With round one MBA deadlines just around the corner, thousands of applicants again face crunch time with one of the favorite admissions essay topics, “Introduce Yourself.” Some of the top schools, like Harvard Business School, ask the question quite explicitly while some, such as Northwestern’s Kellogg School, ask the applicant to think about business school as a catalyst for professional and personal growth, reflecting on past growth and future potential for development. MIT Sloan has introduced a video question, which gives you one minute to introduce yourself, and one shot at the recording. This echoes approaches used previously by Kellogg and McCombs and is joined by NYU Stern asking for six images with captions to describe yourself to your future classmates.
As the former head of admissions at Wharton, I always wanted my team to really get to know the applicant, well beyond his or her GPA and test scores. Such a question achieves this, though not surprisingly, the seeming benign topic is usually the hardest to address. Many candidates shy away from tackling this in favor of more pragmatic questions such as “Why do you want to go to school x, and what do you want to achieve with your MBA?” They are more straightforward and don’t necessarily require the same level of introspection.
In our coaching work at Fortuna Admissions, we often begin with these questions to lay the groundwork for the next level of reflection. But as we move forward with clients we help them to see just how rewarding and enjoyable it is to step back and really think deeply about who they are, and how their values and decisions have shaped their experience.
IT’S DIFFERENT THAN INTRODUCING YOURSELF AT A PARTY
Introducing yourself to someone new at a party or professional meeting certainly requires a different approach from introducing yourself to an MBA admissions committee that has already read your resume, and has supporting documentation of letters of recommendation and your online application. Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School puts it on very friendly terms, for example, asking you to imagine being in an airport with an admissions officer and using this opportunity to make a memorable impression.
Think of these questions as the opportunity to provide color and context to the application, bringing to life the lines on your resume or adding depth to comments made from your recommenders. You can take these essays as a valuable opportunity to make a deeper connection with an admissions committee member who most likely will be reading anywhere from 25-30 such files each day during the busy application season.
Before you start writing, we firmly believe in the importance of self-reflection and understanding your own motivation for applying to business school. What strengths are you bringing with you? What are the weaknesses that you want to develop? What are the things that get you out of bed in the morning, or the things that you would do for free because you care about them so much? We recommend white boarding all of the topics and messages that you think may fit into this category so that you can see them all in one place. That way, you can then begin to see which ideas belong with which examples, and the themes that are the most important to your story will begin to emerge.
USE EXAMPLES TO BRING YOUR STORY TO LIFE
After you have been able to shake out the important thematic threads, you will want to use examples to really bring your story to life; you want to imagine that the reader is in your back pocket, so that you are sharing with them how it felt at a decisive moment in your development, or the impact of a certain individual… and give them a sense of the color and importance of these events and people. Your goal throughout this work is to pique the file reader’s interest so that they are intrigued and want to learn more about you – i.e. invite you to interview!
Be aware that a key question in the file reader’s mind as they read your application is “what will you bring to the school community?” You should be planning to address what the school gets if they admit you; by highlighting your abilities and your engagement, the goal is to demonstrate that you will give to the school as much as you get. Will it be in your classroom discussions? Your sense of humor? How you rally your teammates? How you can engage across cultures? What is it, essentially- that makes you “you” and how does that make the school a better place?
It is easy to fall into the trap of repeating the facts and figures that appear on your resume. You should seek to avoid this repetition and instead really focus on additional information that is not readily obvious to the reader. Your professional experiences are certainly important, but they are not the whole story. Caroline Diarte Edwards, my colleague and former Director of INSEAD’s MBA Admissions and Financial Aid says of the school’s long-standing ‘candid description’ essay: ”I advise candidates to focus more on their personal backstory rather than professional accomplishments; this is in the question title (it asks for “personal characteristics”) but candidates sometimes miss this and use the essay to retell their professional story. But what the school wants here is to understand who they are beyond the resume, what makes them tick, and what made them become the person they are today.”
BE THOUGHTFUL ABOUT HOW MUCH YOU PLAN TO SHARE
As previously mentioned, admissions officers are reading somewhere between 25-30 applications a day, and are seeking authenticity in their file reading. Repeating themes that you think that the school will want to read means that you are not being authentic to your true self and your own story. This is the reason that schools even have essay questions to begin with; if they wanted to admit based on GMAT, GPA and resume alone, they could certainly do that but the classes would suffer from lack of individualism and true character.
While it is also tempting to hold nothing back, you will want to be thoughtful about how much you are sharing within the context of the essay. Sometimes too many themes mean that you are covering each point at only a superficial level without any depth and reflection. Instead you need to hone in on a few topics that you feel that you can comfortably cover in the word count allotted (or in the case of HBS, no more than two pages) and go into greater depth. You will want to stand out in the admissions officer’s mind as someone who presented with depth and passion, rather than an applicant who spread him or herself too thin and tried to exhaustively (and exhaustingly!) cover their history.
So, “introducing yourself” may seem like a tall order, however it presents a strong foundation to ask yourself the important questions about the next steps in your professional growth. The prompt allows room for reflection about how you became the person you are now, and where you see yourself growing with your next exciting challenges.
