In this special five-part BlackEnterprise.com series, Daria Burke, founder of BlackMBAWomen, shares insider tips and insights on getting your MBA to upgrade your career. You’ll find out how to make the choice, leverage opportunities and maximize professional fulfillment in the job market.
Harvard Business School recently announced a major change to the essay section of the MBA application. The new question asks “What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?” without a word limit. Some may view this as a trick question to which there is no right answer. And it’s partly true. There is no right answer. There’s only your answer.
Yesterday, I introduced the idea of telling your story as it relates to conveying your unique point of difference as an MBA candidate. A successful application, interview and, once you’re in business school, recruiting experience, rests heavily on your ability to communicate your background, interests and career goals. Your story is how you will stand out from your peers in a sea of competitive grade point averages and GMAT scores.
The essays are only one area where telling your story is critical. In order to succeed in the admissions process, you must master the elevator pitch, a 60-second speech about yourself. In it, you must be able to articulate who you are, not just what you do/have done/want to do post-MBA. Business schools want to get to know you. More importantly, they want to be sure that you will contribute to the classroom environment, connect with your classmates and alumna, and successfully interview for a job.
My biggest piece of advice to those I council is simple: You have to own your narrative. No one should be able to tell your story better than you. First, you must speak (and write) with confidence and in a compelling way. And don’t be afraid to show your personality! If you seem bored and uninterested in what you have to say, I’m going to be even more bored listening to you. This is true during the application and interview process and once you’re in school and recruiting for an internship or full-time job.
Second, highlight what makes you unique. Perhaps you have a traditional post-undergraduate background and are similarly qualified as 30% of applicants. They won’t have your exact path and ultimately, it does you no good to spend so much time comparing yourself to others. Focus on making your story feel special by sharing the things that inspire you, what matters to you and what moved you to make the decisions you have made thus far. Stacy Blackman, a well-known MBA Admissions Consultant suggests creating a “brag sheet” in which you list your strengths and accomplishments. Include in this list your core values. Perhaps it’s helpful to even ask close friends the top three [positive] things they’d say about you.
Finally, practice! Just because it’s your story doesn’t mean you don’t have to practice telling it in a succinct and interesting manner. Don’t be afraid to write it out word-for-word and rehearse in front of a mirror or with a trusted friend. You don’t want to sound too rehearsed, but you want to have the phrasing down and be able to quickly tell parts of your story in the absence of a full 2 minutes. This may mean having a version that is chronological and one that starts with your post-MBA career goals and why you’re pursuing the MBA at this particular time in your career.
Check out the rest of the MBA series here:
Daria Burke is a marketing and brand strategist, public speaker, and founder of Black MBA Women. The former beauty executive also works as an independent strategic marketing consultant in New York City, helping luxury, beauty and consumer goods clients with a range of marketing initiatives. Burke earned her MBA in marketing and strategy from the New York University Stern School of Business and her bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of Michigan.