Thoughts on MIT Sloan's 2014-15 "Essays"

Quick post today, because time is short and nobody wants to read the screed I had in mind for MIT's new "essays."  Why the quotation marks?  Because writing your own letter of recommendation is not an essay.

It's a gimmick at best, and, if I'm being honest, a bit of a mockery at worst.  Yes, people write their own employee assessment reports, which is a great cheat for supervisors (heck, I had a high school "world studies" teacher who figured out that he could just the class to teach itself - no joke), but that also precedes a discussion that can (and usually does) flesh out the exercise.  It's hard to imagine a company making huge promotion or bonus decisions based solely on a self-written employee report, with no discussion to follow.  I mean, come on.  Yet that is what MIT Sloan is basically suggesting when they draw a comparison between what takes place in the office and what they are asking candidates to do on the application.  It's such a weird, weird assignment.  (Okay, so I went on a bit of a screed.)  That said, there are three things to keep in mind that can make it not only doable, but a chance to shine. 

(Note: yes, I am aware that MIT Sloan still has a standard essay as well, but the super easy, super effective way we use to tackle it is one of our truly exquisite bits of strategy, so I'm not going to share it with the public.  Clients only on that one.  Sorry)

Three things to consider when approaching the MIT LOR "essay:"

1. This is about navigating ambiguity. 

If there are any drinking games at home based on how many times Amerasia Consulting Group uses the word "ambiguity," go ahead and take a shot.  It's not our fault though, it just happens to be everywhere these days throughout the applications.  I wrote about it when Wharton added its group interview, when HBS went to an open-ended question, and again in a slightly more comprehensive way when writing about HBS for this year.   So MIT is just now joining the party, right?  Wrong!  They have been at the front of this line.  

Check out our blog post on MIT Sloan from way back in 2011, where we wrote the following:

"[T]his entire process is an exercise in navigating ambiguity. There are not easy answers to everything. You can't go on a forum and gain certainty through consensus of opinion. You can't know for sure that you are always making the right decision. The people who succeed in this process ... are the ones who can plant their feet, stand tall, and make a decision."

Again, this was three years ago.  Nothing has changed.  MIT - and now many schools - wants to know how you deal with an uncertain world.  Because that is the world we live in.  So rather than worry about this offbeat (okay, dumb) essay, just attack it with as much confidence and assuredness as you can muster.  Confidence in the face of ambiguity is one of the best "looks" a candidate can have and you are being given yet another opportunity to pull it off.  Embrace it.  Love it.  The Obstacle is the Way.

2. Get into character.  

There is no use trying to play it cool here, or in being self-deprecating, or blushing at yourself.  Just pretend to be your supervisor and run with it.  Seems obvious, but I can guarantee that I will see dinged MIT Sloan essay sets this year that have the LOR piece half-baked.  You can't put one toe into the water here; you just have to jump into the pool. 

(One slightly weird tip for getting into character: find a survey of some kind and fill it out pretending to be your supervisor.  Doing this will allow you to best approximate getting into that person's head space, which will free you to write in their voice and from their perspective.)

3. Remember to use "MIT Examples" within the LOR.  

What I mean here is that when you have to give specific examples, as requested by the prompts, make sure to offer examples that are well suited to MIT's "think, felt, said, did" mantra.  To go with a basketball analogy, this should be like catching a pass underneath the hoop and just laying it in - but I suspect a good number of people will either take their eye off the ball (not read the overall instructions) or they will get nervous and rush the shot (forgetting to tie those elements into the story).  Either way, a sure layup is going to wind up being a turnover.  Don't make that mistake.  This is an easy tip to follow, but a killer to miss.  

 If you are looking for help with your MIT Sloan app or any other business school, email us at so you can start our assessment process and determine whether you are a fit for our company and we are a fit for you.