Judith Silverman Hodara is the former acting admissions director of The Wharton School and a director at Fortuna Admissions, a leading MBA admissions consulting firm
The Baker Library at HBS
HBS changed its essay question this year and made it no longer optional.
At MBA Admissions Advisors, we thought that it would be useful to provide our readers with fresh recommendations to tackle Harvard’s new question. We also tried to summarize what the web is saying about it.
Here is the new Harvard Business School’s essay prompt:
“It’s the first day of class at HBS. You are in Aldrich Hall meeting your ‘section’. This is the group of 90 classmates who will become your close companions in the first-year MBA classroom. Our signature case method participant-based learning model ensures that you will get to know each other very well. The bonds you collectively create throughout this shared experience will be lasting. Introduce yourself.”
Answering the Introduce Yourself question:
You should consider these five pieces of advice when tackling the HBS essay:
1. Don’t repeat yourself: this essay is only one part of your application, use it to share information that can’t be found elsewhere (e.g. in the applications form or on your resume). Think about what professional and personal experiences you would like to highlight and what additional elements you would like to share with the admissions team.You shouldn’t approach this essay much differently than in the recent years, when HBS was asking applicants:
“We can see your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you. What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy”
2. Write as if you were speaking to your classmates: this is one of the main difference from last year’s essay: you are not writing to the admissions committee, but speaking to your classmates instead. It should influence your essay structure in two main aspects.
First, you need to think about a set of stories or anecdotes that you would want to share with your classmates. You may not want to write about things that are very personal in nature and you certainly want to avoid coming across as over-confident or pretentious. After all, you will be pretty much living with your classmates for the next two years, so don’t be annoying.
Second, your story needs to be concise, and easy for your classmates to follow. Your style should be impactful yet simple, as your section mates will not be reading your essay; you will be speaking to them.
3. Don’t be boring: Imagine that you are the last one of your section of 90 students to speak. What are you going to tell your peers that is interesting enough to keep them awake. You will need to find a story that sets you apart from your colleague, one that has the potential to intrigue them. There is no magic formula here, but think about experiences, connections, or unique achievements that might make them want to know more about you. Put yourself in their shoes: if you were listening to a classmate’s introduction, what would you be interested in hearing? This is your chance to deliver a mini-TED talk.
4. Show that you’ve done your homework and know what HBS is about: When they published the new essay question (“Introduce Yourself”), the HBS admissions team also posted a video depicting the HBS case method. This highlights the importance for you to know HBS and its emblematic case method. We don’t recommend that you explicitly address the “Why HBS” question directly in your essay, but you should make sure that your essay highlights the contributions that you will make to your class: what unique experiences and perspectives will you bring to the case discussions. Answering this question may actually take some honest introspection.
5. Be VERY concise: The essay has no word limit, but you need to remember that there are 90 people in your section who will all introduce themselves. If everyone were to take 5 minutes for their speech, it would take 7.5 hours in total… You get the point! Overall, we recommend keeping your essay between 600 and 800 words, and certainly avoid going beyond 1,000 words. When done with your essay, read it out loud and see how long it takes you. Your presentation shouldn’t exceed two to three minutes.
Around the Web: What others are saying about Harvard’s new essay question
To help you start think about ways to Introduce Yourself, we’ve also summarized the web’s best posts on the topic. Here is what we’ve found :
- The admission committee has already seen your resume, data forms, and recommendations so you should build on them rather then reiterate content already covered in your application
- Don’t be too cocky, try to strike a balance between impressive stories and salient interests you would typically share with your classmates
- Leverage the case method video the admission committee shared to emphasis your points and mention what role you would play in the collaborative environment of the case method
- You should aim for 750-1,000 words for your essay
Poets & Quants
- You need to prioritize meaningful aspect of your life, but present the content in a style and tone suitable for your future classmates whom you just met
- You need to remain disciplined and refrain from making a laundry list
- Focus on showing maturity, accomplishment, and leadership through your stories
- Focus on clarity and be concise, max of 1,200 words
- Know yourself, know HBS and demonstrate your fit with the school
- Use your essay to fill the gaps from your application
- Show diversity and leverage professional and personal stories
- Don’t try to answer why HBS
- Read your essay out loud and see if it makes sense, it really needs to feel like you are presenting yourself to your classmates
- It shouldn’t be too long. When you read it out loud it should be between 1 and 3 minutes, 5 being the absolute max.
- Simplicity: it needs to be easy to understand
- Don’t overstate your accomplishments, it needs to be believable
- You need to be different and make sure your story is interesting
- Don’t replicate information from your application
For more advice on how to approach your essay, we encourage to read some of our past posts, including our HBS essay tips from last year. Many are still relevant.
Finally, it helps to have someone who doesn’t know you well read your MBA application essays. They’ll be far more likely to spot gaps or inconsistencies that, while they make sense to someone who knows you well, stand out to someone who does not. If you’re interested in having one of us take a look, or if you want to brainstorm about potential essay stories, then reach out through our free consultation service. And of course, stay tuned to this blog for more posts on how to write effective MBA applications.