In our first MBA Essay Boot Camp lesson, we discussed four of the eight most frequently asked MBA essay questions. In today’s course, we will discuss the remaining four essay question categories.
- Past Decisions
- Negative Experiences
Reference letter questions invite outsiders to discuss your strengths and weaknesses – self-evaluative questions invite you to discuss them yourself. Examples include:
- Give a candid description of yourself.
- What are your strengths?
- What are your weaknesses?
Self-evaluative questions require you to demonstrate self-awareness. It is critical that you back up any claims you make with concrete evidence and examples. Whenever possible, use the self-evaluative questions to emphasize the qualities that you believe will make you an excellent fit with the program.
Also, a brief word of advice about weaknesses – don’t write about a strength disguised as a weakness like “I just can’t say no to projects. I’m always taking on too much work.” Admissions officers can see through those answers. Instead, focus on real weaknesses that business school might help you to address.
Self-awareness is important to MBA programs and that includes an ability to evaluate your past decisions and explain why you made them, which is our next category of essay questions.
Admissions officers are interested in the reasoning behind important decisions and your decision-making abilities. As such, they will often ask you questions about important past decision, such as:
- Reflect on a time when you turned down an opportunity.
- Tell us about a difficult decision you had to make.
- What decisions have you made that led to your current role?
Questions of this type essentially ask you to explain what went on inside of your head when you were making a particular decision.
You’ll score top marks if you clearly discuss the choices that were presented to you, concisely describe the pros and cons of each, and share the reasons for your ultimate choice. Remember that the admissions committee is looking for evidence that you can think analytically and attack complex decisions systematically and efficiently.
You might discuss steps you took such as reaching out for advice. These essay questions are also a good opportunity to share the values and principles that you draw upon when faced with an important decision.
Negative experience questions, our next category, are your opportunity to demonstrate this quality.
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Another strength that MBA Programs are interested in is the ability to recover when things don’t go your way. Negative experience essay questions include:
- What have you learned from a mistake?
- Discuss a time when you navigated a challenging experience in either a personal or professional relationship.
- Describe a failure that you have experienced.
Top marks will be scored if you provide evidence that you handled the negative experiences with emotional intelligence and treated adversaries and naysayers with empathy and understanding. The ability to compromise and diffuse conflict is important if the negative experience is related to a relationship with another person.
When reading your essay, admissions officers will be interested to see if you can accept responsibility for missteps and avoid making excuses or pointing fingers. Ultimately, they will want to see that you not only recognized failure or admitted a mistake but that you did something about it and learned a great deal from the experience.
I’ve saved one of the most important essay question categories for last – Leadership Essay Questions. Admissions officers are going to be very interested in your leadership achievements inside and outside of work.
You won’t be asked directly “Are you a leader?” Instead, you’ll be asked to share stories about your leadership achievements. Typical questions include:
- Discuss a defining experience in your leadership development.
- Tell us about a time when you made a lasting impact on your organization.
- What impact do you hope to have as a leader of consequence in the future?
To score top marks with your answer to these leadership questions, you’ll be expected to show the admissions committee plenty of evidence that you have an ability to rally other people and motivate them to work together to achieve an important shared vision or goal.
Stay Tuned for Your Next Email Lesson…
No matter which type of essay question you’re answering, your primary objective is to provide evidence that proves you possess the qualities that admissions committees value most. By doing so, you’ll move one step closer to an acceptance letter. In the next lesson, we will talk about the qualities that you’ll want to feature in your essays.