When someone asks what your favorite color is, you might answer green or violet or even cerulean. But you’re probably not going to say “not blue” or “I’ve had a bad experience with red.” Yet so often, when asked about the reasons behind their career goals, clients answer, “Because my job as a programmer isn’t challenging me enough” or “because I’ve seen how bad some doctors are and I want to be different/better.”
This is definition by negation. And while it’s true that it can be a very useful technique in helping you whittle down your career choices, it’s not a compelling argument for why a medical school or business school should accept you into their program. It simultaneously conveys arrogance and naivety — that at the age of 26 you’ve mastered all that you possibly can in the technology field, or that at 22 you can do a better job than a veteran doctor — neither of which are highly sought after qualities by admissions committees.
Try to turn that frown upside down by inverting the quality that you’ve identified. If you’ve plateaued in your current position, focus on the initiative that it took you to get there. Describing challenges you embraced on your way to the top is much more persuasive than complaining that the view’s not as nice as you expected. And it’s easier to make the leap from there to why an MBA will open you to new challenges.
Or pair a negative role model with a positive one. If you’ve been struck by one doctor’s lousy bedside manner, it’s likely you’ve also noticed another one who was stellar. Comparing them will help you identify the qualities that made a difference — and then convince the admissions committees, using anecdotal evidence, that you share those positive qualities.
These are subtle switches, to be sure, but they will go a long way toward presenting you in a positive light — whatever your favorite color might be.
By Cydney Foote, former Accepted Senior Editor.