Whether you’re convinced that you want to do an MBA, or are just toying with the idea, we suggest that you spend a significant amount of time on self-reflection. Most business schools want to know more about you than just what’s written on your CV. They want to get a sense of what makes you tick. You’ll have to answer some reflective questions in the application essays and at the interviews. Such as, ‘why are you unique?’ Or ‘what are your motivations and career ambitions?’ Chicago Booth asks candidates to “Broaden our perspective about who you are” in a four slide presentation. Answering such questions in a way that will draw the admission officer’s eye requires considerable self-awareness and maturity.
So before diving in directly to your admissions essays, our advice is to take a big step back and think about where you are in your life and career; where you’ve been, and where you’re heading. With the frenetic pace of life, especially for young fast-track professionals, it can be difficult to find the time and peace of mind to pay enough attention to such questions. But if you do, you’re more likely to end up with a compelling application and will be more authentic and confident in the interview.
It can be a real challenge to look beyond your current situation. Self-analysis and reflection does not come naturally to us all. Some may feel uneasy about thinking well into the future, and unsure about how big they should dare to dream. A vision may not come into focus immediately. But as INSEAD’s Professor Gianpiero Petriglieri commented in the Harvard Business Review, “it is often when we yearn for an answer that we stand to learn the most from staying with the question”. So don’t start this process of introspection two weeks before your application deadline. Ideally, to give yourself ample time, you should be doing some deep reflection at least nine months ahead to allow inspiration to come naturally, instead of forcing it to come on a tight deadline. You might find that answers come to you at unexpected moments ‒ when doing the dishes, reading the newspaper, or waiting in line.
Begin by compiling a good list of questions. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What have you learned about yourself from times you have shined and times you have failed? What’s important to you in a career ‒ wealth, results, managing others, work-life balance, time abroad, high status, power, making a difference? Ask colleagues, friends, and family to tell you what they perceive to be your strengths and weaknesses and what they envision you doing in ten years’ time. The answers might be astonishing.
You may not realize it, but when you’re just a few years out of university, as is the case for most MBA applicants, you stand at a crossroads. You probably have just enough work experience to take stock of your career progression and assess your strengths, weaknesses, interests and dislikes, in a way that you could not have done when you were in high school. You’re also still young enough that you can switch paths quite easily. This becomes more difficult as you age. This is a sweet spot in your life. So don’t skimp on soul-searching ‒ or waste the gift of choice.
The next step of this series discusses the importance of your GPA, and GMAT or GRE.