Stacy Blackman has been consulting on the MBA applications process since 2001 and has since helped thousands of candidates get into the top business schools around the world. In addition to consulting, Stacy writes the “Strictly Business MBA Blog” for U.S. News and is the co-author of “The MBA Application Roadmap: The Essential Guide to Getting Into a Top Business School.” You can learn more about the book and her consulting services at www.stacyblackman.com. But before you do, see how Stacy responded to our 5 questions below.
1. You transitioned to MBA admissions consulting from a successful career in marketing, working with large brands including Charles Schwab and Haagen Dazs. What was the motivation for the career change?
I’m a big believer in the power of business school and have always had a passion for mentoring and helping people to reach their goals. Combining these passions with skills such as marketing and writing was a natural culmination of so many things that are important to me. Working for big companies, in finance before b-school, and in marketing during and after never tapped into my true desire to personally impact people. I find it truly gratifying to help people achieve their most ambitious dreams, one by one, year after year. It was that desire to directly impact individuals in a very positive way that has fueled my career for the past decade.
2. How has your marketing background affected your approach to MBA admissions strategy?
When I first started helping clients, I tapped into so many things that I learned in marketing classes in business school. Some of these concepts are borrowed from the biggest pros in consumer marketing. I have always emphasized knowing the customer (the schools), understanding what they want and showing them that you have it by very clearly articulating “reasons to believe”. It’s one thing to tell HBS that you are creative and have leadership skills, but what are the concrete reasons that they should believe you? To this day this is a process that we go through with each and every client.
3. Having worked with thousands of clients, what is the most common issue you run into when helping candidates with the MBA admissions process?
One very common issue is that applicants look too much outside of themselves. They look at the rankings or listen to colleagues when deciding where to apply. They follow their parents’ well meaning advice on essays. They reviews friends’ applications and decide that they need to do what that person did to get in. The most successful clients focus more on the inside – who are they, what do they want in life, what schools will serve them well, how do they need to personally navigate their personal process? They worry about themselves, their needs and their application. Yes – do the research, but don’t let an outside compass dictate a process that will impact the rest of your life.
4. In a previous interview, you stated that there are two main phases in the application process: candidacy and execution. With the candidacy phase being the period where you’re developing yourself professionally and academically to be the best possible MBA candidate, and the execution phase being the part where you’re writing essays and filling out applications. What is the most important thing a candidate should be focused on during the candidacy phase?
It’s important to keep in mind that there truly is no right path to business school. The key is to be the very best at whatever it is that you decide to do. The candidacy stage is truly a time to find and follow your passions and do things well. It’s very hard to excel at what you do not enjoy. When I get asked which job is the better pre-MBA job, which activity is the better pre MBA activity, I ask what the applicant wants to do. Doing what you love will fuel success, and being a star looks very good on a b-school application – whether a star teacher, athlete, consultant or doctor – it’s all good!
5. You’ve written before about the importance of demonstrating leadership in your essays. How do you help candidates with this process?
Most applicants have a very narrow definition of leadership. Yes, someone who directly manages six people in the office might have some good leadership stories, but they might not. Leadership can take many forms and it can occur in many settings. Overhauling a simple process in a very large firm may be an act of leadership, convincing a group of friends to support a cause is also leadership. Many younger applicants feel that they have no leadership; they just need to dig a little deeper, and we help them do this through a thorough exploration of their background.