Category Archives: MBA Essay Resources

Jack-o’-Lanterns And Why Being A ‘Maker’ Can Help Your MBA Application

It’s almost Halloween. That means some of us are turning pumpkins into gruesome candle faces. Other than pleasant distraction, can this have anything to do with MBA admissions?

Well here’s the thing.  To apply successfully you need to extract the full MBA admissions value from what what you do and have done in your life.

Truth is, if you just hack out pumpkin that’s not something you will get much advantage from talking about in your MBA essays. But there are people out there that have incredible craft and design skills, and perhaps are part of the international Maker Movement and present at Maker “faires”, and if that is you then that is something you absolutely should talk about in your essays or MBA interview.

The Maker Movement is a loose connection of crafts people, technologists, and tinkerers who make stuff, from basic crafts to the latest gizmos.

It’s creative. Innovative. Productive. Self-reliant. Often team-oriented. These are all value points that matter to MBA  Adcoms.

The takeaway principle is this: whatever it is that you do or are part of may seem too small and piecemeal to matter for MBA admissions. And on its own it probably is.

But look for ways to connect it to what is valuable in MBA terms. Note this sometimes requires bridging-up in terms of scale, or linking disparate items to an organizing category.

In this specific example, carving a pumpkin has no intrinsic value to your MBA application; but being active in and identified with the Maker Movement would have many dimensions that you could mine for an MBA admissions boost.

You’ve traveled widely. Can you extract its full MBA admissions value?

I’d estimate that three out of five MBA applicants to top-tier schools have traveled widely, for work or for fun. It follows that in their MBA applications they cite travel as an activity they value and put it among the important experiences they have had. They think that journeying across the world speaks for itself as proof of “diversity.” Travel broadens the mind and all that.

This is true. But there is a lot of value to be had in travel that MBA applicants often don’t get to. Here I tip my metaphorical hat to the mother of an MBA Studio client from a while ago who gave her son the following feedback — before he came to me — which absolutely dovetails with how I exhort clients to squeeze admissions value from their travel (and other) experiences, for both the essays and MBA interview. I quote:

“I don’t think you have written something meaningful enough about your travels. You have traveled widely but it looks like it doesn’t seem to have influenced you, affected your outlook about people, society.

“Perhaps write something meaningful about poverty, and yet the ingenuity of people who have very little but are innovative, creative, hard working.

“Can you think of reasons why you chose to travel to these places, culture, philosophy, history, etc.?

“Some insight into the way you and your friend chose to travel, no fuss, not staying fancy places.

“This travel was a test also in being independent, showing initiative, taking calculated risks in foreign places. You don’t give yourself sufficient credit for these things.”

If all mothers had this depth of insight, I’d be out of a job. But, seriously, the task here, and everywhere in MBA admissions, is to extract the full admissions value from any and every activity you have done, experiences you’ve had, or choices you’ve made.

Look at your experiences, look at the skill sets and character traits of middle-to-senior managers, and make the link.

In this case an applicant go beyond claiming “travel experience” to demonstrating a nuanced outlook on foreign cultures; an appreciation of alternative value systems including alternative forms of innovation; a no-fuss, non-materialist sensibility; an ability to ride out adversity; and practice at being in unfamiliar situations and taking calculated risks.

Putting it like this, you turn the empty label of “travel experience” into a platform that demonstrates the kind of experience, and insight into experience, that an MBA admissions committee will warm to.

Brevity is the Soul of Wit, War, and MBA Admissions Essays

Here’s a bit of fun with a serious twist. You may have seen this document below as it does the rounds on the Internet.

I believe it is genuine, and in it the then British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill was telling his 1940 War Cabinet the equivalent of “hello, did you know there’s a war on? Let’s not confuse ourselves and waste our time on excessive verbiage and writing flourishes. If you’ve got something to say, just say it.”

brevity

MBA admissions is not a war zone. But admissions committees are busy, particularly around their application deadlines. So do them and therefore yourself a favor by keeping your writing tight and to-the-point.

This does not mean you should adopt a clipped tone and write like morse code. You get to brevity without losing content or style by carefully selecting your examples,  using plain words, avoiding all verbal windups and empty phrases, and deleting repetition.

For a full discussion of practical writing strategies to deliver content in the briefest possible way, with examples, please see Section 4: Writing Tools and Methods, in my book MBA Admissions Strategy: From Profile Building to Essay Writing (McGraw Hill).