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12 Ways NOT To Begin Your HBS ‘Introduce Yourself’ Essay

It's the first day of class at Harvard Business School. Introduce yourself to your classmates

It’s the first day of class at Harvard Business School. Introduce yourself to your classmates

As we all know, the only Harvard Business School essay this year asks MBA applicants to ‘Introduce Yourself to your classmates.’ Most applicants are stuck about how to answer this question while being more—-much more–in fact, than just another name, face, and serial number. 

Many people, under the guidance of some consultants, are trying desperately to “cut through the clutter” of all the other essays which will inevitably begin with something like, “Hi everyone, I’m Steven Smith and before coming here I worked for McKinsey . .  .” 

        

Snore. That will never get you in, say many consultants. To get in you need a value add, a selling proposition, a deep search of your yin and yang–and beyond that, once you find that yin and yang you need to start strong and cut through the clutter. CUT THROUGH THE CLUTTER. 



‘FIT IN. DON’T STAND OUT’        

Our resident HBS expert, Sandy Kreisberg, the HBS Guru of hbsguru.com, strongly disagrees. 
He believes the way to get in to HBS is to “fit in, not stand out.”

If pressed, Kreisberg would say that “Hello everyone, I’m Steven Smith and before coming here, I worked for McKinsey . . .” is a totally fine way to start an HBS essay.

We’re not here today to have that debate. Instead, we are here today to celebrate those brave souls who have taken the other consultants advice to heart–too much too heart–and to illustrate what those daring applicants have created in response to the command TO CUT THROUGH THE CLUTTER. 


 

THE FIRST HOW NOT TO CUT THROUGH THE HBS CLUTTER CONTEST       

Herewith our very first Poets&Quants HOW NOT TO CUT THROUGH THE HBS CLUTTER contest.


If you, dear readers and future applicants, have sterling examples of HOW NOT TO CUT THROUGH THE HBS CLUTTER, please post them in our comments section. We will announce 10 winners and award each a Poets&Quants T-shirt. 



Drum roll, please.

HOW NOT TO CUT THROUGH THE HBS CLUTTER
: 12 BOLD AND LOUD AND ORIGINAL WAYS TO START YOUR HBS ON THE WRONG FEET



1. “Friends, Romans, Section Mates, lend me your ears . . . .and with just those as ears as security, I could arrange a very favorable loan of over $100 million as part of your buy out of the AudioScope, the 
undervalued hearing aid retail chain.  As you can tell, before coming here I was a . . . .”



2. “‘Mir뤩ta,’  ‘Ahalan,’  ‘Parev,’  ‘Zdravei,’   ‘Nei Ho,’  ‘Goddag,’  and ‘Saluton’ to you all!!!! 

Hi everyone. 
Those are just words for ‘Hello’ from countries I have visited — except ‘Saluton,’ which is Esperanto, a language I learned at an Adult Enrichment course at the YMCA in Cincinnati, O-H. 

O-H is United States Postal Service talk for  Ohio!!!! That is where I work. 

I’m here to share “Hello” and “Hi” and “How are we?”–and my experiences as a marketing specialist for P&G . . .

I want to learn and share with everyone as our journey goes from Hello to “Hasta la Vista” which is a way of saying goodbye in the Spanish language. I’ve visited there, too. Spain, I mean, although people speak Spanish in other countries.

But let me tell you about ME in any language . . . come to think of it, I also can do charades and want to start a club.” 

[MAKES “HEART” HAND-SIGN ON CHEST AND PROJECTS IT TOWARDS THE CLASS]





3. “10, 8, 9, 7, 5, 6, 2, 1, 3, 4 . . . . You guessed it . . . I’m the guy who got in with the  510 GMAT.”  



4. “Dee Leopold  . . . there is someone, THANK GOD, I will never have to think about again.” 

Similarly, “HBSGURU””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””



5. “Hi everyone, I’m passing out these lollipops for a reason . . . .I couldn’t afford condoms, but in 
introducing myself I do want you to have something pleasant to think about because 
my last five years at Goldman and then TPG were anything but, and that brings me to why I am here…”



6. “My goal is to be the OEC of an innovative and powerful CNM.
 As you can tell, I’m also dyslexic. I meant CEO of an MNC and 
let me tell you how happy I am to be here at BSH, er HBS, although BSH has 
a certain ring to it, especially if you go BSG, where I was on the Waiting List before getting 
dinged. 

