Avoid This Mistake in Your MBA Personal Statement!

Much more so than any other professional or graduate school, extracurricular life and activities play a huge role in the MBA experience. Indeed, many MBA graduates believe these extracurricular experiences were the most important part of their MBA experience. As such, it’s vital that you talk about your intended clubs and extracurriculars in a thoughtful way that integrates well with your broader application’s themes, experiences, and aspirations. Many applicants seem to just read the school’s website, find a list of clubs they “think would be fun” and don’t really do much work in terms of explaining the how and why those clubs would align with and enhance their MBA and long-term professional goals. This is a mistake.

You should avoid the “club dump” in your MBA application, where you simply list the clubs without providing the proper context or integration with your application and aspirations. Instead, look to include fewer clubs, explain your interest in them more substantively, and make sure they seem to align with what you’re hoping to convey about yourself in your application. This can be a tricky needle to thread, so if you’re concerned or confused, feel free to reach out to us at Gurufi.com with help crafting your personal statement. We have a fantastic record of getting clients into top schools, have perfect reviews on GMATClub, and because we focus only on the written aspects of your application (personal statements and CVs), we can offer this service at a competitive price point!

Now, back to the show! Here are two strategies that you can think about using in your personal statement that could make a real difference.

The first is the most straightforward: align your club selection with the rest of your personal statement and your professional aspirations. For instance, if after graduating with your MBA from Bigtime University, you want to found a healthcare startup that operates in the Global South, it makes sense to highlight the Healthcare Club, Young Entrepreneurs Workshop, and the Global South Development Clubs. You could then talk about some of the specific initiatives, programs, and opportunities they offer and provide a brief explanation of how they align with what you aspire to do and become. This is a more coherent approach than, say, writing your essay about your desire to found a healthcare startup and then at the end drop an, “oh, by the way, I also love food, so I’ll be joining the Foodie Club and since I love dancing the Salsa Club, too.” In a personal statement, *mentioning* something in passing is usually a bad idea.

The second approach is a bit more complicated and takes more skill as a writer. (don’t worry, we can help you with that!  ) As an example, let me mention a client I worked with a few years back who ended up getting into her top four choice elite MBA programs. She had a pretty standard background (consulting, etc.) and her professional interests were also not surprising (she wanted to move up within the kind of consulting she had built her career in). In the first draft of her personal statement, she did the standard “club dump” we’re talking about, where she talked about the Culinary Club, the Foodie Outings, and other related extracurriculars that she hoped one day to join. I advised her not to do this, and she replied that food was, in fact, *very* important to her, that it had deep cultural roots, and in many ways defined how she saw the world.

My reply was, “great, let’s build your essay around that theme.” The personal statement that we ended up writing talked about how much cooking, baking, and the social experiences that came with it informed her worldview. Baking was about precision, following exact recipes, and a more meticulous form of culinary artistry. Cooking her native Vietnamese dishes was more about feel, flair, flavor, and emotion. She learned to balance these two sides of her personality -the analytical and emotional- by learning cooking and baking at her mother’s and grandmother’s side. These traits made her both more analytical and more adept at communicating with clients and understanding their needs.

By moving from “mentioning” to writing a more genuine essay about how and why cooking and baking were so important, the essay came to life, and she revealed herself in a way that was far more substantive than “just another consultant.”

Remember, best personal statements favor depth over breadth and embrace the idea that saying two things well is far better than mentioning five things.

If you’re struggling to master this, or any other, aspect of your personal statement, be sure to check us out at Gurufi.com. All we do is admissions writing, so helping you build a fantastic essay is our specialty.

Ten Common MBA Interview Questions


Last Friday, I wrote that practicing sample interview questions and taping your responses is an excellent way to prepare for interviews. Several people reached out and asked if I had good interview prep books or resources so that they knew what questions to prepare for. At Gurufi, we focus exclusively on the written aspects of your application (personal statements, CVs, etc.) but I have extensive experience advising clients informally, have conducted dozens of real and mock interviews myself, and understand the process quite well. What you’ll discover once you’re in the interview chair is that these things tend to *fly* by, and they can often feel like they’re over before you know it. With that in mind, your best strategy (beyond what I wrote last week) is to study the school well, have a clear idea of why you would be a good fit and what you hope to do while there (classes, clubs, extracurriculars, etc.) and why, and also do lots of recorded reps for these ten questions, which cover most of the basics. If you have solid answers and feel prepared for these 10 questions, you’ll probably be ready for whatever comes.


