I recently had a conversation with someone who said, “I was the same age as all the other applicants and I had a very typical pre-MBA job that was no different from anyone else’s. I did not have a prayer of making myself stand out from the crowd.”
If you feel this way, I beg you to give yourself some credit! Do you really think that your entire identity and all you have to offer boils down to being 25 years old and working as a strategy consultant? Your age and job do not define who you are, which is why I encourage applicants to stay away from essays that only focus on “what”. Watch my video to see what I mean, and take those essays to a whole new level!
Transcript for this video:
Today’s tip is “Who, not What”. In a nutshell, I encourage you to use your MBA essays to talk about who you are and why you have done things, as opposed to simply what you have done. Remember that everything you discuss in your applications reveals not only what you have done and accomplished, but also highlights your values and your character.
Consider the first HBS question this year, which is “Tell us about three of your accomplishments.” Although this question appears to ask very simply about what you have done, there is more to it. Notice that they do not ask for your greatest accomplishments, they just ask for accomplishments, and the interesting thing about this question is that what you choose really highlights what you value.
A few years ago I had a client who was quite accomplished. He had excelled in the military and then in his career. He had many impressive and interesting stories to tell. Ultimately, he wanted to bring more personality and humanity to his essays, and so for one of his HBS accomplishments, he wrote about the friends he had made throughout his life. This was something that he was truly proud of, he considered it to be a great accomplishment, and it really helped to tell the admissions committee a lot about the type of person that he is.
Remember that an admissions committee can gain a lot of basic information about you through your resume, transcripts and other data that they collect. Use your essays as a vehicle to tell them more about who you are as opposed to what you have done.
Sometimes an accomplishment that does not seem terribly grand is the right choice because of the circumstances behind it, or because of what it can say about you. Of course a very impressive accomplishment might be perfectly appropriate as well ”“ I just want to encourage you to broaden the set of what you consider for a topic, and talk about who you are and why you have done things, as opposed to just what you have done.
The quote for today is, “Every human being is intended to have a character of his own; to be what no others are, and to do what no other can do.”
William Henry Channing
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