KO, Seriously . . .  .” 



7. “Hello my future fellow rulers of the universe . . .Hey, who said investment banking is over? 
What until you hear about my three biggest deals . . .”



8. “What! No free food in the cafeteria, no massages . . .O.K. where did I work before coming here . . .? 
Right you are.  We’re never ‘frugal’ at _______? Let me share that experience with you. ”



9. “Hi everyone . . . I’m Danny Brown and I was born in the United States and have lived there all my life . . .for those of you who look perplexed, the United States is a federal republic  on the North American landmass  between Canada and Mexico, except for Alaska and Hawaii. The United States is a member of NATO, which is an organization some of our European friends may know about. The United States is considered a developed country and it is not land-locked.  Famous people who have come from the United States that you may have heard of include Elvis, Barack Obama, and Mickey Mouse. The capital city of the United States is called Washington, for now. It is named after the first resident of the United States, George Washington, but that may change soon because he owned slaves. I’m glad to be here with such a diverse and international cohort of men, women, and other learners, and I look forward to sharing our national origins, sexual orientations, racial fun facts, and getting to know you all, and contributing to our mutual understanding of everything through the case method. 
       

10. “FIRE!!! “FIRE!!! “FIRE!!! 

Just kidding but that is a good way to remember me. 

F is for FRIENDLY
. I is for INTERESTING
. R is for REALLY FUN.
 E is for ELLEN which is very close to my real name, Helen.” 
        





11. “Hi everyone, if you got one of those apps, and are giving me funny looks, well, let’s get this sex registry thing out of the way right now . . . .I assume we are all over 18. O.K., I’m allowed to be here.

12. “Hi everyone, I’m Jane Tuttle and I want to start by telling you  two things about me that are NOT TRUE. 

First, I’m not related to King Tut, but if you are, and come from Egypt or one of those countries around there, here’s a big shout out for that hairdo. Seriously, how do you do that?

 Second, my friends don’t call me “Tutts”–I mean you can, who knows, but . . .

O.K. Here are some things about me that ARE True . . . .I used to work at one of those Big Four accounting firms  . . . . “



DON’T MISS: 2015-2016 MBA APPLICATION DEADLINES AT TOP BUSINESS SCHOOLS or HOW TO APPLY TO HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL

  • hbsguru

    🙂 hope that worked, what’s the update.

  • HBS_hopeful

    Thanks Sandy, appreciate the honesty. I guess I am having a really hard time understanding what you mena by YOUR VOICE. I thought telling my story of how I got the the US (through an athletic scholarship), what I learned and how it shaped me was my voice so can you elaborate on what you mean or anything specific you might have in mind. Really appreciate your feedback and thoughts.

  • hbsguru

    I could sound scripted and giving them back the cliches you think they want to hear. OK to say you were on a team and this was valuable learning exp. in some quick, honest way, but they dont want you [and your classmates do not want to hear] some mini-bs-lecture about it.
    How MBA can help is also not a great topic to elaborate on, it’s all BS, and generic. Sure, note that in some sign off paragrpah, but don’t spend 300 words on it.
    BASICALLY what they want to hear is YOUR VOICE, what you are proposing above is some constrained and a bit phony version of that, pontificating about sports and case method. Dunno, aint going to help quite frankly, and depending on how tone-deaf it turned out, could be damaging.

  • HBS_hopeful

    Hi Sandy,

    I was an international student athlete at a Division 1 school and this experience has impacted me greatly. I was planning on comparing the learnings from playing a team sport to the case method used at HBS (i.e. preparation, team work = learning groups, leadership, different angle sto apprach problems/situations, etc.). And then add additional context of my work, what I have been doing and why the MBA at HBS can help me get to what I want to do in the future. Thoughts?

  • Bob G

    Some constructive criticism — this site reads like it’s sponsored by HBS sometimes. Stanford is the #1 school with the most opaque admissions process and there’s hardly anything on this site about the GSB. It would helpful to have more.

