This is our final After Action Review from a recent admit to Columbia’s Graduate School of Business. If you missed the first two posts, check out some great advice of the GMAT and on your admissions essays. This last installment discusses future career goals and recommendations.
Issue: Career Progression
Discussion: Career progression is in reference to a specific part of the application where you list all your previous jobs up until your current position. Admissions officers want to see that there’s a natural upward progression in ones’ career. It shows motivation and indicates that the individual will create their own self-fulfilling prophecy (if you’re successful enough to get into a top business school, than you’re likely to succeed without it…however since you’re getting one anyways, might as well be from our school so we can take credit for your success). Either way, career progression reaffirms an applicant’s competitiveness and shows that the individual has done his or her best to achieve at the next highest level.
Most military officers have held about three or four positions and increased in rank by two pay grades by the time their military commitment is complete. However, since rank and positions are rarely understood by anyone outside the military, it’s hard to show upward mobility. Just remember, if your civilian friends or even your parents have a hard time understanding how a lieutenant outranks a master sergeant, expect the same from admission’s officers.
Recommendation: Don’t assume everyone understands rank or positions. Show that your position as an executive officer was a promotion from your job as a platoon leader (literally, say this in the application). Help them understand the amount of responsibility and work you had as an assistant S3 operations officer, helping to plan the training cycle in preparation for a 12-month deployment overseas. Your job as the S4 Supply Officer was more than just ordering equipment; you had to analyze and optimize the supply chain and procurement operations for over 600+ personnel within the unit. Constantly play up your role and show that each job or rank required additional time, commitment, and resources. I know the Army ostensibly places tactical maneuver guys ahead of staff peers, but don’t let that be a discriminating factor when you apply to graduate school. Remember, you’re showing the admission’s committee your ability to rise within the ranks and reconfirm your past supervisors view that you’re the unit’s rock star (even if you were only on staff).
Discussion: I’ve received a great “Army” recommendation before, one that writes about my potential in positions of increased responsibility and how I can take command any day now and yadda yadda yadda… you know the rest. They make you sound like you can walk on water but they’re really just filled with superfluous words without a personal touch to it. But that’s how a military recommendation is suppose to read. Your recommenders need to understand that a good business school recommendation is not written in the same manner as a good “military recommendation”. Unfortunately, a recommendation is out of your control, right? Wrong.
Recommendation: Personally, aside from the essay and GMAT, this is probably one of the most important parts of the application so plan this strategically. 1) Don’t write your own recommendation. Not only can they depict your writing style, I’m sure it borders on the ethical side of the house too. If you need to write something to jog their memory, write a detailed “support form”. 2) Tell your recommender what schools you’re applying to. Give them a write up of each school and discuss the unique personality that each school has. Using this information, your recommender can provide a stronger justification for the school you’re applying to. For instance, I gave my recommender a write up of how collegial and inclusive Kellogg is compared to others. My recommender then decided to emphasize my teamwork abilities over all other characteristics he could have written about. 3) Provide unique, specific events that your recommender can write about. This includes times when you failed or made a mistake but rebounded from it. These stories humanize your recommendation and will make it stand apart from others. Detail and personal anecdotes are absolutely necessary for great recommendations to stick out; eliminate superfluous words and hone in on certain situations where the leadership personally recognized your efforts (note: It doesn’t have to be a great time as a combat leader! I say again, you don’t need to have a Silver Star moment for recommenders to write about). Specific events also show that your recommender really understands you and can vouch for your talents. 4) Don’t fall into the trap and think that a one-star General has more clout than a Major. This is absolutely false especially if a high ranking officer barely remembers your name, let alone what you’ve done in his or her eye as a leader.
Finally, keep in touch with those people whom you want to receive a recommendation from. Facebook has made this a bit easier for you to occasionally drop in and post a birthday message or provide a status update. I know how awkward it can be to come out of the blue and ask a person to write you a stellar recommendation two or three years after your last interaction. So do what you can to keep the amber glowing in terms of your relationship. One technique, especially if they don’t have facebook, is to send a status update on what unit you’re with or sending them a cool article via e-mail. Say something like, “Sir/Ma’am, I thought you might like this article. Remember when we faced the same situation back in Afghanistan/Iraq. Thought you might enjoy the read. Hope all is well.”
Remember, every applicant has unique attributes so take all this information with a grain of salt. Nothing I write is set in stone for any school, but with the amount of research and mind numbing strategy I’ve dedicated myself to, I think I have some insight that can lead to success. What else would explain how I got in