Interview Tips: Part 1 of 2

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I was recently asked to offer some interview tips to a friend prior to her second-round interview. That conversation was a reminder about just how unnerving an interview can be for even the most composed professional, so I thought I’d share some best practices that I’ve observed and implemented during the course of my career.

In business circles we talk a lot about what to wear on an interview, the best resume format, how to follow up, etc. But have you spent an equal amount of time thinking about the company you want to work for or the job you want to do?

Think for a second about interviewing for your dream job. The job you are equipped for and madly passionate about. What’s your attitude like going into that interview? As you think about it, does the idea of that interview scare you or excite you? I suspect it’s at least a little exciting and all things being equal you’re likely to perform well.

Now think about interviewing for a ho-hum job that you aren’t especially excited about. It’s convenient, or pays well, or is in an industry  you’re familiar with. But it is not your dream job. Think through that  scenario for a minute and compare it to the first. Think from the perspective of the interviewer. Do you think passion or apathy is really masked by a handshake and a smile? Of course not.

I’ve encountered a lot of job seekers who are putting a lot of effort into blasting out dozens–sometimes hundreds–of resumes and going on any interview that comes their way. They are doing a lot. But they haven’t put much thought into their goals. And they certainly haven’t created a plan or strategy to achieve those goals.

Now in all fairness, sometimes you need a job, ANY job, to put gas in the car and food on the table. I’ve been there. What I’m talking about here is someone who has the luxury of time to create a plan but chooses not to.

My point is simply this: Before you do, think. Think about what you want to do and where you want to go. The path will be much easier and the interviews you DO go on will be much better.

In Part 2 of this series I’ll discuss interview best practices and things I’ve seen candidates say and do that made us want to hire them on the spot. I’ll also touch on things candidates said and did (and wore) that killed their chances of landing a job.

The Business of Good Design

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Screen Shot 2013-11-01 at 3.20.23 PMWhat’s the common thread among all Apple products? iPad, iPod, MacBook, iMac…what holds it all together?

Some  would say “aluminum” (although that would discount old MacBooks and the current iPhone 5c). Others would say “intuitive operation.” Maybe that’s a bit closer.

The common element, in my opinion, is good design. Often that means simple. As I type this, there is one–count it, ONE–visible brand on my laptop. Directly below the screen reads “MacBook Pro”. That’s it. No Apple logo (that’s on the lid), no drop shadows, no gradients or stickers telling me what’s inside my computer. That’s good design. It’s easier to be complicated: to add and pile on and include everything and the kitchen sink…and then put a sticker with your logo on it on the kitchen sink.

I find it interesting that intelligent, educated business folks recognize the brilliant design which permeates companies like Apple, yet they turn around and use a horrible font in their email signature. Or format their resume in a way that makes it hard to read.

“I’m a [fill in your business specialty], not a graphic designer. Don’t bore me with talk of fonts and layout!” I don’t think you have to master every aspect of Adobe Creative Suite in addition to your MBA coursework, but stop and think for a moment about all the opportunities the average businessperson has to either wow or disappoint someone with good design work:

– Emails
– Resume and cover letter
– PowerPoint presentations
– Proposals and papers

That’s the tip of the iceberg. If you are involved with marketing, website maintenance, or manage people that do you REALLY need to understand design. Please don’t understand me: I’m not saying you need to become an artist. I draw sloppy stick figures (seriously, it’s embarrassing). But I understand that everything I produce–read, “design”–reflects on me. So I pay attention to white space and fonts. I know the difference between kerning and leading. I pay attention to design in the same way I pay attention to how I look when I leave my house in the morning. And I think that has helped my career.

If you have the opportunity to take or audit a design class I highly recommend it. At the very least snoop around the web and educate yourself on excellent design. It’s not hard. It’s just something we have to go out of our way to learn, just like we learned about accounting and linear regression (I like typography more). I think you’ll be amazed at the business applications of good design.

(here are a few resources to get you started)

Fast Company
Typography 101
– A hilarious (and truthful) analysis of email signatures

Email best practices

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Screen-shot-2010-01-28-at-2.12.13-AMStart talking business etiquette and things like a firm handshake and eye contact will come up. Why? These things have nothing to do with your decision making framework or your awesome analytical skills. Details matter because they are indicative of deeper habits.

In this digital age we have far more opportunities to make an impression via email than we do in person. Perhaps that’s unfortunate but it is the world we live in. That being the case, why would a business person–or aspiring businessperson–dress the part but send emails that look like they were composed on a phone while waiting in the line at Starbucks? Don’t get me wrong- I’ll send my close friends fragmented texts and emails that require a bit of deciphering but it’s completely inappropriate for academic or business communication.

