How to ‘Fail Smart’ in MBA Admissions

MBA applicants are routinely asked the “failure question” either in MBA essays or interviews. It always takes more-or-less the same form: “Tell us about a time you failed and what you learned.”

As I’ve written before here, and in my book, the test is not to see if you have any weaknesses or failures. Everyone does. The test is whether you are mature enough to recognize your failures and so address the implied weaknesses.

Also, failures are more likely to occur in new, challenging tasks, so if you present “no failures” you are inadvertently telling Adcom that you haven’t been adequately challenged!

There’s a classic article on “intelligent failure”: Are You Squandering Your Intelligent Failures? by Columbia Business School professor Rita McGrath, on the HBR Blog.

Says McGrath: “Despite widespread recognition that challenging times place unpredictable demands on people and businesses, I still run across many managers who would prefer to avoid the logical conclusion that stems from this: failure is a lot more common in highly uncertain environments than it is in better-understood situations.

“Instead of learning from failures, many executives seek to keep them hidden or to pretend that they were all part of a master plan and no big deal.

“To those executives, let me argue that an extraordinarily valuable corporate resource is being wasted if learning from failures is inhibited.

“Naturally, to an executive raised on the concept of ‘management by exception,’ any failure at all seems intolerable. This world view is reinforced by the widespread adoption of various quality techniques, for instance, six sigma, in which the goal is to stamp out variations (by definition, failures) in the pursuit of quality…

“[but] Failures are crucial to the process of organizational learning and sense-making. Failures show you where your assumptions are wrong. Failures demonstrate where future investment would be wasted. And failures can help you identify those among your team with the mettle to persevere and creatively change direction as opposed to pig-headedly charging blindly ahead. Further, failures are about the only way in which an organization can reset its expectations for the future in any meaningful way.”

McGrath’s point is failure is a route (perhaps, the route) to learning and future improvement. That’s the point you score with Adcom: “I failed to do, but I didn’t fail to learn.”

But not all failures have learning attached. One needs to set prior fail-safe mechanisms, and then interrogate a failure afterwards, to make a failure useful as learning. This turns it into an intelligent failure.

If you can show the MBA Adcom that you did this, that you didn’t just fail dumbly, or that you have turned a dumb failure into an intelligent failure, your MBA admissions essay will shine in all the right ways.

What You Should Highlight In Your MBA Essay

This, below, is too good not to syndicate here with a tip of the hat and thanks to author Kathrin Liesenberg, Associate director of admissions for MBA and MSc at ESADE Business & Law School, and QS TopMBA.

MBA essays are your direct communication line to the MBA admissions team and your best tool to stand out. Use your MBA essays to present yourself to admissions and share your talents and accomplishments with us without sounding pompous. The MBA essays are your chance to directly convince us of what you have to offer the program and that you are a good match for the school.

What the MBA admissions teams looks for first
Before we look at the content of your MBA essay, let us quickly mention two important aspects: tone and format. Remember to…
•    Be honest.
•    Write in a natural, clear and precise way that reflects your own voice.
•    Use a positive, conversational tone to make the essays readable and to prevent them from becoming rote autobiographies.
•    Talk about yourself by offering a balanced description backed by analysis in order to catch our attention. Use facts to support your intended message and leadership skills.
•    Don’t look for excuses. Nobody is perfect, and we all have failed at some point. Whining does not reflect maturity and should be avoided.
•    Don’t leave anything up in the air when you end your essay. Wrap it up by highlighting the aspects you would like us to remember.

MBA Essay Content
Now let us talk about the content. The MBA admissions team already has your marks, test scores, letters of recommendation and CV from your MBA application, so there is no need to write about those aspects extensively. The best way to approach the essays is to tell us a consistent story that ties together all of your experience and goals, using plenty of narrative and including specifics.  Write your story, smoothly and naturally linking together all the aspects you consider relevant (your work experience, situations in which you demonstrated leadership skills, extracurricular activities, volunteering and social engagement, etc.).
•    First and foremost: stick to the questions! While this may sound obvious, applicants all too often stray off-topic.
•    Try to begin with something interesting (an anecdote, a quote, etc.) that leads you directly to the core topic you would like to address. How you begin your essay will largely determine whether it is a pleasure or a trial to read.
•    Clearly describe your specific mid and long-term goals, explaining how the business school can help you achieve them.
•    Showcase your high energy level and leadership skills. Being a hard worker able to give your best in all situations can lead to success; it can also offer proof of your commitment to achieving your goals.
•    It is also a plus to note that you have been in touch with current and former MBA students. It shows you have done your homework and bears witness to the seriousness and thoroughness of your approach.
•    If you are given a chance to write an optional essay, use it to share additional information that you believe will truly help to round out your MBA application with MBA admissions. If you believe something important has been missed, this is your chance to tell us about it. Likewise, if you plan to use this question to address an aspect of your MBA application that you believe is a potential disadvantage, do not make excuses. Instead, provide the necessary clarification and take responsibility. It will help to highlight your maturity and show that you can also be self-critical.
•    Allow a third party to read your essays and bring them back down to earth if they do not reflect the real you or if you forgot to mention, or simply took for granted, a true personal asset.

Fill in gaps from your MBA application
Be sure to cover the following three areas in your essays:
•    Your leadership skills and potential: challenges you have overcome and progress you have made in terms of your responsibility level over your career. How will you change the world?
•    The impact of the international environment on you, as well as your international experience. How will you approach the diversity on our campus?
•    Your understanding of the MBA program and the kind of collaborative, teamwork-based learning environment most MBA programs thrive on.

Final words of advice
•    Does length matter? Yes it does! Try not to exceed the word limit, as it could suggest that you are unable to follow simple directions. We receive hundreds of essays at MBA admissions and do not appreciate it when applicants fail to observe the word limits.
•    One last piece of advice: make sure you send the essay to the right institution! We receive essays meant for other institutions more often than you might think. Needless to say, it can have a very negative impact on the applicant’s candidacy, including automatic rejection for carelessness or, even worse, for committing plagiarism.

In conclusion, please don’t write what you think we want to read. Just be yourself and be honest! At ESADE, we cherish diversity and are very open-minded regarding work experience, education and post-MBA goals. However, when we are reviewing your MBA application, especially if you advance to the interview round, we will be looking for consistency and sincerity in your answers.

What Goldman Sachs Told Its MBA Interns And Why It Matters For B-School Admissions

MBA interns started their summer banking and consulting summer internships earlier this month, and the news point was Goldman Sachs instructing newbies at its offices around the world to leave before midnight and not come back before 7am the next day.

Policies like this follow the 2013 death of a 21-year-old Merrill Lynch intern, Moritz Erhardt, who collapsed and died in his London apartment after working 72 hours straight.

Shortly after Erhardt’s death, Goldman Sach’s CEO Lloyd Blankfein effectively told his interns to get a life:

“You have to be interesting, you have to have interests away from the narrow thing of what you do (at Goldman),” he said. “You have to be somebody who somebody else wants to talk to,” he said.

Sound familiar? It does to me. Every time I work with an MBA applicant who is all about the office and nothing else, the red flag goes up: MBA Adcoms are not going to like this.

Remember, you have to be somebody somebody else wants to talk to.

So, get some outside interests. It doesn’t matter too much whether these interests are sports, arts, or community oriented, but preferably (very preferably) your outside activities should be group or team-based rather than solo endeavors because “works well with others” is a big part of a successful admissions profile for business school.

email@mbastudio.net

SEO Powered by Platinum SEO from Techblissonline