Tag Archives: introspection

Do These 4 Exercises Now to Crystallize Your Post-MBA Career Path

These days, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who stays with one company or even one industry throughout his or her entire professional life. If you’re looking for the fast track to gain the …

Determining Career GoalsThese days, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who stays with one company or even one industry throughout his or her entire professional life. If you’re looking for the fast track to gain the skills and network to launch your career in a new direction, a popular way to do so is through an MBA program. In fact, by some estimates, two-thirds or more of graduating MBAs use the degree as a means of switching careers.

The skills typically strengthened during an MBA – leadership, intellectual creativity, analysis and critical thinking, cross-cultural awareness, communication, even greater IT mastery – will serve you well as you find your way toward your ultimate career goal.

But what if you’re having trouble distilling what that goal is? Julia Zupko, Assistant Dean for Career Development at the Yale School of Management, recently tackled this very topic.

Most people don’t spend enough time proactively managing their careers, and time and again Zupko has encountered applicants whose post-college career path was greatly influenced by family or friends, campus recruiting limitations, or the heavy burden of student loan debt.

Before you launch into the MBA admissions process, take time for some serious introspection to determine what you have liked or disliked about your professional experiences thus far. What awoke your passions or bored you to tears?

To help you with this process, Zupko recommends four exercises to get you thinking deeply about your post-MBA career goals:

At My Best
The At My Best exercise focuses on peak experiences—an amazing accomplishment you’re proud of, a transformational personal experience—where you’re at your best and fully leveraging your strengths.
Available through: StrengthsQuest Activity Workbook

Job Envy
Think about jobs you have heard about and think you would enjoy. After conducting the job envy exercise, you can review your notes to identify job themes.
Available through: Discovering Your Career in Business, Tim Butler and Jim Waldroop

Letters about You
Choose at least five people who know you really well to write a letter to you. Ask them to answer questions like: What would be the ideal career for you? What are your blind spots?
Available through: Discovering Your Career in Business, Tim Butler and Jim Waldroop

Decades of Gallup research have proved that when individuals have the opportunity to discover their natural talents and purposely develop them into strengths, the effect on individual and organizational performance is transformational.

You can take Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment to discover your top five strengths. Your results will include a Signature Theme report detailing those top five strengths, what they mean, and how they are typically recognized and applied.
Available through: www.gallupstrengthscenter.com; $15 for assessment and bestselling StrengthsFinder 2.0 e-book

“While it may seem early, now is the time to catalogue those likes and dislikes, to read and learn more about positions you see in the employment reports of business school graduates, and to think deeply about yourself—what strengths you want to leverage in the future, what values and motivators are critical to you in your next position,” Zupko writes.

“Doing so will help you stay true to yourself as you pursue—and eliminate—some of the various career opportunities that will be available to you during your time in business school.”

You may also be interested in:

Ask Yourself 4 Questions Before Applying to Business School

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Turn Failure Into a Great B-School Essay

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News. It’s the dreaded failure topic: “Describe a situation taken from your personal or professional life where you failed.” MBA applicants often freak out …

failure essay MBA

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.

It’s the dreaded failure topic: “Describe a situation taken from your personal or professional life where you failed.” MBA applicants often freak out when faced with this common admissions essay question because they fear that showing any weakness will torpedo their admissions chances. However, at one point or another, everyone faces adversity, failure or setbacks, whether at work or in life.

Your response to these situations demonstrates your character, and business schools understand that failure represents a learning opportunity.

This essay is your chance to demonstrate your maturity, flexibility and leadership qualities. Leaders aren’t always successful; rather, they are willing to admit to failure and find motivation in their misfortune.

So how do you tell the business school admissions committee how failure has truly affected you?

First, start with some real introspection. It’s important to use a failure that is emotionally important to you.

Your failure should also be real and something that led you to gain some insight about yourself. The negative situation could have led to a transformative experience for your team, a positive opportunity for someone else or a chance for you to better understand another person through a team challenge.

The admissions committee will easily see through an accomplishment that you frame as a failure; furthermore, that will not demonstrate your maturity or ability to grow. Think creatively about this aspect – do your best to describe how you have changed your approach as a result of the failure.

When brainstorming for this essay, think first about what you learned from the situation you plan to detail; then work backward to describe the circumstances and the initial challenge or hurdle. That will help you more optimistically view the whole situation. What did you learn from the experience and how did it impact your life or demonstrate a specific aspect of your character, goals or accomplishments?

Think honestly about all the emotions you felt. As ugly as they may have been, be honest and write them down.

From there, try to more eloquently describe your feelings in your essay. Remember, even the most difficult situations often lead to personal growth and likely have contributed to the individual you are today.

For example, one of my clients was caught plagiarizing a term paper during college. He was very lucky the school did not expel him, but he did fail and have to repeat that course.