For those of you thinking, “Tell me something I don’t know”- THANK YOU. You are doing it right. But, if you have ever sent a business- or school-related email that was not punctuated correctly, contained emoticons 🙂 or was in a font that looks at all like handwriting- STOP. Please stop! It’s the equivalent of showing up to a business meeting in jean shorts and a tank top. Can you still have the meeting? Yes. Will you be taken seriously? No. 

The following is taken from Chris Blattman’s blog. He’s a professor at Columbia University and really hits the nail on the head:


1. Kick the email address from high school. It’s time for “” and “” to rest in peace.

2. Greet. Politely. Launching straight into the message is bad, but “Hi!” is poor form and “Hey Prof!” is an unmitigated disaster. “Dear” and “Hi” are fine, so long as you follow both by a name or title: “Hi Professor” or “Hi Mr. ____”.

3. On second thought, be careful with the Mr. and Ms. I could care less if strangers address me as Mr., Dr. or Prof. Blattman. Few of my colleagues seem to feel the same way. Sadly your approach must conform to the average (or even lowest common) ego. If you’re not sure if the person is a Dr. or not, three seconds on Google should tell you.

4. Capitalize and punctuate. otherwise we will lol at yr sad attempts

5. But not all punctuation. Of the exclamation point, Elmore Leonard said “You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.” That’s roughly one exclamation point for every 500 messages you send. Use them wisely, for their overuse is the first sign of an immature mind. (Related, from Terry Pratchett: “Five exclamation marks, the sure sign of an insane mind.”)

6. Death to the emoticon. Keep them for your friends. And recall that, for centuries of the printed word, writers managed to convey sarcastic and funny without the semicolon and parenthesis. If you think your comment needs an emoticon, this is a sign you need to rewrite (or delete) the remark.

7. Avoid fancy typefaces or “stationery”. One word: cheeseball.

8. Be clear and concise. Write short messages, make clear requests, get to your point rapidly, and offer to provide more information rather than launch into your life story.

9. Don’t ask for information before you’ve looked on Google. “Can you send me paper X?” is annoying. But the best I’ve received: a request to explain the Cold War.

10. Don’t sound presumptuous. Many people are busy and important (and everybody thinks they are). If you are asking for anything requiring time or energy, it is courteous to be demure.

11. No quotes from famous people in your signature. See “cheeseball” above.

12. With your juniors, do the above as fastidiously as with your seniors. Allow me, momentarily, to break rule #11: ”Modesty is not only an ornament, but also a guard to virtue” – Joseph Addison

Graduate Admissions Process: Part 4 (of 4)

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In the final installment in our series on the application process to grad school we’ll talk about the importance of your cover letter, what happens after your application is submitted and complete, and some subtle things you can do to make your application stand out…in a good way! (believe me, some applications stand out but not in a way you’d want to emulate).

To quickly recap, there are six required components to your application: Online application (ApplyTexas), transcripts, GMAT or GRE, resume, letters of recommendation (x2) and essays (x2). If you submit all these items your application is considered complete and will be reviewed.

That being said, there is a seventh component that I personally recommend all prospective graduate students complete, and that’s the optional cover letter. We also call this a personal statement, which is also an accurate description. The title isn’t as important as the purpose it serves.

One thing we don’t do in the application review process is interview prospective students. If we did, you’d have the opportunity to sit–literally–in front of the admissions review committee and talk about your background, your application and why you’d make a great addition to the McCoy Graduate Programs. For better or worse you’ll never have the chance to do that; your cover letter is as close as you’ll get, and for that reason I think it’s important.

If you have what I refer to as a “bullet-proof” application then I think a cover letter is less important. What I mean by that is: If your GPA is great, if your GMAT/GRE is above our average, and you generally feel great about your application then chances are that a cover letter really won’t make that much of a difference. Still helpful? Sure, but not critical.

On the other hand, if you–like most applicants–have a good application but there is that one thing that makes you a little uneasy, I think a good cover letter is important. It gives you the chance to address the “thing”, whatever that is, and emphasize your strengths. PLEASE READ THIS PART: One thing you don’t ever, ever want to do is make excuses in your cover letter. Maybe that goes without saying but I’ll say it anyway. No excuses. Context, however, is very helpful. I realize it’s sometimes hard to walk the line between the two, but do your best.

Once all the components of your application are submitted, it will be forwarded to our admissions review committee. This consists of five MBA-level professors as well as our Associate Dean of Graduate Programs, who chairs the committee. We are proud to operate under a “rolling admissions” policy. This means that applications are reviewed as they come in, irrespective of the deadline. So if you are applying for spring admission, and your application is submitted in July, that’s when it will be reviewed.

