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Book review: “MBA Admissons Strategy – From Profile Building to Essay Writing.”

“I was wait-listed at Darden and now I have an interview at Harvard. Wow! It was a lot of work but this book was my sole guide in transforming my essays. I would never try to apply for an MBA program without this book,” writes one Darian Diggler from Tulsa on amazon.com’s review page about Avi Gordon’s book “MBA Admissions Strategy.”

Indeed, Gordon knows how admissions committees work. The author carries an MBA title himself, is a member of the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) and directs the MBA Admissions Studio (http://mbastudio.net) where he has advised many MBA applicants towards admission. Insofar Gordon's book is a marketing tool to promote his own company. However, many hopeful MBAs will find it helpful anyway, especially younger people who are not sure how to present themselves convincingly. That also applies to applicants who are not very comfortable with expressing themselves in written form let alone with composing essays. Foremost this book is a practical style guide.

What Gordon has going for himself is that with his experience in advising applicants he has learnt to see the world through the eyes of a typical admissions committee. As a result he can provide hands-on advice for hopefuls how "to turn a good into a great application." This is key, since admission is the one hurdle between a candidate and their MBA title. No one ever fails business school, every year in every program everyone graduates "since if you were good enough to get in you are good enough, period," writes Gordon. But, of course, on average only 5 to 15 percent of the applicants make it into the exclusive institutions. Thus Gordon's book carefully guides the reader through the key aspects of an application: the fundamentals such as the GMAT, the resume and how to pick a referee; evaluating and finding the right business school; creating a profile; writing an essay and how to communicate in an interview.

The book is a good reminder that schools do not necessarily admit the smartest person in the room, but candidates with "real-world success, particularly if they appear easily recruitable on MBA-exit". Gordon therefore stresses the psychological and behavioral side of the process, quoting a guidance paper from Stanford's admission office: "Our goal is to gain insight into the person behind the resume. We encourage you to share with us your influences, motivations, passions, values, interests and aspirations. Although there are no 'right answers' here, the most effective essays emphasize the 'who' and the 'why' as well as the 'what'."

The most important chapters therefore deal with "personal profile analysis" and "professional profile analysis". In the first one he urges candidates to go deep into self-analysis, be subjective, define winning personality traits and then to tell a personal story to analyze that particular trait. Gordon suggests a fairly similar, if somewhat more sober approach to a professional profile: list your qualities, think of stories that demonstrate the qualities you claim and analyze them. What are the implications of this? How do you adopt these characteristics or skills in a work situation?  

Gordon offers helpful real-world examples of archetypical essay themes or interview questions from schools like Kellogg, Insead or HBS. He elaborates on how to tackle questions like "why an MBA?" or "what are your three most substantial accomplishments?" or "what does leadership mean to you?"

Basically the book is a beginner's class on persuasive writing. Part of passing the "so what?" test by a stressed-out admissions officer who has heard it all before is good, conclusive, focused writing that does not shy away from being personal, unique and likeable. "People always choose people they like as colleagues and co-workers and admissions committees are no different."

All in all a no-nonsense, streamlined book that will tell you what admissions committees look for and what to tell them in your application in order to make your message stick.

Avi Gordon: "MBA Admissons Strategy - From Profile Building to Essay Writing." 2nd edition, 212 pages, McGraw Hill 2010.

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