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“Free 30-minute consultation” — Expert insights or sales pitch?

March 12 2015 By The MBA Exchange
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6 key questions for serious MBA applicants to consider before making the call

They’re everywhere these days. “Offers of a “Free 30-Minute Consultation” are so tempting. The chance to speak 1-on-1 with a real, live MBA admissions consultant for half an hour about any topic, to ask any questions, to probe for insider info seems too good to be true. And, unfortunately, it usually is.

If you’re a serious candidate who’s shopping for a truly professional admissions consultant, here are 6 questions from The MBA Exchange that you should consider before you make that call.

1. What’s my true objective — free advice or ethical expertise?
Can you craft a successful admissions campaign by piecing together a series of free consultations with various consultants? Highly unlikely. Yet, many applicants each year try to do just that. Rather than a tactical conversation about “How should I do X?”, this dialogue should be more strategic, focused on which strengths to leverage and which weaknesses to mitigate in order to produce an authentic candidacy that resonates with the adcoms. Top down, not bottom up! And be wary of quick answers and specific advice from a consultant who does not yet know your complete background and goals.

2. How much do they know about my background and goals?
When inviting you to call, some firms ask you to submit answers to a few basic questions, others ask nothing beyond your contact info. Without providing the firm with a complete picture of your background and goals — and allowing them time for several experts to evaluate it — the answers and advice you hear during the phone conversation will be vague and risky at best. The more data a firm requests from you in advance, the more insightful the conversation will be.

3. Who will be advising me?
With little or no prior information about your candidacy, how can a firm choose the most appropriate and knowledgeable representative to speak with you? Is it just someone in the office who happens to be “available” at that time? And will you be expected to accept that particular match if you decide to work with the firm? It’s probably best for you to speak first with the CEO or Managing Director. A thoughtful, thorough and collaborative process for pairing you with the very best consultant is essential.

4. Will I be informed or “pitched”?
Every company needs to sell in order to survive and grow. That’s how business works, right? And there are some pretty amazing salespeople in the admissions consulting industry. So, before you expose yourself to a sales presentation, it’s wise to first get their written assessment of your candidacy — strengths and weaknesses — and their feedback on your current list of target schools. That way, the subsequent phone conversation will have context and clarity.

5. Can they accommodate your timing?
Depending on your geographic location and work schedule, there are only certain days and times when you’ll be available to talk. This is true for the “free consultation” but even more important for your actual admissions campaign. So, be sure that the firm has the coverage and flexibility to accommodate your preferred timing, now and throughout your engagement. As the most global provider of all MBA admissions consulting services (i.e., 11 countries across 4 continents) we make it easy for our prospects and clients worldwide to schedule conversations with us.

6. How accurate and reliable is the advice?
Verbal feedback vanishes into thin air as soon as the words are uttered. It’s easy to answer a question or offer a suggestion on the fly. But when you receive an evaluation it in writing before you talk, there’s accountability behind the observations that will make the subsequent conversation and future consultation more valuable and enduring for you.

So, if those 6 questions give you cause to pause before rushing into a “free 30-minute consultation,” then start with a free, expert evaluation — in writing. Yes, that takes more time and thought by you and the consulting firm. But the incremental value to your MBA candidacy will be substantial.

Evaluation first, THEN conversation!