This startling wakeup call became a valuable life lesson. It spurred him to join student government, help develop for the school policy guidelines on cheating and speak publicly about his plagiarism experience and the importance of respecting intellectual property. When he applied for business school, his transformative experience resonated with the admissions committee and he ultimately attended one of the top-three MBA programs in the country.

The key here is detailing not only your actions but also your feelings. Another client I worked with chose to write about her layoffs at three different companies over a five-year period. Although the layoffs had nothing to do with her job performance, each experience devastated her, and she struggled both financially and emotionally until she finally landed a position that allowed her to flourish.

She turned those low moments into a powerful admissions essay of resilience and problem-solving. She showed how the experience ultimately taught her waysto better evaluate career opportunities. Demonstrating this type of humility and self-awareness made a positive impact on the admissions committee, and she ultimately attended the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania – with a scholarship to boot.

As you finalize this essay, focus on embracing the positive aspects of your past mistake and demonstrating the ways you have used the incident as an opportunity to learn and grow. This may just be the factor that makes your candidacy stand out amid a sea of so-called “perfect” applicants.

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Tuesday Tips – Ten Questions, Part 2

The second five questions you should ask yourself before starting your MBA application process.

Last week we considered the first five questions out of ten questions to help you begin your MBA application process. Introspection is a key aspect of the MBA application process, and it will be important to demonstrate that you know yourself and your need for an MBA well.

Now that you have contemplated:

1. Your career goals
2. Personal goals
3. Why you want an MBA
4. The MBA degree as compared to other degrees
5. Your competitive position

It’s time to delve deeper into your application strategy and consider the next five questions to set up your essays and other written materials.

6. What matters most to you?

One of the most infamous questions any MBA applicant faces is the first Stanford essay, which simply asks what matters most to you and why. While Stanford is direct about their interest in your values and ideals, you need to understand what deeply motivates you as the basis for your entire application strategy to any MBA program. There are numerous MBA candidates with strong grades, great GMAT scores and stellar work experience. You need to understand what is truly unique about you beyond what is obvious on a resume or application form.

Your essays are your opportunity to market yourself to the MBA program you want to attend, and asking yourself what is truly most important is a good place to start. If you don’t know what matters most, here are a few thought starters: When you wake up in the middle of the night, what is your first thought? What did you dream about as a kid? What would you do if you had unlimited money and resources? Who are the most important people in your life?

7. What MBA programs really fit you?

Once you know your career goals, why you want an MBA, and what matters most, you have a great basis to select your target schools.

Rankings and profiles are a great place to start, and both BusinessWeek and Financial Times provide well-regarded rankings. Once you have considered the numbers, it’s a good idea to delve into personal factors like location, program offerings, and especially the people.

You may make some gut decisions about the schools that feel right to you, and as you create that list take the time to ask yourself why these schools are a good fit. What about you makes you interested in each school? Why do you feel comfortable with the people and interested in the classes? It will be important to communicate clearly to each school both why you want to attend and why you will be a great MBA student there ”“ which are the key elements to fit.

Both essays and recommendations are a great way to demonstrate your fit to the admissions committee. Make sure you are providing detail and evidence in your essays to show your thought process when you choose the school. When your recommenders talk about your qualifications they should also talk about how well you will fit in with your students and the community.

8. What is the admissions committee looking for?

Almost any admissions director you ask will tell you that the MBA admissions process is holistic. Factors like GMAT and GPA will be considered to see how well you have performed in an academic setting, and work experience will be evaluated for your progress and development.

Along with this “hard” data about you, the MBA admissions process presents an amazing opportunity for you to tell the admissions committee about yourself. It’s important that you communicate clearly why you should be chosen for admission in this highly competitive process.

As you are getting started basic MBA information like that provided on our blog is a great place to gain information about what MBA programs are generally interested in. MBA programs provide a great deal of information about what the adcomm is looking for ”“ in tools like blogs and chats with students you can find significant information. The personal touch is also important. Make sure you visit your schools and talk to MBA students and alumni to get a strong feel for the qualities that make a candidate successful.

9. What are your strengths and weaknesses?

A candid evaluation of yourself will help you communicate effectively with the MBA admissions team and provide the right holistic presentation. Everyone has made mistakes or has regrets, and preferably these experiences have led to development and growth. Communicating self-awareness about your own strengths and weaknesses is a huge asset to your application.

Since it is rare for any candidate to be perfect, consider where you have disappointed yourself or others, and what you learned from the experience. A key inflection point in your life that has led to subsequent success can be a compelling story for any MBA application and adds interest to your overall profile.

10. How will you contribute to your MBA program?

Most candidates approach the MBA application process with their own needs at the forefront. Perhaps you have decided to pursue an MBA because you want to achieve something new, you want to change careers or you want to advance further than you would otherwise. What can set you apart from many candidates is thinking about what you can add to the MBA programs you are targeting.

