How to distinguish Jeff from other management consultants. Even at top firms, associates tend to look alike. Jeff had done good work, but nothing extraordinary. Plus, he didn’t have any ECs to speak of.
One approach would’ve been to highlight his solid work and leadership at BCG: helped shape Asia strategy for a large European bank, wrote a white paper on Chinese companies that was presented (by someone else) at the World Economic Forum in Davos, managed another colleague, etc. Then he uses his consulting skills to get a senior management position in an industry he’s familiar with: banking, telecom, etc. All good stuff, but not enough to differentiate him from the hundreds of consultants from BCG and other top-tier consulting firms applying to b-school every year.
The Admissionado Approach
The key was to look for not just what Jeff was good at but what set him apart. When he was growing up, his father was selling Chinese-made metal folding chairs out of the trunk of his car. This business over the years had grown into a sizable automotive parts manufacturing company. After college, Jeff took a risk and went to China to learn Mandarin. After a year and a half of studying, he knew enough Chinese to converse in a business setting and he convinced folks at BCG to hire him to work on Chinese-staffed projects. We emphasized his soft skills, particularly the ability he developed over time to navigate both Western and Chinese corporate cultures. More importantly, we told a story of effort and risk-taking over two generations (his and his father’s) that I felt would resonate with adcoms, and that showed he had the character and the leadership skills to take over his father’s now international auto parts business down the road.
Jeff was accepted at HBS with scholarship.
Jeff was a joy to work with, not just because he was assiduous, but because he was at once confident and humble, and always open to exploring different ways of approaching his essays. These qualities are invaluable (and hard to find together) in MBA applicants.