  • Abheek Das

    I am a philonoist, a curator of malt whiskey, a documentary enthusiast, and have a penchant for French cuff shirts. Hi, I am Abheek Das. I was born & raised in New Delhi, India. My first name literally means ‘fearless’, which I doubt holds any value on account of the fact that I am awfully terrified of horror movies & find it difficult to close my eyes when the lights in my room are turned off. I am not German, if any of you were wondering because my surname literally translates as an article ‘the’ in the German Language. I have some proficiency in the language though. I have a pretty diverse palette. Bring me your food & I will religiously consume it, but please don’t bring me any worms. Looking forward at making a lasting impression on my fellow classmates with awfully well coordinated dinner jokes.

  • Abheek Das

    I am a philonoist, a curator of malt whiskey, a documentary enthusiast, and have a penchant for French cuff shirts. Hi, I am Abheek Das. I was born & raised in New Delhi, India. My first name literally means ‘fearless’, which I doubt holds any value on account of the fact that I am awfully terrified of horror movies & find it difficult to close my eyes when the lights in my room are shut off. I am not German, if any of you were wondering because my surname literally translates as an article ‘the’ in the German Language. I have some proficiency in the language though. I have a pretty diverse palette. Bring me your food & I will religiously consume it, but please don’t bring me any worms. Looking forward to making a lasting impression on my fellow classmates with awfully well coordinate dinner jokes.

  • Alex

    Sandy,

    Is there a danger on focusing on tenement beliefs that shape me as a person rather than talking about why I want my MBA? Will it make a material difference to connect all of these things?

    As for the humor, hopefully there are more subtle ways to go than the list of 12 at the top that will, if not bring someone to tears with laughter, at least break up the monotony a little bit.

    Thanks,
    Alex

  • David

    Sorry forgot to add my question there. What are your thoughts on this? I’m afraid it will come across as too much of a sob story.

  • David

    Hi Sandy, my plan for the essay is to introduce myself and my experiences growing up in an impoverished inner-city household, and how those experiences led me to realize education is the only way out. I would then get into how this is the driving force behind why I’ve worked hard through all of my studies etc etc and why I sought a position with the leading education publishing company. Then I would tie it all together by stating my future goals that directly relate back to the education industry.

  • hbsguru

    ahem, know your consultant:

    Man held for cheating MBA aspirant of Rs 7 lakh
    | Agency: dna

    The
    Antop Hill police on Saturday arrested a 33-year-old man for allegedly
    duping a senior citizen on the pretext of providing his son admission in
    a reputed institute for an MBA course. The police suspect involvement
    of two more persons in the fraud and are investigating the case further.

    The arrested person has been identified as Sunilratna Athawle, a resident of Khar (W).

  • hbsguru

    there is more downside than upside to humor; and the first rule of these essays is DO NO HARM [altho many think the first rule is STAND OUT} in actual reality, if people did get up in front of other real people, and had to talk for say 3 minutes, versus what really happens, 20 seconds, there would be all sorts of guffaws and silly jokes, and humble bragging.
    On the page, however, where the audience is inside the brain of one adcom, things can become more judgmental and unfair. She will not be stupidly laughing along with all your classmates, she will be timing her next pee-wee break versus the pile of other essays in front of her, and may be hard to amuse. ALL THAT SAID, a la Dee Leopold, they will no doubt feature many charming and self-deflecting and winning essays after all the smoke clears and many OTHER charming essay writers have been dinged.
    Then folks read THAT and say, GEE I shudda been funny.
    Maybe, at any rate, dont plan on using humor to replace the basics, OK maybe in the beginning and at the end, it takes a very special writer to create an Intro that is light, charming, informative etc. all the way thru. Politicians can do that but they have speech writers and moreover, that material has been honed and tested in front of real crowds
    hundreds of times. And even they sometimes step in verbal doo-doo.

  • hbsguru

    HMMMM, putting an ad at the beginning of your HBS essay IS something I have not seen before, but depending on your goals, etc, it could work 😉

  • harrietfordypa

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  • Sally

    Would you steer away from humor in the case that it may come off as offbeat?

