[Re]-Apply Yourself

After talking to many prospective students in the past year and seeing friends of mine consider Sloan and other business schools as the next step in their career paths, I often think, “Phew, I’m glad that’s all over.” But between this thought and the frequent ask from peers about how to position their applications, I got to thinking–what if I had to apply all over again? Or reapply to earn my place in the Class of 2016 between first year and second year?

So in the spirit of solidarity with this year’s applicant class, reflection on my summer internship, and of new beginnings in a new school year, this is what I’d say in my 500 words. It’s hard to say what Admissions would do with this “re-application” but in speaking authentically, seeking to showcase something that couldn’t be directly interpreted from my resume, I’d hope they’d let me in all over again.

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Tell us about a recent success you had: How did you accomplish this? Who else was involved? What hurdles did you encounter? What type of impact did this have? (500 words or fewer).

Most people come into their first day of work at an entry level ready to input data into spreadsheets or, in my case at a beauty company, fetch coffees for well-/high- heeled executives looking like something out of ‘The Devil Wears Prada.” As things turned out, on my first day on the job, learning to master a “cat eye” would be the least of my challenges: I’d be spending the summer saving an idea from the chopping block.

My manager told me to pick a line off an Excel of abandoned projects for our under-resourced team. Selfishly, I went for the one involving the beauty issue I suffered from the most, figuring if nothing else I’d be able to add a new trick to my regimen within three months. The more I researched, the more I discovered that the problems I faced were not unique to me and that this project could do more for the company than tap into new business — it could solve a problem frustrating millions of women. Motivated by the possibility, I became determined to move this project off the spreadsheet and into stores.

I started by analyzing customer need and exhaustively scoping the competitive landscape, lining up the findings and illuminating the company’s potential financial opportunity for the next five years. But lacking a favorable budget and significant expertise, I knew the strategic analysis wouldn’t be enough: the only way to push this through was by finding partners to support the effort. I aggressively asked my manager for every name of anyone who might care–or at least be curious–about the project. I connected with colleagues from various functions over cold emails and hot coffees, drawing on their diverse experiences and access to data to build my case. I asked their perspective in helping me check the inevitable “blind spots” in my research of things or people I had yet to consider.

Finally, I felt confident that I had found a way to combine everything I had learned from everyone I had met into a cohesive narrative. On the day I assembled the senior stakeholders into the room to present my recommendations and field their questions, I was bringing the insights of at least fifty others along with me.

The coming days were met with emails saying I had “gotten people thinking.” When the time for budgets came, I had changed their minds: my project made it above the line and my team would receive the resources to see it through.

One success was rescuing an idea left for dead. Another, moving the gears of the organizational machine. The biggest success was bringing people together. I started my project with a problem I thought I suffered alone and would have to solve alone. I ended my project leading a tribe, leaving my role assured that the community I had created would champion my work within the company and–assuming no delays on the roadmap–would soon help millions of women feel a little more beautiful.

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I’m often asked for advice on how applicants should position themselves to their desired programs, and preface every answer with, “I’m not affiliated with Admissions. I just like writing on the blog and being a resource to others.”

Still, when asked, the best advice I can give is this: Apply yourself. Apply your self. Because being yourself is your best shot at ending up at the place that you belong. Butchering the words of Woody Allen, “You wouldn’t want to be part of a club that wouldn’t want you as a member.”

To all prospectives, I wish you the best of luck in finishing up Round One applications. Wherever your process takes you, I hope you find the place you can call home.

Hoping it’s here with me under the Dome,

Erica

My MBA cohort, live from the scene of this summer success story

My MBA cohort, live from the scene of this summer success story

Originally published at mitsloan.mit.edu on August 31, 2015.