Thursday, November 13, 2014

Excel Monkey (The Traditionalist) Applies to Booth

Two years ago, I was in the same place as many of you: putting together my applications and thinking seriously and strategically about my career goals and how getting an MBA would play into them. I liked my company and loved my job as a professional investor, but always had the idea of an MBA floating around in my brain.

To recap, I was a pretty traditional candidate*. I double-majored in Economics and Psychology at a well-regarded East Coast college, had 4 years of work experience in financial services, held a leadership position at a local non-profit, and was an active alum for my alma mater.

What I didn’t have were crazy awesome stories, like my friends who served in Iraq flying military aircraft, or were Peace Corps volunteers, or worked in six countries after graduation. I worked anywhere between 50-80 hours per week trying to predict which stocks would outperform their indices, modeling business forecasts in Excel, and presenting investment recommendations to internal clients. I was proud of my work, but let’s be real, my ability to model out pricing for integrated commodities chemical manufacturers wasn’t the type of work that would save lives.

And you know what? It’s okay.

Over the last few years, many articles have focused on off-the-beaten-track non-traditionalists looking to change the world; making traditional applicants a little insecure about what they bring to the table. Of course those applicants make headlines! Their stories sell, appealing to people looking for compelling narratives; they make news precisely because they’re new and unlike other applicants. What’s completely overlooked is that by far and away, business schools are full of people like you and me: bright, ambitious young professionals in traditional fields that recruit talented undergrads and train them to be good at analysis and getting stuff done.

So how did I get in? It came down to narrative, or in the terminology of admissions, my “story.” It was how I broke down my professional decisions and actions and goals, then built them up to explain: (1) who I was and (2) why I belonged here. My goals were conventional: I wanted to be an equities analyst covering emerging markets, ultimately running my own hedge fund. But I made them make sense in the equation of me + MBA from Chicago Booth.

This is how I usually explain my path:

(1) I had worked in equity research for almost three years, and realized that almost all senior analysts and portfolio managers had a CFA and an MBA from a top school.

(2) If I wanted to ever be a portfolio manager, I had to get an MBA from a school that was particularly strong in finance, and had good connections in the buy-side (not i-banking) world.

(3) Applications went out to Booth and two other schools, all in the second round.

(4) During the latter part of the process, I visited all three campuses and talked to students and alums.

(5) I visited Booth, got to know the community that I’d be joining, and just fell deeply in love with the mix of intellectual rigor, go-getter energy, and fantastic mix of achievement and modesty. To me, entrepreneurial means a combination of independent thought and willingness to take risks. In that respect, Booth is one of the most entrepreneurial places I’ve ever been lucky enough to be a part of.

(6) I bought a 1-way ticket to Chicago.

The lesson here is not to say that there is any one way to apply or to tell your story. It’s more about thinking carefully and articulating clearly your reasons to come to Booth. Every single day I’m walking up and down the stairs at Harper, I see a sign that reads “Why Are You Here and Not Somewhere Else.” That’s the question applicants should be asking themselves at this stage in the game. The better the answer, the more prepared (and more fulfilled) you will be here at Booth.

*Caveat: in my profile, I am somehow listed as a Krav Maga world champion. This is a lie perpetuated by my friend and colleague Ignacio. The last time I hit someone I hit myself making a grilled cheese sandwich.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Happy Veteran's Day

Today is Veteran's Day! 
The Booth community appreciates the sacrifices of our nation's veterans and are proud and thankful to every man and woman who has served in the armed forces. No matter what nation you call home, your bravery, sacrifices and selflessness are appreciated. 
We salute you. 
Happy Veteran's Day

Thursday, November 6, 2014

You Are Not Alone: My Journey from Soccer Player to Career Advisor

Fall has finally arrived, which means that football dominates SportsCenter, pumpkins fill the huge flower pots on Michigan Ave, and the first-year class at Booth is just starting to get a taste of what business school internship recruiting is all about. Companies from every industry have begun to take over the Harper Center this week for “Breakfast-n-Learns,” “Lunch-n-Learns,” and “Corporate Conversations,” where you can learn more about what each company really does and chat with associates, partners, and Booth alums. It’s a lot to take in at once.

