What NOT to Say in Your MBA Admissions Essays
The MBA admission essays play a crucial part in the entire application process. In fact, a candidate with a comparatively weaker profile in terms of educational records and work experience can actually trump a stronger candidate just on the strength of these essays. As the old adage goes, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it”.
However, when writing your admission essays, it is as important to know what not to say as it is to know what to say. For example, never make extravagant claims you cannot back up during interviews or through recommendations. While it is normal to feel the need to embellish your essays with imaginary exploits, resist the urge. The admissions committees at the business schools are no amateurs; they have been doing this for years and are familiar with all kinds of exaggerations and misrepresentations.
Secondly, do not make excuses for any failures. While the admissions committees are interested to know about your failures, and some even mention that explicitly in the essay topics, their interests lie mainly in how you tackled the crisis and what you learned from it. It is an accepted fact of life that it is full of uncertainties and this is more pronounced in the corporate world. Your ability to navigate through such uncertainties and learn from your failures will distinguish you from other candidates.
Finally, refrain from criticizing your colleagues at work. Even in your MBA class, you will meet people you do not like. In fact, you will also encounter professors who seem to be far from amiable. However, once you get admitted, you will have to work with all of them. Therefore, your criticism can mark you out as a one who has trouble interacting with others, and rob you of that admit decision.
What goes into a great recommendation letter
What differentiates the MBA from other graduate courses is the prerequisite of work experience. While fresh undergraduates with zero work experience do get into reputed MBA programs under extraordinary circumstances, such a situation is more the exception than the rule. Therefore, for all intents and purposes, the MBA applicant is required to provide evidence of achievements at work. In the application process, this is through recommendation letters.
A great recommendation letter is written by someone who has worked with the applicant on a regular basis, and hence, can offer knowledgeable opinions on the latter’s strengths and weaknesses. While it’s normal to emphasize the strengths, an honest evaluation of a shortcoming or two helps make the letter more genuine, simply because every individual has at least one weakness.
It’s better to get a person higher up in the company hierarchy to write the recommendation letter, because then the writer is under no obligation to be unnecessarily praiseworthy. At the same time, a letter from an immediate manager who has actively supervised the applicant will have more value than a letter from the CEO whom the applicant has hardly interacted with. Of course, this stipulation can be relaxed if the said CEO is an alumnus of that particular school or a world-famous name like Steve Jobs.
While the recommender is supposed to send the letter directly to the school, the applicant can actually discuss the points he or she would like included, before the letter is prepared. However, it’s the duty of the recommender to make his or her own decision on those points. A great recommendation letter should ideally mention the applicant’s leadership, intellectual and team player capabilities, possibly backed up by quantitative data. For example, something like, “Applicant X is among the top 5% of my reports and has been instrumental in company Y saving $100,000 in operational costs this year” can be very helpful.