In his 2015 book, “The Road to Character”, journalist David Brooks made the case that our “resume virtues”, our test scores, professional accomplishments and the skills we bring to the workplace, have taken center stage at the expense of our “eulogy virtues”, the aspects of our character that others praise when we aren’t there and the values we display through the consistency of our decisions, commitments and behaviors.
Your MBA application can seem like an exercise perfectly designed to fit Brooks’ resume virtues. You prepare months for the GMAT, you rework your resume over and over, trying to fit all of your very best professional accomplishments onto a single page, you prepare examples displaying your intellect, financial prowess, managerial skills and leadership potential, so you have them at the ready when you are (hopefully) invited for an interview.
It’s true that business schools want to know of your resume virtues, and that they judge them against your peers. But, for many schools, these are not enough; they want to see your eulogy virtues, too.
This year, applicants to Yale SOM will have to answer a single essay question: “Describe the biggest commitment you ever made”. This remarkably simple, straightforward question, developed in collaboration with Yale professor of Organizational Behavior, Amy Wrzesniewski, gets right to the heart of your eulogy virtues. What do you deem worthy of your time and energy? And how is that shaped by the values that define your character?
Stanford GSB takes a similarly straightforward approach with their long standing essay question, “What matters most to you and why?”, but several schools come at the topic less directly.
Berkeley-Haas asks which song most expresses who you are and why. Columbia Business School asks what your clustermates would be pleasantly surprised to learn about you. Sloan Fellows introduced a 90-second video component this year giving you the option to answer one of three questions: What are you passionate about? Tell us something we would be surprised to learn about you? What do you like to do for fun?
So, after having spent months (perhaps years) refining how you communicate your accomplishments and skills, how do you best communicate your character? And how do you do so in an authentic way, and one which avoids the dreaded #humblebrag?
Here are three tips to effectively begin to identify and communicate your eulogy virtues for your MBA application:
- Watch Simon Sinek’s TED talk on how great leaders inspire action and after, ask yourself his two central questions: Why do you get up in the morning and why should anyone care?
- Ask a few trusted friends, colleagues and / or family members what aspects of your character they most admire, and examples of when you have shown them those values, even when it has not been to your own personal benefit. (Think billionaire Warren Buffet campaigning for increased income taxes for the wealthy because he believes it is wrong for the wealthy to pay less in federal taxes than the middle class).
- One of the quickest ways to identify our true values – not those to which we aspire, but those which which we really live up to in our daily lives – is to identify for what and for whom we are willing to sacrifice and why. In a quiet environment, sit down with a pen and paper and write out at least three examples of times where you have willingly sacrificed in the last five years. Then ask yourself what or whom has emerged more than once, and what value or aspect of your character this points to.
By Cassandra Pittman. Cassandra is an Expert Coach at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and an Executive-in-Residence at London Business School. She holds an MBA from Columbia Business School, and has worked in Admissions at both INSEAD and London Business School. Fortuna is composed of former directors and associate directors of admissions at many of the world’s best business schools.