From the time you submit your complete application the time it takes for you to get a reply–which will come by both email and snail mail–is about 10-14 days. We’ve all been in the position of waiting and we know how horrible it is, so we try to limit the amount of time you are forced to wonder “Did I get in or not?”

If you are accepted- great! If not, you’ll have an opportunity to remedy whatever held you back and re-apply. For most applicants this will entail retaking the GMAT or GRE.

In closing I’ll offer two bits of advice that I usually charge lots of money for. Kidding, of course. But I do feel strongly about this in the sense that I think it can help your application. The first is to have a great deal of pride in your application documents. There should be a great deal of continuity and attention to detail. The application is a direct reflection of you, the applicant. It seems painfully obvious to type that out but that point is lost on some prospective students.

The final bit of advice is this: As you complete your application, remember that the application review committee is really trying to answer just one question, and that is: If we accept you into our program, what is the likelihood that you will be successful? That’s it. If you stop and think about it, we are in the acceptance business, not the denial business. It gives us no joy to tell someone no. What we’re trying to do is predict who will be successful and that’s who we allow into the program. If your application screams, with every document, “I’m going to succeed. I will make you proud to have me as a student and graduate.” then you will get in. Tell that story.

I’m out of words, and you’re probably glad. I hope this was helpful. If we can assist you in any way please don’t hesitate to reach out and contact us.

Graduate Admissions Process: Part 3

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typingThere is a certain irony in writing four  lengthy posts–particularly the last one about the GMAT/GRE–about an admissions process that we refer to as “simple.” But I hope you find this information helpful. In this post we’ll discuss the requirement of a current resume, letters of recommendation and essays.

Your resume is kind of a no-brainer. If you are a working professional with an updated resume you should be able to submit it as-is. If you’re at the start of your career and don’t have one, or don’t like the one you have, you’ll need to spend some time creating a quality document. All standard business rules/best practices apply, and only in rare cases should a resume be more than a page or two.

You are also required to submit two letters of recommendation. They should be completed on this form and submitted directly from the author to the graduate college. They cannot be uploaded electronically; they need to be sent in as per the instructions. A common question is, “Who should I get to write the letters?” My answer is: Someone who knows you, is credible, and can speak to your likelihood of success in business school. If you are a recent graduate it might be former professors. If you are a seasoned professional it might be former supervisors or co-workers. There is no secret formula on this; you are simply trying to provide a third-party take on you as a candidate for the graduate business program. Another question we often get is, “Can I submit more than two letters?” The answer is no. Because of the volume of applicants more than two letters is not only unnecessary, it can (inadvertently) indicate that you aren’t following instructions.

Two essays are also required of every candidate. The topics are semester-specific and can be found here. The question we most often field related to the essays are, “How long should they be?” There is no rule on this, but generally speaking one page is maybe too short and anything more than about 2-3 pages is too long. I fully realize this is vague, and that drives some people nuts. 🙂 That’s by design; we want to see what you provide. Keep in mind that content is important but so is formatting (margins, font choice, etc.), grammar and punctuation.

Your resume, essays and optional cover letter can be submitted online (click here for the link) or you can also mail them directly to the Graduate College:

The Graduate College
Texas State University
601 University Drive
280 J.C. Kellam Administration Building
San Marcos, TX 78666

I’ll discuss this more in the final post, but I want to mention something that’s very important: In completing the components of your application it is, perhaps, easy to approach the individual components, complete them and then scratch them off your list. And that’s fine.But keep in mind that eventually all these items are assembled into a single, physical packet that will (literally) be in the hands of each member of the review committee. With that in mind I recommend that you create a cohesive application that shows attention to detail. The last thing you want is a hodge-podge of documents that make the committee member wonder why fonts don’t match, etc.

In the final post in this series I’ll discuss the optional cover letter, and what happens after your application is complete. I’ll also touch on some subtle things you can do to make your application stand out.

Graduate Admissions Process: Part 2

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10-GMAT-GREIn Part 1 of this little series we talked about the ApplyTexas website, transcripts and how the Graduate College is the central intake point for all your materials when apply to grad school at Texas State. In this post we will discuss the GMAT and GRE. I had originally planned to include a discussion of your resume but this post is long as it is. We’ll save your resume for the next one.

While the application process as a whole is pretty straightforward, the biggest hurdle–for most students–is the GMAT or GRE. Is it easy? No, and it’s not designed to be. But it’s completely manageable and we see fantastic scores quite often (but we also see a lot of bad ones!). Lets talk about the GMAT first.

