Everyone knows, in theory, that you need to fill your applications with colorful and interesting examples. But if everyone knows, why is the number one comment I make upon reading essays and letters of recommendation and conducting mock interviews – “Where are the examples?”
An essay that claims that you are a great leader, innovator or team player may sound interesting. But it also sounds like you read the “how to get into b-school” book. Unless you can back up all of these claims, they are just empty claims. The best way to convey your excellence is not through stating it, but through proving it with examples.
Many of my clients start out thinking that they have not done anything that will really stand out. They have read friends’ essays and do not think that they have material that is nearly as impressive. However, as we discuss their background, we inevitably find interesting examples. Last year, one of my clients was stumped. He needed a good story for HBS question 1: “Describe a significant change that you brought about in an organization and its impact on your development as a leader. ” The example that we came up with was about revamping a monthly report at work. Not exactly a “save the world” kind of example. However, once written, it showed initiative, a desire to challenge the status quo and an ability to execute and infuence others. He also was able to articulate very specifically how it impacted the organization and helped him grow personally. Result – he is going to HBS this year.
So, as you brainstorm examples for this year’s apps, remember that even a simple example can be extremely effective. And without an example, it is almost worth not making a claim.