Here are a few ideas to get you started: Can you add knowledge to a classroom? Do you have contacts in your industry to help other students obtain jobs? Can you provide connections to interesting speakers? Will you bring special skills to a club or classroom?

As you consider all ten questions you will be setting yourself up for a successful MBA application process. Don’t forget to watch Stacy’s essay tips tomorrow online at the AIGAC Graduate Admissions Virtual Summit!

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SBC_Harvard_Essay_Guide-150x150If you are feeling stumped by your application essays and need some additional guidance, check out our NEW series of essay guides for MBA applications. Columbia, Harvard, Kellogg, Stanford and Wharton available now. They are seriously terrific and we are proud to say that almost every person who has ordered one has come back for more!

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Tuesday Tips – Chicago Booth Essay Tips

Chicago Booth’s essays are a bit of a departure from Harvard Business School, Wharton Business School, the Kellogg MBA, and the Stanford MBA essays we have covered in the last several weeks. Similar to the NYU Stern …

Chicago Booth’s essays are a bit of a departure from Harvard Business School, Wharton Business School, the Kellogg MBA, and the Stanford MBA essays we have covered in the last several weeks. Similar to the NYU Stern creative essay, Chicago Booth asks applicants to create a slide show to demonstrate who you are. The presentation will be printed out, and should consist of a combination of words and images (color is allowed) that will show the admissions committee the personal side of you.

When approaching any set of MBA essays, it is important to think about the aspects of your professional, extracurricular and personal life you want to communicate and select topics appropriately.

1. Why are you pursuing an MBA at this point in your career?  (750 word maximum).

This Chicago Booth essay could be approached as a fairly typical career goals essay, though it is notable that Chicago Booth is not asking direct questions about your background and short- and long-term goals. The structure of this essay is therefore a bit open ended, and you can choose to focus on your background, your future or why an MBA is the right choice at this moment.

Chicago Booth does specifically ask why you are interested in an MBA “at this point in your career,” which indicates an interest in knowing why now is the time for you to embark on your MBA journey. Similar to the Wharton “why now” it will be important to have a solid and convincing reason that now is the ideal time to enter Chicago Booth for your MBA.

While the question of “why Chicago Booth” is somewhat answered in the next essay, you will still want to explain briefly why you think Chicago Booth is the best place for you to achieve the goals you have set for yourself.

2. Please select one of the following two questions to answer. (1000 word maximum)

1a) Please provide an example of a time when you had to make a choice between two equally important obligations. How did you decide which obligation deserved your attention? b) Did you try and predict other people’s reactions to your decision? If so, how accurate were you? Why do you think you were or were not accurate in your prediction? c) Reflecting on this experience, how do you think an MBA from Chicago Booth might have aided in your decision making process?


2a) Have you ever made a decision that caused you to go against popular opinion? Please describe that situation and your rationale for you decision. b) Did you feel at any point that people misperceived your motives? Explain? c) In retrospect, how do you think an MBA from Chicago Booth would have affected your decision?

Both of these Chicago Booth questions (you will need to choose one to answer) delve fairly deeply into your ability to reflect introspectively on past decisions and explain what you learned and what you could have improved. In these particular questions, you are also being asked to speculate on the usefulness of an MBA from Chicago Booth in the situation you describe.

A work example is preferable, though a particularly strong leadership position in a community service activity may be acceptable. In either case it will be important to be able to describe how an MBA would have assisted you, and ideally the situation will be one you envision encountering in your future career.

In both questions, part b requires the emotional intelligence to speculate about others’ feelings or reactions to your actions. This demonstrates an interest in seeing how you relate to others on an interpersonal level, and is also an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and teamwork skills. Thoughtfulness and maturity will be especially important when answering either question.

Researching Chicago Booth’s unique program is also crucial when answering either question, and reading blogs from current students is a great way to understand the culture and program from the inside.

Slide Presentation

We have asked for a great deal of information throughout this application and now invite you tell us about yourself. Using four slides or less, please provide readers with content that captures who you are.

This question invites a creative approach. Therefore, a bit of soul searching to discover themes or pivotal events in your life may help generate ideas. Because the project is incredibly personal, it will be completely up to you what the topic will be. Some suggestions about structure may be four distinct aspects of your life and personal qualities, a narrative with four stages, or four themes that have emerged as you have progressed as a person and MBA applicant. While the presentation should be personal, it is still important to think about what you would like the Chicago Booth admissions committee to know about you and to choose a subject appropriately.

Optional Essay

If there is any important information that is relevant for your candidacy that you were unable to address elsewhere in the application, please share that information here.

This Chicago Booth essay is optional and should be used for any issues in your application ”“ low GPA, gaps in work experience, or a lack of recommendation from your current employer. Remember to be concise and focus on explanations rather than excuses. For a topic such as a low GPA or academic probation, make sure to also focus on how you have changed since the event and the evidence in your current life that you will be a strong Chicago Booth student.


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