All posts by Avi Gordon

How to extract MBA Admissions Value from your experiences: an example

I find myself consistently, always telling MBA applicants to extract the full MBA admissions value from what they have in their bio, and what they have done.

Doing this is the only way to present as more valuable than the next applicant to the business school in question. That is, the only way to get admitted in a competitive system.

Easier said than done of course. So the question comes back: How do I do that?

How to do it, as I’ve written at greater length in my book, has to do with:
(a) understand the full dimensions of MBA admissions value associated with what you have done and/or achieved;
(b) understanding what is valuable to Adcoms, which is to say what is valuable in the b-school environment and in MBA careers, and
(c) being able to connect “a” to “b” in a clear and compelling way.

That’s the theory. Here’s an example. (Note: nothing works in MBA admissions essays as well as an example, if it is relevant and credible.)

Let’s say you have been involved in Jujutsu for much of your early life, achieved your “black belt” at the age of 18, were reasonably successful in competitions during high school and college, but now just keep your hand in at the dojo as a part-time instructor.

Is this valuable or not? Or, how do you make it valuable?

First, of course it’s valuable. Martial arts are a recognized personal, psychological and physical development activity. It takes youths through a structured and disciplined and group-oriented series of challenges.

Also, if you have have spent this much of your life on the activity, it has to get some airtime in your application.

More pertinently, which parts are valuable? What do you say?

Is it valuable to say you can fight people and easily knock them down. Of course not. That’s a red flag. 

Is it valuable to say you can defend yourself in any situation? That’s not going to hurt your application, but it won’t help. Adcom doesn’t rate people on whether they can physically defend themselves – it is not something that counts for much at business school, or with the school’s careers office, or for recruiters of MBA graduates, or in the business world in general

The value is in:

  • the self-discipline you acquired
  • your experience of setbacks, and perseverance in overcoming them
  • participating with competitors and in competition
  • learning to manage adversity
  • being part of a structured environment
  • learning to structure and manage your time (e.g. going to the dojo 5x a week on top of everything else.)

There may also be value to be had in the psychic development your experience offers: exposure to alternative (oriental) philosophy, mindfulness, inner peace and self-reliance, and so on. If you are now a coach or trainer or mentor of the next generation, there is obvious admissions value in that too.

The point is, there is usually lots of admissions value on offer from a past experience, if you mine it properly. This becomes part of your “value claim” as a person and professional going forward.

Once you can extract what admissions value is there to be had, you can choose which parts to emphasize and how much to say. And then you move onto the next value activity from your past, approaching it in the same way.

How to not be ‘Excepted’ to a Top MBA Program

One from the files – but in this regard nothing changes. No matter how the MBA admissions process may iterate slightly with the times, correct English grammar and word usage remains the bedrock of successful MBA Admissions essays.

Any slip makes you look at best undereducated, or incompetent or just sloppy.

English has famously “low startup costs.” You don’t have to decline nouns or conjugate many verbs, so it is comparatively easy to get going with. The flip side is, with so many, many words, each with subtle nuances of usage and meaning, getting English to be actually correct is very hard – even for many mother-tongue English speakers.

Part of the problem is that many errors have become so commonplace they no longer stand out in everyday use. But your Adcom readers for business school admissions will absolutely know right from wrong. You have been warned!

The last section of MBA Admisssion Strategy book is devoted to English usage and better writing, and on this theme, I re-cite this LinkedIn post by Travis Bradbury, detailing commonly misused pairs of words – of the kind I find myself flagging frequently in editing MBA admissions essays.

“It’s the words that we think we’re using correctly that wreak the most havoc. We throw them around in meetings, e-mails and important documents (such as resumes and client reports), and they land, like fingernails across a chalkboard, on everyone who has to hear or read them…

“Often, it’s the words we perceive as being more ‘correct’ or sophisticated that don’t really mean what we think they do. There are 20 such words that have a tendency to make even really smart people stumble.” Have a look to see which of these commonly confused words throw you off.

Accept vs. Except
These two words sound similar but have very different meanings. Accept means to receive something willingly: “His mom accepted his explanation” or “She accepted the gift graciously.” Except signifies exclusion: “I can attend every meeting except the one next week.” To help you remember, note that both except and exclusion begin with ex.

Affect vs. Effect
To make these words even more confusing than they already are, both can be used as either a noun or a verb. Let’s start with the verbs. Affect means to influence something or someone; effect means to accomplish something. “Your job was affected by the organizational restructuring” but “These changes will be effected on Monday.” As a noun, an effect is the result of something: “The sunny weather had a huge effect on sales.” It’s almost always the right choice because the noun affect refers to an emotional state and is rarely used outside of psychological circles: “The patient’s affect was flat.”

Lie vs. Lay
We’re all pretty clear on the lie that means an untruth. It’s the other usage that trips us up. Lie also means to recline: “Why don’t you lie down and rest?” Lay requires an object: “Lay the book on the table.” Lie is something you can do by yourself, but you need an object to lay. It’s more confusing in the past tense. The past tense of lie is—you guessed it—lay: “I lay down for an hour last night.” And the past tense of lay is laid: “I laid the book on the table.”

Bring vs. Take
Bring and take both describe transporting something or someone from one place to another, but the correct usage depends on the speaker’s point of view. Somebody brings something to you, but you take it to somewhere else: “Bring me the mail, then take your shoes to your room.” Just remember, if the movement is toward you, use bring; if the movement is away from you, use take.

Ironic vs. Coincidental
A lot of people get this wrong. If you break your leg the day before a ski trip, that’s not ironic—it’s coincidental (and bad luck). Ironic has several meanings, all of which include some type of reversal of what was expected. Verbal irony is when a person says one thing but clearly means another. Situational irony is when a result is the opposite of what was expected. O. Henry was a master of situational irony. In “The Gift of the Magi,” Jim sells his watch to buy combs for his wife’s hair, and she sells her hair to buy a chain for Jim’s watch. Each character sold something precious to buy a gift for the other, but those gifts were intended for what the other person sold. That is true irony. If you break your leg the day before a ski trip, that’s coincidental. If you drive up to the mountains to ski, and there was more snow back at your house, that’s ironic.

Imply vs. Infer
To imply means to suggest something without saying it outright. To infer means to draw a conclusion from what someone else implies. As a general rule, the speaker/writer implies, and the listener/reader infers.

Nauseous vs. Nauseated
Nauseous has been misused so often that the incorrect usage is accepted in some circles. Still, it’s important to note the difference. Nauseous means causing nausea; nauseated means experiencing nausea. So, if your circle includes ultra-particular grammar sticklers, never say “I’m nauseous” unless you want them to be snickering behind your back.

Comprise vs. Compose
These are two of the most commonly misused words in the English language. Comprise means to include; compose means to make up. It all comes down to parts versus the whole. When you use comprise, you put the whole first: “A soccer game comprises (includes) two halves.” When you use compose, you put the pieces first: “Fifty states compose (make up) the United States of America.”

Farther vs. Further
Farther refers to physical distance, while further describes the degree or extent of an action or situation. “I can’t run any farther,” but “I have nothing further to say.” If you can substitute “more” or “additional,” use further.

Fewer vs. Less
Use fewer when you’re referring to separate items that can be counted; use less when referring to a whole: ‘You have fewer dollars, but less money.'”