international affairs is reflected in my participation, starting in high school, in activities such as student council, school board meetings, Vietnam war protests, the McCarthy campaign, and the grape boycott. As each new cause came along, 1 was always ready to go to Washington or the state capital to wave a sign or chant slogans. Although 1 look back on these activities today with some chagrin, 1 realize they did help me to develop, at an early age, a sense of concern for social and political issues and a genuine desire to play a role.
As an undergraduate, 1 was more interested in social than academic development. During my last two years, I became involved with drugs and alcohol and devoted little time to my studies, doing only as much as was necessary to maintain a B average. After graduation my drug use became progressively worse; without the motivation or ability to look for a career job, I worked for a time in a factory and then, for three years, as a cab driver in New York City.
In 1980 1 finally "hit bottom" and became willing to accept help. I joined both Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, and for the next several years the primary business of my life was recovery. Although I had several "slips" in the beginning, I have now enjoyed nearly seven years of complete freedom from drug and alcohol use. I mention my bout with addiction because 1 think it is important in answering two issues that presumably will be of concern to the admissions committee: my lackluster undergraduate record and the fact that I have waited until the age of 34 to begin preparing academically for a career in public policy. It would be an oversimplification to call addiction the cause for either of these things; rather I would say it was the most obvious manifestation of an underlying immaturity that characterized my postadolescent years. More importantly, the discipline of recovery has had a significant impact on my overall emotional growth.
During the last years of my addiction I was completely oblivious to the world around me. Until 1983 I didn't even realize that there had been a revolution in Nicaragua or that one was going on in El Salvador. Then 1 rejoined the Quaker Meeting, in which I had been raised as a child, and quickly gravitated to its Peace and Social Order Committee. They were just then initiating a project to help refugees from Central America, and 1 joined enthusiastically in the work. 1 began reading about Central America and, later, teaching myself Spanish. 1 got to know refugees who were victims of poverty and oppression, became more grateful for my own economic and educational advantages, and developed a strong desire to give something back by working to provide opportunities to those who have not been so lucky.
In 19861 went to Nicaragua to pick coffee for two weeks. This trip changed my whole outlook on both the United States and the underdeveloped world. The combination of living for two weeks amid poverty and engaging in long political discussions with my fellow coffee pickers, including several well-educated professionals who held views significantly to the left of mine, profoundly shook my world view. 1 came back humbled, aware of how little 1 knew about the world
I joined both Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, and for the next several years the primary business of my life was recovery. Although I had several
"slips" in the beginning, I have now enjoyed nearly seven years of complete freedom from drug and alcohol use.
and eager to learn more. I began raiding the public library for everything I could find on the Third World and started subscribing to a wide variety of periodicals, from scholarly journals such as Foreign Affairs and Asian Survey to obscure newsletters such as Through Our Eyes (published by U.S. citizens living in Nicaragua).
Over the intervening two years, my interest has gradually focused on economics. I have come to realize that economic development (including equitable distribution of wealth) is the key to peace and social justice, both at home and in the Third World. I didn't study economics in college and have found it difficult to understand the economic issues that are at the heart of many policy decisions. At the same time, though, I am fascinated by the subject. Given my belief that basic economic needs are among ihe most fundamental of human rights, how can society best go about providing for them? Although 1 call myself an idealist, I'm convinced that true idealism must be pragmatic, 1 am not impressed, for example, by simplistic formulations that require people to be better than they are. As a Quaker 1 believe that the means are inseparable from the end; as an American 1 believe that democracy and freedom of expression are essential elements of a just society, though I'm not wedded to the idea that our version of democracy is the only legitimate one.
Although I have carved out a comfortable niche in my present job, with a responsible position and a good salary, 1 have become increasingly dissatisfied with the prospect of a career in business
The combination of living for two weeks amid poverty and engaging in long political discussions with my fellow coffee pickers, including several well-educated professionals who held views significantly to the left of mine, profoundly shook my world view.
applications programming. More and more of my time and energy is now being absorbed by community activities. After getting my master's in public administration, I would like to work in the area of economic development in the Third World, particularly Latin America. The setting might be a private (possibly church-based) development agency, the UN, the OAS, one of the multilateral development banks, or a government agency. What I need from graduate school is the academic foundation for such a career. What I offer in return is a perspective that comes from significant involvement in policy issues at the grass roots level, where they originate and ultimately must be resolved.
This MBA applicant was discussing indicators of leadership, innovation, and professional potential.
