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GMAT Club

The Personal or the Professional? What to Emphasize in Your MBA Personal Statement

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In nearly two decades of helping people earn admission into their dream schools, one of the most consistent concerns people express is how to build a personal statement that expresses their professional accomplishments but still lets their personality and uniqueness shine. Applicants sometimes think that this is a choice: one or the other. In fact, you can (and should) do both! When you have an MBA personal statement that works, it likely strikes that delicate balance between showcasing your professional achievements and personal qualities. Admissions committees look for well-rounded candidates who not only excel in their careers but also possess the personal attributes necessary for leadership and collaboration, so having a balanced essay should be your goal.

         Here are ten tips for building an essay that does both. You’ll notice that the clear throughline is finding ways to emphasize effective storytelling.

  1. Start with a Strong Introduction

Your introduction sets the tone for your essay. As I’ve said before, I hate the idea of a “hook.” The reason is that people who set out to write a hook, almost always get the tone wrong, emphasize the wrong things, and come across as either cliché, contrived, overwrought, or cheesy. So how do you avoid having a hook, but still using effective storytelling to engage your audience?

When working with clients, I will often ask them, “if you had a time machine ,what exact moment would you want to send the Admissions Committee to so that they could observe an important moment in your life?” This moment often makes for a great introductory story. For instance, was there a professional or academic challenge that you overcame? Begin your essay at the moment of greatest doubt, make the stakes clear, and allows you to set the table for a broader discussion about your strengths, goals, and values.

This story doesn’t have to be a moment of crisis; it could be any meaningful anecdote, a defining moment, or an experience that ties your professional and personal experiences together. For more details on this, check out this video we did for GMATClub.

  1. Highlight Professional Achievements… But don’t make your essay a “Narrative CV”

Your professional accomplishments form a crucial part of your MBA essay. Discuss your career progression, key projects, leadership roles, and any awards or recognitions you’ve received. Use specific examples to demonstrate your skills and expertise, and think in terms of the basic beats of a story: what was the crisis, how did you respond, what was the resolution, and what did you learn? For instance, instead of merely stating that you led a successful project, describe the challenges you faced, the strategies you implemented, and the impact of your efforts. Quantify your achievements with metrics to provide concrete evidence of your success.

When talking about your achievements, go easy on the numbers, strip out the jargon, and remember that you’re talking to an educated and knowledgeable person, but one who likely doesn’t know the ins-and-outs of your industry and company, so don’t get overly technical or wonky. Focus on why the thing was hard and how you conquered it.

  1. Showcase Personal Qualities

In addition to professional achievements, admissions committees are interested in your personal qualities. These include traits like resilience, empathy, adaptability, and integrity. If you ever find yourself simply stating that you possess a quality, then you are probably doing it wrong. Qualities should be shown in the course of your stories so that you don’t have to tell them. Reflect on experiences that have shaped your character and values. This could be a volunteer activity, a personal challenge you’ve overcome, or a hobby that has taught you important life lessons. Sharing these stories helps to paint a fuller picture of who you are as an individual.

  1. Connect Personal and Professional Experiences

To create a cohesive narrative, find ways to link your personal and professional experiences. For example, if your volunteer work has improved your leadership skills, discuss how this has positively impacted your professional life. If a personal passion has driven your career choices, explain this connection. By weaving together these aspects, you show that your personal and professional lives are interconnected and that both contribute to your overall growth and aspirations.

The best essays highlight just a few traits, but aim to showcase them strongly and in multiple contexts. Since you cannot say everything, make sure that what you’re saying is said well. You can do this by aligning your chosen experiences to back up an important theme.

  1. Reflect on Personal Growth

Admissions committees value applicants who are self-aware and committed to personal growth. Reflect on the lessons you’ve learned from your experiences and how they have influenced your development. This is why it’s fine (and often quite effective) to talk about times that you have failed. (check out this video for more on that!)

Discuss any challenges you’ve faced and how you’ve overcome them. This demonstrates resilience and the ability to learn from setbacks—qualities that are essential for success in an MBA program and beyond.

  1. Maintain a Positive Tone

While it’s important to be honest about challenges and setbacks, maintain a positive tone throughout your essay. Focus on what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown rather than dwelling on negative experiences. Highlight your achievements and the strengths you’ve developed as a result of overcoming obstacles. A positive, forward-looking perspective will resonate more with admissions committees.

It will also provide you with an opportunity to link your long or medium-term goals to the school’s strengths. For instance, if you are applying to a school that emphasizes entrepreneurship, noting how your startup failed because you didn’t understand how to make the transition from employee to entrepreneur can be quite useful.

  1. Be Authentic

Authenticity is key to a compelling MBA essay. Be honest about your experiences and avoid embellishing or fabricating stories. Authenticity makes your essay more relatable and credible. Admissions committees can usually tell when an applicant is being insincere, and authenticity will make your application stand out for the right reasons.

  1. Seek Feedback and Revise

Whether you use a service like ours, ask a trusted friend, or access resources at your school, you should make sure that your written materials see a second set of eyes! Writing a strong MBA essay is a process that involves multiple drafts and revisions. Seek feedback from mentors, colleagues, or professional consultants like those at Gurufi. Constructive feedback can help you identify areas for improvement and ensure that your essay effectively balances professional and personal elements. Revise your essay to polish your writing, clarify your message, and eliminate any errors. BUT, be thoughtful about who you ask and don’t ask too many people. These mistakes can break your essay!

  1. Align with the Program’s Values

Research the MBA programs you’re applying to and understand their core values and culture. Tailor your essay to align with these values. If a program emphasizes social responsibility, highlight your community service experiences. If innovation is a key focus, discuss your contributions to innovative projects. This alignment shows that you are a good fit for the program and understand its mission.

  1. Conclude with a Strong Closing

Your conclusion should reinforce the main themes of your essay and leave a lasting impression, but you do NOT want to just recap what you said. Instead, think about the key themes you want to reinforce and return to the stories, ideas, phrases, and words that you used in your introduction. Highlight your readiness to contribute to the program and how it aligns with your long-term goals. A strong closing leaves the admissions committee with a clear understanding of your unique value and potential. And avoid the phrase “in conclusion” or anything similar, as that just tells the reader “you can stop paying attention now.”

Remember, your MBA personal statement is your opportunity to tell your unique story and demonstrate why you are an ideal candidate for their program. Good luck with your application!

For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top MBA programs. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at service@gurufi.com. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.