Thursday, June 21, 2012

MBA Essay Writing Tips

Here are 10 things to keep in mind as you begin the process of developing your MBA essays.

1. Make a plan before you start writing

Goals essays need careful consideration before you begin typing because of the linkage that needs to be present between sections.  An essay that asks for (1) your background or introduction, (2) why MBA, (3) your career goals and (4) why you like their program is asking for four sections that require close linkage between them. Planning this linkage in advance will, for instance, help you to clearly understand which elements of your background should be included, or what parts of their MBA you may emphasize to show the best fit. Leadership teamwork, failure and other such essays require a different approach.  First, what episode will you share?  Next, what parts need to be included, and in what order?  You should consider these things before you start writing.  

2. Always be specific (give an example here that uses the word various in the negative example) and tell a good story

If you haven't done so already, remove the word "various" from your vocabulary for the entirety of the application season, because this word is not useful in your resume, essays or interview.  Instead of writing about the various things you aim to do in the future, show you have thought through the topic by detailing those future challenges in detail. Clear goals makes it easier to figure out clear reasons for an MBA, which will help you when you need to give clear examples of why a school's MBA is a good place for you to study.

In terms of the story essays (leadership, teamwork etc) one of the easiest ways to judge whether it is effective or not is to simply asking someone if the story is interesting. A story about your leadership or teamwork experience should, at the most basic level, be interesting.  If it isn't it is boring to read and the reader isn't likely to be interested in meeting you or getting to know you better.  

3. Use "I" - talk about yourself as your essays are about you

Don't make the mistake of over-emphasizing your company, department, division or team. It is important that you be able to write about yourself.  If your accomplishments tend to be team-based, think hard about the specific contributions you have made to those teams.  It is in writing about these details that you own strengths, skills and even personality can be revealed. 

4. Try to show what is good, special or unique about you

At the end of the day, your essay is an advertisement of whatever it is that sets you apart from other and makes you an interesting person. Doing so will help you convince a schools admissions team that you are worth meeting in person, and that you can contribute to your classmates.  The function of every essay you write, no matter the topic, is to reveal something about you. Never forget that an essay is a part of an application to a business school. This is an essay to convince someone you belong in their business school (not an entry to a creative writing contest) this means you should be showing your strengths, your need for an MBA, and the transferable skills you can use in the MBA or in your future.

5. Extracurricular activities can often make for better topics than work-related stories

This is because what you choose to do in your free time says a lot more about you and what you are interested in that the projects you are involved in at work.  This does not mean that you should avoid professional topics and only choose personal ones!  Instead, for most a balanced approach, combining professional and personal topics in the essays will work best.

6. Don't pay too much attention to the length of the first draft

An essay may need to eventually be 500 words, 400 or even 200 words - but don't let this affect your work on initial drafts.  Don't write 200 pages - i.e. be focused - but at the same time, emphasize in initial drafts getting all the part of the story across.  Choosing what is most necessary and what can be omitted comes later.

7. Be honest

Anyone who tells you that in order "to get into XYZ Business School" you must write about "ABC" might not judge your own stories fairly.  When answering essay questions, use your own experiences, development, and interests, rather than trying to craft yourself into something you are not.  So - don't say that you are committed to environmental issues unless you have a great example of activity that shows this commitment clearly!  Anything other than this and you are running the risk of not sounding believable.  

8. Answer all parts of the question

As you work on goals essays, you'll notice that many schools ask for essentially the same thing, but with minor difference between each.  Example:

School A - Describe your career background and goals and how taking an MBA program will help you achieve your goals. 
School B - Describe your career background and goals and how taking our MBA program now will help you achieve your goals.

Notice how school A is asking "why MBA?" while School B is instead asking "why our MBA?" and also "why now?".  In both cases it would make sense to offer detail as to how the particular school is best suited to you - but the key here is to make sure you don't skip parts.  Submitting a version of the essay you have written for School A to School B, for instance, would be risky as the readers at School B might notice that you neglected to answer certain parts of the question.

9. Don't let someone edit your essay until your voice is gone.

Your writing should be reflective of you, not someone else. Heavy-handed editing that changes the style, structure or event content of your essays isn't a good idea.  So don't let someone do this!  But..

10. Get the opinion of others who will be honest and (preferably) have experience in admissions and know what they're doing.

It is important to get the advice of others in order to be able to make a compelling and competitive application for b-school. There are any reasons why, but the main one to consider is that as both the writer and the subject matter, you (i.e. the applicant) are too close to the material.  Can you look at your essays and objectively see whether or not they are impactful or interesting? Probably not. That's where a second opinion makes sense.  Be sure to choose that person carefully!

John Couke