I BELIEVE I HAVE been showing my stripes as a leader ever since my days as captain of a high school volleyball team that was ranked fifth in the state of California. In college 1 again served as captain of the volleyball team, this one ranked in the Top 10 nationally. Leading one of the country's most outstanding NCAA Division 1 teams involved significant challenge and responsibility, both in and away from competition. 1 had to recruit new talent to assure continuity in the success of our team, and fill various PR functions necessary to generate interest in, and funds for, the team. 1 had to be able to communicate effectively not only with players but also with the coaching staff, referees, and the school administration. I had to motivate, stay cool under pressure, instill discipline, and lead by example, and was successful in each of these endeavors.
More recently I have been playing semi-pro beach volleyball and ^ven had the opportunity to make a highly significant contribution to the sport. A friend and 1 laid the groundwork for the establishment of an association which represents the interests of approximately 100 players. Since the association was begun, prize money on the players' tour has gone from $50,000 to $1 million, with control shifting from the promoters to the players. 1 also have been running the computer ranking system, which I personally devised and implemented. This system—along with the association itself—has revolutionized volleyball for the players and given the sport a new vitality. My achievement in creating this system reflects not only my leadership but also my imagination and proficiency in dealing with computers, which I have cultivated during the past six years.
I have been able to draw upon my creativity and knowledge of computers in my work environment as well. In addition to developing the computer-based solution to the merchandise problem described elsewhere, I have also utilized my computer skills in another important project at the women's clothing store chain where 1 work. Because expansion is now such a key element of its business plan, 1 was asked to devise for the company a computer program that would assess the profit potential of prospective new stores. Accordingly, I developed a program to project cash flow and the return on investment for the first ten years of each new store's operation. This program gained instant approval from top management and is now being used on a regular basis. My role in this vital, ongoing process of opening new stores is indicative of my professional potential and has afforded me the opportunity of interacting regularly with key executives at our own company as well as our parent. My contacts with these individuals have demonstrated to me my ability to function effectively in the milieu of high-level management and to be taken seriously by business people of considerable experience, stature, and sophistication.
MY DECISION TO WORK in the nonprofit sector, with developmentally disabled individuals who require much patience and attention, reflects the fact that my principal concerns have revolved around issues other than money. I knew from the moment I completed my undergraduate work that 1 wanted to place myself in a professional environment in which I could make a positive difference in other people's lives, and do work that contributed somehow to society at large. At the nonprofit organization where 1 work, I have been able to accomplish just that. Our clients, whose employment and other opportunities were previously highly limited, find through our organization not just work but a new sense of purpose and worthiness. These are good people whom life has dealt a difficult hand. It is impossible not to feel a sense of compassion for their plight. The fact that we are able to provide them with a place to come every day, a salary, a new group of friends, and the feeling that they are capable of doing meaningful work makes all of the challenges of my job worthwhile. Our society is filled with people who need our help; if 1 can continue to merge my concerns and my managerial skills in a way that yields positive results, I will be pleased. I am committed to my work because I believe it is important. Just as I was dedicated to sports and, later, scholarship at earlier times in my life, now I am dedicated to my career. Such dedication is perhaps especially necessary within'the nonprofit sector, where personal financial reward is clearly not a motivation. One's commitment to the cause, to the work, is crucial because there are constant problems and challenges, and resources tend to be limited.
This very limit to financial resources, which is the bane of the existence of so many nonprofit organizations, is exactly the reason that creativity is essential for managerial success in this sector. At the nonprofit where I work, for instance, 1 have had to be creative in numerous different ways, from developing new programs (as with one involving recycling) and generating community support, to creating new work methods and schedules.
Being a part of diverse teams has been a constant part of my work experience. In addition to working in a cooperative way with developmentally disabled individuals on a daily basis—with all of the sensitivity, understanding, and patience that this requires—I have also interacted regularly with our own upper management, volunteers, city officials who oversee municipal contracts with our organization, state government officials, and private industry. I quickly came to realize how many different entities are involved in organizations of any size, especially one like ours. The ability to work with and relate well to all of these different groups, each of which has its own values and agendas, is critical.
If I had any question about whether I was a leader coming out of college, that concern was forever put to rest once 1 joined the nonprofit organization. For there I have repeatedly had to draw upon a variety of leadership skills in order to do my job successfully. I have seen that, 1 work well with many different kinds of people, am able to think creatively, negotiate effectively whether with workers or city officials, overcome constant challenges, meet deadlines, and establish and realize goals.