The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is a proprietary exam owned and administered by Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC- just not the GMAC you usually hear about!). It’s a computer-based exam that tests your verbal, quantitative, writing, reading and analytical skills. There’s a great Wikipedia article on it here that I won’t attempt to replicate. In a nutshell: the GMAT is  a standardized test that has long been the gold standard for graduate business schools, much like the LSAT is used for law school and the MCAT is used for medical school. The test is about three hours in duration and costs $250 (as of this writing). It must be taken at an approved GMAT testing center and your scores are automatically reported to the school(s) that you specify.

The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is also a proprietary exam which is owned and administered by Educational Testing Service (ETS). It is also a computer-based exam that tests essentially the same things that the GMAT does. You can find the Wikipedia article here and it’s chock-full of good information. For many years the GRE was used as the admissions test for non-professional graduate programs, however, in the past few years the GRE has been modified so that it’s very similar in content to the GMAT. As such, many business schools have begun to accept either GMAT or the GRE. In February 2013 we completed our own evaluation of the exam and began accepting the GRE in addition to the GMAT.

The GRE exam is approximately four hours in duration and costs $180 (as of this writing). Like the GMAT, scores are reported electronically to the schools you specify.

“Great, great, that’s nice. Which one should I take?!”  🙂  That seems to be the $10,000 question that we get quite often and the answer is: It depends. Keep in mind that that tests have become very similar which is why we now accept either one. So it’s not as if you are going to make a wrong choice. Based on our experience and in talking to people who have taken both exams it seems that if you are stronger quantitatively you might do better on the GMAT, and if you are stronger verbally/analytically you might do better on the GRE (better relative to the other exam).

There is no preference given to the GMAT or GRE, so whichever one you choose is equally fine.

One thing the MBA program will instill in you is the importance of asking the right question. “Which test should I take?” really isn’t the right question (the answer is, “Either one is fine.”). The correct question, in my opinion is: “How should I prepare?” The answer to that question is: Diligently!

The system you choose is not as important as your commitment to serious preparation. The Princeton Review, Kaplan, and Manhattan consistently get good reviews from MBA students. You might choose a class, a tutor, an online course or a book. While a self-paced book is the most cost-effective prep method–and consistently yields great scores–the important thing is that you take your preparation for the test seriously. If you do, you are likely to get a really good score. If you do not, you are likely to score poorly.

The last point I’ll cover is the test score, because ultimately that’s what matters. Our average GMAT score for an admitted McCoy MBA student is 540. Because the GRE is new to us we don’t have any historical data, but using this tool from ETS we have calculated that a comparable GRE score is approximately 151 on each of the two sections. These are the baseline scores you should shoot for. If you score above that- awesome! If you score a little under, that’s ok- you should still apply. But your score needs to be competitive. Generally speaking, a GMAT score in the 500’s is competitive. A score in the 600’s is considered very good, and a score in the mid- to high-400s can still be competitive PROVIDED you have other attributes that make you a great candidate. For more information please give us a call.

Whew! That’s a lot of information! I hope this has been helpful. In the next installment we’ll talk about your resume, letters of recommendation and essays (all of those are far less involved than these two exams). In the fourth installment we’ll sum up by discussing the optional cover letter and the review/notification process. Stay tuned!

Como se dice, “study abroad”?

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Each summer the McCoy College of Business hosts a study abroad trip to Santiago, Chile for MBA students. The experience is a huge success year after year so we decided to ask some of the recent participants about their time in Chile. Here’s what second year MBA student Steven Kenney had to tell us about the 2013 trip!

What was your motivation to participate in the Santiago trip with the McCoy College of Business?

Originally my motivation for participating in the Santiago trip was to fulfill my elective courses so that I could graduate Passportthis December. By participating in this program I could not only complete two courses, but I would get to travel to South America. There is not really a downside to it. But as I engaged in the courses and traveled with our group, my motivation changed. I have always been very interested in different cultures and traditions but this was the first time I really dug into business culture of another country. Moving forward I think that I will have a stronger interest in the global scale of business.

Did you participate in a study abroad program as an undergraduate?

This was my first study abroad trip as a student. During my undergrad I was a student athlete for the Texas State Football program and I studied mathematics and chemistry, so there was not much of an opportunity for me to embark on a study abroad journey then. However, after I completed my eligibility as a student athlete I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to Haiti on a mission trip. This trip meant a lot to me and when I heard of the opportunity to travel to Santiago, Chile I jumped at it.

