So, you led a multimillion-dollar project, motivated a large team to finish ahead of the deadline, or earned an exceptionally early promotion… pretty juicy achievements! But you’re having trouble making them stand out in your MBA application essays. You’re Superman, but you come off like Clark Kent.
There are a few key ingredients to getting the most out of the things you’ve done, and we’re about to dig into ’em.
This should come as no surprise, but you’d be amazed just how challenging it is to express clearly WHAT you did and WHY it was impressive to an adcom member who knows NOTHING about your company or even your industry. Many a solid applicant fall short because they don’t take the time to make sure they’ve been crystal clear, and how can you expect your reader to be impressed by your accomplishment if they’re not even sure what it is? Here’s an example:
“I overhauled the supplier rating system which resulted in more efficient buying and savings of $3 million.”
Okay…what’s a supplier rating system and why does it matter? What was it about the new supplier rating system that was so great? How did YOUR SYSTEM save money? What’s the connection between “more efficient buying” and these savings? And, oh yeah, suppliers of WHAT? You see where we’re going here… just because you know exactly what you mean doesn’t mean the adcom will. Unlike a job application cover letter, an MBA application essay has to be targeted at readers who are not experts in your industry.
While it may seem obvious to you why that operational change you made in X project led to Y breakthrough and made the company millions (and proved your brilliance), keep in mind that you are an insider, and the reader is an outsider. Context is everything—we need to compare you to peers or predecessors in order for the adcom to understand why you are a rockstar. Walk them through it.
>> Recommended Reading: Managerial Experience And Your MBA Application.
How easy or hard was achieving this result? And the answer shouldn’t be “it was a cakewalk!” The harder the task, the more impressive it is that you succeeded. But if you simply state what you did, the adcom has no measurable sense of just HOW hard you worked. To some, staying 20 minutes past 5pm might be workin’ hard, but to you that’s hardly workin’—it’s all relative.
“I just made a million dollars.”
WOW, how’d you do that? “Well, the safe was open, so I walked in and took it…” Less impressive, right? Instead of simply dropping your accomplishments like Obama dropped the mic, give us a little more—what challenges, setbacks, and obstacles did you have to overcome?
“I just made a million dollars launching X new product… even though I lost my lead engineer two weeks before launch.” Or, “…even though HQ lost faith in the product and cut our funding by 70%,” or “…even though half my team quit mid-stream leaving me to recruit, hire and train new members while sticking to the project deadline.” You get the idea—show the reader how things that would have stopped a lesser leader didn’t stop you.
One caveat: this isn’t just about how much effort you put in! Working hard is not a virtue in and of itself… an adcom has much more respect for the gal who found a clever solution to avoid work than the guy who stayed until 9 pm every night. If this accomplishment is really, well, an accomplishment, then it MUST have required intelligently overcoming challenges that not everyone could have overcome. THAT’S what will impress the adcom, and really make your results stand out.
>> Recommended Reading: Leadership Experience And Your MBA Application.
Like the context we discussed earlier, comparatives will help clarify why your results are impressive.
“I earned a promotion in just 22 months.”
Okay, you were promoted in less than two years, so what? Well, what if I told you the previous record for a promotion from X to Y position was FIVE years, and the guy who did that is the current CEO of the whole damn company. NOW we’re talking!
Comparing yourself with peers, colleagues, and previous record holders in your company or industry is a great way to show how you stand out. We should also compare yourself now with your PAST self, showing how far you’ve come. Benchmarking your results will make them stand out in a sea of applicants who are simply throwing numbers at the adcom
Add Some Flavor
We see it all the time. Folks talk about their work accomplishments, but they’re only squeezing the lemon for its juice. Time to whip out the ol’ microplane and rip into the zest.
“After 12 months of hard work we finished the project successfully.”
What does that mean to finish successfully?
“After 12 months of hard work, we launched the new product in over 100 stores.”
Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. These are results that we can understand. And you know what? That seems like a lot of stores. So, not bad.
“After 12 months of hard work, we launched the new product in over 100 stores, bringing in $3 Million annually and achieving 80% market share.”
Aha! Now we’ve added another metric. Because 100 stores, although a nice sounding statistic, could be pretty meaningless depending on your industry. The adcom won’t know how impressive that is. But talking dollars and cents makes your accomplishment universally comprehensible! Now we’re getting some zest.
You know that saying “results speak for themselves?” Well, they don’t always; sometimes they need a little help! Let’s make sure those bad boys are clear, well-benchmarked, and show you off in the best light possible.