LBS MBA Essay Analysis, Your 2014-2015 Application

By - Aug 18, 09:03 AM Comments [0]

Are you ready to dig into your essays? Application essays are specifically and cleverly designed to get into your head. We like to turn the tables on the admissions committees and get inside their heads. Why are they asking these questions? What are they looking for? Read on as our experts break down application essay questions to help YOU plan the attack.

LBS MBA Essay Question 1

What are your post-MBA plans and how will your past experience and the London Business School programme contribute? (500 words)

If you look at the 2014 version of this question (“What will your future look like after completing your MBA?”) and compare it to this year’s slightly tweaked version (“What are your post-MBA plans and how will your past experience and the London Business School programme contribute?”), it’s not hard to catch the vapors coming off of the LBS adcom:

“Let’s just ask the question we wanna ask a bit more directly…”

What does this mean for you as the applicant? Give them what they want: a clear, precise, well-argued case for what you hope to succeed in, and why you will be successful (based on your past experiences combined with an LBS MBA). That’s all, folks. If you accomplish those two things, everything extra (“a novel idea,” “a big goal with big upside,” “a socially-responsible and inspiring vision,” etc.) will be just that… “extra.”

Most people will miss the KEY to this essay, by packing too much stuff in. Slow down, take it one simple step at a time, and get the key stuff NAILED down first (you’ll be 98% done at that point).

Now, here’s the danger of going too far with Part I of the question (the GOAL part) without considering how Part II supports it. If you pitch an incredible idea/vision for the future, but have limited ability to back it up with evidence in your past experiences that convinces us that you have the necessary chops to execute on that idea… the idea may sound tasty, but it won’t be worth the risk for an elite MBA program. Remember, elite MBA programs rely on PLACEMENT statistics. Things like “how many students from the graduating class end up… employed” end up making XXX dollars in their first X years out of school, etc. Why? This affects their rankings, and rankings affect the caliber of student drawn to their program–which in turn affects the school’s ability to churn out success stories that juice those stats that then improve rankings and the future caliber of… you see how the cycle works.

So, MBA programs prefer SURE THINGS to high-volatility applicants. Given all that, the best chance you have of proving future success is to point to evidence in your PAST of success in a similar arena. Now, typically this means success in ROLE and INDUSTRY X and then pitching future success that is essentially an EXTENSION of those two things. If you’re a marketing maven, then you may have a hard time painting a picture of yourself as a logistics whiz. “Why should we believe that you will be successful here?” they will ask. This is why industry/career switches tend to be red flags, unless you’re able to convincingly draw a crystal clear connection between your success in the past and your future goals.

Start there: looking back at your career, what have you done? What have you achieved? What are you good at? What MAKES you good at the things you’re good at? Isolate it, sharpen in, be able to describe this to someone in ONE sentence. “I’m the guy who can mobilize a team of 50 people on ten continents.” “I’m the guy who can take ten department’s confused and contradictory initiatives, and seamlessly cohere it into a winning, universally beneficial, perfectly aligned strategy.” “I’m the guy who…” Find evidence in your past. Be messy at first, list ten chaotic forms of support. But then sharpen it, boil it down to three defining MOMENTS. Three episodes, where your actions PAINT A PICTURE of the value you brought.

Once you have that piece LOCKED, now we can cook up a “plan” that is a mouth-watering EXTENSION of it. Now we’re willing to go wherever you take us. If you’re Elon Musk, and you give us your resume, you better believe we will be interested when you tell us “I have an idea for how to revolutionize public transportation in third world countries.” If your background is in sales, however, we’re less interested in your Big Idea.

As you’re building your “post-MBA plans,” focus less on the flash of the idea, and more on the strategy behind EXECUTING it. Show us how well-thought-out the plan is. Do this with detail. Do this with evidence that walks us through how each step is necessary for the next one. Practical, pragmatic, bulletproof. This is the plan that excites MBA adcoms. You want them to say “this guy is gonna be successful.” Or “this guy has success written all over him.”

You don’t want them to say “Wow, this is an absolutely brilliant and inspired idea! … I’m just not entirely sure he’s gonna pull it off.” That reaction is potentially a death sentence.

Here’s the structure that’ll keep you very safe for your first pass:

  1. Hit us with a high-level sense of what kind of ISSUE or PROBLEM you hope to fix. Or an OPPORTUNITY you’re hoping to take advantage of. Quickly provide this background (sentence or two, max). Explain why solving this (or executing on the opportunity) isn’t easy. Explain why this hasn’t been done a million times successfully already. Then explain (super high-level) what your idea is. What your big picture plans are.
  2. Now take us through the story of how this all came into play. What’s the backstory? Where did you start, where did you cut your teeth? And most importantly, show us the evidence as you take us through the KEY NODES of your past, of your value. Don’t just rehash your resume. Present value-defining ACTIONS that made it very clear what made/makes you valuable.
  3. Now that we’re sold on how credible you are in this arena, give us a more detailed walk-through of your plans, showing us exactly how you plan on achieving each step. Details, specificity, show us how much thought went into it by convincing us that there are no holes.
  4. Last but not least, spend just a little bit of time making an argument for why LBS of all the business schools on Earth provides a few UNIQUE opportunities to propel you toward success. Don’t explain that it’s a good b-school, or that you’re interested in LBS. You need to isolate just a few idiosyncrasies of the LBS offerings/class/setup that somehow IMPROVES the probability that you will success as compared to, say, HBS, Stanford, or Wharton. The coolest test to give yourself (embrace this conceit!) is to imagine getting offer letters from Harvard, Stanford, Wharton and LBS. Make a case for why you would TURN DOWN the other three and go with LBS. All it takes is two or three bulletproof reasons and you’re home free.


