700+ Isn’t Enough: Communicating Character in Your MBA Application

October 14, 2016 | by Matt Symonds

In David Brooks’ book “The Road to Character”, he makes the case that our “resume virtues” – our test scores, professional achievements and workplace skills – , have taken center stage at the expense of our “eulogy virtues” – the features of our character that others admire when we aren’t there and the values we exhibit through the consistency of our choices, commitments, and actions.

Applying to business school can seem like an exercise perfectly designed to fit Brooks’ resume virtues. For months you prepare for the GMAT or GRE, you repeatedly rework your CV, trying to showcase all of your very best professional accomplishments on a single page, you include examples displaying your intellect, managerial skills, and leadership potential, so you have them prepared when you are (hopefully) invited for an interview.

Of course business schools want to know about your resume virtues, and they judge them against other candidates. But, for many schools, these are not sufficient; they want to see your eulogy virtues, too.

This year, applicants to Yale SOM are asked a single essay question: “Describe the biggest commitment you ever made”. This remarkably straightforward and simple question, developed in partnership with Amy Wrzesniewski, a Yale professor of Organizational Behavior, gets right to the core of your eulogy virtues. What do you consider to be worthy of your time and energy? And how is that shaped by the principles that define your character?

Stanford GSB continues to ask, “What matters most to you and why?”.  Berkeley Haas questions which song most expresses who you are and why. Columbia Business School invites you to share what your clustermates would be pleasantly surprised to learn about you. Sloan Fellows introduced a 90-second video component this year giving you the option to answer one of three questions: What are you passionate about? Tell us something we would be surprised to learn about you? What do you like to do for fun?

So, after having spent months (perhaps years) polishing how you communicate your accomplishments and skills, how do you best convey your character? And how do you do so in a genuine manner, and one which avoids the dreaded #humblebrag?

I offer you three tips to effectively begin to identify and communicate your eulogy virtues for your MBA application:

1. Watch Simon Sinek’s TED talk on how countless leaders inspire action. And then afterwards, ask yourself his two main questions: Why do you get up in the morning and why should anyone care?

2. Ask a few trusted friends, colleagues and / or family members which facets of your character they most admire, and examples of when you have shown them those values, even when it has not been to your own personal advantage. (Think billionaire Warren Buffet campaigning for increased income taxes for the wealthy because he believes it is wrong for the wealthy to pay less in federal taxes than the middle class).

3. Identify for what and for whom you are willing to sacrifice and why– not those to which you aspire, but those which you really live up to in your everyday lives. Sit down in a quiet environment and write out at least three examples of times where you have willingly sacrificed in the last five years. Then ask yourself what or whom has appeared more than once, and what value or aspect of your character this points to.

By Cassandra Pittman. Cassandra is an Expert Coach at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and an Executive-in-Residence at London Business School. She holds an MBA from Columbia Business School, and has worked in Admissions at both INSEAD and London Business School.

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