Many of us fantasize about the day we’ll finally get into business school. We daydream in anticipation of the good news. Of that magical ring on your I-phone or G1. Of the thrill of seeing an incoming call with an area code that couldn’t be anyone else but the school. Of the excitement you feel when the Dean congratulates you on an application well done. For some, it’s finally a way to scale the career ladder. For others it allows a leap of faith to a new field or validation of success in your career. No matter where you fit, it feels good to get the call. But what do you do if you don’t get that call?
For anyone experiencing this, I suspect that the answer is not easy and that it’s rarely the same. This is especially true if you’ve interviewed at the program and thought you submitted a flawless application. So what now? Do you accept a seat at your safety school? Do you scramble to apply in the next round? Do you stick it out another year at work, in a job you were quite happy to be leaving? And what about this year, where for many, making it for another twelve months isn’t guaranteed? or isn’t even an option?
Over the last 72 hours, I’ve gotten a number of emails, IMs, and calls from friends regarding this very topic. Some of the calls were filled with good news, others were not admitted, and another group of applicants have been placed on the waitlist. For many of these folks, Kellogg and Booth have stolen the spotlight, as both schools are currently at the height of decision season. Kellogg has been dishing out decisions over the past week or two, and Booth sent most of its letters out just today.
I’ve been thinking a bit about those who are thinking about what to do next. I suspect that many of you, those who are more seasoned, will pick up the pieces more quickly. You know yourselves and are used to adapting along the way. But for others, likely a larger part of the population, perhaps things are a bit less certain. Unfortunately, I’m not writing this post with any magic formulas. After all, there aren’t many words to cheer up an applicant after a year’s worth of hard work feels for naught. But I’m writing to facilitate discussion about the issue, share a few thoughts, and also share a few resources I’ve come across.
And while inspiring words in emotional times can often empower us to leap tall buildings in a single bound, in this case. most people who’ve contacted me were in search of something more practical. Some advice to help them unpack the unsettling moment. Or perhaps help making a decision for the future. In one example, a friend only got into a safety school but also don’t have bright prospects at work, so they aren’t sure what to decide. In a second example, where a highly accomplished friend did not get into the two schools he applied to. In a third example, I’m planning to chat with someone tomorrow afternoon. This applicant was placed on a waitlist and recently sent me a note to enlist my ideas.
My general piece of advice, is don’t let the situation get you down. Admissions can seem like a black box and many decisions may not make sense to the applicant, as decisions are made holistically and are relative to the rest of the applications and profiles in the class, all things you can’t see. So in many cases you can’t point to a single part of the application that kept you out. And waitlist wise, it’s an even bigger toss up. Perhaps it’s as simple as too many people from your employer or industry applied? Conversely, I personally tend to empathize with those with black marks on their resumes. That scenario can be a tough, not only because it’s hard to overcome, but also because it’s ambiguous to navigate along the way. Best of luck if you’re in this situation.
No matter where you fit, below, I’ve pointed out a couple of web posts that I found interesting. Some are more practical. Others less practical. And all of them a subtle reminder to do your best to bounce back, maintain focus, and figure out what’s next. The first four are blog posts from HBR and the last is a longer article from WSJ.
1. Learning To Deal With Rejection: Last fall, I read a blog post from leadership expert Marshall Goldsmith about dealing with rejection. In one part Goldsmith said “I rarely encounter self-confidence problems in my work with CEOs and potential CEOs. It is almost impossible to make it to the top level in a multi-billion-dollar corporation if you do not believe in yourself.” On the other hand, he also talks about up-and-coming leaders like students, and says “I am frequently asked to speak at business schools about the topic, and I have noticed that students in my seminars often want to talk about it.” Marshall goes on to give pretty good advice about not being perfect and taking the next steps. (Click here)
2. Bouncing Back From Career Setbacks: A year earlier, Goldsmith wrote a similar post, as the economy just began to hit take a few hits. He mentions that “Bill Gates relishes the lessons of failure so much that he purposefully hires people who have failed” and also talks about how to avoid dwelling on situations. (Click here)
3. There’s Value In Not Winning: More recently, I read a blog post from HBS leadership expert Rosabeth Moss Kanter. Here, she discusses the idea of having big winning streaks and the value of finally not winning. Her article revolves around Toyota, but it’s an inspiring piece that discusses motivation and humility after failure. (Click here)
4. Find A New Way To Get There: Just one week after, Kanter wrote a different post about making change in hard times. She says “A wise mentor once explained his strategy for getting things done when faced with an impregnable organizational fortress. He likened it to a medieval castle that doesn’t want you inside and doesn’t want change.” Though she compares the castle to a career, I thought about the castle like business school as I read. The moral of her story is to take action and to think about alternative plans. (Click here)
5. Success Can Follow College Rejection: And last but not least is a more typical article. Written in the Wall Street Journal, this article points out how common it is to be disappointed with school decisions. And that anyone who gets a rejection letter is in pretty good company, joining the ranks of Nobel laureates, billionaires, philanthropists, presidents, and other business, law, and political leaders. As you might suspect, the article highlights Warren Buffet’s rejection form HBS and how that changed his life … for the better. (Click here)
Whether or not you like the articles above, their main takeaway is good. That rejection, whether from a school or another part of your life, isn’t uncommon and sometimes, it’s not even your fault. So the best idea is to use times of rejection as opportunities to learn. And for a small number, these opportunities can even become defining moments which teach you about yourself and help you to assess your strengths and weaknesses as a leader.
That’s because the best leaders not only do well in good times, but they also thrive in hard times. Whether titans of industry or super-leaders in the community, they learn to cope with disappointment and become comfortable with failure, understanding that you can win at everything and that it’s important to learn from experience. And over time, they develop the ability not only to navigate challenging experiences but also the ability to leverage those experiences to gain motivation and expertise to accomplish more than they could have ever done before.
Best of luck everyone in making your next decisions.