Worried about what to include and what to avoid in your MBA admission essay? Sameer Kamat, author of the bestselling MBA book Beyond The MBA Hype offers help! Illustrations by Uttam Ghosh
MBA essays are the single most effective way to achieve differentiation and stand out from the crowd. They help candidates go beyond their GMAT scores, their industries and basically everything that slots them into a particular category
We look at some guidelines to start working on those first drafts. Why nine tips? Why not aim for a perfect Ten? We'll get to that soon.
1. Do the background research first
Don't jump into the writing part before you have had a chance to figure out what you want to say and how.
Know the personality and the requirements of the school you are applying to, think about how the two of you are compatible and how both the sides will be happy with the 'relationship'.
Sounds strange? It is all about the 'fit'. So whether it's a personal or business relationship, similar concepts apply.
The author Sameer Kamat is also the founder of MBA Crystal Ball, an MBA admissions consulting venture. Kamat completed his MBA from the University of Cambridge. You can connect with him on Twitter @kamatsameer.
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2. No copy pasting, please
After a while, all the b-school essay questions start sounding the same.
You'll find same keywords related to careers, accomplishments, leadership and managerial skills in most of them.
But don't assume that you can just 'find and replace' the name of the next business school and your job is done.
Each essay question might be worded slightly differently.
If you have the ability to read between the lines, the essay question will have hints on the nuances that you need to emphasise.
Essays are a lot like the 'best of' series' (The best of Michael Jackson, The best of Gulzar, The best of Poonam Pandey) of music, books or stars.
Your body of work might be vast, impressive and all tweet-worthy.
You might have amazing stories in every sphere of life that you've experimented with. But 400 words (plus or minus a few hundred) are hardly enough to reveal everything. Choose your stories carefully.
4. Focus on the hygiene factors
Typos and word counts are the easiest to fix.
Admission officers might pardon you for a few minor typos if you've done something phenomenal in areas that they value. But, why take a chance?
Word counts are another challenge for many applicants. If you've taken care of the previous tip (prioritisation), you can manage this one painlessly.
5. Retain your voice
Often, there's a tendency to project a larger-than-life image in MBA essays with the assumption that the Adcoms (admissions commitee) will be floored.
Candidates frequently shoot themselves in the foot by writing essays that make them sound like a completely different person.
Impactful content always scores over aesthetics. For the same reason, Tendulkar's minor follies (like the straightened hair) can be overlooked, if he continues piling up the runs.
6. Empower Adcoms to form a judgement
Well, they are empowered anyway. But don't try to force your opinion on them in order to make their job too easy.
Don't force-feed them with your opinions hoping it'll result in a quick, positive decision.
Give them just the right data and let them decide whether you'd be a good candidate for their programme.
7. Build credibility, not a bubble
If you've worked on a one-off research assignment related to a strategic topic and presented the findings to the senior management, don't pretend that the CEO calls you every time he wants to make an important personal or professional decision.
Exaggeration is a great way to quickly gain attention, and lose credibility.
8. Don't experiment with humour
You might be damn funny in real life.
You might also have a fantastic ice-breaker of a joke ready for your essays. But save that till you get into the programme and are relatively sure you can take social ostracism in your stride if it backfires.
Humour isn't universal. Different cultures and people can interpret the same joke in different ways.
You have no clue who's going to read your joke and how people might react to it.
9. Tell a story
Your MBA application is not just a bunch of parameters.
It's a story. It's got a beginning, a middle and a future (rather than an end).
We've all seen romantic movies, action movies, horror movies. Over the years, have any of the themes or the characters or the basic premise changed? Not really. But some movies still get us hooked, while the others fizzle away (despite great actors, great direction and soul-stirring item numbers).
Think about it and you might get some ideas for your essays.
If you are wondering why we didn't just round it off to make it 'Top 10 tips for writing MBA essays', well, that's the tenth tip. Share enough to trigger interest.
Give the Adcoms a reason to invite you for an interview and get to know more about the wonderful person they've just been introduced to in the essays.
You don't need to lay out ALL the cards on the table at once. Have some additional stories ready to make the interview interesting as well.