The year 2020 will, among other things, be forever remembered as the year of Zoom, and by now most of us are well-practiced at talking into our computer screens. But if you find yourself thinking that MBA video essays – now common in many top-tier business school applications – are an easy win… think again. You may be surprised at just how much easier and more natural talking to a computer feels when you know there’s a human listening at the other end and a clock isn’t ticking down every single second.
Since the first video essays came on the scene nearly a decade ago, I have helped dozens of MBA candidates ace their video essays. Here are three steps you can take to make sure you do the same.
THREE TIPS FOR ACING YOUR MBA VIDEO ESSAY
1. Don’t just rehearse. Dress rehearse.
Video essays vary slightly school by school. Some schools, like London Business School and Kellogg, let you know some or all of the questions in advance. Others, like Rotman and INSEAD, select them entirely at random. For whatever schools you are applying to, match your practice as close to what your real-life experience will be. This means recording yourself in a single take, to time, with no one else on the other end of the line.
For questions you know you are going to get in advance, you can practice many times until you feel you’ve got your answers down. To practice randomized questions, research for a list of sample questions and answer three at a time. Do not allow yourself to re-record if you don’t like your answers. Instead, send them to someone for feedback — an admissions coach if you are working with one, or a trusted friend or mentor if you aren’t. (If you can’t find a feedback buddy, evaluate yourself, but it’s best to watch them at least a day after recording in that case). Do this as many times as is necessary until you feel comfortable, not only answering the questions you practice but thinking on your feet to answer any question that may come up within the allotted time.
2. Set the stage.
A common question applicants have is ‘do I need to wear a suit?’ The answer is no (although you are welcome to) but appearance does matter (view this related article by Fortuna’s Karen Hamou, What to Wear on Video). Recommended dress is business casual, but on video your appearance doesn’t stop there; it’s everything that the camera and microphone pick up.
So, before you record, set the stage. Pick a spot to record where your background is uncluttered (a bare wall behind you is often best). Check that you are well-lighted (if lighting is an issue, consider purchasing an inexpensive USB ring light). And, finally, make sure your voice is clear and easy to hear. In most cases, this will mean using an external microphone or headset, as inbuilt microphones on even the best computers can be insufficient.
3. Smile like you mean it.
Unless you are already a TikTok star, you are likely to find it a little weird talking to a computer with no one connected on the other end. It’s a situation that naturally lends itself to a somewhat robotic style of communication — after all, you’re talking to a machine. But, admissions committees are looking to get a sense of your warmth and personality that they cannot glean from your written essays, so it’s vital that you convey enthusiasm and emotive impact. The very best way to do this is with appropriate smiling. Your feedback buddy should tell you if you’re going overboard, but in my experience, applicants are much more likely to underdo it than to overdo it, so when in doubt, error on the side of great, big smiles.
For a deeper dive, join my Fortuna Admissions colleagues for free, livestream sessions hosted by the GMAT Club on preparing for the MBA Video Essays (Aug. 19th at noon ET and Aug. 26th at noon ET).
Cassandra Pittman is an expert coach at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions & a former member of admissions teams at London Business School and INSEAD. She is also a Columbia MBA alumna. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.