How to Get Into Stanford GSB: Tips from a Former Admissions Interviewer

October 17, 2017 | by Tatiana Nemo


If Stanford GSB is on your list, you’ll want to listen in to this first hand advice from Stanford GSB alum and former MBA admissions interviewer. Fortuna expert coach Tatiana Nemo shares her insights into what the school is looking for and how you can prove that you are GSB material.

You’ll find the transcript to this in-depth conversation, below.


 Judith: Welcome, everyone. My name is Judith Silverman Hodara, I’m a founder and director at Fortuna Admissions. I’m delighted to have Tatiana Nemo with us today. Tatiana is one of our Graduate Business School experts, from the Stanford school of business, and I wanted to chat with her a little bit today about the GSB experience. I’m going to kick off this morning, if I might, with what the GSB is looking for in the context of their application pool.

Tatiana: Thank you Judith and thank you so much for this opportunity. Basically, what the school is looking for and what they centre on is thinking past performance is the best predictor for future performance. So, they are pretty much looking for strong evidence of things that have been accomplished and attained in the past that can indicate that the person is in fact a good candidate. It’s important to keep in mind that they look at the totality of the information available: by that I mean the bits and pieces that come through essays, letters of recommendation, GMAT scores, GPAs, even the mini essays on the application forms. Everywhere they are just compiling this puzzle and this picture of who you are, they’re looking for personal character, they’re looking for traits and potential and that’s how they base their decision ultimately. So, it’s totality of information, it’s not a make it or break it with any one of the pieces. They’re certainly looking for sound analytical skills, creative instincts and strong performance. That is kind of a constant across all different candidates. It’s interesting because they say there is no one stereotypical candidate, and no one stereotypical student at Stanford: that is very true. But it’s also important to consider the three things that I’ve mentioned; the sound analytical skills, the creative instincts and the strong performance. Those are a must, and those are kind of a constant across. Finally, they’re definitely looking for evidence of intellectual vitality, demonstrated leadership potential, and just personal qualities and contributions. Again, this is something that’s going to permeate and come through every bit of the application. That’s why it’s so important to just be focussed and strong on every single one of those front.

Judith: So, I’m going to ask you about one of those fronts, which is preparing your recommenders and getting those recommenders on board. What makes for a good recommendation for GSB?

Tatiana: Definitely the way that one of the admissions officers from the GSB described a good recommendation letter is when the candidate comes to life through the letter. It’s very important to choose your recommenders thoughtfully and have them being someone that knows you well. Someone that is, to some degree, invested in your personal growth, and that they have had ample interaction with you and they know you really well. It’s important that the questions that are asked as part of the recommendation, that they are addressed, that it’s not just a generic description of the candidate, but that the things that are being are specifically about the candidate are addressed. It’s important again, going back to the past performance as the best predictor of future performance, it’s important to anchor the letter on specific anecdotes, and illustrate the points, provide examples. So, that in describing all of these interactions with the candidate it’s not only talking about what’s been done and what’s been accomplished, but how the person has accomplished this, because it’s important to learn not only the capabilities of the candidate but also the leadership style, the way that it collaborate, the way that it brings in energy and infuses focus into teams and focuses on delivering results and such. So, it’s very important to talk about these examples not only from the perspective of what the candidate has done but how it has been accomplished. Finally, make it believable. Not only talk about the areas of strength and things that have been consistently accomplished, but also areas of growth, areas of opportunity. To make it believable, all of these angles have to be embraced otherwise it might end up being a fan letter and that doesn’t make it a strong recommendation. It’s important to think about all these things, prepare them, and prepare your recommender because they might be thinking of many other things by the time they sit down to write the recommendation and so a strong recommendation brief is a strong reminders. Put emphasis on what points you suggest that could be considered as important.

Judith: So, it’s so interesting because you’re really involved not only with your own work, and then you’re also trying to get your recommenders ready. As you said earlier, it’s really important to keep your eye on all of these different moving pieces at the same time, and we talked earlier today that one of the critical pieces of this puzzle is going to be the essay. Can you share with us a little bit some of the ideas that you’ve seen, that you’ve had, about the best approach? Because, as you know, the GSB essay is pretty broad – ‘what matters to you, when and why?’ the first one – and how do you prepare candidates to dive in to answering that essay?

