Writing About Career Achievements: Keep it Simple

If you are applying to a competitive MBA program, you will have the opportunity (or, as some may see it, the dreaded task) of writing about a noteworthy achievement. Not only that, many schools will also want you to reflect on what you learned from that achievement. In most cases, it makes sense to write about a work-related achievement, unless you have a non-work related one that is especially remarkable or have discussed professional accomplishments in other essays. 

But how do you convey all the creativity, time-management, leadership, and innovation that went into your trophy event? After all, you will have about 700 words at best to paint this picture; sometimes, you may have as little as 300 words. In that case, even writing about an impressive achievement in such short space is an achievement in itself!

Here are some tips that will help you tell this story most effectively:

1. Be specific, but don’t get bogged down in detail.

Don’t burden the adcom with your industry-specific lingo or acronyms that you commonly use at work, which they may not even understand. Before you write, it can be very helpful to describe your achievement out loud to your editor, or even a friend, as if you were explaining it over coffee, to ensure that you can summarize it conversationally. When you can explain it simply to an outsider, you can write it simply and clearly. For example, “Our company was losing market share to a newer competitor because of their superior marketing materials and staff.” Or, “Our client was facing lawsuits because their out-of-date patient correspondance software was generating letters to deceased patients.” Try to keep the basic problem to no more than two sentences.

2. Highlight only the most significant aspects of the story.

You won’t have room to list every meeting held, or every hurdle you had to overcome in getting the job done. Highlight the major steps you took in your achievement, looking for opportunities to highlight your creativity, persistence, interpersonal skills, and hard work along the way. These could include boning up on the problem/solution on your own time; buying lunch for the team members whose “buy-in” was essential; communicating the importance of the goal to associates and bosses. Show a progression of events, but again, keep it simple.

3. Quantify results. 

Don’t just say that your new software program or sales pitch saved the company a “significant” amount of money. Whenever possible, put it in dollars and cents, whether it was in savings or increased sales. If the work was for a client who was so pleased with what you did that they hired you again for an even bigger project, say so.

Remember that “less is more” in writing, so don’t feel bad that you don’t have room to talk about that great speech you gave during one meeting. By zeroing in on the key parts of the story, especially where you can show concrete progression toward your goal, you’ll make your significant achievement essay an achievement in itself! 

By Judy Gruen, award winning author and experienced admissions editor.