As an MBA applicant one of the things to get straight is who you are talking to, in general, when you write your essays. This doesn’t mean you should be looking to target or “game” your essays in a narrow sense. But getting your head around who is on the other end is a crucial part of your role in creating effective communication and therein getting admitted.
I was struck by this introduction to a Business Week interview with UCLA Anderson director of MBA admissions, Mae Jennifer Shores. [The full text of the interview is here: UCLA Anderson: Admissions Q&A – BusinessWeek.]
“The assistant dean and director of MBA Admissions at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, says she ended up an admissions officer the way most people do—unintentionally. She went to Russia to teach public policy, but was assigned to teach negotiations at a business school at the last minute. After two years, she wanted to continue her Eastern European stay and almost took a job teaching in Kazakhstan. Her graduate school loans, however, forced her back to the U.S. There, Shores’ international and business-school experience eventually led her into the admissions department at Anderson.”
Every admissions officer is different of course. But what they have in common is, well, it is unlikely that a person plans and studies for this career. Most come to it “sideways.” They typically have broad interests, are people-focused, and are good communicators. They have lived life in more than one industry and often more than one country. They are generally not business trained, although many have some background in HR or marketing.
This makes the MBA applicant essay writer’s job harder and easier. It’s easier to engage an interesting person. Almost anything topic you raise will be “valid” for them. But it’s harder if all your stories are highly technical, or closely work-oriented. If your life experience or perspective is limited, and so your ability to reflect deeply and persuasively on your life and career path is therefore also limited, you’re not going to fool the likes of Mae Jennifer Shores.