  1. Why did you choose to pursue an MBA? This question is a common one, and the interviewer wants to know what motivated you to pursue an advanced business degree. In other words, this is your “big why?” moment. To answer this question well, you should highlight your specific career goals and how an MBA will help you achieve them. If you feel comfortable, you can also frame this within your personal story as a way of explaining why this feels like the right moment to do something very important for your life and career.
  2. What are your career goals and how will an MBA help you achieve them? This is a similar question to the first, but it goes a bit deeper into your future plans. Be sure to have a clear and concise answer that showcases your motivation, focus, and long-term vision. Remember, MBA admissions is ultimately about the future. How clear and compelling is the picture you’re painting of the person you aspire to be and the things you hope to build or accomplish? So as you answer this, keep in mind the idea of showing that you have a compelling aspiration and a clear plan for achieving it. Sometimes, this question will be broken down by time periods. As in, “how will an MBA change your career trajectory over the next 5 years?” As such, it’s a good idea to have a sketch of your post-MBA timeline.
  3. What sets you apart from other MBA candidates? This question is an opportunity for you to highlight your unique skills, experiences, and strengths. Be confident in discussing what makes you different from other candidates and why you are a good fit for the program. Sometimes people feel sheepish about bragging, but remember that it only comes across as bragging if you don’t link a descriptor to an accomplishment. For instance, “I’m really smart” is bragging, but “my work refining our company’s high-frequency trading algorithm shows that I’m detail-oriented and can handle big, cognitively complex tasks” is just a frank description that shows rather tells the reader that you’re smart.
  4. Can you discuss a specific leadership experience you have had? This question is an opportunity for you to showcase your leadership skills and experiences. Be specific in your answer and talk about the challenges you faced and what you learned from the experience.
  5. How do you handle conflict in the workplace? This question is asking about your problem-solving skills and how you handle difficult situations. Be honest in your answer and give a specific example of a conflict you faced and how you resolved it.
  6. Can you discuss a time when you had to work with a difficult team member? This question is similar to the previous one and is asking about your ability to work with others and handle conflict in a team setting. Provide a specific example and talk about what you learned from the experience.
  7. How do you prioritize and manage your time effectively? This question is asking about your organizational skills and work habits. Give a specific example of how you prioritize your tasks and manage your time to meet deadlines.
  8. Can you discuss a time when you had to make a difficult decision? This question is asking about your decision-making skills and how you handle challenging situations. Be specific in your answer and talk about what you learned from the experience.
  9. Can you discuss a project or accomplishment that you are particularly proud of? This question is asking about your past achievements and what you are proud of. Choose a project or accomplishment that showcases your skills and strengths and be sure to explain why it is significant to you. A storytelling tip: establish the stakes early. If you’re talking about a big project, if you relate why it was important (for instance: what would happen if you failed? What was at stake?) then your success feels more substantial and meaningful.
  10. What are your weaknesses and how are you working to improve them? This question is asking about your self-awareness and how you are working to become a better professional. Be honest in your answer, but also focus on what you are doing to overcome your weaknesses. Most importantly: DON’T HUMBLEBRAG by saying something like, “I care too much,” or “I work too hard,” or “I hold myself to too high of a standard.” That comes across as phony, disingenuous, and an evasive way of avoiding talking about your weaknesses.


For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top MBA programs. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Admissions is a Two-Way Street! (Why and How to Assess MBA Options Throughout the Application Process)

Title: The “Right Fit” MBA Hunt: More Than Just Names and Numbers

Golden leaves on the ground and the air is getting a little crispy and cold… ahhhhh, Round 2 application season is upon us! So, you’ve decided to take the plunge and pursue an MBA. This is an exciting, but also quite daunting, moment. Often, as applicants begin this process they have one thing in mid: “how do I make myself attractive to the top schools?”

That’s a good question to ask… but not the only question. You also need to keep in mind -throughout the application process- that it’s not just about getting into the highest ranked MBA program possible, it’s about finding YOUR MBA program. The one that fits you like a glove, aligns with your values, and helps you climb the ladder of success in your own unique style. Keep an open mind throughout every step and during every phase -research, essay writing, interviews- so that you can constantly be aware of things you like and don’t like about the various programs.

In the 17 years that I’ve spent helping applicants get into top programs, I often say that I’m like the sommelier at a nice restaurant: my job is to provide you with the best possible advice (don’t pair a red wine with a delicate whitefish) but ultimately, the choice is up to you. In doing follow-up work with clients, what I’ve discovered is that clients that we helped get into top-5 programs that maybe weren’t the best match (usually because they ignore my advice), ended up having less stellar MBA experiences. By contrast, clients who maybe took a half-step down the rankings ladder to attend a school whose culture, strengths, and positioning better aligned with what they wanted and needed, tended to be happier and be in a better spot post-graduation.