As a career switcher from a non-traditional background (I played professional soccer before coming to Booth) I can remember feeling excited and sometimes overwhelmed by the all things going on at Booth. At the same time I was learning totally new frameworks and concepts in Competitive Strategy and Decision Modeling I was setting up “coffee chats” with second-years and going to Management Consulting Group events and Soccer Club practices with the dozens of new friends I had just met. While I felt excited I also felt slightly unsure whether my background would be valued by the firms coming to campus, and whether I’d be able to make the leap into an entirely different career path so quickly. I knew that I had a lot of transferable skills but I sometimes joke that my resume may as well have been written in crayon when I first arrived at Booth, because that’s how much help it needed. But any fears or doubts I may have had were quickly dispelled.

It was support from my second-year peers that really made a difference for me. Unlike many other business schools, Booth has not only an amazing full-time Career Services staff but also an army of second-year Career Advisors (representing every major industry) who help students through every step of the process. And refining your resume is just the beginning; advisors discuss career paths and help you when researching different firms to target.  Then you really learn how to navigate the recruiting process with a slew of helpful and informative events including, but not limited to:

  • “Mocktail”—a mock recruiting event where second-years act as recruiters so that you can practice gracefully entering and exiting group conversations. I learned it’s best to enter the dreaded recruiting “crop circles” (where a recruiter or associate from a firm gets surrounded by students who pepper them with questions) with friends so that you can talk about each other’s background and accomplishments.
  • The Cover Letter Seminar where I learned how to convey my skills and interest in a firm, and tailor my message to the specific firm. The one-size-fits-all approach, unfortunately does not work.   
  • Tell You Story Workshop where we practiced giving our “elevator pitch” and answering the “tell me about yourself” question. I had no idea that the best stories followed a similar framework and that giving a lot of background detail actually didn’t make my stories any better. 
  • An entire weekend of “wInterview” practice, where firms came to campus and I got to see first-hand what a consulting case interview really entails. It was terrifying and motivating at the same time. But my classmates devoted their time and effort to make sure that I was ready when the time came for real interviews.

After going through this process last year, I gained so much from the second-year class that I’ve chosen to give back by serving as a Career Advisor to first-year students this year. Though I would never pretend to have all the answers, or even most of the answers, as a Career Advisor this year I’m at least able to share my knowledge and experience and help provide some of the guidance, mentorship, and feedback that helped me switch careers from soccer to consulting.

At Booth, we’re told that “You own your job search – but by no means are you alone in it” and that’s true even if your resume is written in crayon.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

How do you Know When It’s Time for an MBA? (Part 1 of a 3 Part Series)

I was 24 when I started at Booth. At the time, I had only two years of professional experience. I was incredibly worried about starting with a huge disadvantage but once I got here the feeling quickly disappeared. In future posts, I’ll explore why I think Booth is a great school for early career candidates and provide some tips for any early career readers. Before thinking about which school you should attend and the best way to gain admission, you should first understand where you’re at in your career and what an MBA can do for you. Here are some things I tried to think about before enrolling:

1.       Do I have enough experience to succeed and contribute?

When we talk about early career candidates, we’re generally talking about people with 2-3 years of work experience. This doesn’t mean that no one has ever been accepted directly out of undergrad, but it’s incredibly difficult. Work experience is important for a number of reasons – many of your classroom discussions revolve around what you’ve observed through past professional experiences, and your success in recruiting at least partially hinges on your pre-MBA background.  Think about what you’ve done in your professional life so far, and make sure you’ve had a diverse set of experiences. This is my second stint at the University of Chicago, and I was fortunate to be able to take a few Booth classes as an undergrad. This gave me a really good sense of what the classes were like and what to expect from the program. If you get a chance, I’d highly encourage you to visit campus, talk to students and sit in on a class to make sure you know what the MBA experience is like and to ensure you’ve created the best chance to succeed. As an early career candidate, you should also check out Booth’s Summer Business Scholars program. The three-week-long program will provide a great introduction to what getting an MBA is all about.

2.       What benefits will I get out of (at least) one more year of working?

As an early career candidate, it’s important to think about the opportunity cost of going to business school. Booth isn’t going anywhere, and you’ll want to have justification for why you need an MBA now, rather than in a year or two. To answer this question, you should think about your career progression – will you be able to take on a new role or gain new opportunities/experiences in the next year? If so, maybe you should delay applying for a year to get these new experiences. On the other hand, if you feel like you’ve plateaued in your day-to-day responsibilities, an MBA might be exactly what you need. Before my MBA, I was working in market research. After being promoted to a manager, I realized that the next step (senior manager) was at least three years away. Further, while I only attained the title a few months before starting on my MBA, the actual responsibilities were essentially what I had been doing for the 12 months prior. Thus, for me, the opportunity to learn and gain new responsibilities diminished, encouraging me to explore B-school.

