Writing a memorable Professional Experience Essay

While your MBA application resume will provide a summary of your education, jobs, and community leadership, you will likely have an opportunity to expand on your career in your MBA essays.

However, an essay about your work experience is not merely a list of roles and responsibilities. A Professional Experience Essay is a narrative essay that should bring the accomplishments summarized on your resume to life.

An effective Professional Experience Essay will give the Admissions Committee a sense of the career decisions you’ve made, your most significant achievements in each chapter of your career, and the skills and knowledge you’ve acquired on your career journey. This “walk through your resume” in essay form is your opportunity to provide admissions officers with evidence that you’ve made exceptional career progress and that you have clear potential for future advancement.

This article provides you with the insights and tools you need to build a powerful Professional Experience Essay.

First, we’ll talk about why some MBA application forms ask you to write about your career history, and we’ll share the characteristics of a great answer to this type of essay question.

Second, we’ll provide you with a set of building blocks for crafting a unique and robust essay that summarizes your career history.

Finally, we analyze a sample Professional Experience Essay to illustrate the principles we have taught you throughout this article.

How to Score Top Marks on Professional Experience Essays

You can think of this essay as an executive summary of your career thus far. You are providing the readers in the MBA admissions office with a holistic overview of your work experience, the skills and knowledge you’ve acquired, and how you’ve progressed in your career thus far. So what is the Admissions Committee looking for in an effective Professional Experience Essay?

To score top marks with your essay, you’ll need to provide evidence of distinguished academic and career performance in the top 10% of your peer group and demonstrate your potential for future advancement.

A well-designed essay recounting your professional history accomplishes multiple aims in a minimal amount of space. Your career story must be coherent, concise, and cohesive – it’s not unusual to have to discuss your professional history in 200 words or less as part of a multi-part essay question. If you have a limited number of words to work with, what should you focus on and what should you leave out?

To solve that riddle, we recommend that before trying to draft this essay, you should first define your career goals. Clarity about where you want to go in your career will help you select which elements of your past work experience to showcase in this essay.

That is because a successful Professional Experience Essay will connect the dots between your professional history and your career aspirations. You want your essay to present evidence that you are well-prepared for the post-MBA job you plan to pursue. Demonstrate to the admissions committee you have momentum in the direction of your ultimate career goals.

Of course, you also want to highlight the work experiences and qualities that business schools value, such as leadership, teamwork, and creativity.

Additionally, you want to give the reader a sense that your value to your employers has grown over time. Your overarching goal is to convince the Admissions Committee that you are well-prepared for an MBA and that you have interesting experiences and lessons to contribute to an MBA community.

Finally, let’s not forget that admissions officers will be assessing your “employability” and how well your career story might play with future recruiters.

How can you accomplish all of those goals in a compact and engaging essay? Follow the steps in the next section to construct an effective Professional Experience Essay. To illustrate our guidance, we’ll show you how “Adam,” a private equity analyst applying for an MBA, constructed the content building blocks for his Professional Experience Essay.

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Telling the Story of Your Career

Like a book, your career story should be organized into chapters. Typically a chapter will begin with your decision to take a new job, proceed to the most significant challenges and achievements in that role, and end with a brief recounting of your learning and growth. The bridge to the next chapter summarizes the reasons you decided to take the next step in your career journey.

Your first step in crafting your Professional Experience Essay is to identify the “chapters” of your career.

1. Identify and Outline the Chapters of Your Career Story

Building Block Question: What are the major milestones in your career so far?

Start by asking yourself, “What are the major milestones in my career so far?”. Answering this question will help you to decide how to divide your career into phases. Changing companies is an obvious chapter break, but a step forward inside the same company, such as a promotion, a major increase in responsibility, or a high-profile project, might also mark a new phase in your career. Keep in mind that you won’t have time to detail each stage of your career in an essay – even if a chapter of your career lasted two or three years, you’ll need to summarize the most crucial information in that chapter in a few sentences.

Example: Our fictional applicant, Adam, has two significant chapters to highlight in his Professional Experience Essay.

Chapter 1 was graduating from college and accepting a 2-year analyst position at Deutsche Bank.

In Chapter 2, he took a job as an analyst at a Private Equity shop called Astrix Partners, where he worked for 18 months.

For the rest of this example, we’ll focus only on Chapter 2 of Adam’s Career Story, although Adam would need to write both chapters for his essay.

Once the chapters of your career are clear to you, you should outline each chapter’s contents. Each chapter in your career story should have a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning of one chapter (and possibly the end of the last) is usually denoted by your decision to take or leave a role. This leads us to the next step in building your Professional Experience Essay: explaining the professional decisions you have made in your career.

2. Explain the Reason(s) for Your Career Decision

Building Block Question: Why did you take the job or accept the new assignment?

For outlining purposes, each chapter begins with your career decision: “Why did you leave your old job and take the new one?” Admissions Officers can see what jobs you have had by reviewing your resume. In your Professional Experience Essay, you will explain why you decided to take the job or volunteer for a big assignment.