  • hbsguru

    AND NOW THIS. WHAT THOSE GREAT MINDS AT HBS ARE DOING
    But new research from Harvard Business school suggests that the
    processes involved with initiating and delivering a sarcastic comment
    may improve the creativity and cognitive functioning of both the
    commenter and the recipient. Their findings were published this past week in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

  • hbsguru

    depends, you will need to explain inside the app. b.c. they ask for that.
    In essay, approach will vary on what your industry is, and actual jobs and reasons for there being 3. If each got you closer to goals, well, no prob. esp. if you were in industry with often rapid turnover, e.g. media, if you are in IB or MC where 2 year gigs are standard, well, that could be more challenging.

  • ZZ

    Hello Sandy
    I have been in three jobs in the last 3 years. Whats the best way to talk about it? Relating it to my goals or to other aspects like location and salary? where should I explain it? In the essay or in the booxes dedicated to the work exp?

  • hbsguru

    “what are the key things you SHOULD include Why an MBA, what you can bring to the school, some of your leadership
    experience, some less subtle drops of your amazing work ethic and
    leadership?)” Career Goal in some general way should be stated, as part of telling story and introducing self. This can be impt. if goal is not obvious from work ex, etc. etc. or you are non-standard applicant.
    I may get push back on this, but this essay is not about bragging or even leadership, per se. How interested are you in hearing leadership BS from kid sitting next to you? Influences are more legit and that discussion can bring in implied leadership.
    What we dont need IMHO is some checklist of HBS courses by name that you are eager in taking to meet your goal. Calling Wharton!!!!! Calling MIT and other boring questions.
    What might get you some mojo is talking about experiences which implicitly
    will make you a valued contrib. to the case method sweat lodge.
    This can be overt or covert. Overt is “I enjoyed working w. fledgling entrepreneurs in the x region of obscure place and I look forward to sharing your
    stories of trying to start companies outside of the usual suspect places . . .”
    Of course, adcom reader is smart enuf to check that box just from hearing the core story.

  • hbsguru

    “If you have an unusual childhood (third world/conflict region etc) – do you think it’s fair to start biographically?”
    maybe, but it better go someplace or relate to something and not just be a pity party.
    and let me say, the pity party radar among readers of these essays is very fine tuned, esp. after you read a couple of hundred, as I have already done!
    Note that adcoms will already KNOW where you are born etc. It is part of internal app questions, so they may be giving any “points” for that already. Also,
    a good way maybe to handle this is, “One of the influences driving me to focus on helping growing companies was the efforts I saw by innovative and hard-working entrepreneurs in ____ to start/grow companies and how often they were defeated by such externals as 1 2 3 .
    It just seemed like such a waste.

  • hbsguru

    that works best if you can connect it to something in your professional career and goals,
    One motive for my interest in x y or z was my mom’s battles with 1 and 2 and the different drug protocols she was put on. I saw how x and y happened and what the results were [good or bad]
    OK< that is obvious, if x and y is e.g. pharma, consulting, or even PE is certain contexts [e.g. to hospitals] another way is to say,
    more broadly, "Among the most influential leaders I came into contact with those years was X at Company 1, Y at org A, and my dad, who was trying to do
    1 2 3 while my mom was suffering from ___ and _____.
    While there is no leadership style for all cases and seasons, I am eager to share those with you and discover what you experiences with both professional and personal charisma have been. etc. etc.

  • khls

    If you have an unusual childhood (third world/conflict region etc) – do you think it’s fair to start biographically? I thought it would shed light on how some of my values and show my perspective etc etc. Second question: what are the key things you SHOULD include since this is the only space (ex. Why an MBA, what you can bring to the school, some of your leadership experience, some less subtle drops of your amazing work ethic and leadership?) ??!?

  • HBS hopeful

    Thanks Sandy-

    I was thinking about writing about my moms battle with depression/mental illness/suicide attempts.

    Concerned that it is too Stanfordy and while it did indeed impact me more than any other event of my life and drives everything I do and why I am applying to bschool it could come across as not authentic. Certainly not how I would introduce myself to classmates in reality.

    Thoughts?

  • hbsguru

    BTW, if anyone has any serious questions about the HBS essay, happy to give a quick response.