What are your post-MBA goals and how will your prior experience and the London Business School programme contribute towards these? (500 words)
This is the exact same question as last year, and more or less, the same question as the last few years. If you were to look at previous versions (“What will your future look like after completing your MBA?”) and compare it to these slightly tweaked versions (“What are your post-MBA plans and how will your prior experience and the London Business School programme contribute?”), it’s not hard to catch the vapors coming off of the LBS adcom:
“Let’s just ask the question we want to ask a bit more directly…”
What does this mean for you as the applicant? Give them what they want: a clear, precise, well-argued case for what you hope to succeed in, and why you will be successful (based on your past experiences combined with an LBS MBA). That’s all, folks. If you accomplish those two things, everything extra (“a novel idea,” “a big goal with big upside,” “a socially-responsible and inspiring vision,” etc.) will be just that… “extra.”
Most people will miss the KEY to this essay by packing too much stuff in. Slow down, take it one simple step at a time, and get the key stuff NAILED down first (you’ll be 98% done at that point).
Now, here’s the danger of going too far with Part I of the question (the GOAL part) without considering how Part II supports it. If you pitch an incredible idea/vision for the future, but have limited ability to back it up with evidence in your past experiences that convinces us that you have the necessary chops to execute on that idea… the idea may sound tasty, but it won’t be worth the risk for an elite MBA program. Remember, elite MBA programs rely on PLACEMENT statistics. Things like “how many students from the graduating class end up… employed” end up making XXX dollars in their first X years out of school, etc. Why? This affects their rankings, and rankings affect the caliber of student drawn to their program, which in turn affects the school’s ability to churn out success stories that juice those stats that then improve rankings and the future caliber of… you see how the cycle works.
So, MBA programs prefer SURE THINGS to high-volatility applicants. Given all that, the best chance you have of proving future success is to point to evidence in your PAST of success in a similar arena. Now, typically this means success in ROLE and INDUSTRY X and then pitching future success that is essentially an EXTENSION of those two things. If you’re a marketing maven, then you may have a hard time painting a picture of yourself as a logistics whiz. “Why should we believe that you will be successful here?” they will ask. This is why industry/career switches tend to be red flags, unless you’re able to convincingly draw a crystal clear connection between your success in the past and your future goals.
Start there: looking back at your career, what have you done? What have you achieved? What are you good at? What MAKES you good at the things you’re good at? Isolate it, hone in, be able to describe this to someone in ONE sentence.
“I’m the person who can mobilize a team of 50 people on ten continents.”
“I’m the person who can take ten departments’ confused and contradictory initiatives, and seamlessly cohere them into a winning, universally beneficial, perfectly aligned strategy.”
“I’m the person who…”
Find evidence in your past. Be messy at first, list ten chaotic forms of support. But then sharpen it, boil it down to three defining MOMENTS. Three episodes, where your actions PAINT A PICTURE of the value you brought.
Once you have that piece LOCKED, now we can cook up a “plan” that is a mouth-watering EXTENSION of it. Now we’re willing to go wherever you take us. If you’re Elon Musk, and you give us your resume, you better believe we will be interested when you tell us “I have an idea for how to revolutionize public transportation in third world countries.” If your background is in sales, however, we’re less interested in your “Big Idea.”
As you’re building your “post-MBA plans,” focus less on the flash of the idea, and more on the strategy behind EXECUTING it. Show us how well-thought-out the plan is. Do this with detail. Do this with evidence that walks us through how each step is necessary for the next one. Practical, pragmatic, bulletproof. This is the plan that excites MBA adcoms. You want them to say “this person is going to be successful.” Or “this person has success written all over them.”
You don’t want them to say “Wow, this is an absolutely brilliant and inspired idea! … I’m just not entirely sure s/he’s gonna pull it off.” That reaction is a potential death sentence.
Here’s the structure that’ll keep you very safe for your first pass:
- Hit us with a high-level sense of what kind of ISSUE or PROBLEM you hope to fix. Or an OPPORTUNITY you’re hoping to take advantage of. Quickly provide this background (sentence or two, max). Explain why solving this (or executing on the opportunity) isn’t easy. Explain why this hasn’t been done a million times successfully already. Then explain (super high-level) what your idea is. What your big picture plans are.