THE INSIDE PERSPECTIVE
Advice from Admissions Representatives of Leading Graduate and Professional Schools
Director of Admissions Harvard Business School
OUR CRITERIA IN TRYING to decide who to admit are:
strong evidence of academic ability, for which the transcripts, recommendations, and the GMATs are helpful; evidence of the candidates taking on leadership and management positions either in their full-time paid work, their community work, or their extracurricular work when they were in school; and the potential for future leadership, which we look for in terms of certain personal qualities and characteristics that we care about. I'm referring to things like honesty, integrity, maturity, commitment to others, and motivation—some of the things that you might expect and then also some things maybe not so expected like self-awareness, self-esteem, empathy, willingness to take risks, willingness to deal with ambiguity. These are things that we think have helped our graduates and some other business leaders to be successful.
We don't ever ask applicants for a single personal statement or summary, or ask them to tell us about themselves in a general way; we really are asking about specific events, failures or accomplishments, times when they've had the opportunity to lead, or people who have influenced them.
What I would love to have people do in preparing their essays is to do a great deal of self-assessment and reflection on their lives and on what's important to them because the most important thing to us is to get a very candid and real sense of the person. 1 think people do themselves a real disservice if they think too much about what they think Harvard would like to hear, or if they think about what might have been successful in the past in being admitted to Harvard. It's a lot more helpful to us and, in the long run, to them if they are very candid and really approach the questions as though they are answering them to a close colleague because we want to get a feel for the whole person; we don't want to know just what they think we want to know. Sometimes people assume that since they are applying to business school, they need to focus all of their essays on their long-term interest in business when, in fact, there are other things that were very important to them that didn't actually occur in their business life [but a discussion of which] would provide an opportunity to show the qualities that we care about. So, in not telling us about these things, they really do themselves a disservice.
Try to answer questions as you would to a close colleague. Try to allow yourself a full week away from the essays, then go back and look at them again before sending them in. We always get calls from people who finished their essays, pushed "Print" and [later] wished they had [taken] more time to make them even better. So leave yourself some time to reflect on the essays and then ask yourself, "Is this a true picture of me? If someone had never known me before, would they really know me after reading these essays?" Sometimes people get too caught up in the heat of the moment and they don't allow themselves that type of time. Take the essays seriously.
Mistakes? People assume that we look at their title and the fact that [for example] they've been promoted faster than their peers and assume that, for them, the essays Ithen] aren't as important because of what their recommenders will say about them or what their title or salary may say about them. They think, "This fast promotion is at least going to get me an interview and then 1 can use that time to really differentiate myself." But the fact is that we use the written application to decide who gets to interview. Everyone, no matter how successful they've been in their careers, needs to set aside the time to prepare the essays carefully and thoughtfully; they should not assume we care so much about the position they've achieved that we won't care about the content of their essays.
Another problem is with people who give us sort of a boilerplate set of responses; someone has told them, "When I was applying to Harvard, I talked about these three things," so they talk about those three things (when they really weren't that important to them), so we don't get the full picture of the candidate.
We are doing an increasing number of interviews. Years ago it was some tiny number like 40, but last year we did 1,300 interviews [out of an application pool of 8,000). We first review the application as an admissions board and then vote on whether the candidate is a strong one we think would be worthwhile to interview. So it's a positive sign to be asked for an interview; not everyone gets asked. However, not everyone invited to interview gets in, as I think most people
Everyone, no matter how successful they've been in their careers, needs to set aside the time to prepare the essays carefully and thoughtfully; they should not assume we care so much about the position they've achieved that we won't care about the content of their essays.
understand. Last year about 55 percent of the people we interviewed were admitted, but historically it's been closer to 50 percent of the people we interview who end up getting admitted. This year greater than 80 percent of the admitted students have had an interview as part of their admissions process.
[In continuing to pose a large number of questions] we're really trying to get a full picture of the candidate and understand who this person is. The GMAT isn't going to help us with that, so having it [again, after 10 years when it was not required] doesn't translate into a reduction in [the number of) essays because the GMAT isn't giving us information about who the person is, what that person's experiences have been working with other people, what the person has learned from his or her failures.
The number of readers does vary by the quality of the application itself. There are three or four readers usually, but fewer for some of the less competitive candidates. Many of the readers are graduates of our program—like I am myself.
Was this article helpful?