How to ace the GMAT in 28 days: Day 15 (result: 700)

ALmost back on track: 700/800. Should have hit 710 today to be fully on track. But from here on in it’s going to get really hard. 107 practice questions, with raw scores of 51/55V and 42/52Q, correcting to 50 and 40 for a total corrected raw score of 90. Here are the essays…

ANALYSIS OF AN ISSUE

Directions: In this section, you will need to analyze the issue presented below and explain your views on it. The question has no “correct” answer. Instead, you should consider various perspectives as you develop your own position on the issue. Read the statement and the instructions that follow it, and then make any notes in your test booklet that will help you plan your response.

“Employees should keep their private lives and personal activities as separate as possible from the workplace.”

Discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the opinion stated above. Support your views with reasons and/or examples from your own experience, observations, or reading.

Every boss must have moments where he wishes his employees were faceless robots with no existence beyond the cubicle wall. They’d be easier to deal with. But the tasks of real business – messy, ill-defined, nuanced – need human skills. That’s why I disagree with the opinion above: the most effective companies are staffed by real people with real lives, and if you want an effective business, you need to take the messiness of real people into account.

To take one example, Internet search engine Google has staff laundries, an onsite medical clinic, play areas and free food for its staff. By making such ‘non-work’ facilities available at the office, it’s explicitly recognising that it can get the best out of its people by letting them bring their home lives into the office. As a result Google, along with many companies in Silicon Valley, is widely regarded as a buzzy and vibrant place to work: each of its employees contributes, on average, over $1m to the bottom line.

Conversely, look at any organisation that tries to deny the realities of human life. Banning personal relationships between employees, infantilising adults with speech codes and behaviour guides, trying to drive a wedge between the working day and the rest of life with endless red tape and rules. The best example comes easily to mind: any government office. And government offices, as anyone who deals regularly with one knows, tend to be staffed by unhelpful, one-dimensional, more-than-my-jobs-worth worker drones. By denying people lives, they attract employees who have no lives. Organisations that deny there’s a life beyond 6pm are unhappy, dysfunctional places.

By recognising that people have private lives, full of ideas and dreams, any manager will find that the hardest job of all – finding great people – becomes easier. Because with this understanding he can attract talent from a deep and varied pool. People who aren’t willing to check their private lives at the office door have ambition and drive and intellect, valuable qualities to any employer. And by letting them bring those lives into work – at least partially – they’ll start to treat the company as part of their lives, too. And people who share that sense of ownership are the best employees any manager can have.

FAULTS: Whew, harder than it looks: such an interesting and emotive topic brings the problem of too many ideas, so I was struggling to pare them down to the few points I could make in 30 minutes. And argh! That ‘and government offices’ in the third para; why is the ‘and’ there? And there’s And there again, starting the last two sentences of the last para! I think this is a great essay; but if I’d only had one more minute to tidy up that last bit. I’ll score myself a 5.

ANALYSIS OF AN ARGUMENT

Directions: In this section, you will be asked to write a critique of the argument presented below. You are NOT being asked to present your own views on the subject. Read the argument and the instructions that follow it, and then make any notes in your test booklet that will help you plan your response.

The following appeared as part of a recommendation by one of the directors of the Beta Company.

“The Alpha Company has just reduced its workforce by laying off fifteen percent of its employees in all divisions and at all levels, and it is encouraging early retirement for other employees. As you know, the Beta Company manufactures some products similar to Alpha’s, but our profits have fallen over the last few years. To improve Beta’s competitive position, we should try to hire a significant number of Alpha’s former workers, since these experienced workers can provide valuable information about Alpha’s successful methods, will require little training, and will be particularly motivated to compete against Alpha.”

Discuss how well reasoned you find this argument. In your discussion be sure to analyze the line of reasoning and the use of evidence in the argument. For example, you may need to consider what questionable assumptions underlie the thinking and what alternative explanations or counterexamples might weaken the conclusion. You can also discuss what sort of evidence would strengthen or refute the argument, what changes in the argument would make it more logically sound, and what, if anything, would help you better evaluate its conclusion.

The director’s plan will bring some motivated and knowledgeable staff into the Beta company. So the argument may put forward a reasonable strategy for Beta – but further research would be useful before putting it into action.

First, what market are the two companies in? ‘In all divisions and at all levels’ suggest Alpha’s problem is not localised, and that its entire market may be shrinking. If Beta Company is in the same sector, then adding headcount may not be a good idea: rather than improve Beta’s competitive position it may make it worse, since the Beta directors would be increasing their costs at the same time as the Alpha directors are cutting theirs! To support his argument, the director needs to demonstrate reasonable growth potential in the market space where his company competes with Alpha.

Second, how much commonality is there between the two companies’ product lines? ‘Some products’ does not mean ‘all products’. The director needs to state which products in Beta Company’s portfolio would become more profitable with the input of ex-Alpha employees, and whether the market potential justifies the new hiring costs. If the products in this category are not a major part of Beta’s revenues – or worse, are lossmakers – the director’s argument is weakened.

Third, is there some deeper problem in Company Alpha causing these layoffs – perhaps a general attitude problem on the part of its workers? When starting at a new company, employees often bring their emotional baggage with them; the director cannot assume ex-Alpha workers with a grudge will become star performers at Beta. And as for their ‘successful methods’ – Alpha’s plan to cut 15% out of its workforce hardly suggests its ‘success’ is unquestioned.

Finally, since Beta Company’s profits have been declining too, indulging in a hiring frenzy is hardly likely to help these profits recover in time for the next earnings report. The director assumes that people will bring profits – which can’t be assumed. Even the most motivated employees won’t add to Beta’s bottom line unless the products they create are profitable.

To sum up, the director’s argument contains too much hope and not enough evidence. He needs to demonstrate a clear business case for hiring ex-Alpha workers, based on the market potential, the product portfolio, and Beta’s own financial position. Beta Company may well be looking at a great opportunity – but the best-run businesses look at the numbers first.

FAULTS: Seemed an easier essay to write, but I keep repeating myself; I’m not sure this is more than a 5/6. At least I got the structure quickly, which left me six minutes at the end to proof read and cut a bit.

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