rat’s a** about them to be honest. And they might be interesting to you, to me they’re just numbers.
  3. Do tell me a little about yourself and try to make it a little more interesting than just ‘hi, my name is XXX, can I ask you a few questions?’. I’m a person too. Like everyone I like a good (but concise) story. Make it interesting. Make me interested.
  4. Tell me what research you’ve already done. Do you read the blogs? The LBS MBA blog? Have you already talked to people? Are you thinking about applying or definitely applying?
  5. Last but not least DO NOT ask me questions such as ‘can you tell me about your experience?’ or ‘I’d like to know about your MBA’. This whole MBA thing, including the applications-stage, took 3 years. What exactly do you want to know? Be specific. Tell me what you’d like to know. It’s kinda hard for guess what you want to know exactly so please tell me.

End of rant.

[image courtesy of RedKit]

[addition: hmmmm. Fran’s comment made me realise that I do sound a bit grumpy. Apologies. I’m tired. See, I genuinely want to help when people send me emails. But please, please, think of me too and try and work with me. I’ll appreciate it a lot. Think of it as good karma. Or good practice.]

Visiting a b-school is a lot like dating

810755727_9d0aa748caLike the ever-handsome-and-clever Patxi (yes, ladies, it is true, there are some very handsome men at LBS*! But before you all rush out, this one’s taken), I got an email from Manoj asking for advice when visiting b-schools. I think Patxi has put down very useful comments and for a while there I didn’t think there was anything I could add. However, I wouldn’t be I (me?) if at one point I do feel there’s something I need to say about this too. So here it goes.

Visiting a b-school is a lot like taking a girl on a first date (not that I have any personal experience in taking a girl out on a date, I must admit, I prefer to date guys, but I’m extrapolating from my experience of watching American movies). If you asked her out, that means that you already think she’s going to be nice/interesting/sexy/entertaining (delete or add as appropriate) so the groundwork is laid. You dress up nicely, but not too formal, just enough so she can tell you made an effort. You come on time, make an effort to be courteous and interesting and most of all interested in her, and try and leave a good impression in general and not behave like an idiot/raving lunatic/serial killer (again delete or add as appropriate, you get my drift). You try and figure out if you want to go on another date. Now that’s exactly the process of visiting a b-school too. Follow the above (and most of all, read Patxi’s advice, which is much more practical) and you’re sorted.

I’m getting ready for what promises to be an interesting week. Tomorrow one of my old housemates is back in town (yeehaaw!), Tuesday and Wednesday I’m off to Istanbul/Ankara for what promises to be a whirlwind business trip, and Thursday it’s back to normal schedule again. I spent the past two days trying to assemble a wardrobe for a business trip: after ditching my suits 4 years ago, and only having a few dresses/skirts I really needed a wardrobe update (although no suits are necessary, it’s not that kind of business, I still needed more than trainers, a tee and jeans). And of course with my first paycheck update, and some of the sales still on, I had a blast :-) I had forgotten exactly how nice it is to shop with a paycheck in the bank.

Above photo taken about a month ago in my ‘hood in London, as always with the trusty N95.

* That said, I must say that all the male LBS MBA bloggers are quite handsome… maybe it’s a blogging thing ;-)

[edited to add: btw, I’ve officially graduated. Got the letter last week. Now all that’s left is the nice shiny piece of paper that someone’s calligraphed my name on. Apparently, that will take a little while, till sometime in autumn.]

How to survive your application (well, kinda)

I hesitated tagging this post ‘practical advice’ since I’m not quite sure how practical the following will be. But here are some random pieces of advice about the MBA applications procedure (more on the MBA itself in a later post) that this soon to be ex-student has.

About figuring out where to go
Follow your heart. Everything else will slot into place. In general you make life easier if you take certain things into account (i.e. if you want to work in London, it’s easier to be in London) but I strongly believe that you make your own luck. Figure out where you can see yourself living for the duration of the course (are you a city person or do you want to live out in the middle of nowhere?). Try and work out if you like the people (students, staff) there. Visit as many schools as time and budget allow. Read the blogs. Talk to as many students and alumni as you can find (most of them do not mind talking about themselves if you ask politely). Send polite emails and ask questions. Try and work out what matters to you (certain electives, location, type of classmate) and judge by those criteria. Rankings are interesting, but do not mean that the top school should be YOUR top school.