LBS MBA Essay Question 2

How will you add value to the London Business School community? (300 words)

Start thinking about this one by being ridiculously humble. You’re just one guy. And furthermore, you’re not the ONLY guy who’s gonna bring value to LBS. In fact, you are COUNTING on that assumption. This is, after all, the DRAW isn’t it? That you wanna go to a place where you’re surrounded by people who are insanely talented and are gonna elevate your game?

Yes, of course. The value that others will bring will be humbling, mind-blowing, your raison d’être at a place like LBS. What does that look like? What’s an example? An entrepreneur who started an absolutely gigantic company by age 17? A banker who’s gonna revolutionize Wall Street? You get the idea. And it’s easy to picture. You’re gonna be surrounded by leaders. Folks with unusual and inspiring perspectives. Cool backgrounds you don’t even KNOW exist yet. All this glorious stuff.

Now, stop the record for a second. And swallow hard—you’re gonna add more value to this pool of elite talent? Seriously? You? You’re gonna have something to teach THOSE guys?

You best your arse you will. You’re the guy others are picturing when they seek to be inspired. You’re the reason they want LBS and not the #26 ranked school, because #26 doesn’t have guys like you.

But so, what’s that thing? What’s the reason others would want YOU in the fray?

Consider it carefully. If it’s average, or common… it’s gonna be lame. It has to CRACKLE.

And it has to be in the form of a proof. Don’t just make a claim. Take us through the actual way in which this value will manifest. We want to picture it. Convince us that this is gonna happen. And, of course, that this is eminently desirable.

Is there evidence of this in your past? If you’re speculating about your future value at LBS, it’ll only be as effective as it is convincing.

How to shape in 300 words? Two to three paragraphs. Here are some key pieces to the puzzle:

  • Define the value. Explain what it is, and why it’s valuable. Make the case.
  • Show evidence of it in your past (and/or present). Prove that it’s not just wistful speculation.
  • Show us how this manifests at LBS. Make us taste the inevitability.


LBS MBA Essay Question 3

Is there any other information you believe the Admissions Committee should know about you and your application to London Business School? (400 words)

Couple no-brainer reasons to answer this question:

  1. You have a red flag in your profile that begs an explanation. Scorchingly low GPA, low GMAT, etc.
  2. Or, there is some aspect to you that has not been given the chance to shine yet–an aspect that simply MUST be folded into the equation of whether or not you are LBS-material.

The first one is easy. The second one… harder. If you pick the wrong thing to tout, it can say something. If for example you give us a SECOND (less strong) example of something you may have alluded to in your first or second essay, it will undoubtedly seem desperate. Especially if it doesn’t reveal an aspect to your skill set that isn’t already apparent. It gets worse. It may have the OPPOSITE effect. Instead of fortifying a strength you’re proud of, it may suggest that there is literally NOTHING else in your entire background that is worth trumpeting, hence you gave us a data point that we’ve already processed. What does it say about that guy? Nothing good.

This is an opportunity to take a risk. This is your opportunity to turn up the volume and make a statement that gives your GOALS/BACKGROUND essay more weight because by comparison, it’s more straightforward and sober. For this question, you will be best served NOT hitting a safe iron down in the center of the fairway on a 320-yard par 4. You wanna break out the driver and try to “get there in one.”

The type of thing you can write about here will (by definition) must be… personal, unique. It’s impossible to suggest even a methodology for approaching the TELLING of it. The important step in all of it is to perform some kind of comparative analysis between you and ten other guys who are more or less like you. (Believe us, there are far more than ten people whose resumes look a lot like yours. In fact, that number is likely in the HUNDREDS. This is a scary thought.)

But so, go on this mental journey with us. Line these people up in your imagination. Ten other guys with resumes that look JUST like yours. Why will LBS be MORE interested in you than these other guys? Let’s make some critical assumptions here. Let’s just pretend that all TEN of you are EQUALLY capable of achieving your (identical) goals. What will be the factor that tilts the balance in your favor?

Imagine you’re shopping for vacuum cleaners. Imagine you are faced with a choice between five top-of-the-line cleaners that more or less do the job equally well, and you’re stuck. Why go with one over the other? (Imagine they all cost the same.) It MAY come down to something as simple as: you’ll go with the sales person who left you with the best feeling. Or, you may go with a company because they are more “green-friendly” than the others. Or you may go with another company because you like the NAME better.

See what’s happening here? The things we’re talking about aren’t necessarily “things that make the vacuum cleaners SLIGHTLY better cleaners than the competition.” At THIS stage of the decision-making process, those minor factors are not likely to tilt any scales. It’s gonna be something PERSONAL, or PHILOSOPHICAL, or RANDOM.

This is why you need “the big driver.” And you need to take a BIG swing. Run your ideas by smart people who can give you gut checks on whether your idea for this essay is intriguing or elicits a “meh.” The riskier the better. The more revealing it is about how cool and likable and interesting you are as a person, the better. This is going to help your entire app SUM to (1) a guy who gets it and is likely to be successful, (2) someone who has a personality and will clearly add value to the campus, elevating the school, the brand, and everyone’s chances at success, and (3) is the kind of guy we want representing our brand, period.


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