How To Ace (Or Fail) Your MBA Video Essay

September 12, 2016 | by Matt Symonds

Matt Symonds is a Director of Fortuna Admissions and regular contributor to Forbes. The following is adapted from his original article posted September 1, 2016. Contributions by Cassandra Pittman, Expert Coach, Fortuna Admissions.

This year, more than ever, business schools are including video essays as part of their application process, either as a mandatory element of the application (Kellogg, INSEAD, Yale, Rotman) or an optional way to answer prompted questions or provide additional  information about yourself (MIT Sloan, NYU Stern). While each MBA will ask varying questions and allow for different lengths of time for your answers, at the core of the video essay is the opportunity for adcoms to get an authentic and unscripted outlook regarding your personality, passions, maturity, and motivations.

To help prepare for such questions, our major piece of advice is to practice, practice, and practice some more! Have you ever been in an interview where the interviewer’s eyes start to glaze over? You could see you were off track, and could therefore switch direction to save the conversation. Or maybe you saw their eyes light up. You knew you had found a connection – a subject you could further explore and continue to speak about. With your video essays, you’ll receive no such reaction. Your video essays are just like your written essays. You have to put yourself out there without any idea how your material is being received by your audience, but in this case without the advantage of being able to revise and edit. You’ll need to think on your feet and come across as poised and articulate. And you only have one chance.

To practice, we suggest that you get your webcam out and/or use an app like iMovie or Windows Camera to record yourself answering sample questions. Certain MBA programs that use video essays in their admissions process have example questions on their website and then hit you with new questions during a live video essay submission; others provide you with the questions in advance. Here are ten good questions to practice with:

– What accomplishment are you most proud of?

– What is your favorite book and why?

– If you knew you could not fail, what would you do?

– How would your teammates describe you?

– To what organization or cause have you dedicated significant time? Why was it meaningful?

– Who has had the greatest impact on you and why?

– What will your classmates be surprised to learn about you?

– If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?

– What is the most meaningful thing you have done for anyone else?

– What is the most meaningful thing anyone has done for you?

Six Questions You Should Ask Yourself To Ace Your Video Essay

1. Is the background tidy and clear of any distractions?

All visual and audio distractions should be cleared away. It’s safest to film yourself against a plain wall if you can, and if there is a greater view of the room in the background it should be neat and tidy, with no other people or pets causing a distraction. Video is not just about what you see, it’s also about what you hear, so make sure there are no other sounds in the background.

2. Is my face well lit?

Admissions Committees aren’t judging you on your appearance, but a poorly lit figure can be incredibly distracting. Make sure they can see your face (and your smile!).

3. Can I hear myself well and am I speaking naturally?

Verify that your microphone is in the right place and working properly. You should speak at your normal conversation level and you should be clear and easy to hear. Make sure to practice enough until you feel comfortable speaking as you would in a conversation, with natural tone variations, pace, and pitch to make your voice sound interesting.

4. Is my body language consistent with what I would expect of myself in any in-person interview?

Make sure your posture is good. Think of the camera as your interviewers eyes (it is!) and make appropriate eye contact. Smile – but not too much. It may be useful to imagine the face of someone else at the other end of the camera. And of course, wear business dress or business casual (at least from the waist up!).

5. Are my answers concise, genuine, and interesting?

Your responses will be limited in time in your video essays. You may only have 60 to 120 seconds to answer – that’s not much time to include the What, Who, When, Where and Why your audience should care. Finding the balance between being brief as well as authentic can sometimes be difficult, so don’t be alarmed if this takes quite a bit of practice.

6. Do my answers fit into the overall ‘story’ of my MBA application (while not being repetitive)?

Ensure the narratives you tell fit into the stories you have built throughout your application, and, while not repeating yourself, link with the broader themes you have discussed in your written essays.

Practice a few questions at a time, review your recording, and try to candidly evaluate yourself against these six questions. Better yet, share your recording to a trusted friend/colleague or your Fortuna coach and ask them for their honest feedback on each of the questions and your overall performance.

So, take a deep breath, relax, and tell your story.

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