3.       What’s my career progression with an MBA?
For an early career candidate, this is the most important question you need to answer. Generally speaking, you’re going to make more money post-MBA than you did pre-MBA, but that alone isn’t a good justification for going back to school. Explore the types of opportunities an MBA will provide you (the employment report is a good place to start) and do some career exploration prior to starting your MBA. Not having a clear path is my biggest regret so far during school. While I was successful in recruiting and am incredibly happy with my future employer, I also added a lot of unneeded stress during recruiting because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. 

These aren’t the only questions to consider before pursuing an MBA, but I think they’re some of the most important questions you should answer, especially if you’re looking at Booth. Our flexible curriculum requires you to have a good understanding of what you want out of your MBA. Furthermore, you’ll avoid a lot of undue recruiting stress if you get a good handle on your options before applying to or starting your MBA. Watch for upcoming posts, where I’ll explore the importance of selecting the right program provide some tips for early career candidates. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Psychologist to Marketer, Part I: First Come Decisions

I’m sure many of you are considering an MBA to transition to a new career. Making the decision to take the plunge and enroll in an MBA program can be scary for career-switchers. You don’t know what to expect and success is not guaranteed. Take it from one who knows – I have been navigating a dramatic career change since beginning at Booth last year. This is the first in a series of posts I’ll be writing about my career shift, and my new found passion for Marketing.

Before business school, I trained as a clinical psychologist and subsequently worked as an assistant professor of Addiction Studies. It’s not a traditional path to business school. However, I could not see myself working happily as a professor or psychologist for the rest of my life.  I needed something more fast-paced and challenging. I thought business school might be a gateway to a career that fulfilled these needs. Therefore, my first task in switching careers was honestly evaluating my motives for attending business school and understanding if my expectations for what business school would provide were reasonable. Conversations with friends who had completed their MBAs were vital to this assessment. Most of my friends agreed that dramatic career changes are possible, although not easy, following an MBA and that with all of the options an MBA makes possible, I was bound to find a career that I enjoyed. 

After careful consideration, I applied to Chicago Booth and was offered admission. Soon after arriving at Booth, I realized that I didn’t exactly know what my career goals were. I thought I wanted to be a consultant, but after hearing about the typical consultant lifestyle, I realized it wasn’t a good fit for me. Luckily, Career Services was really great at helping me sort through and evaluate options. As it turns out, many students spend time with Career Services trying to figure out which career path makes the most sense, so they have had a lot of practice in this area. In the end, I decided that I would recruit for marketing internships.

Internship recruiting starts really quickly after arriving on campus. In fact, as early as October, students begin attending information sessions with organizations excited to hire Booth talent. In an ideal world, I would have spent some time over the summer before Booth familiarizing myself with marketing, but that hadn’t happened. I felt unprepared compared to many of my classmates who were not career switchers. Career Services, the Marketing Group, and my classmates provided me with a lot of resources and feedback to prepare me for the internship recruitment process, but I had to put in a lot of preparation hours to compensate for my lack of experience. For me, the most important preparation task was thinking through how to highlight the skills from my previous career that would be important for my success in marketing. I also had to learn how to answer marketing case questions adequately.

In my experience, most firms look favorably upon career switchers. They view them as bringing a different perspective to the table. After sending off what felt like one million cover letters, I received interview offers from many of the firms I applied to. I had a fairly painless interview season because I received two internship offers early on in the recruitment process. Ultimately, I accepted an offer in brand management at Campbell’s Soup Company and began my first professional foray into marketing.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Business School - A Family Affair Part One

Putting your life on pause for two years to go back to school for an MBA can be pretty daunting.  For those of us with partners and/or families, it can be downright terrifying.  I remember wondering how my family of four (at the time) would survive in Chicago with no income and a hefty tuition bill.  Suffice it to say that we definitely faced some tradeoffs to make everything work out, but in the end I wouldn’t exchange my experience so far at Booth for anything.

