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GMAT Club Essay Review 2: Story - "Talk about when you took a risk"

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GMAT Club Essay Review 2: Story - "Talk about when you took a risk"  [#permalink]

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New post 14 Jul 2015, 05:07
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GMAT Club Essay Review 2: Story


Thanks for reading and welcome to the second post in GMAT Club’s Essay Review Initiative brought to you by Critical Square. Every week or so throughout the summer we’re going to review, comment, and tear apart a real essay from last year. The streets will run red (with ink)! So grab a cup of coffee and read on – this is a great way to see how our admissions consultants, and effectively, an admissions committee looks at your essays. What we like, what we don’t like, and how to avoid mistakes that can sink your application.

If you missed the first reviewed essay on Career Goals, you can catch up [here]!

So, without further ado, our second essay!

Our second essay is a “story” essay. It’s behavioral in nature and it’s the quintessential “tell us about a time when…” In this case, the admissions committee wants to know about a time when the applicant took a risk and what they learned from the experience.

Now here is something incredibly important to point out right from the start: the question has two parts. “Obviously, what a useless statement” you’re thinking. Well, you’d be wrong. Because, while it might seem obvious, applicant after applicant breezes right over its implications. This essay included. The natural draw with essays such as these is you get wrapped up writing about the story and you leave just a few sentences to the second part of the question. That’s a fatal mistake. This is a 500 word essay so approximately 300 words should be used for the story and approximately 200 for the lessons learned.

So let’s get into the actual essay.

Quote:
I started at [firm name] in 2010 as an inexperienced associate providing research support to primary analysts on various sectors. Over the years, I worked on chemicals, metals, and auto sectors and gained an in-depth knowledge of each. The management had always been impressed with the pace at which I had picked up these sectors. Thus, when the analyst tracking the pharmaceuticals sector had to leave the organization at very short notice, the management deemed it fit to add the sector to my portfolio.


As far as introductions go, this one isn’t terrible. It’s definitely better than the introduction in the first essay we reviewed. But, that said, there is still a lot of room for improvement. First off, it still lacks a “hook”. It sets the stage but the applicant doesn’t suck us in. Also, the applicant has used this word count to boast a little bit. Which is ok, we suppose, but it’s a waste of word count. It’s important to talk about how you were multi-industry to set up that pharma was new but the “management had always been impressed” aspect is a bit over the top. The ending to this paragraph, while accurate, is also not very exciting. It should set the reader up better to experience the unease of the applicant. And don’t be afraid to be structurally diverse.

Quote:
Within a month of my inheriting the pharmaceutical sector, I was already overwhelmed by funny-sounding terms like mPGES-1 inhibitors and beta blockers, when one of our important clients requested our views on the sector's credit risk on an urgent basis.


The first half of the sentence in this new paragraph is good. The applicant uses a little bit of humor, albeit subtle, to demonstrate the learning curve. However, the latter half of the sentence should be its own stand-alone thought. Consider - “As I struggled to get my feet under me and understand the intricacies of this new industry, one of our most important clients urgently requested our perspective on the sector’s credit risk.” Not everything needs to be a long, run-on sentence.

Quote:
While working on the assignment, I felt that parts of our methodology were flawed and assumptions invalid. The industry forecast parameters deployed in the models had been developed by an Associate Director almost eight years ago. The market dynamics had evolved and a couple other parameters such as Para IV challenges and 180-day exclusivities had to be accounted for as well, in order to arrive at realistic forecasts. Reinventing the wheel at this stage, however, could jeopardize the assignment given the tight deadlines from the client.


The applicant starts complicating things here in terms of both information being left out as well as getting too technical. First off, was this methodology and model adopted from the previous analyst? If so, consider the difference between “invalid” and “out of date”. One is negative – the person had done a bad job. And the other is merely time, the person did their job well, but a while ago. Never denigrate others if you can help it. In this particular case, the applicant comes across combative in pointing out the “flaws” and how s/he clearly needed to fix things. Be careful about how things sound.

That said, Para IV and 180-day exclusivities have no home in this essay. We would remove them entirely. Whereas early in the essay they served as “funny terms”, here they are meant to be value-add and they are not.
Quote:
Simultaneously, the devil's advocate on my shoulder kept pointing out that I could have missed something given my relative inexperience. I had worked hard over the years, to create a good impression before business heads at work, and an error of this nature would wipe that off within minutes.


