MIT Sloan MBA Essay Analysis: Essay One
The mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and generate ideas that advance management practice. Discuss how you will contribute toward advancing the mission based on examples of past work and activities. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page)
The MIT Sloan MBA essay is not a goals essay. Yes, they are asking you about what you will do “in the future” toward advancing their mission, but, they want the evidence to come from prior experiences. Now, before we get all twisted up, let’s simplify it and cut to the heart of it.
Where in your past should we look to be wowed?
What are the moments (either or both inside and outside of work) where we catch a glimpse of something SPECIAL about you? Run-of-the-mill isn’t gonna excite anyone, folks—especially not the ultra-elite like MIT. So, it’s gotta be stuff that’s frickin AWESOME. They’ve done you a favor (hopefully) by limiting your choices to something that has occurred in the past three years. If you’ve read our stuff, attended our webinars, met our guys, you’ll have heard us allude to “assembling your greatest hits.” Well, this is a perfect example of when you’ll wanna be familiar with only the COOLEST things in your personal repertoire, and figure out how to answer this question from there, rather than let this question be the driver of you.
Once you’ve selected the stuff that makes your special sauce shine the MOST (aim for two examples, maaaaybe three, but that may be stretching it), now you’ll wanna engineer this sucker to wow MIT. Don’t come out and state plainly that aspect X of your achievement shows how principled and innovative you are. Show it. How?
Here’s a “thought exercise” to help you tease out possibilities.
Consider ways in which someone ELSE in your shoes may have approached the SAME task in a way that was UN-principled, or LESS principled. And in the same vein, not-so-innovative or LESS innovative. Surely you can imagine this, otherwise your example may not be the best one.
Let’s look at it another way.
Go back to the starting point of the task/example. Imagine someone looking in on this from a distance. Imagine this person PREDICTING how one would solve this problem/approach it. Hopefully, they’d say something like “well, in this scenario, I would expect for you to do X, Y and Z in order to achieve this thing.” But then something much cooler happens. You do what you did, and it SURPRISES THAT PERSON. How? Because you did something that was remarkably “innovative.” And remarkably “principled.” And it makes that guy say “Hunh, I’m impressed by the way you handled this in such an innovative and principled way.” What did you do that would have surprised that guy?
If you look at it using either or both of these hypothetical ways, you may be able to isolate the “thing” that made your example (and therefore you) special.
Here’s how it might look:
- Establish the problem, situation, status quo, etc. Establish the goals. Establish the challenges.
- Rather than robotically walk us through the stuff you DID, here (for MIT), be sure to incorporate some insight into decisions you made that went above and beyond “what the other guy would have done.” Show us how you could have done X but chose to do Y. Or, that normally the approach here would have been A but YOU chose to do something innovative by doing B.
- Rinse and repeat with a second example.
- As a final “tag” to this essay, take a few sentences to articulate why this stuff matters to you, and how this instinct (of being principled/innovative/etc.) underscores everything you do, and is a big reason you’ve been successful in the past, and why it’s gonna make you successful in the future. Let us taste it. Connect all this past greatness to something in the future that creates in itch in us to want to share in your success.
MIT Sloan MBA Essay Analysis: Essay Two
Write a professional letter of recommendation on behalf of yourself. Answer the following questions as if you were your most recent supervisor recommending yourself for admission to the MIT Sloan MBA Program: (750 words or fewer)
This is a very sneaky, tricky, clever, and CHALLENGING essay to write. We don’t envy you!
It’s not just how you view yourself, it’s also “what things do you value about the things you believe to be true about yourself.” Crafty.
Crafty, because there are certain things about yourself that you should be proud of, and there are certain things that would be WEIRD for you to think about yourself—stuff that only others should observe and compliment you on.
Example of a GOOD thing you “observe about yourself”: (Let’s say my name is Max.) “It is evident that Max is made uncomfortable by mediocrity. I would observe him scrapping projects that were nearly 80% done simply because he wasn’t personally satisfied with their quality. He would redo the entire project without missing deadlines, sacrificing his own personal time, out of an unwavering commitment to excellence.”
This isn’t an obnoxious thing to say or be aware of—you know yourself to want to do a great job on something? Great. What’s not to like. And it’s “safe” for you to be aware of that, after all it’s more about a driving force, rather than a RESULT.
Example of a BAD thing you “observe about yourself”: “When Max walks into any room, it is evident to everyone—in an instant—that he is the smartest guy around. People automatically defer to his intellect and listen with interest to his ideas because everything he says comes from a well-considered, well-informed place.”
