Does Sales Experience (Almost) Guarantee MBA Admission?

Bob's got an extremely impressive sales resume – what else do they need to get into business school?

It's Bob week! That means a new video EVERY WEEK DAY where Angela Guido coaches one of our lovely subscribers (who are all called Bob, weird!) on how they can get into business school.

We've given a lot of advice over the years, but how do you apply it to your MBA application? That's what our #mbabob series is all about!

Give it up for Bob!

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Prefer to read? Here’s the transcript:

Welcome, everyone, to MBA Monday! I am Angela Guido, the founder of Career Protocol and you have landed right in the middle of the Bob Project. We're talking to MBA aspirants and subscribers on our YouTube channel who want to make their MBA dreams come true and we're giving them mini MBA coaching sessions focused on whatever's most valuable to them as they seek to get into the schools of their dreams. If you want to be a Bob, you can apply here at careerprotocol.com/bob. While you're there, please sign up for my MBA 101 course. It's careerprotocol.com/mba101. It is the tightest, most compact course you can take on what really matters on the MBA journey in five moderately short lessons with downloads and bonus materials. We're covering all the biggest pieces of the application. It's a free course. Check it out, MBA 101. Without further ado, I want to introduce the one, the only, the fabulous Bob. Tell us about yourself, Bob.

Bob: Well, I graduated in 2019 from St. Joe's in Philadelphia with a degree in food marketing, so CBG has always been a really big part of my life. I worked at PepsiCo in a competitive four-year rotational program and then left to join KeHe, which is a natural foods distributor and a B Corp. So I'm looking to get an MBA to really do a half-and-half of advance my career, but also pivot more into marketing. Sales and marketing are sisters, not twins. So, a little bit of crossover, but I really want that MBA for that deeper, richer experience, as well as being exposed to a lot of other functions that right now I know I don't work well with. In sales, you will only go down that spiral into sales, getting better at sales, which is not really what I want to do.

Angela: Amazing. If there are any directors of admissions committees watching this video right now, they’re starting to drool, I think, over your personal introduction and your candidacy because there’s a couple of things that are really interesting about you. First of all, when I read your profile, I was like, food marketing? How is that a major? Amazing! First of all, amazing. So that was really cool. And then you've worked at one of the greatest CPG giants doing really interesting work. So your resume is a story of varied successes, as you say, in you're in your field of the sales, product placement, that whole customer relationship management, getting more juice on the target shelves, that whole thing. But that's interesting, interesting pre-MBA work because it's real, it's tangible, and it covers just a ton of skills that you can't develop outside of that real environment where your performance depends on if you actually close the deals. They teach sales, they teach negotiations, they teach that stuff in business school, but you can't learn that stuff in a classroom. You can really only learn it live. So the fact that you've had that training, you've had that experience, you're going to have so many interesting things to contribute to your classmates because of that experience. And it's always really cool, I think it's a lot easier to present yourself as a viable candidate when everyone knows the products or the services that you work with. It's like, we've all drunk that drink, so we know what you do. Yeah, it's actually very easy for you to show us the value you've added because everybody knows that world and we've all shopped in the stores where you get the product placed and all that. So that's super cool. And then I think the third thing that the adcomm is drooling over right now is just your very concise but clear and very self-aware description of why you want an MBA. So you're in the perfect spot. It's like, you've moved up, you've crushed it and you're good enough. Now I want to do something else and it's not that far, like you said, sisters, not twins. So it's like, I want to take a leap, but it's not a giant leap. It's kind of a small leap and I really do need the MBA to do it. By the way, the MBA really does facilitate exactly that kind of move. And so schools are just like “Let us get our hands on her!” because you're going to be successful. It's so obvious. Just taking one look at your resume, if you want to transition into CPG marketing, you're going to be on the short list of any CPG marketing job because you were trained in the in the Pepsi mines. You were trained in a place where it is pay for performance and up or out and she who does not survive does not make it to year two or year three or year four. And you made it. So thanks for that great introduction. A lot of strengths in your profile. So how can I help today? What do you want to talk about?

