So HBS wants “analytical aptitude and appetite.” What is there to add? I mean, it’s pretty obvious. We didn’t really need HBS to say it. Yet they did say it.
Maybe it’s not as obvious as it sounds. Let’s take a look.
Analytical: This concept encompasses a range of things – quantitative methods, various tools and processes such as decision trees and FMEA, mental objectivity, an exacting attitude. Parsing the relationship between a whole and its parts. Pursuing root causes.
Aptitude: Ability, innate and/or learned.
Appetite: This is the really interesting word, because it’s open to interpretation. We can read it as meaning to enjoy, to savor, to be open to, to relish, to hunger for, to have capacity for. Here are some of its practical implications and nuances (in question form):
• Do you use objective analysis in understanding past events, planning future actions and strategies, and making decisions?
• Do you respect results and outcomes determined by analysis when they don’t jive with your preconceptions, ideologies, or preferences?
• Does your analytic mindset allow you to be comfortable with – even relish – ambiguity and uncertainty?
• Do you help your teammates understand and use analytic approaches and thinking?
• Perhaps most important, do you use language effectively as an analytic tool, e.g., when the team is facing a muddle, are you the one who can verbally separate the threads, clarify them, and guide the team to understand their relative weight and importance?
As the HBS website indicates, for HBS, analytical aptitude is not a solitary feast (regardless of how hearty the analytic appetite). You’ve got to bring your analytical chops to the table, i.e., to classroom debates and case studies, projects, etc. Therefore, you must be able not only to read and play the analytic score – but also to improvise, on the spot and with other virtuosos.
The adcom will grasp your analytic aptitude from your transcript(s), test score, and resume. But if you feel these elements don’t properly show this dimension, use other parts of the application (essay, short answers, additional info, recommendations) to amplify it.
As for showing analytical appetite:
• Your resume may reflect this quality, depending on your work.
• Invite your recommenders to discuss this quality and to provide examples.
• In your essay(s) use a story or two that demonstrates analytical appetite.
And be assured, it won’t hurt to let other programs you apply to appreciate your analytic aptitude and appetite!
By Cindy Tokumitsu, author and co-author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports, including Why MBA and Best MBA Programs: A Guide to Selecting the Right One. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her fifteen years with Accepted, including many successful applicants to HBS.