Mae Jennifer Shores, the assistant dean and director of MBA Admissions at the UCLA
(Anderson MBA Profile
), says she ended up an admissions officer the way most people do—unintentionally. She went to Russia to teach public policy, but was assigned to teach negotiations at a business school at the last minute. After two years, she wanted to continue her Eastern European stay and almost took a job teaching in Kazakhstan. Her graduate school loans, however, forced her back to the U.S. There, Shores' international and business-school experience eventually led her into the admissions department at Anderson.
Like Shores, many students at Anderson have what might be described as an interesting back story. Anderson's emphasis on diversity extends beyond geographical boundaries to include diversity in thought, Shores says. It's what makes the B-school unique. Almost 5% of the Class of 2008 started their own entrepreneurial ventures, while nontraditional industries like media and entertainment topped the employer charts. In a conversation with BusinessWeek's Mandy Oaklander
, Shores discusses how the school's creativity attracts the right applicants, and why the "LA" in UCLA is particularly important for business-school students. An edited portion of the conversation follows.
How are the application numbers looking this year compared to the last few?
The application numbers are down slightly. Like many business schools, we witnessed an increased interest in the program early in the recruiting season, and this did flatten out over time. We have witnessed an increase in applicants from financial services, not surprisingly. We find that the quality of the pool remains very strong.
What are some of the things you're looking for in the interview that show you someone is a good fit for the UCLA program?
In the interview we look for authenticity, an ability to engage in a dialogue as opposed to a monologue, and an ability to be introspective. Many applicants tend to be very rehearsed and interested in impression management. Sometimes they just skirt the issues and look at them from a very broad, superficial level. It's the ability to actually let us get to know the individual and how they approach life and work experiences that is most helpful to us.
Is that the most common mistake people make in their interviews?
Being too rehearsed is one of them. The other is getting so nervous that they get really wedded to their résumé or answers to questions that they've formulated in advance. They sometimes miss the cues of the interviewer or they miss subtleties of the question that vary from what they've been prepared for.
What kind of person is a good fit for the program?
Students who fare well at UCLA Anderson are individuals who pursue excellence but without some of the attitude that is frequently associated with MBA students. They tend to have a sense of authenticity and integrity that pervades everything they do. We look for people who play well in the sandbox; for those more broadly interested in the community around them than in the pursuit of their own individual goals.
Some schools are reporting a downturn in international applications. What is it like for UCLA?
There was a slight decline internationally in certain regions, but it didn't affect the overall quality of the pool. For example, many schools saw a decline in applications from certain countries in Asia, but we're still seeing the same strength in terms of the quality of people that we'd want to admit.
Has there been an increase in applications from other parts of the world?
There was some increase for us this year, and I think part of it is tied to an extension we had in our recruiting effort. For example this year we went to the Middle East, and we saw an additional increase in applications from that region. We did some joint travel with a group called Access MBA and with our joint-degree program that combines our executive MBA with the National University of Singapore. So we saw a number of people applying from Saudi Arabia, Israel, and other areas of the Middle East.
Do you plan to continue this program in the future?
We do. I think it's a very strong growth market, and in the long term it could yield a lot of terrific applicants.
UCLA has added a few leadership electives to the curriculum since June 2008—Ethical Leadership, Complexity Leadership, Leadership & Ethics. Does this timing have anything to do with how MBA education has been perceived during the financial crisis?
I think that these actually continue our history that we've had of focusing on a lot of the more qualitative dimensions of the MBA. Certainly solidifying them into particular courses helps enrich what we already do. Some of that stems from demand for students, and some from the business community. It's incorporating [ethical leadership] in a more structured way.
Last year, only 80% of students reported having a job offer by graduation, and decreased job placement is getting to be a common story among B-schools. How is the economic crisis affecting job placement of Anderson grads?
Anderson is very fortunate in many ways relative to other programs when it comes to career choices. Like other MBA programs, we do find job placement is more of a challenge than in prior years. But the one advantage we have over many top programs is our historically broad mix of companies and industries that have come to our campus on a regular basis.