If attending Harvard Business School or Stanford GSB is your dream, I won’t, shouldn’t, and probably can’t dissuade you. BUT, it is important to remember that the application process isn’t just about selling yourself to the school. Nope. It’s a two-way street. Just as they’re deciding if you’re a good fit for them, you need to figure out if they’re a good fit for you. It’s an imperfect analogy, but applying to an MBA program is a bit like dating where you’re trying to show your best self, but also making sure the other side’s best self is what’s best for you. Don’t “swipe right” just because of a shiny brand or high ranking; keep an open mind and actively use the application process to find out if the school is perfect for you.

The application questions can tell you a lot about the school’s culture. They’re a window into the soul of the institution. If a school asks about your community work or social impact initiatives, it’s a pretty clear signal that they value social responsibility. So if you’re passionate about making a difference, that could be your perfect match! On the flip side, if you’re all about entrepreneurship or finance, this might not be the best fit for you. This is true even if a school’s brand, ranking, or prestige is sooooo hard to resist.

One of the best ways to get the lowdown on a school is by chatting with the people who’ve lived it – the current students, the alumni, and even the faculty. These are the folks who can give you the real scoop, beyond all the glitzy brochures and the polished website marketing blurbs. They can tell you about the school vibe, the inside jokes, the stress of exams, and how helpful (or not) the faculty and career services are. If anything they say makes you go “hmmmm…” follow up on it. In your conversations, be on the lookout for criticisms that multiple people make, ask current and former students what they would change, and use your intuition to feel out how excited they are about their educational process and career prospects.

Speaking of faculty, they’re a crucial part of your MBA journey. After all, they’ll be the ones imparting wisdom and guiding you along the way. Check out their areas of expertise. Do they align with your interests? And think about their teaching styles. Are you the kind of person who prefers traditional lectures, or do you thrive in an experiential learning environment with case studies and group projects?

Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: school rankings. They’re impossible to ignore, but they can also lead you astray. Sure, it’s great to aim for a highly-ranked institution, but remember, these rankings aren’t everything. They’re made up of many factors, and some might not be as important to you as others. Don’t get so caught up in the numbers game that you miss out on finding the school that truly fits you. Getting obsessed with the brand or ranking can sometimes make you miss red flags. Just because a school has a big name doesn’t mean it’s the right one for you. It’s a bit like wearing a designer outfit that doesn’t fit you well – it might impress others, but if you’re not comfortable in it, you won’t shine.

The application process is your first step towards finding the perfect MBA program for you. Look beyond the prestige and the rankings, connect with the school’s community, and tune into the school’s vibes through the application. Because the best MBA program for you isn’t necessarily the one at the top of the list, it’s the one that matches your goals, interests, and values. After all, the ultimate goal isn’t just to get an MBA, it’s to kick-start a journey of growth and transformation that’s tailored just for you. Happy hunting!

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top MBA programs. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Ten tips for a great MBA Interview

preparing for a zoom interview
applicant prepares for an MBA interview

Let’s face it: interviews can be scary. For all other parts of your application, you control the pace, you have time to reflect and refine, and if you plan well, you can submit your package knowing that you did your absolute best to present yourself as a compelling, qualified, and interesting candidate.

 But interviews are dynamic and unpredictable, and you’ll often get questions designed to either trip you up or force you to reveal how you think through a problem. Here are eight tips for acing your MBA interview.

  1. The kindergarten stuff. You’ve heard the old adage, “all I really need to know, I learned in kindergarten”? This applies to interviews. It’s sad that I have to emphasize this, but you’d be shocked at the number of times I have conducted academic or hiring interviews and people fail at basic acts of politeness and thus sink their applications. Be nice and polite to everyone (even people like secretaries who won’t be interviewing you), smile, shake everybody’s hand, avoid inappropriate topics, and afterward be sure to thank them for their time and send a short, polite, thank-you email or (preferably) short hand-written note.

If this all seems patently obvious to you, that’s fantastic. If not, here’s a cautionary tale. One of my first professional mentors was the company’s CEO, but he would work the front desk on interview day, and any candidate who was rude or condescending to him would get an awful surprise when they sat for the interview, he walked in, and asked his first question: “if you treat people like that, why should we hire you?” Your interview might not pull this particular trick… but trust me, I’ve seen many an *impressive* CV get tossed in the crash can or application get put at the bottom of the stack after an exasperated interviewer said of an impolite candidate, “man, that dude sucks.”

