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Real Humans of MBA Admissions: Carlson School of Management’s Linh Gilles

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Earlier this month, we had the pleasure of getting to know Linh Gilles, director of admissions and recruiting at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. She’s been in admissions at Carlson for the past decade and in the director’s role since 2012, but she also knows the school from the student’s perspective. That’s because she is currently enrolled in the full-time executive MBA (EMBA) program herself—all while working full time and raising two kids.

“I suppose at some point working for an MBA program for 10 years, you do just drink the Kool-Aid,” she says with a laugh. But she’s also gathered a decade’s worth of evidence for how transformative the degree can be. “It’s not only about business but also about leadership and management—which have applications for any industry,” she says, including higher education. “We need to meet the objectives and mission of our institution, so I want to strengthen my analytical capabilities and really examine how we can propel our organization into the future for longer term sustainability.”

Of course, being a student in Carlson’s EMBA program has also given her an increased level of empathy for those she recruits and a redoubled commitment to ensuring that the program is truly exceptional, she says. But it is by no means an easy road. “It’s been hard to balance, absolutely,” she says, confessing that she has resorted to reading her finance homework aloud as a bedtime story to her three-year-old, who doesn’t seem to mind. “On a daily basis I feel like it is an accomplishment for me be able to get my assignment in, to get my kids out the door and to get to work—I’ve really had to become a master of balancing priorities.”

And then there’s the added pressure of wanting to uphold her reputation with her faculty. “I want to prove to them that I am just as worthy of being a student in the program as I am of protecting the quality of the other students who take part,” she says. “At the same time, it is amazing for me to be able to say—from personal experience—that we deliver a top-notch business education.”

Despite the crazy balancing act that is her every day, Gilles nonetheless was generous with her time, taking part in both our Real Humans of MBA Admissions series, which follows, and our Admissions Director Q&A, which we’ll run in this space in the coming days. We hope that in reading them you’ll get to feel as much like you know her as we did in speaking with her.

Real Humans of MBA Admissions: Carlson School of Management’s Linh Gilles

Coffee or tea?

Beach or mountains? It depends on my mood…but today I will go with mountains.

Morning person or night owl? Night owl, for sure. All through high school and college I worked as a server at a restaurant and have been a night owl ever since.

Pet peeve? Oh gosh, just one? I hate it when people don’t use their turn signals.

Guilty pleasure? This is kind of a weird guilty pleasure, but I really like dipping my french fries in ice cream—something about that combination of super salty with sweet.

Favorite virtue in others? Empathy. If people can really relate and try to empathize with where people are coming from, that says a lot about them.

Worst habit? I am a very, very contextual person—and by that I mean that if you ever get into conversation with me, I give you way more context than you need. I can talk a little too much!

Happy place? At home with my kids and family. It’s stressful, but it’s chaotically happy.

Comfort food? Vietnamese food. I wouldn’t be able to pick any one—just great home cooking. In the depths of despair I would definitely go for a bowl of phở or some rice.

Go-to cocktail? Mojito

Proudest moment? I have a lot of abnormal fears, including a very unnatural fear of heights. I get into this paralytic state where I can’t do anything. So one of my proudest moments was when I forced myself to go sky diving. That was a major leap of faith for me from a personal sense of trying to teach myself to do something I was afraid of.

Biggest regret? In undergrad, I did not travel abroad. I really wish I could put my college self in another place.

One thing you would change about how you were raised? My family comes from an Asian background and heritage [Vietnamese and Chinese], and there are certain elements of our culture that are very direct and authoritative. I was raised was to really, really respect roles of authority, and one of the challenging things about it is that it is not very well accepted to challenge authority. When I was given a directive, I would take it as an absolute directive. It became a very big learning curve for me to question authority—I didn’t have the learning mechanisms in place to challenge authority appropriately.

Superpower you wish you had? This goes back to my fear of heights. I would love to be able to fly. It would give me a completely different sense of freedom. I think if I could just have that release, I would be able to master that fear.

Favorite fictional hero/heroine? One of my most favorite characters as a child was Anne of Green Gables. She was so strong willed, especially given that era. From present day, I really love Hermione Granger from Harry Potter. She is also very strong willed, very sure of herself and definitely out there to conquer.

What schools, if any, rejected you? How does it impact how you will interact with those who you must say no to? I have never been rejected by a school I applied to, but I have certainly faced rejection many ways in my professional life. In undergrad, when I was working as a graduate assistant there was a position I really wanted and I didn’t get. It caused me to try to rethink what types of experiences I needed to have in order to gain what I was hoping to get from that teaching assistantship.

Which part of the Carlson admissions process would you most like to skip if you were applying today? I would skip the written statement, only because it’s difficult for me to be confined to a certain word count. I feel like there is so much more background that could be explored. I love getting in front of people to share my experience, but it is hard to do that on paper.

What’s the best thing you read/watched/listened to recently? 10% Happier, by Dan Harris, a former Good Morning America correspondent. He had what he called an on-air meltdown and discovered mindful mediation for himself. I’ve always been really interested in mindfulness, but also somewhat skeptical. Harris’s book was really interesting, too, because it chronicles his correspondent experience. There’s a real humanizing aspect to seeing these really big personalities going through their own struggles just trying to find their own place in life.