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Our guest on Jan. 11, was Julia Tyler, director of the MBA program at London Business School (No. 2 on BW's 2000 Top 7 list of non-U.S. B-schools). Tyler has been at the school for six years. Before joining London Business School she was a senior consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers. Prior to that she was a member of the team that founded Britain's Open University Business School, which specializes in distance learning for adults. Julia has degrees from Oxford (BA, Honors, English) and the University of London (Education Management). Tyler was interviewed by BusinessWeek Online's Mica Schneider. Here are edited excerpts of their converstation:
Q: Julia, in January, Dean John Quelch announced his resignation. What will the impact be on the B-school?
A: It's sad that we're losing him, but the business school is more than its dean, so we'll be fine. To some extent there's always a bit of a pause until you've got a new chief executive, but we've got a very strong infrastructure in the school and very clear culture and clear priorities. Our governing body is starting a search [for a replacement].
Q: London's applications are up 25% this year. The more applicants that approach LBS, the pickier your office can be. One-third of London applicants made the cut in 2000. Which types of applicants won't make the cut that used to?
A: We will go through [applications] just as rigorously if not more rigorously [than in the past]. We're assuming that [people will self-select out of the process, so applicants will] be pretty bright. They're going to show that through their undergraduate GPA, their GMAT [scores], and their educational achievements.
[Applicants who aren't] in the upper quartiles might fall at the first hurdle. After that, we're looking for a mixture of internationalism and the [applicant's] potential. For some candidates, demonstrating that internationalism may be difficult.
Q: What is the school's ideal amount of international experience?
A: It's a subtle thing that we're looking for. If an applicant grew up in one country, and worked in another, it is likely that they are going to have had exposure to cross-cultural and international issues. They'll also have an interest in international affairs, and international business and management.
But it's not necessarily guaranteed. We're after people who can demonstrate [experience] through what they've done, the way that they think, and the way they express themselves that they've got an international outlook. Given the number of countries that we're recruiting from, many only just opened that potential for mobility. It's appropriate for us to have a more subtle definition [of being international], because one must consider the difficulty somebody from mainland China [could] have had [doing] any serious living or working outside of China.
Q: The school's last deadlines are in early March and May. March applications are too late for luck by U.S. standards. Does London really accept applicants in May?
A: It varies. We've got a limit on the number [of MBAs] that we can admit, but we try to make sure that we have a reasonable staggering of the offers. It's fair to say that you have a slightly diminished chance of getting an offer on that May deadline than you do in the earlier ones, because our acceptance rates certainly seem in the last few years to have increased quite dramatically. The best time to apply is up to that March.
Q: Interviews are by invitation only at London. What does the school want to find out about the applicant during the interview?
A: Like applying for a job, the first stage for the [job] applicant is getting an interview. The second stage is getting an offer.
2000 London Admission Profile
Applicants Accepted [Selectivity]
Applicants Admitted [Yield]
Number of Applicants
Work Exp. Avg.
Fin. Aid Deadline(s)
The process works like this. We'll do a review of the paper application first. We are looking to see whether the application meets our base criteria, for instance educational attainment, work experience, and the [applicant's] references. After the paper review, we'll decide whether or not to ask a candidate for interview. And at that point the interview will be following a checklist of characteristics that we've drawn up.
Q: Well, what characteristics is the B-school looking for?
A: We'll be asking questions around their international outlook, the way they think, how analytical they are, whether they're displaying some self reflection, and have had some of the experiences you would associate with future leaders. We also ask questions about their realism regarding their future career aspirations.
Q: What experiences show that an applicant would be a future leader?
A: One of the most important things is that [the applicant] can't just answer it tangentially. Self-knowledge is particularly important. That person has learned from mistakes that they've made. Somebody is actually aware of where they're strong and where they're not so strong. It [means that the applicant has], in a real way, been there, thought about that, and now has an awareness of their rough edges.
The application gives us a reasonably multidimensional cut on someone. And when we meet them at the interview, our interviewers follow through, and probe at where there may be inconsistencies.
Q: Is a long interview better than a short interview?
A: A good interview is the best, and they can be either [long or short]. That said, it's tough to establish knowing somebody in as thorough a way as we would like in much less than 30 or 40 minutes. And some of our interviews will go on longer than that.
Q: And the ones that only last 20 minutes...
A: Could be fantastic. But how many job interviews have you had that had just lasted 20 minutes and have you got the job? I would very much doubt that that would be a typical London Business School experience. If we are going to the trouble of interviewing somebody, which is a time-consuming and expensive process, we want to give the candidate a good opportunity to have a good showing. It's also a way for the applicant to find out more about the school.
