The blogger known as Eternal Enthusiasm has a problem – namely, he is running nearly on empty in the Department of Enthusiasm as he faces his last MBA application. “I approached this last first-round application as a simple task. I knew exactly how to sum up my candidacy and the points I wanted to hit. But here I am, days away from the deadline and not confident in the package. . . . I’ve repeated my story so many times now that I don’t want to bend it,” he wrote. This is an understandable dilemma, but one that I know Eternal Enthusiasm can overcome — and so can you.
I’d tackle this problem by researching and writing the “Why Do You Want to Attend Top MBA Program?” question first. This section is obviously different for every program, so it will force a fresh start. As this blogger also recognized, “I need to prove to them that I want to go to their school. That I’m committed to them.” To achieve this, do your homework about the program and the student culture, so that you can write knowledgably about the program’s most salient strengths for you and can write about your interest as wholehearted and genuine.
Don’t rely on a site visit alone for this section. Check out what student bloggers are saying about the schools and their programs at the Hella – MBA Student Blog site. This site provides information that’s about as current as you can get for your target schools. Click over to the web site of the MBA program itself, and see if it has its own newspaper or blog. And for a list of MBA program forums/blogs, go to this ever-growing resource page on Accepted.com (the MBA blogs are about halfway down the page). Once you know even more about the special programs, educational and networking resources, and clubs that fit your career goals and where you can contribute, you will feel more energized about the rest of the application.
Next, take a couple of days (if you can spare them) and return to your previous essays with a fresh eye. It’s amazing what a little bit of distance can do to refresh your perspective on how the essays might be improved. With your refreshed perspective, search out any remaining bland or generic writing, such as this: “Although I have been responsible for a lot of exciting projects, I want to move into management, which may not happen on my current path.” Well, what kind of projects? What made them exciting? Why wouldn’t a management path be open to you? If you neglected this sort of detail in previous applications, here’s a chance to greatly improve the final one.
Add appropriate details to the statement above, for example: “My role as a product manager for a mid-sized giftware business has allowed me to develop my creativity as well as communication and market research skills. As exciting as it has been to have been involved in the planning and release of our innovative kitchen giftware, whose designs are based on famous Impressionist paintings, I want to move more into management, which seems unlikely at this family-owned and managed company.”
Sure, adding details takes more room, but it makes your essay come alive and will give you a new focus on the last application. You might also think of an illustration or anecdote that you had really wanted to write about for another school, but found there was no room. Look at this school’s questions, and see if perhaps some great material you had to leave on the cutting room floor might not work well here. With space at a premium, you still need to choose only a few examples to write about, but fleshing each out in greater detail will ensure memorable and more meaningful essays. Avoid laundry lists of accomplishments or character traits you feel you possess. “Show, don’t tell,” remains a cardinal rule in writing.
You can also reinvigorate these final essays by rooting out passive voice: “Negotiations over the extent of the website design were carried out by a team of managers and myself, representing the technical team.” This passive construction is a drag on the reader’s attention. Move the “doer” of the action to the head of the sentence for a resulting sentence that makes you sound like a leader: “I represented the technical team in negations with management over the extent of the website design.”
After you have replaced passive with active voice and booted your colorless and generic writing out the door, read your essay aloud. This will help you catch small mistakes that you inadvertently missed during the editing process, and listen for any repetitiveness in your phrasing. A fun and easy way to do this is to use the “thesaurus” option on your word processing program. When I tired of using the word “enthusiasm” for this blog post, for example, my thesaurus suggested gusto, zest, energized, excited, wholehearted, and many others. (Caveat: Don’t use words you are not familiar with. The results can by hysterically funny, but that’s not what you want.)
As Eternal Enthusiasm summed up his blog post, “OK, back to recrafting this thing. Devoting the time now will be well worth it. No regrets.”
I couldn’t have said it better.
By Judy Gruen, Accepted.com editor and co-author of the ebook, MBA Letters of Recommendation That Rock and the free ecourse, From Example to Exemplary.