How did you adapt to the Chilean culture? Did anything surprise you?

santiago_buildingAs much as I would like to say that I speak fluent Spanish and blended right in, this would be far from the truth. To be honest I am a very large white guy walking through the streets of Santiago. I stuck out a bit. But throughout the week I tried to take every chance I had to speak Spanish and learn more about the people and their customs. Towards the end of the trip I was negotiating taxi fares and ordering food completely in Spanish. Now you should take that with a grain of salt because I am sure that most of what I said was poorly conjugated and mostly incoherent, but communication was established and therefore a success in my eyes.

One of the greatest surprises for me were the meals. Not only was the food incredible but the complete experience of the meals were top notch. Like most Latin American cultures, Chile has a strong emphasis around meals. They were not rushed or time conscious like you would see in the United States. This gave the group an opportunity to really get to know each other as well as the guests that we may have had with us. As the week went on I was a bit of a floater and I would try to interact with a different group of people every day. BUT the best part of the meals were the desserts! I was talking with a local woman at one of our meals and I asked her how everyone stayed so thin when they eat dessert at every meal. It turns out that most Chileans have a little dessert at each meal instead of lots of sweets every once in a while–one custom I have brought home with me.

What was the most significant experience you had while in Santiago? Why?

factory_tourThe most valuable experience of the whole trip was the interactions, whether it was with classmates, company representatives, or the locals that we met. I am a big believer that as a person I am shaped by my experiences and my environment, so the more I can expand on those two areas, the more versatile I can be. We met some incredible people and heard many perspectives that added to my experience on this trip tremendously.

Although the interactions were extremely valuable, I would have to say the most rewarding experience of the whole trip was the day that we spent volunteering at Las Crèches, an all-girl orphanage. We spent the whole day helping these young girls by cleaning up the grounds, scrubbing and painting bathrooms, and providing them with essential items that a growing girl needs. We moved large piles of wood from the play area which opened up much more room for the girls to stretch their legs and run and transformed the landscape. Once the bathroom was scrubbed and repainted it looked completely transformed, especially when we added the new towels and shower curtains that gave the room some color. One of the coolest parts of this day was when we were working and you could see the wheels turning in everyone’s mind. For most of the group this was a very eye opening experience and we realized some of the simple luxuries that we take for granted. Many of us pitched in and got materials for the girls such as hygiene products, undergarments, and knick knacks that would make them feel special.

Las_CrechesThe reason I say the Las Crèches day was the most rewarding is that it was the most engaged that I saw anyone in our group throughout the week. Recently there was an article published that mentions that MBA student have a lower sense or moral and ethical standards once they graduate than when they began the program. I think this is because during the MBA program we spend so much time examining case studies and looking at the world from a third party perspective that we can begin to create separation between the goal of business and the purpose of business instead of being the bridge between the two. The goal of business is to maximize potential and the purpose of business is to advance humanity as a whole, but when we create the separation between the two is when business loses its purpose.  But by increasing the social responsibility of our companies, of our leaders, and of our employees we can bridge this gap and use business as a tool to maximize potential and to fulfill its purpose. Acts of service, such as our  experience at Las Crèches, help us to bridge that gap. I am truly honored to have served that community of girls and that experience is one that I will hold close for a very long time.

What skills did you gain from studying abroad and how will you apply those to your career and academic life?

Communication skills are key! It was amazing to see how communication played a role in our meetings and other interactions. Although the language barrier was the most noticeable, the cultural difference was the most important. This is one skill that I will continue to improve as I move forward.

What advice would you give to students considering this trip as a part of their graduate experience?

This trip was an amazing supplement to the MBA program. During this program you get to sit down in front of other professionals and discuss hot topics. Case studies help to provide a good learning experience and this trip gives you an opportunity to apply key concepts in a live setting. I believe a student would gain more from this experience if they participate later in the MBA program. I am at the end of my degree and I was able to draw from a lot of my classes while in Chile.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about your experience?

You always need to be prepared for the old “¿¡Donde esta la U.S. Embassy?!” scenario. On the first day I had to run back to my room and get my passport for our trip to the U.S. Embassy. When I came back out the group was gone and I quickly went into panic mode, I could not be late for this presentation. I knew the general direction of the Embassy and I took off running. After about three blocks I was out of breath and lost, so I turned to a lady and sputtered out “¿¡Donde esta la U.S. Embassy!?” She looked terrified! But she pointed in the direction of the Embassy and I yelled, “Gracias!” as I ran off. Moral of the story is to brush up on important phrases when you travel. Try to learn how to say “where is…” “what time…” “how do you say…” “please” and “thank you”. If you can communicate the basics then people in general will be helpful.

Have you studied abroad? Tell us about your experience and what advice you would give students looking to get the most out of their travel experience!

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