We’ve been talking about authenticity as part of the MBA application process this week – in case you missed it, here’s the first post, and then one specific to Stanford but which offers an exercise that may prove interesting in general. Then we had another on sharing who you are with the adcoms, and finally yesterday was authenticity and MBA career goals.
What does authenticity mean when you think about execution of MBA apps?
One important and incredibly effective method of sharing yourself with the adcom is through stories.
Perhaps if you have time this weekend, you can come back and watch this presentation published on the Stanford GSB’s YouTube channel, yet filmed at Berkeley Haas, with two preeminent academics, David Aaker and Jennifer Aaker, on Signature Stories:
The stories you tell in your MBA admissions essays don’t have to be quite as powerful as that highly produced awareness video you’ll watch in the first 8 minutes of David’s presentation. But you do have the potential to significantly impress your adcom reader by telling authentic stories — using concrete examples — in response to their questions.
Actually, the term examples is probably a better one for us to use in the context of MBA essays. “Story” implies a) that it’s fiction, like you’ve made something up, and b) that it’s long and drawn-out and very involved. Simpler is often better with essays. You don’t have much space, and you need to cut to the chase.
Your essays need not have a narrative arc, nor do they require the elements of suspense that are used in that clip. We actually would discourage you from trying the “suspense” technique at all, since the most important objective to meet with your essays is clear communication that prevents any confusion on your reader’s part. Too often, getting cute with an opening to an essay, where you’re withholding information from the reader as a ploy, will only backfire and interfere with comprehension.
The best way to tell your stories in your essays is to:
- Anchor them in time and place. Open with enough context so that the reader knows what you’re talking about. Give us a year, or a how-long-ago statement. Tell us where you were, and what situation it was about.
- Use a chronological, linear flow. Don’t get creative with jumping around on a timeline. Start at the beginning, and go forward. Don’t start at the end and try a bunch of flashbacks in between.
- Cut out unnecessary details. If you were on a team with three others, that may be important, however it might not be helpful to also include names. Or it might. If you’re writing about how you impacted others through your good deeds or specific actions, then knowing who you helped can make the story more personal. Using generic terms like “my colleague” or “my client” or “my manager” throughout is sometimes appropriate, but often it works better to say “Jose” and “Xin” and “Mary.”
- Write like you speak. Avoid the tendency to slip into “I’m impressing you now!” mode with the words that you choose and the language you use. Make sure you weed out the jargon, and delete any acronyms or abbreviations, and make things natural, in both tone and in flow.
That’s a very simple framework and it doesn’t actually help you know what to write about, but this again may be one of those posts where you want to hit the Favorite button at the bottom, so you can come back to it in July when you’re knee-deep in first drafts and sweating things out in your first application. There is definitely an art to good essay writing. All the work you’ll be doing on digging through your past and examining your life experiences will need to be presented in plain English words, that require little to no mental effort to figure out. A complete stranger will need to read it, and understand. Again, this is where the rewrites and repeated drafts will come in. You can’t expect to meet all these criteria straightaway, in the first version you write.
We’re just planting the seeds now, so that you have some context, and a target, and understand where you’re headed when it comes time to fire up MS Word and become your own Hemingway.
PS: Watching videos like that counts as school research. You get a flavor for what Stanford and Haas are both focusing on in one part of their curricula and value props, when you spend time watching presentations by their faculty.
You may also be interested in:
- Applying to bschool? The Strategy of Authenticity
- Authenticity test
- Don’t be satisfied with fools’ gold
- Seeing sample essays will not help you be authentic
- The best essays are…