So the good news is that you’ve achieved some pretty amazing things so far in your life, and you feel ready to apply for an MBA. That’s great, but never forget that an acceptance letter to a top MBA program isn’t meant to be a blue ribbon for past achievements. Admissions committees are interested in your past achievements and that is because they are trying to gauge your future promise – your “potential.”
Providing evidence of your leadership potential is one of the keys to earning an acceptance letter from one of the top MBA programs. Read on to learn how it’s done.
Proving your potential to be a future leader
First of all, you need to understand what leadership potential is. At MBA Prep School, we define leadership potential as a collection of strengths fueled by passion and directed by purpose.
Therefore, discovering and describing your leadership potential begins with answering three questions:
- What are your core strengths?
- What are you truly passionate about?
- For what purpose do you intend to use your unique combination of strengths and passions to make a positive difference in the world?
It turns out that answering these three questions is fairly difficult, and only a small fraction of candidates are able to do so effectively. In this article, we will examine how one applicant went about answering these questions and then used his answers to convince admissions officers he possessed the potential to be a future leader.
1. What are your core strengths?
To paraphrase the book, Now Discover Your Strengths, core strengths are defined as “the abilities and qualities you possess that enable consistent, near perfect performance in a particular activity.”
MBA Prep School helped one of our clients, “Adam”, to bring his core strengths into focus via the self-assessment exercises that make-up our proprietary MBA Prep Steps™ Program.
Adam possessed exceptional analytical intelligence, was adept at solving complex problems, and was an excellent communicator. Those strengths had expressed themselves in a number of ways: he was elected to student government in college, graduated near the top of his class as a Finance major at the University of Michigan, was ranked as the top analyst in his start group at an investment bank, and was now working for a prestigious private equity firm.
Beginning his application process with a clear understanding of his core strengths was incredibly valuable for Adam, but this was only the first step in expressing his leadership potential to admissions officers. Adam’s next step was to consider what he was truly passionate about.
2. What are you truly passionate about?
Deciding what you are truly passionate about is the second step in defining your leadership potential. If strengths are the engine for your potential, passion is the fuel.
What does passion have to do with applying to business school? A lot, as it turns out. Business school admissions officers want to know, first and foremost, that you are passionate about making a positive difference in the future as a business leader.
A summary of how Adam discovered what he was truly passionate about might inspire and guide you on your own journey to discover your passions.
At age 13, Adam started trading penny stocks with his birthday money. He started his subscription to The Wall Street Journal at fourteen. By age fifteen, he’d read Warren Buffet’s biography and was applying Buffet’s principles of value investing to his own portfolio.
The interesting thing is that, despite his obvious passion for investing and business, his parents wanted him to become a doctor and he started college as a pre-med major.
When his pre-med classmates chatted excitedly about things they were reading in Nature and Science, Adam was unable to share their enthusiasm. He preferred hanging out with his business-major friends who quoted lines from the movie Wall Street and traded equities in their spare time.
Freshman year, Adam struggled to squeak out Bs and Cs in his pre-med classes. During the summer following his first year of college, Adam broke the news to his parents that he was switching majors to Finance.
In his sophomore year, Adam flourished. If he had continued in pre-med, his core strengths might have made him a decent doctor. But—and this is key to understanding how passion fuels potential—medicine didn’t fascinate him whereas economics, finance, and investing did. After graduating from college, Adam thrived as an investment banking analyst and was hired away after two years by a top private equity shop.
The moral of this story is that passion can make the difference between a mediocre career and an outstanding one.
Now it’s your turn to answer our second question. Reflect on your past and identify the moments in life when you’ve been completely engaged by an experience. As it turns out, we are hard-wired to enjoy the things we are good at; so, like Adam, your strengths may be the road that leads you to an understanding of your passions in life.
3. For what purpose do you intend to use your unique combination of strengths and passions to make a positive difference in the world?
When strengths and passion find direction, a person’s true potential comes into focus. We call this direction a “sense of purpose.”
Adam’s sense of purpose came into focus during a visit to his relatives in Kiev, where he was born. The hardship and suffering he witnessed as he traveled around the former Soviet Union was heart-wrenching to him. He ended the visit inspired to do whatever he could to give people in his native country a chance for a better life.
That’s not to say that Adam quit his job in private equity and moved to Kiev to start a not-for-profit. Instead, he thought about how his strengths as a finance professional and his passion for investing might allow him to fulfill his sense of purpose.
Given his private equity background, Adam could clearly see that companies in the former Soviet Union needed investment capital. So Adam’s statement of purpose and his long-term career goal became “to help the economy of the former Soviet Union prosper by founding a private equity fund in the region.”
Your sense of purpose might be discovered in an industry you want to shake up, a field that fascinates you, a group of people you want to help, or a cause that you care deeply about. Like Adam, you should think about the ways you might direct your strengths and passions to make the world a better place.
MBA schools were founded on the belief that business leaders can play a powerful role in contributing to the prosperity of society. The admissions committees are looking for future leaders who have the potential to make a positive difference in the world.
Understanding your strengths, passion, and purpose is critical to building an outstanding MBA application. All this hard work pays off when it comes time to communicate your leadership potential in your application and in admissions interviews. You will describe your strengths in accomplishments essays and your resume and tell the admissions officers about what matters to you and what you aspire to do in your career goals essays.
If you view your business school application as an opportunity to share your strengths, passions, and sense of purpose, you will be well on your way to proving to the admissions committee that you have the potential to be a future leader — one of the keys to earning an acceptance letter from your dream school.