December 4, 2012
We at mbaMission tend to believe that asking MBA candidates about their short- and long- term goals is plainly absurd, because so many students change their goals while they are in school. Further, an MBA supposed to be about career development and exploration, right? Regardless of how we feel on the subject, though, during a time when the economy is down and many firms are cutting back on their MBA hiring, you must ensure that (if a school asks via its essay questions or in an interview) you have a compelling story about where you believe your MBA will take you. Two years ago, getting a banking job may have sounded compelling to you. Are you really capable of making that transition today? Certainly, fewer jobs are available now in the real estate world. Is this a likely next step for you during a prolonged real estate drought? Venture capital and private equity jobs are challenging to land even during the best of times—are you able to compete with the elite during a downturn?
These are just a few examples of questions you should honestly ask yourself. Keep in mind that not only are MBA admissions committees examining your story to determine whether you would add something unique to the class, but if you are a borderline case, they will also likely send your profile to the career services office to help confirm whether your stated goals are realistic and you won’t be difficult to place by or after graduation (i.e., that you will not hinder the school’s employment stats and thereby negatively affect its standing in the rankings). So, pay special attention to your goal statements and make sure that you can credibly stand behind them—and you might even consider preparing some alternate goals to discuss.
October 15, 2012
Many candidates choose to take a straightforward, historical approach to their business school personal statements. This can be an easy way to organize an essay, but this approach may also lead candidates to ignore possibilities for a more focused and gripping introduction. Although nothing is fundamentally wrong with taking a historical approach, under certain circumstances, an anecdotal approach can better maintain the reader’s interest. (This all comes down to execution, of course—a strong writer could effectively execute either approach.)
Example 1: Historical
“When I graduated from NYU with a finance degree, I eschewed Wall Street and pursued my own distinct path; I opened a flower shop in midtown New York, never imagining the challenges I would face as I strived to bring in new customers and locate products around the world. With time, I learned to advertise selectively (on billboards in local office buildings) and developed relationships with suppliers, particularly one in Peru, with whom I obtained an exclusive on Heliconia flowers. After one year, we started to specialize in foreign flowers and, with a niche identified, we developed a strong client base. My firm stabilized and I was no longer bleeding cash to support my 11 employees; we were cash flow neutral and contemplating a new location.”
This introduction, which is historical in nature, is very direct and informative, but involves almost no drama or emotion. To be more effective, the writer might instead consider positioning him/herself as “the hero” and drawing the reader in with some anecdotal tension.
Example 2: Anecdotal
“My hand quivered as I signed a lease for 1,000 square feet of retail space in midtown New York. Two months later, I flung open the doors to my flower shop and was stunned when I did not make a sale until my third day. Admittedly, I began to question the wisdom of entrepreneurship and wondered if I should have joined my peers from NYU’s finance program as an analyst on Wall Street instead. However, each day, a trickle of customers came in, and more often than not, they commented on the colorful and rare flowers in my window, like the Peruvian Heliconia, exclusive to my shop. Within weeks, I had core customers picking up scheduled orders and referring friends; I bolstered this ‘word of mouth’ with select advertising on electronic billboards in the four 50-story office towers surrounding the shop. Soon, I noticed a surge of customers and was no longer bleeding cash. After one year, we were cash flow neutral, and I was even contemplating opening another location.”
In this version, the same information is conveyed, but the tension inherent in the “quivering hand” and the empty store act as a “hook” that draws the reader in. By taking this anecdotal approach, which is more personal and emotional, the writer allows the reader to identify with his/her struggle and can more easily maintain the reader’s interest.
Neither approach is right or wrong, but each candidate should decide what works best in each essay.
To get some professional advice on your MBA applications or the business school admissions process, contact mbaMission for a free 30-minute consultation at www.mbamission.com/consult.php.