Successfully Negotiating the Essay Maze

By Gil Levi

Writing the application essays is usually the hardest part of the MBA admission process. Below are a few guidelines to help you successfully negotiate the writing process.

  1. Prepare your strategy
    Before writing the essays, take some time to familiarize yourself with the MBA program’s requirements of its candidates and with your qualities as a candidate. Below is an example of some recommended basic steps:
    1. Note the candidate evaluation criteria ("Admission Drivers") used by the MBA program you are applying to.
      You may consult the program’s website, current students, alumni, online forums, guidebooks, and services such as Vocaz in order to draft an up-to-date list of criteria.
      Next to each criterion, estimate the weight given to it in the application process.
    2. Write down what you, as a candidate, can offer in respect to each one of these criteria.
      These are the main messages you seek to convey through the essays.
    3. Allocate each message to one or more essays. Use the aforementioned criteria weights to determine the extent of and emphasis used to present each message.

  2. Focus on the business aspects
    As an engineer, you probably did great research and development work.

    Writing about your R&D achievements will give you extra points for analytical skills. However, do you need those points?

    If your GMAT/GPA scores are about average or above compared to those admitted to the school you are applying to, then your analytical skills are fairly well covered already.

    Essay space is limited. Use it to promote other admission drivers such as:
    • Leadership skills
    • Negotiation skills
    • Teamwork skills
    • Planning skills
    • Project management skills
    • Persuasion skills
    • Presentation skills
    • Client management skills
    • Initiative

    There are other skills and areas of knowledge worth noting. Talk about providing a business solution to a business problem and not an IT solution to a technology problem. Even if you used your business skills only 10% of the time, you want to emphasize them and related achievements in at least 50% of the space allotted for your essay.

  3. Convey clear messages
    Life isn't so clear-cut. Attempts at describing the path we have taken thus far, and our plans for the future, often require complex explanations and descriptions. This is particularly true for engineers, who tend to engage in activities that are not always easy to articulate.
    It is important to remember that the reader of your essays may be unfamiliar with your industry. Moreover, remember that application essay readers go through hundreds of essays within a short period of time. Your messages must be clear, crisp, short, focused, and easily identifiable in order to help the reader, whose task is to evaluate your candidacy based on the Admission Committee’s evaluation criteria.
  4. Make use of conjunctions
    Use conjunctions (such as However, Therefore, Thus, Furthermore, Moreover, Nevertheless) to connect phrases and/or paragraphs. Smooth transitions will help you write clearly and coherently. Moreover, such transitions help the reader follow the text and stay focused.
  5. Engineers serving other industries
    If as an engineer or IT specialist you serve another industry such as banking or manufacturing -- consider differentiating yourself on the basis of your industry knowledge.

    There are many engineer applicants out there, but most of them don't know much about food production, for example. If you accumulated knowledge in the IT or mechanical aspects of food production, you can leverage that by focusing your career plan on IT services for the food industry (as a manager or as an entrepreneur). There are, of course, many other examples.

    Such a focus increases your chances of obtaining a key position after business school, thereby increasing your appeal to the admissions committee.

  6. Be personal
    Use concrete, personal, and factual examples to illustrate your point. It is a good idea to avoid general statements, stereotypical phrases, and clichés.

  7. Vary your vocabulary
    Using a thesaurus is highly recommended.
    Essays that make use of a limited vocabulary with often repeated words tend to wear out the reader, and often fail to achieve their objective.
  8. Do your homework
    Writing a strong “Why our school” essay requires comprehensive research on each university you apply to.
    Sentences such as “I made Columbia my top choice because of its strong alumni network, distinguished faculty, and excellent reputation” are an effective way to ensure rejection. These kinds of sentences show that you failed to recognize the program’s unique character. They also suggest that you did not devote enough time to identifying why you are a strong candidate for this particular school, rather than any other program.
    In addition to reviewing the university’s website, speak to students and alumni. Make use of online forums to gather up-to-date information about the school, so that you can present a compelling case as to why you chose this specific MBA program.

  9. Be unique
    Write a unique, personal essay. You want the readers to pore over your essay not only as part of their duty as Admissions Committee members, but also because they are intrigued. Like any good author, use techniques such as suspense, subheadings, an intriguing introduction and a little humor to capture the reader’s attention. The last thing you want to write is an essay that sounds exactly like the five others read by the Admissions Committee member that week.

  10. Answer the question
    It may seem obvious, but make sure you remembered to do it: Answer the question!
    No less, and not much more.

Good Luck!
The Vocaz Team

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