Monday, August 04, 2014 at 2pm

Sharing Smaller, More Meaningful Personal Stories in Your MBA Essay

It’s important to consider how parts of your career development feed into your personal story, rather than just looking for the highest profile projects.

At this point in your career path, you probably have plenty of accomplishments that you can use as personal stories in your MBA essays and MBA interview for your program application. It can be difficult to assess which ones will help you secure a spot in your top-choice program, and many applicants simply choose the ones that are the biggest and most brilliant. However, you might catch the admissions officers' attention more effectively by choosing accomplishments that, while smaller in scope or outcome, meant the most to your career development.

Here are some tips to help you find the right stories.

1. In reviewing which personal stories to select, understand that the significance of your role means more than the project itself

I often work with MBA applicants who want to use personal stories about their careers where there were massive budgets, multiple firms and government organizations involved, and where the outcome had a major impact. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, and there have been times when I agreed that this was the best approach. Just as often, in the course of our interactions it becomes apparent that the applicant's role in a big project was small and did not have a major impact on the project's outcome or their career development.

MBA selection committees are not looking for your company or your supervisor to join their cohort. They're looking at you to see if you fit the profile of their student body. Your personal story really needs to be about you. That can be difficult for some applicants because it seems a little arrogant, and this can be especially true of applicants who are not from Western cultures. However, for the sake of your MBA essays, application and MBA interview, choosing situations where you were able to make a difference helps the selection committee assess your potential for career development.

2. Focus on unique and current personal stories

I once worked with a client who was very enthusiastic about using his MBA essay to tell the personal story about his role in transforming the brand image of a major bank among the college demographic. It was a great story. However, that project had occurred early in his career when he was fresh out of college himself, and more than five years had passed since that time. Moreover, I had read similar stories from numerous other applicants. Therefore, I encouraged him to focus on his current project of penetrating and expanding the South American credit card market. This personal story highlighted his current skill set to the admissions officers while also showing why an MBA program was crucial to his career development.

3. State the meaning of the experience clearly in both your MBA essay and MBA interview

Since you won't be able to rely on big numbers or a project that made the news to give context for the admissions officers, it's up to you to tell why this smaller experience was so meaningful. While this is more of a challenge, it is also an opportunity to add a level of depth to your MBA essays and MBA interview that will help you stand apart from the crowd. Let the admissions officers see the challenges you faced, the obstacles that you overcame, and the more mature professional that you are now because of the career development you gleaned from this experience.

Ryan Hickey is the managing editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants.

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