Ideally, each new chapter in your career was initiated by you and signified a step forward in your career action plan. Even if the career change was unplanned and outside of your control, that’s okay. For example, if you were laid off, focus on the positives instead of hiding the reality of what happened – it’s a chance to show resilience and that you can land on your feet after a setback.

Example: Adam plans to explain that he decided to leave Deutsche Bank and join Astrix because the move fit in with his long-term career plan to become a private equity investor.

3. Discuss Significant Challenges and Accomplishments

Building Block Question: What was the most significant challenge you faced? What did you achieve that you are most proud of?

The next building blocks are the significant challenges and accomplishments during this chapter of your career. Admissions officers enjoy hearing about the difficulties you overcame in this chapter in your career and about some standout moments where you made a real impact on your organization.

Identify the most significant challenge you faced and ask yourself, “What did I achieve that I am most proud of?”. In your outline, jot down quick examples of any standout moments and exceptional achievements at each juncture of your career.

Example: In terms of significant achievements, Adam plans to highlight sourcing a private equity deal, which is quite rare for a young PE analyst.

4. Share Major Areas of Growth

Building Block Question: How did you grow, and what did you learn in this phase of your career? How did you progress?

The fourth building block is your personal and professional growth. You might share knowledge acquired, lessons learned, or skills developed. Often, the most important and interesting things from an Admissions Officer’s point of view are what you’ve learned about yourself in your career so far: a new talent discovered, the emergence of new career interests, or clarity on an existing one.

Your objective is to highlight the skills, knowledge, and experiences from each chapter of your career that will contribute to your future success. By doing so, you ensure that your Professional Experience Essay will provide convincing evidence that you have already made significant progress on your future career path.

Example: Adam’s growth is relatively straightforward. He advanced beyond the transactional activities he performed as an investment banker and is now developing the strategic point of view required of a private equity investor.

After you’ve generated content for all of your career story chapters, take a step back and create a Lead for your story. A Lead is the story’s central message, the executive summary that communicates what your Professional Experience Story is about. If you had to sum up your career in a sentence or two, how would you do it? Some people call the central message of the career story your “elevator speech” – imagine that you had to convey the essence of your career story to an admissions officer during a short elevator ride.

Example: The lead for Adam’s career story is that he’s progressed from a green analyst to experienced private equity professional.

Below you will find an excerpt from the essay that resulted when Adam assembled his content building blocks.

Professional Experience Essay Sample

I was a quantitative economics major at Michigan. Although my education provided me with an excellent analytical foundation, I barely knew an income statement from a balance sheet the day I graduated from college.

(CAREER DECISION) I pursued a position in Deutsche Bank’s leveraged finance group, which provided an excellent foundation for a career in finance.

(CAREER GROWTH) Those two years with Deutsche Bank are where I learned the language of finance and the mechanics of investment banking.

(ACHIEVEMENT) Even amidst lay-offs in other areas of the firm, I was fortunate to be the only one in my start group offered a 3rd-year analyst job

(CAREER DECISION) The 3rd-year offer was tempting. I loved the firm and my team, but I also had an attractive offer with Astrix Partners, a private equity firm with $2.0 billion in assets. I have a real passion for investing. Since junior high, I’ve been trading stocks, and I started my subscription to the Wall Street Journal on my 13th birthday. What’s wild is that I’m now working on the kinds of deals that I used to read about in the Journal.

(ACHIEVEMENT) I really enjoy working on Astrix deals because we have unbelievable access to information and expertise — I talk to industry experts and read phenomenal research reports. I’ve found that I’m good at asking and answering questions like, “What do we have to believe about this company’s position in the marketplace before we would be willing to invest?”

(ACHIEVEMENT) Six months ago, through a family friend, I even helped us source a deal with an optical drive manufacturer in Boston and presented the idea to our investment committee… (example continues)

(CAREER GROWTH) In my eighteen months at Astrix, I’ve started to cultivate the strategic point of view required of a private equity investor.

Final Thoughts

There’s nothing particularly exotic about Adam’s career journey. He has followed a more or less typical path from tier-one investment banking into a private equity shop. Nevertheless, by carefully outlining his professional history, he created a robust Professional Experience Essay for his MBA application.

Although his career path is relatively traditional, he’s managed to connect the dots between his professional experiences and the capabilities he’ll need in the future. By doing so, he’s able to represent his “employability” in the private-equity field post-MBA. Adam’s Professional Experience Story is compelling precisely because it will provide admissions officers with evidence that he’s made significant progress towards his future career goals.

If your Professional Experience Essay indicates professional growth and charts your progress toward your future career goals, then you will instill admissions officers with confidence that you have the skills, knowledge, and relationships necessary to succeed in your career post-MBA.

Free MBA Essay Writing Course

Please enter your email below to gain 30 days of free access to our MBA Essay Writing course. Learn about the five most frequently asked MBA application essay questions and access our brainstorming tools and sample essays.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.