Havard’s Three Accomplishments – More

It’s Christmas time—i.e., time to dust off some of the ol’ classics.

Today’s dish: HBS and the famous first 3 Accomplishments question.

Ever see the movie Twins? 80s comedy with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito? Well, without getting into it, you have in Arnold, the perfect specimen of human being: athletic, tall, dark, handsome, and… bright and intellectually curious! In DeVito, you have pretty much the polar antithesis. Dumpy, go-nowhere… grungy loser.

The thing is—> they’re Twins.

They are brothers. They are related. They are attached at the hip. They share DNA.

The moral of the story is, each one is more or less FINE independently. They function. All is mostly well. But when they meet and spend time with one another, they realize that together… they are BETTER than the sum of their parts. They need each other.

In HBS’s first essay question, the “Accomplishments” piece is like Arnold—the good looking kid that applicants shower with attention. The second half, the “why do you view them as such” piece, is  like the forgotten, lesser, ugly brother that gets kicked out of the way.

Well, remember Twins.

That second piece is more crucial than you know. The Accomplishment by itself has several problems:

1. in many cases, we can get a sense of the accomplishment from your resume already

2. it FORCES us to imagine someone out there with a BETTER VERSION of that accomplishment—and believe it, there will be plenty of folks who did your exact thing… “better”

3. we don’t really get to learn about you as a person; a dynamic, breathing, tightly-wound coil of potential energy

That’s okay… because that’s where good ol Danny DeVito comes in for the rescue. Our favorite ugly duckling bastard no-talent hack child brother. Who, it turns out, is about to save the day.

This piece: WHY DO YOU VIEW THEM AS SUCH —> is either neglected entirely, or summed up in ONE sentence at the very end of each accomplishment. “I value this because X.” And that’s it. That’s like saying “thanks” to your spouse after a passionate interlude. Without the cuddle, it’s just sex.

[Resume is to “sex” as 3 Accomplishments Essay is to “lovemaking.”]

So, now that we’ve banged out the accomplishment piece in 100 or 125 words, it’s time to CUDDLE.

Revealing WHY YOU VIEW AN ACCOMPLISHMENT AS ONE OF YOUR MOST SUBSTANTIAL ONES OF ALL TIME keys us into what makes you tick. Where your priorities are, what you value, what MEANS something to you.

We love the deathbed scenario to help illustrate the point. If you’re on your last few breaths, and want to remember a few KEY accomplishments in your life, you’re gonna recall a very particular TYPE of accomplishment. And it’s not gonna have anything to do with numbers, or promotions, or anything dry and dull like that. Instead, it’s going to be charged with something PERSONAL that surprised you, TAUGHT you something about yourself, INSPIRED YOU.

For a work accomplishment, you wanna go in and CRUSH the actions you took, the leadership you demonstrated, the challenges you had to overcome, etc. But in the second half, we need to assess the REASON this was such a big deal to you. Assume ten other candidates accomplished the exact same thing, or even MORE IMPRESSIVE versions of it. That’s okay—you’re still committed to this because it MEANT something to you.

What WAS that.

That’s the thing we need to hear about. It’s going to lace your response with authenticity, grit, and personality. And best of all, it will make it BULLETPROOF to comparisons with that other guy. The spotlight goes on YOU, and that’s goal, because this is your moment.

Give DeVito some love.

The MIT Cover Letter – Analysis (2009)