This section of the essay we have significant issue with. The first part is ok – being concerned you might be making a mistake just because you’re young is fine – the uncertainty is part of growing up professionally. It’s the latter part, however, where we take note. This applicant comes across almost entirely focused on maintaining his or her “good image” instead of focusing on delivering the right analysis to the client. When you write your essay, consider how you sound to the reader. This applicant comes across shallow with this statement. Instead, a sentence about the steps the applicant took to remove doubt, gain confidence, and validate his/her thought would’ve been a nice touch.
Quote:
Despite the risk of coming across as confrontational, I decided to challenge her model. The strict timelines did not permit enough time to dive deeper and build a stronger case for my arguments. Thus, based with my limited understanding of the sector in the Indian context, I approached the Associate Director to raise my concerns on robustness of the model.


Here we finally get to the “risk” this applicant is facing and…to be honest…it’s a weak one. We understand that in certain cultures challenging leadership is seen as “risky” but leaders do not bow in the face of that kind of risk – no matter what country or culture they find themselves in. So this is not much of a risk at all – at least not the kind we would have chosen for this essay. Also, the applicant uses 60 words here where only 20 or so were necessary.

Quote:
After a lengthy discussion, I finally convinced her of how the impact of recent changes in the regulatory policies was not addressed by the existing model. I quickly determined the impact of different assumptions on our forecasts. I then apprised my manager of the same and initiated work on a new and more evolved model.


Our immediate question is why did this take so long to convince her? What did the applicant do to aid in that process? And, again, this many words were not necessary.

Quote:
By the time we met the client, I was more confident of my analysis and forecasts. The outcome turned out to be positive in the end, but I will not forget the uncertainty I felt as an analyst, still wet behind the ears, contesting established systems. It inculcated in me a quality to question everything. I subsequently built on that as I overhauled how our division's new recruits were trained.


This is the time where the applicant should brag a bit but s/he chose not to – it’s a bit of a letdown. All they say is “the outcome was positive”. Positive how? Did the client marvel at the model’s accuracy? Was it applauded? Did that goodwill result in more business? There is a big piece missing here…the author pretty much just skipped over all of the hard work and it seemed to have just fixed itself magically.

To the next point – let’s talk about “contesting established systems”. This applicant did not challenge any systems. They merely pointed out that the model created eight years ago may no longer be accurate. Hardly an earth-shattering revelation and challenge. And the systems did not change in any way. The usage of that term in this context is not only confusing, but wholly incorrect.

Keep in mind, at this point we are 444 words into this essay and just now is the applicant talking about what they learned and how they applied it. And, even then, not very well. How did they overhaul the new recruit training? If the changes truly were an overhaul, perhaps they could make the case for “challenging the systems” but even then, they haven’t introduced how this situation was the byproduct of how he or she was trained in the first place. So if they wanted to go this route, then they needed to introduce the underlying issue much, much earlier.

Lastly, “inculcated” is an absolutely unnecessary word. Just use simple vocabulary. If you wouldn’t talk that way, don’t write that way. Super simple stuff. Too often applicants get sucked into the trap of trying to sound smart. That isn’t the point of a bschool essay.

Quote:
The experience also made me reflect on how reluctance to change would have impacted our standing in the market. Taking cue, I have strived to keep myself adaptable in face of newer challenges in my personal and professional life. I hope to continue doing that post-MBA while I build my career in the dynamic field of finance.


The applicant is ending on this note so let’s dissect it. The first sentence is good but it is an island unto itself. The second sentence is pure, 100% fluff. Everyone tries to stay adaptable in their professional and personal lives. So no value add there. And the last sentence continues to be not only 100% fluff but also wildly confusing. This isn’t a goal’s essay. So why bother talking about finance? And is finance more dynamic than other fields? By no means is it definitively so. Also, “I hope to continue doing that” is weak – what would stop the applicant and wouldn’t a school only want people who would, as a matter of practice, stay adaptable?

There is no summarization in this paragraph. There is no detail. There is no specificity. There is no personalization. It is a weak conclusion to a relatively weak essay.

A FEW PARTING THOUGHTS:



This story / example COULD have been a good one had it been communicated in the appropriate manner. But, at the moment, this essay weakly makes the case that questioning one’s boss is a risk. That is not the characteristic of a leader. So, even at the most basest of levels, this essay falls apart.

Not to mention, the applicant only devoted 81 of 500 words to the “what did you learn” aspect of the question. And, even then, the answers were weak and lacked substance. So remember – if you have an essay prompt that asks two questions – give each part the attention it deserves. Story essays are not there for you to tell an anecdote – schools want to know what came of that experience too.

Again – thank you to the brave soul who submitted this essay for us to rip into. But hopefully they, and you, picked up some valuable learnings from this essay review. Stay tuned for the next essay!

- The folks CriticalSquare

If you think your essay or resume could use a review or two, check out our Essay Editing and Resume Review services. Not sure where to start? Sign up for a free consultation instead!
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GMAT Club Essay Review 2: Story - "Talk about when you took a risk"   [#permalink] 14 Jul 2015, 05:07
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