Our entire human history is made up of stories. Whether presenting goals or recounting an experience, sharing through stories engages the reader, making it more vivid, memorable, and relatable.
In the MBA application, particularly in essays, stories help share motivations, character, and the experiences that have shaped what matters most to the applicant. Strong stories in your essays have a two-fold purpose: (i) it allows you to share the experiences that make you a unique contributor to the cohort, and (ii) it connects your character and values to that of the school so synergy can be identified, making the admission process that much smoother.
While every story is – as it should be – unique to the applicant, there are structures every prospective MBA candidate can use to ensure they share their most impactful narratives. To that end, here are 3 steps to help you craft a powerful story that will enable you to remain true to your character, demonstrate maturity, and help you connect with the target business school’s mission.
Step 1 – Remember:
As a western society, we haven’t been taught to reflect. We are continually pushing forward, aiming for the future we do not yet have, paying little to no attention to the road that led us to where we are. However, because of the structure of the application, business schools demand that reflection take place, which can be a painful process for the uninitiated to re-examine the stories that have shaped the person you have become.
To help with the first step of the process – remembering – consider these 3 preliminary questions to help identify important events:
- What’s the greatest achievement I have had to date (professional or community-related)? Why is it so meaningful to me? What impact has it had beyond myself and my professional development?
- What is the greatest challenge I’ve experienced? What did I learn from it?
- If I consider my past professional or community-related experiences, which have I enjoyed the most?
- In a team setting, how do I engage with others? What role do I take? How do I contribute to the team’s success?
While each question has its purpose, question 3 can help you define the type of role you want to play in an organization and/or the type of impact you look to make. The more narratives you bring forth from your repository of past experiences, the greater the reflection.
Step 2 -Reflect
After you have identified the experiences that are most meaningful to you, you need to reflect. I am of the belief that our past gives us clues we can leverage to build the future we want. Whether conscious or unconscious, we never engage in action for no reason; therefore, your decisions to take a particular major, accept a particular job, or approach a problem in a particular way are all clues that speak to who you are, what matters to you, and what makes you tick. As such, once you have written out your past experiences, you need to reflect on the clues or themes that present themselves.
To help you identify these clues, ask questions like: What are the patterns I notice in the way I show up (list as many as you see for each example)? How do I show up in challenging times (what patterns do I notice)? What experiences do I gravitate towards?
These themes will not only help you define your character but also are a great way to re-calibrate your future.
Step 3 -Redirect:
After you have identified the most significant past experiences, look for insights those experiences can provide particularly as it relates to your goals and how you show up in a team setting. If you already know your professional goals, what themes best speak to that future you? Are you someone who thrives on setting up big-picture strategies? Are you really strong at bringing the best out of your team? Or perhaps you are good at operational processes? Once you have identified those themes and matched them with examples, then you can easily show how your past experiences led you to your future goals; or, how those experiences illustrate how you will contribute as an MBA candidate.
In situations where you have not yet identified your goals, draw from your strengths so you can look for that future role where you can be the greatest version of yourself. What strengths do you identify in your experiences? What kind of role requires your strengths? Once you have those two, then craft a story that speaks to your character, motivations, and drivers that also speak to your target b-school.
Prior to founding Sia Admissions, Susan worked at an NYC-based Hedge Fund and a Belgian-based PE firm. Committed to success, she operates with the premise that each applicant has a unique story to tell. Her goal is to coach prospective students to present a story sympathetic to their ambitions while taking into account the target b-school’s mission and its admissions criteria to ensure the highest probability of acceptance. Susan offers one-on-one admission coaching to high-achieving MBA aspirants targeting M7 and top-20 MBA programs.