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  • Writer's pictureSam Weeks

How to apply for an MBA - Episode 02 - Mapping

Updated: Feb 1

In this episode you’ll look at the essay questions for the first time. You’ll take the stories and analysis from Episode 01 - Brainstorming and map these to specific essay questions, based on the traits each question is asking for. 

Find traits in your stories: In Episode 01 - Brainstorming (link below) we wrote stories from different times in your life. We analysed these stories and noted the character traits they demonstrate. As a reminder, these are the 12 main traits:

Now look at the essay questions:  Until now, we haven’t looked at the essay questions! That is to ensure you have an unbiased mindset while you perform the self-analysis. Now look at the essay questions. Despite appearing different at first glance, you’ll realise that all business schools are looking for similar character traits. Ask yourself: Which trait or traits is each question looking for?

Map stories to questions: Now, connect your stories and analysis to the questions. Since your stories demonstrate several traits, there may be several good combinations.

Specific questions

Some questions will be specific about which traits they are looking for. An example question for each trait is shown below:

The definition of successful leadership has evolved over the last decade and will continue to change. What do you need to develop to become a successful leader?(Berkeley Haas) - Leadership

What would you like to highlight about yourself or your journey which may have not been captured in your application? (IESE) - Determination

Demonstrate your ability to clearly and concisely communicate by telling us about yourself, using a short slide presentation. (Mendoza) - Communication

Describe a situation where you had to work jointly with others to achieve a common goal. What did you learn from the experience? (Cambridge Judge) - Team Player

Tell us about your favorite book, movie or song and why it resonates with you. (Columbia) - Creativity

Why Stanford (Stanford GSB) - Why MBA

How will the Booth MBA help you achieve your immediate and long-term post-MBA career goals? (Chicago Booth) - Why now

Tuck students invest generously in one another’s success even when it is not convenient or easy. Share an example of how you helped someone else succeed.” (Dartmouth Tuck) - Community

Think of a business leader or role model you admire or aspire to be. What are the defining characteristics of his or her personal brand that you see in yourself (Georgetown) - Mentors

Tell us about a time when you made a difficult decision - Morals

Describe with examples the most important personal quality that you possess, which significantly enhances your prospects of being successful as a leader? (Indian School of Business) - Strengths

What did you learn from your most spectacular failure” (Cambridge-Judge) - Weaknesses

Worked example: Specific question

Example question: Tell us about your strengths

Story: During the Brainstorming session you recounted the story of an all-nighter in your last job which you linked to your promotion.

Analysis: Choose traits to analyse

  • Grit/determination Tell this story to demonstrate ‘grit/determination’. If the word count is tight you may only be able to demonstrate one trait. If the word count is sufficient you could use the story to tick-off more of the 12 traits.

  • or Team player You took on this responsibility and pulled an all-nighter because your team was relying on you to complete the work. Tick-off ‘Team player’ from your 12 traits list. What other strengths does this story demonstrate?

  • or Leadership Candidates with leadership as a key trait may use this question to examine the leadership of the manager they were working for at the time. What was it about their leadership style which drove you to pull an all-nighter?

  • or Creativity Your client presentation was successful and you could argue that a key reason for this success was the innovative and unusual solution you offered to the client. Tick-off ‘creativity’ from your 12 traits list.

  • or Strength (technical) By touching on the quality of the financial modelling required for this project, you could analyse a technical strength which you would bring into corporate finance and accounting classes.

Broad questions

Other questions are more vague about which traits they are looking for, giving you the added challenge of considering which traits to include and focus on. Treat these as an opportunity to highlight traits you most want to focus on and to touch on traits which are not apparent elsewhere in your application. Some examples of broad essay questions are:

Tell us something that is not covered in your application which you would like the Admissions Committee to know about you. (Oxford Said) Any traits

Describe the biggest commitment you have ever made. (Yale SOM) Any traits

Worked example: Broad essay question

Example question: Tell us about a time when your relationships improved a team effort

Story: For example, tell a story of some community work you did as part of a team. You managed the team and presented the final outcome to a committee. 

Analysis: Choose traits to analyse.

  • Trait 1: Team work Since you worked as part of a team to complete the community work you can discuss the team dynamic. What role did you play? How does this fit your personality type? What challenges did you face? If you managed the team, touch on your managerial style.

  • Trait 2: Community Schools want to know that you’re going to give back to the school community, both during your MBA and as an alumnus. Convince them by explaining what was your motivation for giving back to the community.

  • Trait 3: Communication When managing the team and when presenting the final outcome you had to communicate with others. Were there any language barriers? Did you speak differently to different people to get the best out of them?

Cutting out material

Once you’ve mapped your stories to the essay questions you will know which story to use in each essay to demonstrate all 12 traits. Some traits will be demonstrated several times - these are your key traits.

You will also know which stories you will not mention. This is good. You will never be able to clearly reference all of your achievements within the word limit - far better to focus on a handful and extract multiple traits from each.

Next: In the next video I’ll give you tips for how to structure your essays and the kind of language you should use to stay within the word limit.

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Hi, I'm Sam.  I'm the founder of Sam Weeks Consulting. Our clients get admitted to top MBA and EMBA programs.

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