Can you see the difference? This begs the conclusion, “wait, so, you honestly believe that when you walk into any room, that you’re the smartest guy there?” That’s… smug. Off-putting. That’s the kind of information that COULD be awesome for a recommender to write—but NOT for the recommendee to believe about himself.
Best move here is to focus on “intentions” and “ambitions” that may be observable through actions, rather than on results. It is clear that “Max” wants this because of this action and that observable behavior. RATHER THAN, it is clear that “Max” IS… this or that. “Is a great leader.” “Is great at leading teams.” Better to say, it is clear that Max is committed to being effective at leading teams—I have observed him soliciting advice from superiors, demonstrating blablabla. See the difference again?
Okay, let’s go through this sucker bit by bit.
• How long and in what capacity have you known the applicant?
Straightforward, no need to get creative here. Be succinct, accurate, crisp.
• How does the applicant stand out from others in a similar capacity?
Careful. Avoid stating “facts” and “results” that may suggest that you are conceited, or have a disparaging view of your colleagues. Focus instead of intentions, ambition, work ethic. “Rarely have I witnessed managers at Max’s level solicit advice in the interest of learning the ropes.” Or, “Max’s desire to assess long-term benefits was noteworthy compared to his peers who excelled at strategy, but tended to be a touch more focused on short-term gains.”
• Please give an example of the applicant’s impact on a person, group, or organization.
One thing to consider here is that the IMPACT in question should be a happy consequence of an effort of yours that fulfilled an actual company need. As opposed to something that seems suspiciously like something you may have considered at the time to be “great fodder for a future business school essay” (would it surprise you to hear that we see this OFTEN?). So, when you describe the example, let yourself get excited (from a boss’s perspective) at how HELPFUL this was to the company’s missions and goals. As opposed to tooting your own horn here as the FOCUS. Don’t get us wrong, you’ll be tooting your horn here plenty, but indirectly.
First—explain the way in which your actions affected the ORGANIZATIONS’s interest (or person’s or group’s).
Then—identify what it was about your particular actions that made that episode noteworthy, unexpected, surprising, not-to-expected-from-a-peer, etc.
• Please give a representative example of how the applicant interacts with other people.
Again, try to focus more on intentions that read versus results that you think are observable. “It is clear that Max believes that inspiring others derives more from others trusting his plan than by being a nice guy. Whereas it can take a little bit of time for folks to warm up to this, the trust that inevitably forms is always strong.” This would be more effective than “Max is incredibly effective at getting others to trust him. This is explained by his mastery of planning and ability to communicate that vision to his colleagues.”
• Which of the applicant’s personal or professional characteristics would you change?
This is an AMAZING opportunity to show some humility, and a ton of self-awareness. Don’t be afraid to go after yourself HARD here—it will show just how badly YOU want to change these aspects of yourself.
“Max is quick, but he needs to learn to be quicker. He is slowly internalizing the concept of diminishing returns on his own. Once he embraces the 80/20 rule, his productivity will be vastly improved.” Or, “Max can be unnecessarily short with people. While he believes this is effective at staying on task, there is some room for improvement here. I have socialized with him after hours, and believe that his sincerity when his guard is somewhat down may in fact lead to even greater effectiveness at cohering a team.” Just a few examples of ways to “give yourself feedback” in a way that demonstrates just how committed you are to a personal upward trajectory.
• Please tell us anything else you think we should know about this applicant.
This is an opportunity to reveal something fun and cool and unusual about yourself. If you’re too sincere here, it runs the risk of seeming… a little needy? Over-reaching? If, however, you reveal something quirky, it could be fun, and disarming.
“Max would never admit this to anyone, but I once ran into his brother at a company dinner, who revealed to me that he has a pet ambition to become the Guinness World Record holder for longest distance achieved by homemade paper airplane. This may seem like a strange fact to write about here, but somehow, when I found this out, I understood this guy so well. This spoke to Max’s childlike side, at the same time as it confirmed that no matter what he touches, his ambition isn’t just to do something, but to be the best at it.”
Better THAT than “I’d like to tell you about one more example of Max pulling off a great deal for the company.” Something WEAK about thinking that this second example is going to compel someone.
Our advice here is to play it a bit fast and loose. Reveal something coooooool, and even risky. “Max knows everything there is know about peppercorns. How is this relevant for his business school candidacy? Unclear. What I can say is that you will want to find a way to eat a STEAK prepared by the lad, however. To be frank, it may be the only reason you need to give this kid a seat at your program.” Find your own voice, run it by people—often times something risky can come across POORLY. So, road-test it. But, take a chance here.