What are the most challenging essay questions business schools ask applicants? That’s a question we’ve been answering on a regular basis now in five parts of a six-part series. We’ve tackled the most difficult questions from Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, Kellogg, MIT and now INSEAD. Stacy Blackman, founder of the MBA admissions consulting firm that bears her name, is picking out what she considers to be the most challenging and then providing advice for how to approach each essay.
What constitutes a highly challenging essay? They may force you to be incredibly introspective, surprisingly creative or perhaps highly succinct. Some of the essays are not as straightforward as they seem, others are very straightforward, but it is tempting to stray off topic. Whatever the reason, we are here to help, with some tips taken straight from the Stacy Blackman Consulting series of school specific essay guides. Here’s the last of the series.
Most Challenging MBA Essay Question #6
Give a candid description of yourself, stressing the personal characteristics you feel to be your strengths and weaknesses and the main factors, which have influenced your personal development, giving examples when necessary.
Overview of the question
Self-awareness of your own strengths and weaknesses is an important aspect of any MBA application. While you have likely encountered a version of this question in the context of a job interview process, this essay treatment requires you to clearly identify genuine strengths along with your areas of development.
The ability to discuss your weaknesses candidly is a strength in itself. In general, MBA programs are seeking smart, dedicated and self-aware students who are able to see themselves clearly and improve and adapt when necessary. Your own ability to understand the areas you might be able to improve is a great way to demonstrate this ability to self-assess.
Honesty is the best policy and you should be honest about your genuine areas for improvement along with the personal qualities you are proud of. Often your greatest strength is the flipside of a frustrating weakness. For example, you are an analytical and thorough worker who is detail oriented, and yet have a difficulty seeing the big picture in a strategic way.
Avoid insincere weaknesses that are clearly strengths disguised as weaknesses. Statements like: “my driven nature sometimes leads others to dislike working with me because I am always the strongest member of the team” certainly exhibits a weakness in interpersonal skills. The candidate may have intended communicate a strong work ethic and willingness to take on additional responsibility with such a “weakness” but the attempt can easily backfire. Overall, honesty and self-awareness will be noted and appreciated in the process whatever your strengths or weaknesses may be.
If you have difficulty knowing your own strengths and weaknesses, it can help to read through past performance reviews at work, think about projects where you were particularly successful and speak with your colleagues and friends about what their perception. Often your own desire and motivation to involve yourself in a particular task can reveal the areas where you feel strong and the areas of improvement.