Confessions of An MBA Consultant

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.

Our Series On Business Schools’ Most Challenging Essay Questions

Part I: Smartly Handling Harvard’s Setbacks Essay

Part II: Smartly Handling Wharton’s Most Challenging Essays

Part III: Stanford’s Mind-Boggling Essay

Part IV: Kellogg’s Most Challenging Essay Question

Part V: MIT’s Most Challenging Essay Question

Part VI: INSEAD’s Trickiest MBA Essay Question


  • She wasn’t commenting on J Lo’s success or earning power, but her very well documented track record of not really being a “keeper”. Halle Berry would also fit into this category, and Stacy’s comparison is spot on either way.

  • Stacy Blackman

    Hi J Lo fans…I too think J Lo rocks! I just try to add a bit of color to my writing and am sorry to those of you who took personal offense. But…we seem to be missing the point here. Turning weakness into strength – that is my main point and I would love to hear your thoughts on this. If you have a “blemish” that you feel is going to ruin your chances, think about a way to turn things around. J Lo herself has actually done this many times – had a problem and landed on her feet.

  • Stefan riddle

    Keanu – lighten up. Everybody relax.

  • Alan

    Give me a break woman. Stacy Blackman knows whats up, while you’re star struck.

  • Stacy BATMAN

    @8d2dc60c51ccf2663eaeec9fe4fb8293:disqus It’s the truth that no one wants J Lo. What universe do you live in? J Lo is one of the most influential people rated by Forbes (#1 over Oprah this year) and earns much more than you ever would. Maybe no one wants you. Absurd.

  • Keanu

    Please. None here including this Stacy is half as successful as J Lo is. What those four jobs are you talking about? The truth my ass. I bet most HBS alumni do not even have half her earning power. The analogy is completely ridiculous and stupid. It does not matter what you think, but bringing down J Lo when she has nothing to do with it is totally unnecessary.

  • Alan Barton

    I think you miss the point. She’s saying adcoms “could see her…as one where once people get her they don’t want to keep her.” is that not the truth. She’s had and been fired from 4 jobs. It’s not insulting at all. It’s the truth of what the perception is that no one wants her. ala Jennifer Lopez. I don’t think your political correctness is necessary here.

  • Alicia

    Hi Stacy, I’m applying to business school this year and have been reading your articles on this site. This one was particularly helpful and has made me re-think the things I’m “glossing over.”

    And thanks for the Jennifer Lopez joke, it made me laugh. God knows we B-School applicants could use it.

    Looking forward to your next post,

  • it is need to improve GMAT Essay writing skills for GMAT Exam

  • Louis

    It’s just sad that she needs to insult others to be funny. And I still think that’s insulting and not funny at all. No, I’m neither Jennifer’s bff nor sensitive.

  • Wilson Stedman

    Re: Louis – relax it is funny and makes sense. It’s not rude unless you are Jennifer’s best friend and are too sensitive.

  • Louis

    “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.”
    This is very rude and obnoxious of you. It is totally unnecessary.