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Niki da Silva, director of MBA admissions at UofT’s Rotman: ‘All the [essay] answers are starting to sound the same,’ prompting the school to try video segments.

The Globe's weekly Business School news roundup.

Pity the MBA admission officials who have to sift through hundreds of applications, some parroting the B-school website, to find the most desirable candidates.

In their search for authenticity, two Canadian business schools are piloting a video "essay" as part of the online application for the class of 2013. The University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management and the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business are using different formats to achieve the same end.

At Rotman, the video segment replaces two of four written essays. In the online application, candidates are guided to a website where, after a practice round, they answer two types of questions – one for all applicants and another selected at random – designed to reveal something relevant about their personality.

The general question might ask "how would your co-workers describe you?" with applicants given 60 seconds to compose their thoughts and up to 90 seconds for a reply. A second question, selected at random, might ask candidates to identify an influential figure in their lives, and why, with the same time to consider and provide a response. The format gives candidates one shot at a reply, just as in a personal interview.

"Candidates will be able to say earlier in the process 'this is what makes me tick, these are my passions and this is who I am,'" says Niki da Silva, director of recruitment and admissions for Rotman's full-time MBA program.

The impetus for adding the video segment came earlier this year when Rotman took a hard look at its "essay-heavy" application process. "The feedback from the recruiting team was that all the answers are starting to sound the same, including what we say on the website," says Ms. da Silva. "We are not getting authentic answers."

She describes the video segment as much like a 'first date' with getting-to-know-you type questions. The focus, she adds, is on what candidates say about themselves. "The MBA process is already so introspective that they [candidates] have thought about who they are and why they are pursuing an MBA."

Ms. da Silva expects the video segment to become a permanent part of the admission process but says it "will not be a deal-breaker" for this year's candidates.

In contrast to Rotman, recruitment officials at Sauder opted for an open-ended video essay. Candidates produce their own 60-90 second video and upload it to Youtube or Vimeo, with their response to the question "what motivates you, and why?" The video replaces one of three essays required by Sauder.

The format is designed to "allow people to express themselves," says Assistant Dean & Director of MBA and ECM programs, Wendy Ma, noting that creativity is one component of the school's MBA curriculum revamped this year. She adds, "To find and educate the leaders of tomorrow, we are looking for individuals who have a way of communicating professionally and clearly and are really trying to connect and engage with an audience."

So far, the early reviews on videos submitted to Sauder are positive. "People have really embraced the concept of trying to engage the audience," says Ms. Ma.

Building named

The family of Ned Goodman, a long-time investment counsellor and business leader and chancellor of Brock University, has made a "transformational" donation (for an undisclosed sum) to the university's faculty of business school that now bears the Goodman name. The donation, which covers all aspects of the school's activities, aims to accelerate plans for a new building, add research chairs and student scholarships, expand academic programming and strengthen relations with the local business community.

"We want to go from good to great," says Brock president Jack Lightstone. "The Goodman family realizes we have the potential to do that and through their gift they can accelerate that process."

At the top of the university's capital projects list is a 70,000-square-foot building for the business school, to be located adjacent to the university's new bioscience research complex and business incubator.

"We want a lot of strong interaction effects," says the president. Pending approvals from the Ontario government, construction could begin as early as next year.

Additional research chairs, to be held on a rotating basis, would aid in faculty recruitment and retention. "We will use the chairs to target certain areas at certain times and to target certain individuals at certain times, when it makes the absolute critical sense to do that," says the president.

Given its location in Ontario's Niagara region – a one-time industrial centre trying to reinvent itself – the university and business school expects to play a role in economic development. The region, says Prof. Lightstone, "needs to go through a transition to an innovation economy founded increasingly on small- and medium-size enterprises and entrepreneurship.

"That is a direction our business school is also going in and that this gift [from the Goodman family] will help accelerate."

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