Essays: Step 1
You're satisfied with your IELTS/TOEFL and GMAT/GRE scores and now you're gazing at the first essay question wondering where to begin. The first step is to gather stories to tell the admissions committee. Analyse them to show your emotional maturity. Here I outline the character traits the admissions committee of the business school are looking for in you. The work done here will be the foundation for your essays and interviews for each school you apply to.
The 12 traits: Let's start by understanding the 12 traits that admissions committees of top MBA programs want you to be able to demonstrate and explain. Try to touch on all of them in your application. Some traits, such as Leadership and Determination, are binary. You must simply demonstrate them. Others have no correct answer, rather you must show you've considered them deeply; Why MBA (this school, not PhD...), Why Now, Morals, your strengths and your weaknesses.
Thought framework: You must think of stories from your past which demonstrate these traits. They won't be front-of-mind so to recall them it may help to apply a thought framework. Consider your life in 3 distinct periods: Upbringing, Undergrad and Work experience. During each of these time periods, consider the following activities:
This should help you identify character traits that have been consistent throughout your life while you've matured. Note that you will avoid using the Upbringing stories in the essays themselves. Around 2/3rds of the content will be refer to your work experience, the rest from undergrad and outside of work.
Trait Let's imagine the thought framework helped you remember winning an egg and spoon race in primary school. You weren’t particularly fast but you were calm and didn't give up. You have identified a trait that differentiates you: Determination
Story That same determination drove you to pull an all-nighter 20 years later. In your essay you tell a story full of imagery about running home at 6am to shower and change out of your smelly clothes before returning to the office to ace a client presentation. Perhaps you were promoted or your firm won the deal as a result, giving the story a concrete ending.
Analysis Now analyse the story deeply. The adcom is judging you on your ability to self-evaluate so explain your motivation behind every action.
Why did you behave as you did? Perhaps you were scared of letting down your team. Perhaps it was out of respect for your manager who you admire deeply. Maybe you were leading younger colleagues by example or you crave being remembered. Give the adcom a glimpse into your soul.
What does it say about your workplace strengths and weaknesses? Since you aced the presentation perhaps analyse your communication style. But since you had to pull an all-nighter, perhaps your time-management skills are weak or your modelling skills need improvement. These are 'good' weaknesses because both will be addressed by the MBA. In project management you’ll learn about Gantt charts and in Corporate Finance and Accounting you’ll hone your financial modelling. Make this connection to show why you need an MBA and show you've done your homework by referring to specific classes and faculty.
Repeat: Think of as many stories as possible from different times in your life which link to the 12 traits, then analyse them in as much depth as you can. If you're too embarrassed to leave your self-analysis notes lying around the house, then you're going deep enough.
In Essays step 2: Mapping we’ll look at the essay prompts and decide which of your stories and analysis to use to answer them.
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