Why I Coach—Tony Zhao

Tony Z., an expert Leland coach, Booth MBA, and Bain Consultant, outlines why he chooses to coach and what it means to him.

Posted August 22, 2022

The two greatest gifts my dad gave me are resourcefulness and grit. When I was navigating the college application process, these traits pulled through as I pretty much had to figure it all out on my own. My process was not unusual among my high school peers, most of whom came from working-class immigrant households just like mine. Thus, when I arrived at Dartmouth College in the fall of 2010, I was in for a huge culture shock.

I felt like I was in a foreign country with a set of unspoken rules and a language I didn’t fully understand. It was the first time in my life I couldn’t just figure something out by myself. Not only that, I lacked the network and support structure to figure things out quickly. I floundered through the first couple of years of school. While I took pre-med classes to appease my dad, I also followed the herd applying to finance internships, even though I wasn’t that interested in it and couldn’t tell an investment banker apart from a trader.

After struggling and feeling lost, I only found my footing when I found three key mentors: an upperclassman in my fraternity and two work supervisors from my internships. The best things they did for me were encourage me to ask myself the tough questions that dug deep into what I truly wanted and provide input on how I could get there. They reviewed my resume, helped me land interviews, and advised me on major job decisions, ultimately allowing me to make the successful transition from an engineer to a business career. I will be forever grateful for them.

Fast forward to the business school application journey. Once again, it took a super team of friends and colleagues to help me manage the process of telling my non-traditional story to the admissions committee. When my narrative was too surface level and disjointed, they pushed me to do an in-depth analysis of the reasons behind my actions and to connect my story. When I needed help with behavioral interviews, they offered mock interviews and detailed feedback.

Grit and resourcefulness can only get us so far alone. My path has made it clear to me that we must put our best foot forward, and then receive refining help from those who have once been in our shoes. Because of the investment mentors have continuously made in me, I coach so I can pay it forward to others. In addition to seeking out management opportunities at work, I’ve coached people ranging from high school students entering college to business school students recruiting for top-tier consulting firms. These relationships have provided some of the most fulfilling experiences of my life and have reminded me time and time again of the power and importance of bringing others up.

I believe the most meaningful thing someone can do is to empower others to reach their potential. The MBA admissions process is both complex and deeply personal. A successful admittance to a top business school can be an inflection point that unlocks dreams. Leland is making the admissions coaching space more accessible. I am excited to join on that journey to level the playing field by helping candidates from non-traditional, diverse backgrounds dream big, navigate the process, and craft narratives that shine in their written applications and interviews.

Interested in working together on your MBA application? Click here for my Leland coaching profile.

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