Getting into Haas: No One Is a "Perfect Package"

Pete Johnson and Jett Pihakis, who head Berkeley's MBA admissions, say it's better for applicants to be self-aware than claim no weaknesses

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Pete Johnson and Jett Pihakis are co-directors of MBA admissions at the University of California at Berkeley's Haas School of Business (No. 13 on BusinessWeek's current B-school rankings). Johnson manages international MBA admissions, and Pihakis handles domestic applications. They recently spoke with BW Online's Mica Schneider. Here are edited excerpts from their conversation:

Q: How has the leadership at the school changed since Laura D'Andrea Tyson left for London Business School?


The Haas school in general, and our office, was very fond of Laura. [The new dean,] Tom Campbell, has brought a number of positive things to the school, as well. One of the things he has emphasized is making himself available to students. He has a town hall meeting every month. He has breakfast with small groups of students every morning, and he went on the road with us to our admission events.

Pihakis: Students are thrilled with his hands-on approach. It has helped him keep a finger on the pulse of the school.

Q: What are some common pitfalls applicants should avoid?


A lot of applicants spend a lot of time trying to tell us what they think we want to hear, something they feel will impress us. By doing that, they deliver the same answer that several hundred other applicants deliver.

Johnson: Another pitfall, in the opposite direction, is that we see a number of people describe their work history and assume that we know what they've accomplished and the significance of their job title. For instance, they say, "I'm a consultant at Bain." They don't give us details about their progression. We want to compare such people to their peers.

Pihakis: We see that often. They list their current title and don't let you know what other positions they've had. We have a second-year woman who began her career as a middle-school math teacher, then decided to become an investment banker. She became a receptionist [at a firm], three months later she transitioned to an analyst's role, and then into an associate's role. It was so much more impressive that she made that transition. Even if you're not proud of a title you've had, you'd be surprised how describing each step can benefit you.

Johnson: Also avoid unexplained gaps in career progression: We assume the worst.

Pihakis: Another pitfall is being dishonest in representing your work experience. Last year, our in-house staff checked 100% of the people we planned to admit. This year, we've contracted with an external vendor to check the facts after they're admitted but prior to their enrollment.

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