Weaknesses: Make sure you show your path toward improvement

During this essay-writing process we get to praise ourselves, to brag, to point out our unique understanding of complex issues and just generally paint ourselves as the ideal human. But in order to balance out the admissions karma, we also have to give ourselves a couple of body slams by critiquing our own skills, motivations, etc.

Kellogg asks candidates to provide an “evaluative assessment” of their own file. I’ve seen some candidates riddle themselves with critique after critique. In their minds, they thought “assess: meant to “point out of your weaknesses.” They become their own worst Simon Cowells. Don’t make this mistake. We can assess both the strengths and the negatives. When you include an honest assessment of your negatives, you gain credibility for any strengths you raise.

In addition, try to illustrate that you have already improved somewhat on your negative traits through hard work and that you specifically have a plan for further improvement at business school through classwork and activities.

Harvard also asks candidates to critique their own leadership abilities. Some candidates wax eloquently about an unmitigated victory for their leadership skills and then chime in with a fairly minor critique. Often, this critique is totally unrelated to the narrative of the leadership tale they’ve just recounted. The best stories for this essay usually have a couple of bumps on the road to leadership that we could have avoided if not for our blindspots. And make sure to relate this critique to the elements of leadership (defining agendas, communicating, insipring, managing up, etc.); don’t make yourself out to be a master motivator and then merely critique your Excel modeling skills.

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