Tatiana: Definitely, and these essays are a key component. All different components are important but here is the opportunity, the space to tell you story. So, just as I mentioned earlier, there’s neither an ideal candidate nor a typical Stanford student. Most excel doing ordinary things extraordinarily well. So, the important thing is to take a deep dive: understand yourself. It’s very possible that before you had to sit down and write this essay you have not had to do a deep soul searching exercise, and stop and understand what have your motivations been, what have you been inclined to doing, what you dislike, what you are prone to pursue. All of these things need to be thought through carefully and seriously because the school is genuinely interested in who you are, your personal character. Just being able to convey that, to communicate that to the school, helps them to first off understand who you are and secondly, because they’re working on building a well-rounded class, they need to see how everyone is going to fit in. And they’re not going to know it if you are offering generic answers, or if you are trying to fit in a mould or an expectation. A good essay is truly going to come from being in the know, from being aware of what motivates you, where you want to go, what have your accomplishments been. Own it, be confident about that, convey it, communicate it, and then they’re going to have all the material to make the right decisions. This is again the opportunity to tell your story. This is not someone else’s story, or the expected story of someone, or even thinking that there is a specific stereotype of student that they’re trying to fit in. It’s not about that, it’s truly taking the time, sitting down, introspecting, deep-diving…

Judith: Not always so easy to do, it definitely takes time and consideration.

Tatiana: Absolutely. It’s not something that you can do just sitting down one time. And seriously the strongest applications were those where the thoughts and the voice remain intact and that is the experiences, the beliefs, the passions, the dreams, the ambitions. They are yours, and you are confident enough to own them, and communicate them in a way that’s interesting.

Judith: How does the resume and the not as creative pieces of this discussion come into play? Sometimes I know that students will assume that they can do their application forms, their bio-data forms the night before it’s due and it’s not going to take them very long, and clearly GSB really demands a bit more of advance notice, introspection. Can you talk us through a conversation about the resume and how to approach that, and then also, if you can, the bio-data forms and their importance in the application process?

Tatiana: So, the recommendation here for sure is don’t leave it until the last minute because it might seem that this is perfunctory mechanical work, and it’s not. There’s a level of art in putting together the resume, there’s a focus on progression. Focus and highlight on actions and accomplishments, not really roles and responsibilities, quantifying wherever possible, avoiding jargon. These are all best practices to put together a resume that’s solid and is tight it presents you well. There has to be, certainly, consistency between the bits and pieces that go into the bio-data forms and everything else that’s mentioned in the other bits and pieces of the application. So it’s important to make sure that you check for consistency, that everything ties in nicely. There are definitely some more mechanical pieces on the application forms, but there are some mini essays that are there embedded and that you, even if it’s probably a 250 word limit, or a 400 word limit, you have to sit down and think through about what you’re going to be adding in those pieces. Are you going to be emphasizing on something that you have already mentioned on the essays or the other parts of the application, or do you want to offer new information that you could not fit in elsewhere. So there’s a level of strategy in dealing both with the resume and the biodata forms.

Judith: And, how about preparing for the interview? After you’ve kind of done your due diligence, you’ve gotten everything in and you’ll usually here from schools at the halfway mark so say like 5 weeks after application, if you’ve had an opportunity to interview. How would you prepare for that interview and what can you expect?

Tatiana: Definitely preparing, you know? Like that’s the key in all this. Not leaving the interview to chance, not thinking that things are just going to come naturally during that conversation. Certainly the more prepared, the readier you are, then the communication is going to be more natural, it’s going to flow in a more confident manner. Again, because this whole application process is this whole analysing process from the admissions side, it’s about looking for evidence about leadership potential, about past actions that are relevant et cetera. It’s important to focus on the past actions and the outcomes in preparing for the interviews. Make sure that just as you prepared your recommender, suggesting certain instances, examples, some illustrations; make sure that you also have ready and handy for the interview. Important not only to focus on what you’ve done and what you you’ve accomplished but focus on attitudes, behaviours and skills. It’s the whole package: it’s the what you did and how you did it. It’s important to know that they’re going to be looking for traits or evidence of initiative, strategic orientation, team leadership and influence and collaboration. So to build those examples and prepare for the interview along those lines is going to be very useful. And it’s also applause and I think it’s something that makes an interviewee very strong is again not only to be the narrator of the events, but also to convey that you have gained awareness on how past experience has shaped who you are today and how it has shaped what you want. This is also an opportunity to learn more about the school. So this is on one hand an opportunity to talk about yourself, and provide consistency in terms of the information that you have already shared with the school, or even add new information that you think is going to fit in. But it’s also important to know that this is an opportunity for you to learn more about the school and to talk to someone that has already had the experience first and benefit from that.

Judith: Great, thank you so much. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from talking to you this morning. So, thank you so much Tatiana Nemo, and again, I’m Judith Silverman Hodara. I’m glad that you were able to join us, we look forward to seeing you again soon. Thanks.

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