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Thinking about you: the heart of a great MBA application essay

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November 15, 2019

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Josh Jones

I want you to think about your last significant purchase – the last time you carefully considered a few similar items before you picked one in particular.

What was it?  A house? A car?  A vacation?

What convinced you?  How did you decide?

If you chose on something obvious, like price, was it because everything else was pretty much the same or because you were worried more about price than anything else?  If price was your primary concern, would anyone have been able to change your mind?

Do you see what I’m driving at?  I want you to think about your candidacy from the admission officer’s perspective: if he or she is picking on test scores or grades or something like that, can you do anything to change his or her mind?  Probably not.

You just have to accept that some people cannot be persuaded and, thus, some schools won’t be open to you.

But that’s not what we’re interested in; we’re interested in the schools that can be won–what do we have to do win admission there?

Well, haven’t we already made it past the resume?  That is, if we were going to get in (or get rejected) based upon our resume, then we didn’t have a chance; the fact that they’re reading our application without a decision in mind means that our resume won’t save us (or damn us).  

We have to do more; we have to do something else besides putting our resume into essay form.

Now, to be fair, some of you may have an unusual resume or resume line that needs to be explained, and it’s perfectly reasonable to use your application to clarify such issues, but – frankly – most people have resumes that will be familiar and/or resumes that can be understood without familiarity.  (I may never have heard of your PE firm or your consultancy, but I’ll get the gist quickly.)

You know what I don’t know?  You know what’s truly unique to you and you alone?  You. Lots of people did I-banking or consulting, but how did those experience affect you?  That’s something I can’t glean from your resume, so talk about that.

There’s a story here that I think captures the idea perfectly.  When Ralph Lauren’s daughter asked her father for an investment in her candy business, he demurred, explaining that everybody sells candy.  She replied, “But, Daddy, everybody sells suits.” You don’t need a “unique” product; you need a unique perspective for that product.

Likewise, you don’t need a resume that nobody’s ever seen before; rather, you need an insight into your resume that nobody’s ever seen before – that’ll take time, and some soul-searching, but it’s the heart of a great B-school application.

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