We talk a lot about strategy in your MBA apps here on the blahg.
Strategy comes down to:
- pitching the right schools
- pitching the right way
- maximizing your strengths
- offsetting your weaknesses
We also talk about authenticity and say over and over again how much the schools value it.
Authenticity is about:
- Being you.
Strategy and authenticity are not in conflict with each other. Yet people often get so mired up in convoluted ideas of “strategy” (yes, in quotes) that they lose sight of the fact that it’s THEM pitching the schools. That there needs to be a real person coming through in the application, and the person that’s communicated through the essays and resume and recs is one who bears a striking resemblance to who you are in real life.
Sounds silly, but it happens all the time. An applicant does so much manufacturing of the image that they’re presenting in their essays that the essays are no longer representative of the applicant.
But you know what?
Being authentic in your applications is really about self-confidence.
Yes, you are good enough to get in.
No, you don’t have to pull some sneaky tricks to fool the adcom into accepting you.
This year, we’re going to be much more open about this on the blahg. The new theme for the 2017 MBA application season in Snarkville is The Strategy of Authenticity
It’s really about a commitment to yourself to be honest, and to shoot straight. In all of life.
That you don’t need to lie to get ahead.
There’s no need to cheat, brag, or exaggerate.
This is what we advocate in applying to bschool.
We believe it applies to life.
But this is an MBA admissions blahg, so let’s dial it back.
“There are many [applicants] who still think there is a formula to get into business school, who think there’s a certain type of response the admission people want to see,” said Stephanie Fujii, [former] executive director of full-time M.B.A. admissions at Haas. According to Ms. Fujii, there isn’t.
Want to hear about a truly authentic approach to a college application?
Why are we focusing so much on this concept of authenticity?
It’s not just because we feel compelled to talk about it, given the current bizarro climate we’re all living in, where abject lies are touted as fact by those in power (though that’s a big part of it).
It’s not just because we see so many more BSers be successful in their MBA applications when they really, truly dig deep and find the ways to present their own real selves in their essays, instead of the game about trying to be someone they’re not, which rarely works out.
The main reason we care about this so much is that it’s the key to happiness.
You can spend a lot of your life trying to be someone else for other people, trying to please them, or impress them, or in countless other ways trying to be who you’re not.
Or you can just be you, and find happiness.
We’re getting a little metaphysical today, but it’s a core truth that we’ve come to live by.
Reality has this odd way of asserting itself into our lives.
When you are putting up falsehoods to the world, or just living under disguises, in an effort to gain — what? Status? Acclaim? Approval?
The net effect is that you’re living a lie. And that will never be personally fulfilling.
This podcast from Wall Street Oasis is an interview with a banker who came to this conclusion for himself.
When you’re figuring out What I Want To Do With My Life, which is a big question that many adcoms are presenting to you, wrapped up in essays about career goals or “What matters most”, then you’ll come face to face with who you’ve been in the past, and you’ll grapple with questions of who you want to be in the future.
These are truly existential questions.
You probably don’t want to get too metaphysical in what you write to the adcoms, but spending some time thinking Deep Thoughts is part of the process.
From the very practical side of MBA essay-writing, authenticity means….
- Writing your own essays. Which means, not modeling your essays off of what someone else you know wrote (even if you convert theirs into your own words).
- Not getting too much help on them. Like, not having a professional editor clean up your grammar and spelling (even if you’re an international applicant who feels self-conscious about his writing abilities).
- Not phoning it in. Respecting the process, and respecting yourself, and acknowledging that it’s going to take real effort, and lots of hard work, to express yourself effectively on the page.
The schools really do care about this, and they also are recognizing that they themselves have played a big part in the issues, where leadership and accomplishment and resume-stuffing have become so commonplace. Many American college admissions folks have been discussing ways to change this, which resulted in the “Turning the Tide” project which is all about their expressed interest in kindness as a valued attribute in applicants, instead of overachieveing. Some advice applies to MBA admissions, too.
Very few BSers set out to tell lies or contort the truth at the outset of their MBA app journey. It’s not like they sit there and consciously think, “How can I misrepresent myself? How can I come up with some whopper of a lie, and what kind of tall tale can I tell, that will make the adcom admit me?”
Instead, it’s a gradual process — often rooted in too much reading of MBA applicant forums where everyone seems to have a 780 GMAT and a 3.8 GPA, and by comparison, your own stats feel weak. Or everyone else is ALREADY working at McKinsey, or Google, or somewhere on Wall Street, and you’re in backwater nowhere town just trying to earn a buck. And you start to feel like you won’t ever make it in somewhere good when there’s all this competition outshining you.
We’re here to tell you that you CAN make it into somewhere good.
Again, if you’re willing to do the work.
If you decide not to settle.
If you recognize what you’re up against, and either suck it up and do the studying that you need to in order to raise that pesky GMAT score, or find out what’s required now in order to offset some pisspoor grades from college, or just come to terms with the fact that no, maybe you’re not going to be attracting the attention of the HBS adcom based on the reality that your career trajectory till now is fairly flat and you haven’t been pushing it career-wise till this point, but that you DO have some interesting work experiences and skills, and you HAVE made a contribution in specific ways so far in your life, and that schools like Cornell and Ross and Duke and UCLA still qualify as “really good schools” and that certain profiles are just more suited to certain programs based on these realities of competition, and you’re not going to be super snobby about things but instead will see the value in what they offer, too.
And that when Stanford asks, “What matters most?”, that they’re not hoping you’ll say, “To change the world”, simply because that’s part of their own marketing message. But that you’ll reflect on the question FOR YOU and spend time looking at what events in your life have shaped you, and why you feel that way. And that you’ll be willing to throw all of those ideas out and start over when you realize that you still were falling into the trap of writing what you think they want to hear.
EssaySnark will get off our soap box now, but you can bet we’re going to be looking at these questions, and, yes, strategies, more over time. There’s a lot to talk about.
If you’re wondering, “OK great, but how do I do it??!??” since this seems very esoteric, don’t worry, we’ll get to that, too. All of our App Accelerators are designed to guide you through this process of self-exploration and discovery of authenticity, so you can start there if you’re raring to go, or just jump in with the Complete Essay Package which is at its lowest price of the season for at least another few weeks.
You’re in your 20s, or maybe playing at the edges of your 30s. If you want to avoid the cliche of the mid-life crisis in your 40s, and you want to maximize your ability to live a fulfilling life every single day in between, then identifying what’s real, and what’s true for you, is highly recommended. The pursuit of authenticity is a noble endeavor. It may seem all high-concept and unattainable when we put it like that, but we guarantee you, it’s worthwhile. We’ll be delving into these matters in practical (and maybe some esoteric) ways in the coming weeks on the blahg — like here: Authenticity means sharing who you are (and there’s also an entire category of posts on “authenticity” – see link below!).
Want to read more? Here’s a 2018 post with more thoughts on authenticity in MBA apps.