- Now take us through the story of how this all came into play. What’s the backstory? Where did you start, where did you cut your teeth? And most importantly, show us the evidence as you take us through the KEY NODES of your past, of your value. Don’t just rehash your resume. Present value-defining ACTIONS that made it very clear what made/makes you valuable.
- Now that we’re sold on how credible you are in this arena, give us a more detailed walk-through of your plans, showing us exactly how you plan on achieving each step. Details, specificity, show us how much thought went into it by convincing us that there are no holes.
- Last but not least, spend just a little bit of time making an argument for why LBS, of all the business schools on Earth, provides a few UNIQUE opportunities to propel you toward success. Don’t just explain that it’s a good B-School, or that you’re interested in LBS. You need to isolate a few idiosyncrasies of the LBS offerings, class, or setup that somehow IMPROVES the probability that you will succeed as compared to, say, HBS, Stanford, or Wharton. The coolest test to give yourself (embrace this conceit!) is to imagine getting offer letters from Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, and LBS. Make a case for why you would TURN DOWN the other three and go to LBS. All it takes is two or three bulletproof reasons and you’re home free.
A soldier who served on the front lines in Afghanistan. A process engineer challenged by a long series of early failures. And a female consultant whose passion became healthcare.
Three MBA applicants to Harvard Business School last year. Three students in the newest crop of MBA students at Harvard this fall. All of them answered the question now being asked of 2017-2018 applicants to Harvard: As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program?
The school provides minimal guidance for applicants trying to make an impression. “There is no word limit for this question,” advises HBS admissions. “We think you know what guidance we’re going to give here. Don’t over think, overcraft and overwrite. Just answer the question in clear language that those of us who don’t know your world can understand.”
Each of the three applicants above wrote a clear and compelling essay in their applications, essays that Poets&Quants is reprinting with permission from the MBA Essay Guide Summer 2017 Edition recently published by The Harbus, the MBA student newspaper at Harvard Business School. The guide contains 39 essays written by successful candidates who are now starting the MBA program at HBS. Proceeds from the sale of the guidebook go to benefit the non-profit foundation that supports The Harbus.
With application deadlines rapidly approaching at Harvard Business School and many other prestige MBA programs, these successful essays will, no doubt, give current candidates a bit of guidance. More importantly, the essays that follow are most likely to provide comfort, that there is no formula or singular way to craft a successful answer.
THREE SUCCESSFUL ESSAYS. THREE VERY DIFFERENT APPROACHES.
The latest edition of the MBA Essay Guide from The Harbus costs $61.49
In his 1,130-word essay, the U.S. Army applicant ties together his experiences of leading soldiers on the front line in Afghanistan together with staff postings in Army operations and logistics to paint a portrait of a dedicated and people-oriented leader.
Inspired by a selfless act from her nine-year-old mentee, this management consultant decided to challenge herself to make an impact in healthcare. In a 937-word essay, she uses a particularly difficult turnaround situation which she was put in charge of as exemplifying her strongest skills: building relationships and uniting people around a common goal.
In a 1,358-essay, a process engineer opens up to a long series of failures in his early life. By showing both vulnerability and honesty, he is able to transform this list of fruitless endeavors into a credible “badge of honor,” evidence of his resilience, determination and strength of character. It quickly becomes apparent that what appeared to be failures in the first half, actually proved to be successes or openings for new opportunities, given enough time and perseverance.
ONE APPLICANT DID 25 DRAFTS BEFORE COMING UP WITH ONE SHE LIKED ENOUGH TO SUBMIT
Behind every MBA application is a person and a story, and in this trio of representative essays the approaches taken by each candidate is as different as the essays they submitted to the admissions committee at HBS.
The engineer went through took eight drafts over two months. “I thought about what personal traits I wanted to share with the ADCOM and identified stories from my past that identified those traits,” he explains. “After two or three drafts, I’d figured out the right narrative and kept refining it, taking as much as a week to finalize each draft. My best advice is to be honest, start early, and have someone who knows what the ADCOMS are looking for to read through a couple of your drafts and give you pointers.”
The consultant estimates that she went through 25 drafts to get to her final version. “I think the most important thing with the essay is to iterate,” she advises. “Because the question is so open-ended, it is important to reflect as much as possible and give yourself the time (in my case two months) to go on the journey necessary to realize what you care most about communicating and how to do so in the most effective way. I also cannot overstate the importance of finding someone who will give you honest feedback.
(See on the following pages the complete and full MBA essays submitted to Harvard Business School)