A second-year MBA candidate at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, Adam Miller has found a way to use his own experience and that of others to help prospective MBA students.
Through his podcast The MBA Candidate, the Consortium fellow explores why so many people quit their jobs to go to business school. His guests are full-time MBA students at the nation’s top 25 MBA programs — Consortium programs and others — and include candidates across every major industry, from tech to finance to consulting.
“The goal of the show is to dispel of the myth that you have to have a 740 GMAT or a 3.8 GPA in order to get into a top-tier business school,” says Miller, who grew up in Milwaukee, Wis., and graduated from Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., with a degree in economics.
Miller recently sat down with us to discuss his journey from MBA applicant to successful podcast founder and shared some unique insights for other MBA hopefuls.
Tell me a little about where your interest in business and your desire to help others stems from. How have the two merged?
After graduating from college, I spent five years at an organization in Minnesota called Thrivent Financial, which is both a Fortune 500 and a nonprofit.
In my first job there, I worked in their innovation group, nudging our customers to give away their own money. When my department went through a reorganization, I had to find a new role. Fortunately, I landed in their internal strategy team — where everyone had an MBA except for me. A lot of those folks became my mentors and encouraged me to think about business school.
During that time, I realized I wanted to be closer to seeing the impact I could have. I accomplished this by moving over to HR in my third — and final — rotation, where I helped the company build out their diversity and inclusion practice. I personally helped start two employee resource groups, facilitated dozens of cultural competency sessions, managed the workforce engagement survey and reshaped their performance management philosophy. So, coming into Darden, I thought I wanted to work in HR because I really liked helping people. But I also began to realize that there were a lot of other ways to do that.
I was lucky enough this past summer to intern at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, and then just last week, I signed an offer to join the American Red Cross full time starting in July.
What will you be doing at the Red Cross?
I’ll be in their leadership development program for three years. The program gives recent graduate students exposure to the amazing work the Red Cross does. I’m super excited that my first rotation will be in their blood donation division because I’ll get the opportunity to apply the knowledge I gained at Darden related to operations, ethics, marketing and finance.
Once you decided you wanted to get an MBA, how did you get connected with The Consortium?
As I was starting to figure out which schools I wanted to apply to, I came up with the idea of reaching out to alumni from undergrad who had gone to or were currently in business school. I also looked at different schools’ websites and reached out to various campus ambassadors. The first person I messaged happened to be a guy at the University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business. He immediately messaged me back and said he could talk right then if I wanted to hop on the phone.
We talked for what must have been 90 minutes. He answered tons of questions that I didn’t even realize I had. Most importantly, he told me about The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, including the Orientation Program & Career Forum, the scholarship opportunities and the fact that you can apply to several schools at once for a reduced fee. That was extremely helpful because when applications opened the following month, I was ready to hit the ground running.
Now it looks like the tables have turned, and you’re the one who is acting as a resource for others.
Yeah, I ended up talking to nearly 50 different people at the schools I applied to — more than necessary now that I think about it! At the end of my conversations, I would always say, “Hey, I’m really excited to help you in some way. How can I repay the favor?” Most people would respond with, “All you have to do is pay it forward to the next wave of people coming up behind you.”
That stuck with me and was the main reason I created the podcast. It’s been incredibly cool to see some of the same people who I helped last year walking around Darden now, and other folks updating their LinkedIn profiles to show which school they’re at.
What inspired you to start the podcast when you did?
Going through the circuit of business school diversity weekends allowed me to meet other individuals who were applying, and I realized that a lot of them did not have traditional backgrounds, but they did have fascinating journeys. Sure, they didn’t all have top scores on the GMAT or attend an Ivy League school, but they did have inspiring experiences worth sharing.
That’s the reason I decided to try telling their stories. Oftentimes, people with [nontraditional] backgrounds doubt themselves.
After I left my job at Thrivent, I had a couple months off before school started, so I began playing around with the idea of doing a podcast. I had just learned a ton about how to get into business school — information that, once you get in, isn’t very useful to you anymore but that plenty of other folks are interested in. I thought to myself, “Well, I know a bunch of people through The Consortium and Management Leadership of Tomorrow; why don’t I reach out to them to share their advice?”
Who is the target audience? What do you try to provide them through the podcast?
The target audience is anyone who’s applying to business school. If you want to learn more about what it’s like to be an MBA candidate, and you’re currently studying for the GMAT or writing your essays, this is the perfect show for you. The [hope] is that these stories will help you figure out if business school is the right next step in your career and, if so, which programs might be the best fit for you.
What do you talk about with your guests?
The way I structure the show is by starting off with questions like “what were you like as a kid?” and “tell me about your family.” Then, we move on to discussing their journey from childhood to where they are now and why business school is going to help them achieve their dreams.
Most of the interviews get very personal. Mental health comes up a lot, as well as discrimination and general feelings of inadequacy; there’s really no topic that hasn’t surfaced on the show. I think the conversations go so deep because when you put a mic in front of passionate people, they tend to share what’s truly on their minds and in their hearts.
What have you enjoyed most about doing the podcast?
The reason I’ve continued to do it over the past two years — way beyond the point of insane busyness at Darden — is because so many people have reached out to say, “Hey, I love the show. I’ve been a listener since the beginning, and I’m wondering when you’re putting out the next episode.” I probably get an average of at least one random LinkedIn message every week.
Have you learned anything about yourself in the process?
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is just how much energy I get out of mentoring others — whether it’s in a formal leadership position or not. Knowing this now, I want mentoring to be a significant aspect of my future career.
What is one of the most popular episodes or your personal favorite?
Episode No. 5 is about a gentleman at the Tuck School of Business who is Native American. He was 35 years old going into Dartmouth, and both of his parents had recently passed away. He’s suffered from health issues and didn’t graduate from college until he was 28. He ended up managing all of the money for his tribe in Oklahoma, so his goal is to go into wealth management to do a better job of growing their assets in the long run. That’s the episode where a lot of listeners end up crying.
What’s the best advice you would offer people who are considering or are in the process of applying to business school?
The thing I did that made a huge difference was reaching out to current students and recent alumni from the programs I was interested in. Most of the schools look very similar if you only look at their websites or the rankings. However, when I heard anecdotes about these unique communities, that’s what helped me figure out where I wanted to go and why I was putting myself through all of this in the first place.
What are your plans for the podcast going forward?
I think I want to produce a second season. The plan would be to follow up with some of my previous guests to get an update about how their job search has gone, what their favorite classes have been and if they have any regrets now that they’re almost into the second half of their two-year experience.
Long term, I’d love to have someone who listens to the show reach out to me about taking it over. Once I graduate from Darden, I know I’ll soon be too far removed from the application process to give relevant advice anymore.
You can listen to The MBA Candidate podcast on iTunes.