Bob: I think for me, well, I'm taking the GRE. Like I mentioned before, in sales, you get a lot of great soft skills. I'm thinking about that story and creating that compelling story of like, I do have a great foundation in these soft skills. What I'm missing is when I go to talk to finance, when I go to talk to business development and corporate strategy. I haven't worked with those at a really deep level to the point where I'm at a decision-maker status in sales. How do I flesh out that story a bit more realistically? I’m talking about how do I want to interact with these more quant heavy disciplines? And then on top of it, quant is not my strength. I am working through the GRE right now. That's what's dragging down my score. So I think those two things are the pain points right now in my application process.

Angela: Yeah, very good. Okay. So first of all, let me show Bob's executive summary slide here.

So Bob is applying to M7 MBA programs. Here's her summary of stats. So the test is pending, but strong GPA. This is your GPA, right? 3.8? So I'm guessing that food marketing isn't the most quantitative major, but I also bet there's some analytics in there because in 2019 marketing is all about pay-per-click and Facebook and Google, and that’s all analytical. That’s all mathematical, right?

Bob: Yes. And the business course. I've taken accounting, I've taken finance. It's all in the transcript.

Angela: Very good. Very good. So you're not in a terrible position to start with. So the test score terrorizes a lot of people, we'll talk about that in a minute. But you're starting with a strong foundation because this is a strong GPA. It's above average for most of the schools you're going to be targeting — all of them, probably — and again, you've had this career where, while not being super quantitative and analytical, really does prove grit. So grit is demonstrated grit — I'm going to say something that's going to seem controversial, but I'll talk you through it — demonstrated grit is a substitute for demonstrated intellect. Because if you just have a giant brain, you'll probably be able to use that to do most things, but if you're basically competent enough and basically smart enough and you're willing to work your butt off, you're probably going to go further than the person with the big brain if they're not also willing to work their butt off. This is not my concept. I recently read the book Grit, which I frankly didn't love. That's the story for another time. But it talks about this dichotomy and it's like, not wrong. Being willing to earn your place and to do the hard work will get you at least as far as intellect with less work, if not further. So when schools look at your test scores, and actually, let me just show you this slide here, your brain power profile is really a small fraction of what they're considering.

Everything else is significantly more important in the final calculus. So, when they look at someone like you who had a strong GPA, so the difference between the GPA and the GMAT is that the GMAT measures the compatibility of your intellect with the way the test is written. It doesn't measure your intellect. It measures the compatibility of the way your mind works with the test itself, which is not a bad predictor of how challenging you're going to find MBA programs. But it's also not, frankly, that good of a predictor. It's not that good of a predictor of whether or not someone's actually going to be successful in the business world. Not at all. So it's not even barely even helpful, frankly. I'm sure that the people in my class that have made the most impact, made the most money and risen the fastest had the lowest GMATs. I bet it's actually inversely correlated, to be honest. So somebody should research that. But getting a strong GPA is a measure of both intellect and grit, because no matter how smart you are, if you don't show up for class and do the work, you're not going to get a good GPA. So you've already got a strong GPA and you've got this career where you had to work hard and you had to achieve targets and you had to work under pressure. They're going to look at those two things and they're going to be like, “Screw the test score. This girl is going to be fine. She's obviously going to make it through our MBA program. She's obviously going to get a job. She's obviously going to be successful.”. So when they consider your test score, they're not really worried about your intellectual horsepower. So for you, the test score is less about you and more about their average. So that's the only thing, right? Now you've heard me say this probably, maybe, many times but it's better to have a GRE score if your test score is going to be below the average by a significant chunk. Most of your schools have a 730 roughly average GMAT. If you're going to be below a 700, you're probably better off having a GRE. That's just something to contemplate as you're continuing to tackle the test. From my perspective though, it's a box to check for you because you've already demonstrated that you have the intellect, the work ethic, and the ability to rise up in a challenging environment that demonstrates that you're prepared for an MBA program.

Bob: Awesome. I had heard other philosophies in terms of the test like, you just don't want to give them a reason to put you in the no pile. That you're only as strong as your weakest link and you don't want to give them that reason, that justification of “Well, we love her, we like her, but this is weaker than someone else who's pretty comparable.”.