Q: LBS asks its applicants to list the schools that they've applied to. What does that tell the admissions committee?
A: If we see a cluster of schools that have a similar standing and would have similar recruiters go to them, it gives us a high indication that this person is likely to have done their research about B-schools. This applicant is reasonably clear about the sort of school they want.
If [we] see a wide range of schools that have very different characteristics, then it may say that this person is actually not sure what they want or where they're going to fit [at a B-school].
Q: Choose one: What tells you the most about an applicant, the GMAT, the reference letters , or the essays?
A: Their essays tell us the most. Their essays and their resume profile.
Q: What does the school want to learn in the essays? Are there things that people write that are more appreciated by the admissions committee?
A: That's always a possibility. The thing that we're looking for most of all are honestly and realism. If somebody who has had relatively little [work] experience tries to indicate to us that they've made major strategic transformations in the business that they're in, we're perhaps unlikely to believe that unless they have some really hard facts to support their assertion.
On the other hand, we are happy to read about how a candidate would like to be making major strategic interventions in their organisation. They could explain why. And they could look at what they could do to make this sort of thing happen, given their current job. If they went on to say why London Business School would help them to achieve change in their business and in themselves, then so much the better.
What we're looking for most of all is business ambition tempered by honesty and realism...both about a candidate's experience and achievements. Don't exaggerate achievements or influence if you are a candidate.
[Editor's note: London asks applicants to write five essays:
1. Why do you want to do an MBA at London Business School at this point in your life? What will you do if you are not offered a place on the London Business School MBA or any other MBA?
2. Why did you choose your current job? What do you find most fulfilling and most frustrating and what would you change? How do you hope to see your career progress over the five years following the MBA program?
3. Ask three people to describe your strengths and weaknesses: a personal friend, a professional colleague, and another person of your choice. How did they describe you, what were their reasons, and what are your reactions?
4. Describe a situation, either professional or personal, where you faced a particular difficulty. What was the outcome, what did you learn from the experience, and what would you do differently if faced with a similar situation again?
5. It is the year 2010 and you have been invited to give a keynote speech, showcasing your career development since graduating from London Business School. Who have you been invited by, what is the occasion, and what are the key points in your speech?]
Q: Where does the Graduate Management Admissions Test come into the school's evaluation of a candidate?
A: The GMAT gives us a common denominator across all of the applications. It's an important factor in the sense that if somebody had an extremely poor GMAT, then they're unlikely to get to first base [in our admissions process]. After that, the score really isn't a factor. A stellar score, however, won't guarantee you a place.
I guess all this begs the question, what's a poor score? Well, our average is 690 this year. It follows that you don't have to be spot on 690 as this is an average, but it helps to be near it. Our range for the current first year [MBA class] is 600 to 800.
Q: First base in a country that focuses on football, not baseball? How many bases are there in London's admissions process?
A: As an applicant, your first hurdle is to get through that review of your paper application. If you then get [invited] to interview, you have a probably a one in three chance of getting an offer. After the interview, we will pull together the comments from the interviewer, the comments from the people who have reviewed the paper application, and our admissions group will make a decision based on that information.
Occasionally, if there's some inconsistency or some concern at that stage, and we've not done it earlier, we may also contact the referee.
Q: For all those people who thought they could fudge a reference...
A: No, not a good idea. From time to time, we [catch people].
Q: What's the ideal reference for a LBS MBA application?
A: I read a reference this morning that I thought was particularly good. The referee had established very clearly their relation with the [applicant]. About once a week for the last two years the [reference] had had professional interaction with this candidate. They then talked about the nature of that interaction and what the candidate had done, followed by how well they thought the applicant had done it. It happened that this referee was an MBA and was able to relate that to their understanding of what that candidate would bring and what they'd get out of it.
It was clear that the referee had a sense of the pressures and the nature of the experience in a business school, and had assessed the candidate with that in mind.
Q: If an applicant is debating between one manager and another colleague, and one has an MBA, should the applicant aim for that co-worker?
A: I suppose it could help. The important thing, obviously, is that you should not pick a referee who's likely to say something horrid about you. That would tell us a lot, and it would tell us that the candidate had little judgment.
Q: London employs a wait-list. How often does the school call on the list to accept applicants into the class?
A: We only offer people a wait-list place if we are fully confident that the applicant is someone we would like to have at London Business School. If a candidate is offered a wait-list place, we will call on them as necessary to reach our maximum number in that year. They are, however, automatically therefore offered a place in the following year's class.
Q: Finally, how does the school judge re-applicants -- people who were dinged one year and apply in the next?
A: We try to make it clear to applicants in a letter if they have not succeeded whether a further application would be a good use of their time or not. Mica Schneider