Before I go much further, I should probably step back and introduce myself.  I’m Craig Carter and as a married father of 3 (my son was born 2 weeks into my internship last summer – another adventure for another blog post) and second year student at Booth this year, I’m going to be giving you all a glimpse into my life.  It’s not that I think my life or experiences at business school are especially remarkable, but I remember as I was looking into business schools there were loads of articles and websites about what my life would be like as a student, but not much about how this monumental decision would affect the rest of my family.  My hope is that over the course of this year, this blog will help to fill that void.  I’m planning on bringing in some unique perspectives from my classmates as well as sharing a lot of my own thoughts and experiences about Booth, living in Chicago, and MBA life in general when you’re bringing others along for your ride at business school.  Over the course of the year, I’d love to interact with any of you who have questions or field any suggestions for topics you’d like to have covered!
This is me and my family.  It is a proven statistical fact that the more children you have in a picture, the lower the probability of actually getting everyone to smile and look at the camera simultaneously.

For those of you who are still with me, I wanted to wrap up this post with a few pieces of advice I’ve learned the hard way this year.  

Tradeoffs – Realize that you will likely have different priorities than many of your single classmates coming into business school – and that’s ok!  Prioritize what’s most important to you and don’t be afraid of having to miss out on some social events or not being able to get all the studying in you think you need for straight A’s.

Support – In business school, one moment you’re being told you’re the best thing since sliced bread for even getting in, and the next your whole life seems to be shattered because some company doesn’t reciprocate your love for them.  Having a partner who can ground you when your head’s a little too big or pick you up when you’re down is a lifesaver!

Communication – It seems like this word always comes up when you’re talking about relationships, but beefing up on your communication skills so that you don’t wait until the night before to tell your partner that you have a recruiting dinner the next day and she’s going to have to stay home with the kids rather than go out with her friends (like she’s been planning for weeks) will save you lots of pain.  There are a million conflicting activities and your calendar will be full of potentially important meetings, so just be sure that there is an open dialogue so that your partner can be a part of the whole process.

That’s all of the unsolicited advice I have for this time.  Thanks for reading, and I look forward to being part of your b-school due diligence process!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Top 5 Things to See Before or After Your Chicago Booth Interview

For Round 1 applicants, interview decisions are right around the corner. Since many of you will be on campus soon, here’re a few things I’d recommend trying to see when you visit:

The art collection at the Harper Center – spread throughout the building, the collection of art at the Harper Center is one of the largest contemporary art collections in Chicago. If you take the tour, you’re bound to see parts of the collection, but take some time to admire it yourself. The art collection here is something a lot of students take pride in – a couple times each quarter, the Graduate Business Council organizes art tours, and the tours fill instantly.
Courtesy of

The first Heisman Trophy at Ratner Athletic Center – I know it’s hard to believe, but the University of Chicago was once a football powerhouse. We’re even undefeated against Notre Dame (2-0, but who’s counting?). The former football glory came with the hardware to prove it, and included the first Heisman Trophy. Won by Jay Berwanger, the trophy now sits on display in the center of the main athletic center on campus.
Courtesy of

Booth 455 – For those of you interviewing on Super Saturday, your interviews will take place in the beautiful, newly leased space in NBC Tower. Sitting across the street from the Gleacher Center and along the Chicago River, Booth 455 opened up a number of new group study rooms and a handful of classrooms for students to use. Booth 455 quickly became my (and many students’) favorite place to hold group meetings – the study rooms are modern and comfortable and perfectly located for most students. Booth 455 is also a great example of how the school constantly invests in making the experience even better.
Dean Sunil Kumar, Dean Robert Gertner and students at the 455 ribbon cutting last year, courtesy of Chicago Business 

Mansueto Library - Completed in 2011, Mansueto is a glass-enclosed library and study space for the entire University. Below the study space are underground bookstacks, allowing for increased capacity. For any fans of the Veronica Roth trilogy, Mansueto was also the home to the Erudite faction from the Divergent film. Around the corner from Manseuto, you’ll also find Nuclear Energy. The sculpture commemorates the first self-sustaining nuclear reaction, and is actually located at the exact spot the reaction took place (don’t worry, it’s safe!).
Courtesy of

Current Booth Students – For those of you interviewing during the week, stick around after your interview! Current students come and go from the Harper Center all day and we all want to help you make the best choice for you for business school. While you’ll get a chance to ask plenty of questions during the interview, feel free to stop any of us around the Harper Center and ask anything you didn’t get the chance (or didn’t want to ask) your interviewer.