Angela: Yeah. So that is also logical and not like usually the advice that people play back to me where I'm like “No, that's stupid. Don't listen to that person.”. This advice, on the other hand, this is advice that I would also give. It's like, you want to do as well as you can do on that test so that it's not a weakness in your profile. The reality of the matter is for many people it is a weakness when they submit their applications and they still get into top one, two, two, three, seven schools. So you can have one or more weaknesses and the test score in some ways it can be the most problematic weakness, but it can also be the least problematic weakness. And for a candidate like you, I think it will be on the least problematic side because your career is strong, you're a woman. We haven't even dug into your extracurricular life, but you have all kinds of amazing commitments to DEI, to various underrepresented groups, to community service, but also at work. And you have a social mission right now in the company that you're in, and I'm guessing in your future. So you're really showing a lot of dimension and diversity yourself as an applicant as well as being a strong applicant. Schools are not stupid. They're not going to reject a great candidate just because their test scores are a little bit weak. So the logic is correct, from now, given that we're having this conversation at a time when you still have room to improve that test score, by all means sprint, do your best, do the best you can do. But if you net out with a 680, that doesn't change the fact that you should still be applying them seven schools, then you just might need one or two more safety schools just in case. But I wouldn't alter your aim based on the test score in your case, in your case. In the case of some candidates, I would say you need to alter your aim, but not in your case. I don't think that the test score for you should alter your aim. Here's why, because in my whole career doing this job, I've only ever worked with, I want to say, one other person, maybe two other people who had a career trajectory like yours. So you're in an unusual category where it's like solid-ass business experience. This is not a nontraditional application. This is a hardcore business person in an important and underrepresented industry within the business school classroom. And you're a woman. So you got those components. You are not competing with very many other people.

Bob: Yes. When I was looking at industry breakdowns, it was like, okay, I'm not nontraditional, but I'm also not in finance, I'm not consulting. In the beginning of my business school journey, I was like “Oh, crap. Now the pool that I'm competing against of CPG people is so small.”, I had to be the best out of that pool. But I think I've come around to the philosophy. I'm feeling very galvanized by my background.

Angela: Yeah, it's exactly the opposite. You still need to be competitive, but it will be easier for you to be in the top whatever percentage of that pool than it would be if you were a management consultant because there's so many more of them. The other thing, this is something really to celebrate and also to highlight potentially in your essays, is most people who go to business school haven't ever done anything. They haven't ever driven an actual business outcome. They were on a team of people that built a deck that was presented to someone, or they built a model that they handed off to someone who was presented to someone. You have an actual P&L moving job. If you do your job better, the company is more successful. It's black and white, it's linear, it's input/output. That is what business is and it's not what most people are bringing to the table when they enter business school. So you're in a rare class. You're in a rare class of applicants. I expect you to do really well in this process. I expect you to do really well. I would expect you to get traction at all of the schools on your list. If you got into most of them, I would not be surprised. If you didn't get into any of them, I'd be absolutely shocked. And this is even with a weak test score, even with a 680. If you didn't get into any of Tuck, Yale, Harvard, Georgetown, Penn — you got a long list here — if you didn't get into any of those schools, even with a 680 GMAT, I'd be shocked. I'd be really shocked. It would mean that you had screwed up the application in some way, probably.

Bob: Hope that doesn't happen!

Angela: Yeah because you've got a really strong and interesting candidacy. There will be classroom discussions where you'll be able to add things that neither the professor nor any of your classmates will be able to add because they just haven't been in that a role.

Bob: I have been feeling so terrified over that. Sales is, to your point, it has input output, and in that sense, it's very simplistic. Also, salespeople a lot of times are not involved in deeper business development conversations and that work. So yeah, I was feeling very insecure about that like, okay, I can talk to CBG and I can talk to sales really well, but these inner workings, inner machinations of a company I really don't have that great of experience with.

Angela: Let me just read two of the bullets off of your resume, which need to be improved but still, people are going to get really intimidated by it. You all are competing with Bob. Here are two of Bob's bullets:

  • Threw the $100 million target account across all 10 plus juice brands with specific ownership, over $10 million ambient brand account in all 1,800 target stores.
  • Negotiated and maintained relationships with three buyers during fraud supply issues and company timing to drive 5 plus incremental skews in sets year to date.

Those bullets need some enhancement but anybody listening to that already can tell, like, that's a couple of things. It's results, right? But it's also not just sales. I know you're classifying yourself as sales, and that is not wrong, but there are a lot of different levels of sales and so this is like huge corporate account. I'm guessing you also, don't you go to Target stores and tell them “Put our juice here and not there.”. Isn't there also some distribution?

