This could ruin her chances, I think to myself after reading my client, Marina’s business school admissions essays. We’re weeks away from submitting and her essays just aren’t there yet.
When a client and I decide to work together, one of the first things I like to explain is that my job isn’t to burst their bubble. “Anyone can tell you all the reasons you won’t get in,” I tell clients. “My job is to show you how you can get in.”
For months Marina and I have worked together, trying to devise the perfect plan to address her specific situation. While Marina has strong test scores and good grades from Cal Berkeley, her resume leaves much to be desired.
In the past four years, she’s been laid off from four jobs. The admissions committee could easily see her as the Jennifer Lopez of applicants. Once they get her, no one seems to want to keep her.
Business School is designed to prepare you for the job you’ll have after school. There’s an intrinsic assumption you’ll get a job after school and more importantly, keep it.
But Marina’s resume makes her look like a job flea, hopping from one to the next. The essay she’s submitted for my review glosses over the details of her employment issues. Yet her lackluster employment history is detailed clearly on her resume.
The reality of her situation stands out like an elephant in the middle of her application; and glossing over the issue doesn’t make it go away.
For her to get in, Marina’s going to have to show that losing four jobs in four years makes her an asset. But Marina can’t wrap her head around the concept. At this point in the process, she sees everything as a weakness. She’s having a hard time assessing herself.
It’s my job to help her think differently, so she can see the forest through the 4 jobs she’s lost.
So I give Marina an assignment. Using a simple framework she’ll later learn more about in b-school, I ask her to assess herself as if she were a business. I suggest a SWOT analysis, a grid used to analyze strength, weakness, opportunity, and threat.
Put on a grid, one’s internal weakness and external threats start to become more obvious. The realities become less personal on paper and merely become data one needs to address.
By seeing herself on paper, it becomes obvious to Marina how she can address her work history and turn her weaknesses into strengths.
Marina had lost her job four times, but only because she had gone to work for start-ups during a volatile economic climate. She was never fired based on her performance. The companies she worked for had either lost their funding or merged which led to layoffs.
By addressing this instead of ignoring it, Marina then became an applicant with a passion for start-ups who shows resilience and an ability to land on her feet. These are amazingly good qualities for future business leaders.
She was even able to discuss the life lessons these hurdles had taught her and show how they will make her a better leader in the future.
By thinking about herself within the same context she’d think about any business, Marina turned her weaknesses into strengths and ultimately got in.
So what are your weaknesses? And how can you turn them into strengths?
Don’t gloss over the truth; it just might be what sets you apart and helps you get in.
An MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, Stacy Blackman founded Stacy Blackman Consulting in 2001 and has helped thousands of MBA applicants gain admission to the most selective business schools in the world. The Stacy Blackman team, comprised of MBA graduates, former admissions officers and expert writers, editors and marketers, helps clients develop and implement a winning marketing strategy. Stacy’s previous confessions story.
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