About the application
Make it interesting. Adcoms all across the world read hundreds of thousands of applications and it makes their life nicer if they read interesting ones. Don’t show off but don’t hide information away. Be sensible about the balance of work and non-work examples. Have someone else who knows you well read it to see if it sounds like you. Submit it. Then stop worrying about it. And do not ask if if you should retake the GMAT with a score of 720.

About the interview
Be early. If you’re unsure of the dresscode, ask (there’s nothing worse than being over or underdressed to help increase nerves for no good reason). Think ahead and plan some answers to common questions (why the MBA? Why this school? Why now? What do you want to do post MBA? Why you? Examples of teamwork, leadership etc), but don’t rehearse them to the point where you become a robot reciting pre-rehearsed answers. Have something interesting to say (ideally, you’d be an interesting person so that shouldn’t be too hard). Prepare some questions for the interviewer and try to make them interesting (what did you like best of your experience? What electives did you particularly like? What is the one activity that I should not miss?). Do not drink during the interview (as in: drink alcohol). Know your application inside out and expect detailed questions. Don’t be rude or disparaging. Be honest. Be nice. Don’t slag off anyone (former bosses, other schools). See also this about my own LBS interview and trawl the other blogs to see what their experiences were.

In general
Relax. Which is the hardest thing to do. But try and enjoy the process. No matter how well you prepare, how many questions you ask and how much you read the blogs, your experience will be totally different than you think. Prepare a little, then relax. Be yourself.

D**n, I think this makes for good dating advice too ;-)

10 top tips to have a great MBA fair visit

I’ve been to my fair share of MBA fairs, not so much as a prospective applicant (I hated them, they were too busy), but as a student representing LBS I’ve been to a few. I love doing them, but can’t help but think that a few hints and tips would help make the fair-experience a better one. So here’s the best advice I’ve got on attending MBA fairs:

1. Be on time. There’s a lot of ground to cover (unless that is, you’ve got your heart set on going to school X and don’t care about anything else), and you want to take your time. Some of the fairs are very popular and it might take a little while to get to speak to someone. Another timing aspect: a lot of people go to the panels that are organized, so those are great times to speak to some people at the booths in person.
2. Be prepared. The fairs only last a few hours, so you want to pack in as much as possible. Try and get an idea of which schools will attend, what panels will be given etc. Also, the fair is an excellent opportunity to find out more about Bschools, but only if you know what you’re looking for. A little preparation goes a long way. More on preparation in the following points.
3. Dress nicely, wear comfortable shoes and bring a bag big enough to carry a fair number of brochure. Don’t wear a suit (unless there’s a good reason to, like you’re coming straight from an investment bank). Business casual is fine. And wear comfy shoes, you’ll be doing a lot of standing/walking around. The bag thing only goes if you’re like me, a packrat. There’s tons of information brochures out there, so come prepared. Worst thing is lugging a stack around and feeling your arm go numb.
4. If you don’t know anything about a school, don’t make it up. It’s fine if this is your first fair and you have no clue and you just want to find out about this MBA thing. Or that you’re tagging along with a friend who had to go to the bathroom and now you happen to be standing next to me. But tell me. And ask if it’s alright you ask some more generic questions. Don’t pretend (I did this with a big US school and it didn’t work, they caught me out) to be highly knowledgeable if you’re not. It’s embarassing and awkward for the person you’re talking to.
5. Prepare your elevator pitch. Most schools are very busy, so you might only have a few minutes. Try and make the most of them. Think of a few interesting questions (and no, asking if you should retake a 720 GMAT is NOT interesting, it’s annoying), stuff that you can’t glean from brochures/websites. Something in the vein of ‘what do you like best about school X?’, ‘which club is the most active on campus and what types of things do they organize?’ and ‘what’s your favourite social activity at the school?’ or ‘what’s the one thing that will really help my application?’. When talking to students or alumns, you could always go the experience track: ‘what courses did you love best?’, ‘what’s the one experience that I shouldn’t miss in my time as an MBA?’, ‘what courses did you wish you’d have taken but didn’t?’.  You get the idea. Also make sure that you can explain your background in 30 seconds. Following on that…
6. Please be interesting and interested. Admissions people and the students that help out at these events speak to literally tons of people. They like to hear something personal, something that makes you stand out. An interesting hobby, an idea about a venture you want to start etc. Something your passionate about. Make it interesting. And be interested when someone tells you something. Please don’t be another face in the crowd.
7. Say thank you. You’d be surprised how many prospectives take the admissions officers and the students for granted. Say thank you. They just spent 15 minutes of their life answering your questions, and they do that because they want to help. Two words go a long way.
8. Don’t be rude or insulting. Yeah, kinda obvious, I know. But you’d be surprised how many people look at my badge and say ‘oh, no, I don’t want to talk to a student, I only talk to adcom’… guess how that makes me feel. Or stick a CV in my face. I don’t want your CV. 
9. If you like what you saw/heard, follow up. You’d be surprised how many people don’t. A short thank you email goes a long way. And you can ask a few questions that you might’ve thought of in the meantime (but always ask if it’s alright, don’t push yourself on the person). Even better if you have something to give back (in my case I talked to a girl in Marketing, who in her thank you email recommended an interesting book). Do it because it’s what your mum taught you (always be polite) and because you never know when you might need this person.
10. Last but not least: Listen! You’d be amazed how many people ask questions without listening to the answer. I’ve had my share of people insisting that LBS is a finance school (we’re not) and wouldn’t budge, no matter what I said. Remember there are people on the other side of the table, not just ‘admissions’ or ‘students’.