Bob: It's all negotiated at the top level. To your point, the way I was trained in sales at PepsiCo is a consultant-based sales approach.

Angela: We know your CEO. We know where she came from.

Bob: Yeah so, to your point, it is sales plus, I would say is my background.

Angela: It's sales plus, sales plus, sales plus. So there's a difference between convincing someone to buy something at a certain scale, so software sales, for example. Well, even software sales… Any time you're doing institutional sales, so you're not selling to an individual, you're selling to an organization. There's always a strategic component. You have to understand that company, their objectives, how does your product and what it does solve their problems. You need to build relationships with the people who work in those companies so there's also that component where it's like they want to give you their business more than they want to give it to those other guys. So there are a lot of layers to it. So, sales is an oversimplification of what you specifically are doing. And so, yeah, I wouldn't be down on it at all. It's truly an interesting background. It's relevant. We've worked with a lot of folks who come from sales in a lot of different contexts, and they always do well. It's not the most common MBA background function, but that's honestly because most of the people who do sales love it and don't want to give up the comp.

Bob: It's the spiral and I need to get out of it before I get sucked in. 110%.

Angela: There will be some point at which they will have bought you. You won't be willing to walk away from the comp. So I think you have every reason, really every reason to be confident in your candidacy and just give that test score the old college try, maybe two or three times if you need to. Like I said, the GRE would be better. If you think you're not going to do well in the test, the GRE is going to serve you better.

Bob: I am taking the GRE.

Angela: Perfect. You said that. I forgot. Sorry. I always default to the GMAT but good! You're taking the GRE. So you're already doing everything right. So you just do your best on the test, you submit your best score, and at some point you give up and then you move on to your applications. Then it's just really about showcasing your dynamic personality, your experiences, and how much you have to bring to the classroom through what you've gained in your career. And then, of course, there's your vision, your career game plan, why you want to make this move. But it's such a small move. It's like any CPG marketing shop is going to put you immediately to the top of their list because you work for the big dog, first of all. So that in the CPG world, there are brands that really mean something. You got one of those already on your resume. Then there's this experience, all of your bullet points are pretty hard hitting, impactful. So yeah, I don't know that I provided a lot of value today, but hopefully you're feeling more confident in yourself because you are pretty rare, interesting, strong candidate.

Bob: That is the boost of confidence I needed, Angela. It's like, you feel good about yourself, and then you compare yourself to a different environment, which is what business school is. Then you got to feel like, oh, well, woof, a little bit. But this was very heartening. I feel a lot more confident. I also love finding new ways to phrase things, which you gave me, which I love. So I think it was a great value add.

Angela: Awesome! Well listen, I'm really rooting for you, Bob. I think you have a lot to gain from business school and I can tell by the things that you do outside of the core of your main job that wherever you go, you're going to be influencing people positively around you. You're our favorite person to talk to and to work with because any investment in your success is an investment in the success of everyone around you. Super great to talk to you. I'm wishing you all the best. If you guys are also rooting for Bob to get into the school of her dreams, please leave a comment down below. And if you are sitting there now feeling intimidated yourself because of Bob's profile, don't do it, don't go there, don't be intimidated. Everyone has something to add to their class and all perspectives are valuable and needed. So, you just have to find the way to understand yourself and what you've done in a way that makes you confident and excited to bring that value to the MBA class you're applying to and to the rest of your career. This is really what we believe in Career Protocol. We don't filter our client base based on test scores or grades. We'll work with anyone. You could have the worst statistics. There's room for everyone. It's just as long as you care about something and you care about having a positive impact, you're going to find your way. So if you want to be a Bob, don't forget to go to careerprotocol.com/bob. You’ve got to be a subscriber first, though so scroll right down and subscribe. Hit the subscribe button and then don't forget about MBA 101. We put a lot of thought and love into that program to simplify as much as possible everything you need to know to focus on to get into the schools of your dreams. It's a free course and you can sign up here. Thanks everyone for tuning in. Don't forget to let Bob know you're rooting for her. And we'll see you next week on MBA Monday. Bye, Bob!

Bob: Bye!

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Angela Guido

Student of Human Nature| Founder and
Chief Education Officer of Career Protocol

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