  1. Do your research. You can usually predict some -and probably most- of the questions that you’ll be asked. Know the school’s mission, strengths, values, best programs, and how you fit in with them. Have some particular examples ready to talk about. For instance, if a club or program aligns perfectly with something you’ve done in the past, be prepared to talk about that alignment and maybe some ideas that you have for ways you could contribute.

  1. But don’t memorize your answers. I will occasionally work with clients who want to memorize their answers to questions they anticipate. Don’t do this. First, unless you’re a trained and skilled actor, a memorized answer will come across as forced, canned, and limp. It also introduces unnecessary stress as you try to recall, word for word, your reply. I like to make outlines or sketches of answers, and if I do practice interviews, I’ll try different wordings, etc. This helps to keep things fresh, conversational, and natural.

  1. Answer the question you’re asked! One of the dangers of memorizing your answers is that sometimes you won’t quite get the question you anticipated, so you’ll try to shoehorn in a response to a question that wasn’t asked. Not answering a question can annoy an interviewer and you’ll come across as evasive, uncertain, or perhaps unknowledgeable about what they’ve asked you.

  1. Practice. If your school or company offers mock interviews, use them and, if possible, record yourself. If there is no set structure like that for you, you can find lists of common interview questions. Give them to a friend and have them ask you them, again making sure to record your responses. It can be cringe to watch or listen to yourself, but pay attention to both your content and your presentation. Are there things you feel like could say better? Details to add? Are you calm, relaxed, smiling with good posture? Do a self-critique and ask your loved ones to do the same, then repeat the process.

  1. Have questions. Almost every interview will end with some version of “do you have any questions for us?” A candidate who replies with, “nope, all good,” will come across as unprepared, uninterested, or otherwise uncompelling. If you do your research, you should be able to identify some areas of interest and / or concern that can serve as grounds for questions. Have 4-5 questions ready to go when asked.

  1. Stay positive. It’s important to be honest during the interview, but avoid complaining or being overly negative. Focus on the positives and what you have learned from any challenges or setbacks.

  1. Being too casual. It’s important to be yourself and show your personality, but remember that the MBA interview is a professional setting. Avoid using slang or being overly casual in your language and be sure to dress appropriately.

  1. Curate your Zoom box. As more / most interviews are moving online, take the time to clean and curate your background. I know that there are artificial filters that you can use, but I actually prefer to take 15 minutes, clean the space behind me, and think about what you want to show about yourself. Have one or two items that say something about your personality in the background, and take the time to think about what your aesthetic says about you. In the same way that you devote time to selecting a suit, blouse, tie, or eyeglasses, make sure that you curate your working space as well.

  1. Don’t humblebrag. You’ll often be asked for your biggest weakness or biggest failure. Resist the temptation to turn this into a thinly veiled success or strength. So, don’t talk about how “I care too much,” or “I work too hard.” That shows a lack of self-criticism. Everyone has real weaknesses. Find one that is a genuine weakness or misstep, BUT in your answer also talk about how you have or hope to address it. I used to have a real problem with deadlines, so I took a class on time management and use the pomodoro system. It will always be something that I struggle with, but I feel like I have a system in place to manage it.


BONUS:           If you have a Zoom interview, and if there are no rules against it, tape some notecards above your camera where you put 3-4 questions that you’d like to ask, some main points you’d like to remember to hit at some point, and maybe even some affirmations like “smile,” “breathe,” or “relax,” to help you stay in a good place mentally during the interview. It’s also a good idea to write down your interviewers’ names if you learn them beforehand. Calling people by their names in conversations helps to build rapport. If you prepare well for the interview, you probably won’t need them, but just having that safety net can make many people feel calmer.

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top MBA programs. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Five Questions to Ask MBA Alumni

MBA alumni interview
tips for getting the most out of conversations with alumni

Much more than any other professional or graduate school, speaking with alumni is an important part of the MBA application process. In addition to providing intel for future interviews and guidance for your personal statement (it’s common to name-drop an alum in an essay), these conversations also serve as genuine investigatory steps as you decide which schools to apply to or, hopefully, which schools to select from among the many that end up accepting you. With that in mind, here are two overarching bits of advice as well as five specific tips for getting the most out of an alumni conversation.

