HBS Guru 2.21: Which jobs do business school admissions like best?

📅 written 6 minute read

A Wall Street Oasis user posted a question last week asking for advice on job selection. Here’s the paraphrased version:

Which of the following 3 jobs would give the best chances for a top MBA in 3-5 years:

  1. UBS Private Wealth Management
  2. Vault-ranked boutique strategy consulting firm
  3. Deloitte tech consulting
  4. Give applications at McKinsey, Bain, and BCG another shot

The user didn’t provide any GMAT/GPA data, but we figured this sort of question is pretty common, so we wanted to dig into it.

Without numbers, we’ll have to give the Kreisbot’s number crunching a rest this week & get a bit qualitative. To shed some light on the question, we dug into the various nuggets of wisdom the HBS Guru’s dropped over the years regarding these 3 categories of jobs. It’s definitely not a definitive answer, but given how widely respected Sandy Kreisberg’s opinions are on these matters, it’s worth considering.

Private Wealth Management & MBA admissions

Sandy’s covered admissions prospects for Private Wealth Management (PWM) types before. In this profile, he mentions it off-hand while explaining the pecking-order at bulge-bracket investment banks:

Let me summarize—28-year-old, gay, Japanese born US citizen, LDS, 3.43 GPA from Brigham Young, solid 710 GMAT, and currently working in the operations department of Goldman Sachs after a 30-month gig at an “HR Consulting firm/corporate milestone and recognition award manufacturer and distributor” whatever that is (beyond the obvious trophy maker?)—but we don’t care all that much because you used that job to get a job at Goldman. For our new and non-brand obsessed readers (are there any?) let me note that all Goldman, Sachs jobs for 20 year-olds are not created equal from a B-school’s perspective (and from Goldman’s too). The cream of the GS jobs are the hotshot investment banking analysts selected from mostly Ivy-type colleges, under the cream are the special types huddled there in Private Wealth Management, which are kids from Ivy and near-Ivy schools who often have dotted line familiarity with wealth management. How the world judges Goldman “operations” types is an interesting issue and one I am not certain about.

But while PWM might get some cred (at least relative to operations), the prospects at the coveted Harvard & Stanford are less optimistic:

MIT will go for your solid stats, and they are always looking for brainy people plus banking and asset management are not (yet) dirty words there. They almost are at H and S. Other schools you mention, UCLA, NYU, Cornell, Texas-Austin, and USC should be real solid and just a matter of convincing them you want to attend.

Boutique Strategy & MBA Admissions

A lot of the outcome here seems to hinge on the firm’s success at placing people in top schools (this seems to be Kreisberg’s rule of thumb, and we think it’s sensible).

You got a 720 GMAT. Schools don’t care how many times you take it, and you work for what you report is “a boutique strategy and operations consulting firm (‘big’ in my city and Mexico City …).” That is usually considered a real solid job. There might be an issue if your target schools have never heard of it. As is usually the case, the best test of that is what is the track record of kids applying from your firm to those schools? If there is no record, you really need to go out of your way to establish the firm’s bona fides on your resume and application. Include a squib, sorta like, AB&C Consulting, a boutique management consulting firm specializing in _ and _ with offices in __ and ___, etc. and add any metrics as to clients, size, etc. which signal that the firm is important and respected.

You should be an acceptable risk (low-ish GPA and non-elite employment) at your target schools–Sloan-Booth-Duke-Columbia-Darden–because they are all looking for solid applicants from Latin America and especially Mexico. Your goals are also clear and frictionless: also are already in a boutique consulting company and want to use the MBA experience to fly up to a major like M/B/B, something which happens all the time, so you will be employable, especially if you signal that you want to return to Mexico.

To add to that, and just to repeat this from former profiles: McKinsey, Bain, and BCG (M/B/B) ask for GMAT scores and they like to see applicants with 720+. There are exceptions but your 720 will be a real plus. Adcoms know this, and all that will support your admission.

How about tech consulting?

Unfortunately, not a lot of data on this option. We found one profile covering an applicant from a tech consulting firm, but the gig itself isn’t critical to Sandy’s analysis. If we’re optimistic, we read this as a good sign (after all, it’s safe to assume if it was a liability, he’d have mentioned it).

“Worked four years for Big Four Tech Consulting in London focusing on the financial services industry, only one promotion because it was a three-year graduate training program, have learned to code mainly to understand software development cycles.”

That is pretty solid and we are getting a picture of you as an American-in-Europe frisbee type (as you note, you have strong engagments with ultimate frisbee) who can code as a pick-up skill and who is stolid enough to prosper in a Big Four setting. Your volunteer/extra activities seem better than average (“ran Model UN for low income high school students in Scotland … captained nationally competitive ultimate frisbee team and currently play on an internationally competitive club team, volunteer at the refugee camp in Calais, France”).

So the envelope please!

A 3.8/730 and gig at a Big Four and extras are solid, but especially odd for a U.S. kid, even though working in Europe. The extras do not add up, IMHO, to pushing you into Stanford. Unless you pivot and turn that volunteering in Calais into a super big deal where you teach immigrants to code, fight with xenophobic Frog locals for immigrant rights, and get funding from the UN to upgrade the medical facilities. You have lots of silvery stuff (730, Big 4, extras) and maybe silver mixed with gold, but Stanford has too many applicants with more clear pictures and more compelling X factors.

Is MBB a big enough boost to justify applying again?

Well, that depends on how much they like you. Apparently, the glut of applicants from these firms can offset the glam factor of the name on your CV:

A lot will depend on how much support you can get from your M/B/B consulting firm, but 3.5/780/varsity crew captain is real good start. Your career map is also OK, and saying you want to transition from consulting into executive role in leading a company is solid.

I would not specify manufacturing in the Mid-West per se, but instead just say you want to be impactful leader of a company which creates good jobs, like X, Y and Z. Try to come up with examples of executives you admire, they do not have to be household names.

Stanford is always a question mark because it is so small, guys like you get into HBS and Wharton all the time. At Kellogg, Chicago and especially MIT, it really comes down to convincing them you want to attend. At Stanford one barrier would be not having the essays damage you. Recs will count a lot there too, since they get lots of apps from M/B/B and cannot take them all. But they don’t get many from an Ivy crew captain with a 780GMAT and 3.5 in engineering. I’d say your are starting this race with a couple of boat-lengths lead.

Conclusion

The absence of any strong signals in these excerpts, to us, says there’s not much of a difference in options for the WSO user who posted this question. Conventional wisdom might hold that “the bigger the brand, the better,” but Sandy makes a good point on gold-plated feeder companies: it’s tough to be a small fish in a big pond.

Ultimately, when faced with a decision like this, it’s probably best to just optimize for whatever’ll make you most happy—from an admissions perspective, you’re probably best-off spending a few years at a place you’re happy to work at rather than a place you picked because of some vague, unprovable notion that it’d bump your chances at H, S, or W.

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Sources

https://poetsandquants.com/2012/10/05/handicapping-your-b-school-shot

https://poetsandquants.com/2012/06/15/handicapping-your-odds-of-mba-success/

https://poetsandquants.com/2013/06/20/handicapping-your-elite-b-school-chances-2/

https://poetsandquants.com/2016/06/03/handicapping-elite-mba-odds-17-3/

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