I hope these will help you get the most out of you MBA fair experience (and make my life a little easier ;-)

Words from a wise old woman

Images35Ah well, maybe not so old. And definitely not very wise. But I survived my first year of MBA and hope that the following might be useful to some of the first year’s starting soon (thanks to AngelAngie, who suffered through part of my sermon below already).

Take it easy. This is the most important advice I can give you. Take it easy. Don’t rush into things. Don’t sign up for every single club. Don’t volunteer to be president of a million clubs. Don’t expect to know every single detail about every single thing right away. Things happen as and when you need them. On a need to know basis. Go with the flow and see where it takes you. It’s one hell of a ride, this MBA thing, sit back, close your eyes and enjoy it!

Don’t take it easy. Yes, I know that contradicts the first one. But you need to find a balance between taking it easy and making the most out of your time here. Try and get an idea of what it is that you want to get out of your MBA (think back to those awful essays if you have to). Is it to learn, to network, to have fun, or a combination? What matters most? For me it’s most important to learn and to only do things that I love doing. Not like doing, but love doing. Figure it out before the rollercoaster ride starts, and you’ll know what experiences to look out for and which ones to participate in.

Buy books only when you have to. They’re expensive, they’re heavy and they’re a pain to have when you’re moving. And most of the time, you might not need them. I bought a couple of the textbooks, for a number of reasons: Finance because I know I need to revisit that at one point because there’s no way that I could remember that all in one go, Strategy because I think that in my lifetime I will not be able to remember all 5 of Porter’s 5 Forces, Financial Accounting because I completely did not get it the first time round (and because it’s heavy enough to function as a doorstop) etc. Try out the books first by getting them from the library, and if you think they’re useful, only then buy them.  Best place to buy books in London: online (obviously) and on Charing Cross Road at either Borders, Blackwells, or my favourite Foyles, who’ll all have discounts in September.

Don’t take too many electives. First year core courses are heavy, especially when you’re also looking for an internship, running around being involved with clubs etc. Think twice before taking more than one elective on top of your normal core curriculum. I thought twice, decided to take on two electives in Summer term, and struggled to cope with the workload (although I’m also glad I took both courses, they’re proving to come in handy now).

Have fun. Don’t forget to have fun. It’s only an MBA, it’s not real life. No one will get hurt if you pass a course with a B instead of an A (thanks to the wonders of grade nondisclosure). Enjoy everything that London has to offer. Go and travel, explore and remember there’s a whole world out there. Get to know people. Hang out. Read. Do nothing. And enjoy.