         First, as you engage in these conversations, trust your gut. Ask yourself, “could I see myself studying, learning, working, and socializing with this person?” Obviously, no one person represents the culture of an entire school, but if repeated interactions with alumni from School X repeatedly make you think, “hmmm… not my vibe,” then at the very least, pay attention to that and try to get to the bottom of it. I tell clients all the time that you should NOT view an MBA as something you must simply endure; it should be an exciting experience that, even though it’s hard work, you are eager to commit yourself to fully. If people aren’t your vibe or tempo, and you feel like you wouldn’t fit in… think twice.

         Second, approach every conversation looking to do two things beyond getting the kind of specific information outlined below: find reasons to apply and reasons not to apply. Often, by the time a candidate speaks to an alum, they’re already in love with the school or enamored by its brand. But just as the application process is where the school finds out whether they like you, so too should you use this process to discern whether you think you’re a good fit for the school. Be a one-(wo)man AdCom, looking for red flags and green lights. Think about everything you hear, identify strengths and weaknesses, and don’t be afraid to pointedly (but politely) follow up if somebody says something that makes you wonder if School X is ideal for you. Similarly, if an alumni is willing to speak with you, it’s probably because they love their school, so find out why.

Now, for the five questions you should ask!

In the quest to select the right MBA program, conversations with alumni can provide invaluable insights, bridging the gap between a school’s polished marketing material and the reality of students’ experiences. Alumni have been through the journey you are about to undertake and can offer perspectives that cut through the noise. Here are five essential questions to ask alumni that can help determine if a program is the right fit for you.

  1. What was the most transformative aspect of your MBA experience at this school?

I love open-ended questions like this. This is a great way to begin a conversation. People LOVE to talk about themselves, and people tend to like people who allow and urge them to talk about themselves. So beyond eliciting great information, this question opens the door to the kind of meaningful storytelling that creates a sense of trust. It also allows alumni to share their unique experiences, shedding light on the school’s potential to provide transformative learning experiences. Also, their answers can offer a glimpse into the aspects of the program that have the most impact, whether it’s the course curriculum, faculty, internships, or networking opportunities. If their transformative experience aligns with what you hope to achieve from your MBA, this school might be a good fit for you. If not, well… it’s good to know that too!

  1. How would you describe the school’s culture, and how did you fit into it?

Asking someone about “culture” is useful because, to begin with, everybody has their own definition of what that means. So, even how they define “culture” will tell you something about their sensibility and values. But whatever it means to a particular person, culture plays a pivotal role in shaping your MBA journey. The alumni’s response will give you a sense of the social dynamics, values, and ethos of the school. It’s also a window into the competitive or collaborative nature of the environment, and whether the school values diversity and inclusiveness beyond just slogans. By asking how they fit into this culture, you can assess how your own values and personality may align or clash with the school’s culture.

  1. What did you think of the faculty and their teaching methods?

Whether they’re providing facts, inculcating skills, or providing broad-ranging mentorship, faculty relationships can transform your MBA experience. Indeed, faculty members are the backbone of any educational institution, and their teaching styles can significantly impact your learning experience. Alumni can provide insights into how professors engage with students, their approachability, and their emphasis on theoretical learning versus practical application.

  1. How did the school’s career services support your career development and job search?

At the end of the day, you earn an MBA so that you can put your professional trajectory on a steeper trajectory. So understanding how a school can help you get where you’re trying to go is vital. How an alumnus answers this can help you understand the school’s commitment to career development. How proactive is the career services department? What kind of internships, job fairs, networking events, or company visits do they arrange? How successful are students in securing jobs in their desired field post-MBA? This information is critical, especially if you are considering an MBA as a means to change careers or accelerate career progression.

  1. Knowing what you know now, would you choose the same MBA program again? Why?

This retrospective question can yield particularly insightful responses. If the alumnus would choose the same program, ask why. Is it because of the school’s culture, faculty, network, or reputation in a particular field? If they wouldn’t, their reasons can provide you with potential red flags about the program.

Remember, the goal of these questions is not just to collect data but to engage in meaningful conversation that will help you assess whether the school aligns with your professional goals and personal values. The alumni’s candid responses will be instrumental in making an informed decision about whether the MBA program will be a good fit for you. It’s about envisioning where you’ll grow, thrive, and transform in your journey—not just about following the crowd to a top-ranked program.

Lastly, I believe strongly in the “kindergarten rules” of “be nice, be polite,” and so remember to send an email or (even better!) a handwritten thank-you note to any person who offers you their time and energy. Even if you end up not going to that school, it’s a small world, and people remember kind gestures and a person who shows basic interpersonal respect by saying “thank you.”

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top MBA programs. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.