Category Archives: MBA Adcom

7 Ways to a Better MBA Admissions Essay

If you look back through the 10-year archive of posts here on this site, and see my book, you’ll know I’ve written many times on how to write a winning MBA admissions essay.

There’s no formula. But as we look ahead to a new admissions season,  some particular issues come to mind when I look at the current crop of essays I’m reviewing and advising on for clients.

What is a good essay?

One may think, there are many kinds of good. Who’s to say? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, etc. Actually, not so. For MBA admissions, a good essay is one that gets the applicant admitted. Period.

(On the other hand, being dinged doesn’t mean you wrote a bad essay. It’s ultra-competitive out there.) But getting in does mean you wrote a winning essay.

How to win?

1. Be authentic. This doesn’t mean you are not also strategic in your communications choices. But if strategic is all you are, if there is not a real voice speaking, your essay will not have enough natural vitality, personality and drive. Be you, and only you, not what you imagine some ideal MBA applicant should be.

2.  Don’t talk business-speak. As a sidebar to the authentic imperative, don’t wrap your distinct self in jargon. If your text talks about how you achieved ‘synergies’ based on ‘actionable’ ‘imperatives’ that ‘drove’ a  ‘frictionless’ process ‘taking it to the next level’… that’s not the real you speaking. For authenticity, just use standard English words in the normal way.

3. Show don’t tell. Any claim you make about yourself is hot air unless you can prove it with a verified achievement, or clear example, or believable story. This is where the evidence for your positive self-assessment lies, and this is where Adcom will look.

4. Write brightly. It’s dull to read dull or generic text. One essay, fine; two, bleugh; three, sigh; four, pass the vodka. You will stand out if you make your points crisply and move the reader forward at a good pace.

5. Lead the reader. You are guiding your reader not trying to set her a  comprehension test. So don’t stint on structure. Use signposting and paragraphing to signal where you are going, which should be along a path that already naturally makes sense. (Then go where you said you would.)

6. Delete redundant staging. Signposting is good, but after that, don’t launch your points with extra padding like: “In this essay I aim to create an understanding for the admission committee with regard to a greater knowledge of my professional aspirations.” Delete all that, and just say what your aspirations are. Make space for real content.

7. It’s about you. Avoid telling the school how great it is, or how great the opportunities it will give you are. They are aware of their status. The question is, are you great? Will you use the opportunities to do great things. If so, how so?

‘I’m Furloughed, Does That Affect My MBA Admissions Prospects?’

In September 2009, in the wake of the financial crisis, I wrote a post on unemployment and MBA admissions.

At the time, a lot of people—particularly in financial services but also more widely—had been bounced out of their jobs due to the credit crunch and associated recession.

Sound familiar? Here we are in the era of Covid19 in a similar place, only more so, with employment implications that are wider and deeper.

If you’re furloughed, but in a few months you find yourself back in the same position, that’s not going to affect your MBA application in any way. In fact it helps you, if you can show you used your time off wisely and productively

What I said then as regards a real period of unemployment was, yes, it does negatively affect your MBA acceptance prospects, particularly at top schools. In the context where 1 in 10 are admitted, it’s going to be hard to be the one if you’re unemployed.

But just as those were not normal times, nor are these. Lots of people have been squeezed out of the job market due to the pandemic. If you’re one of them, Adcom will understand that.

The test then becomes,  how did you respond? What did you do with your time? Also, how did the experience changed you? How have you grown?

Unemployment often stimulates a period of life-stocktaking, where we have the breathing space to reevaluate our goals or at least ask ‘what do I really want to do next?’ Adcom is interested to see if you can do and have done this personal work, and what your answers are.

Keep in mind also that most senior executives—your role model in your MBA application—will face periods of career upheaval. Showing you can cope with this is a mark in your favor.

Back in 2009, Chicago Booth had  fabulous admissions blog written by Rose Martinelli, then Associate Dean for Student Recruitment and Admissions. (When she left, it became the more prosaic”Booth Insider,” and it is now the really dull ‘Chicago Full-Time MBA Admissions Blog’. They ask you to write lively, attractive essays yet themselves put out this dull info wire, what’s with that…? But I digress.)

Anyway, the point is, what Martinelli had to say then about newly unemployed candidates and MBA admissions still holds as excellent advice. Asked whether unemployed candidates would get in, she said:

“The simple answer is yes! Many people have been displaced over the past year through no fault of their own, and finding a new job in their target industry/function has been equally difficult.

“So what can you do? First, take stock of what you have learned about yourself during this time. For many of you, this may have shaken your confidence and impacted what you want to do with your life/career going forward. Help us to understand this in your application.

“Second, let us know what you have been doing with your newfound freedom and what motivates you. Are you taking classes, volunteering your services, traveling, etc.? There is no right or wrong activity… Again, help us to understand your choices and motivations.

“As you’ve probably learned by now, we’re so much more interested in how you have coped with these surprises and what you’ve learned about yourself,” said Martinelli.