This is kind of general life advice which you already know, but we’ll issue this warning as you gear up for the months-long process of figuring out what to say in your essays to get into business school.
Yes, you need to impress your reader. But there’s a fine line between writing about your achievements, and sounding like kind of a jerk.
There are certain techniques that some admissions consultants might advise you to try which could end up working against you.
One example of such advice that we actually used to offer ourselves and have since grown the wiser is to tell someone going into an interview that when they’re asked “What is your biggest weakness?” that they should answer something like, “Oh, I’m a perfectionist and I never take a vacation.” That answer is not a genuine admission of a weakness. It’s spin. By definition, it’s taking the question and perverting it to try and make yourself look good. That means that the answer is not authentic and honest. It’s not being offered in good faith.
One way that schools test values for applicants is how much of this the applicant is doing in the essay. Some amount of it is natural, and expected. After all, you’re trying to cast yourself in a good light. There are different ways to present the same information, and the way you word things is up to you. That’s what we mean when we talk about “messaging” here on the blahg. Word choice matters. It’s how you’re shaping the impressions of your reader.
But you need to be careful with it. If you’re marketing yourself so hard that you say things that don’t line up with the facts of the person on the page, it’s going to cause problems.
An applicant last year had a line in an essay where they said something about how they “always strive for excellence” and okay, yeah, sure, maybe you would like to think that about yourself. This person claimed that they are this way due to growing up without that much money, and seeing education as the way out.
But concurrent to that in the profile was a whole transcript from school with really bad grades.
How do these things marry up?
Unfortunately we see such disconnects all the time.
Not only does it undermine the arguments that the applicant is attempting about how “excellent” they are, but more importantly it makes them look like they have no self-awareness. That’s actually the bigger problem in this case.
The reader is going to learn so much about you from what you say in the essays. It’s often not even what you use as the answer to the question they’ve asked you. At least as useful is how you write your answer, and the way you promote yourself.
This is why getting the help of a qualified reader who’s a complete stranger to you can be so instructive. It’s tough to appreciate how we sound to other people. You don’t want to sound like a dolt in your essays.