For example, during the '90s and in recent years, in which the demand for MBAs in careers such as investment banking and consulting was very high, we continued to maintain relationships with a broad set of companies including consumer goods, biotech, high tech, nanotechnology, manufacturing, aerospace, and clean energy. Rather than adopt a follow-the-herd mentality that you may find at some business schools, our students have pursued a broad range of careers. We do have a healthy representation at consulting firms and top financial institutions, but this is augmented by a rich diversity of other career choices.
In 2008, 42% of graduates not seeking employment were trying to start their own businesses. That's pretty high among business schools. Do you attribute this to the entrepreneurship program?
I think the focus on entrepreneurship speaks more to a general approach to learning and education at UCLA Anderson. People have historically looked at entrepreneurship very narrowly and have thought that it meant simply to start your own business. We have always looked at it as much broader than that.
Entrepreneurship is not just about starting your own initiative. It's about working within a more established company and helping it survive, particularly in a climate when many large companies are folding. We do have the Harold and Pauline Price Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at UCLA, which is an incredible resource for people who want to pursue entrepreneurship. Students come to this school because it brings in venture capitalists and angel investors. It gives students broad exposure to local industries and business to see how startups begin, how they succeed, and how they fail. They give them a lot of the hard and soft skills they'll need to succeed.
What role does Los Angeles play in business life at Anderson?
Los Angeles (and this is surprising to many who don't know the city well) is home to a lot of small businesses, where the actual growth in U.S. and world economies is [coming from]. At the same time, it still is home to a lot of larger Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies. But there is an opportunity to be closely involved in local business.
What are alumni from Anderson doing to help grads land jobs?
One of the things we hear is how responsive alumni are to helping students. You can see that involvement in terms of alumni showing up at events that we have for admitted students. They even reach out to prospective students before they've been formally admitted. They are a wonderful resource; the majority of students who graduate do get jobs through alumni.
How is UCLA faring in the number of on-campus recruiters?
We are being very aggressive this year in terms of sustaining our currently broad reach of employers. We're doing a lot of creative things: more career treks and new initiatives like the career fair that we're holding for the first time on campus. We're also reaching out to alumni in greater and greater numbers.
Can you explain exactly what a career trek is?
A career trek is where you take students outside of LA to different key areas where industries exist. You meet businesses and get exposure to companies and recruiters. Instead of bringing [recruiters] on campus, you take students off campus. It's a way of expanding the network.
What programs distinguish Anderson from other MBA programs?
We offer a rigorous, challenging educational environment. Los Angeles, with its proximity to Latin America and the Pacific Rim, is at the crossroads of major activity going on in global markets. As we talked about, LA is also home to small businesses, which is a source of growth in the economy. Similarly, being positioned within California offers access to some of the most diverse employment and population bases in the U.S. You don't find this kind of diversity in virtually any other city in the U.S. It exposes the students to an unparalleled multiplicity of perspectives and ways of conducting business.
I saw UCLA recently hosted the 2009 Reaching Out MBA conference for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered b-school students. How did that go?
It went really well. One of the things we try to do as a school is continue to reach out to diverse populations. Obviously LGBT is a really important population, as are underrepresented minorities, women, and even people from different professional and academic backgrounds. We define diversity much more broadly than some people do. For us, the academic environment is enhanced when you're challenged and confronted by a multiplicity of perspectives. Students have a lifetime to be around people like them in their same industries, so an MBA program is a time to really confront your own values.
What's a little-known fact about Anderson?
A big challenge we face is communicating to people all the variety of opportunities that exist at this school. When people think of Los Angeles, they often think it's a hub of media and entertainment. They're less aware of some of the real features of the school. When individuals get to know us, they are sometimes surprised to learn how rigorous our curriculum is.
Something else that surprises people is just how entrepreneurial we are across areas. For example, the admission office this year had one option in the application essay to submit an essay through an audio clip. For me this really demonstrates the ability within the school to be innovative in a day and age when a lot of people don't write essays themselves. About 71% of all applicants actually completed the audio clip.
Most schools talk about applied research, but Anderson students must complete a research project which must now be globally focused. It gives them a real opportunity to get firsthand experience on how to run businesses by collaborating with companies around the world.