I was working on our Michigan Ross Strategy Memo over the weekend, when it occurred to me just how overlooked a "unique perspective" is when it comes to MBA applications.
Even here at Amerasia, where we work hard to push our clients away from thinking in terms of "impress the reader" and towards "connect with the reader," we sometimes lose sight of how just what an easy and effective way that can be to frame introspective writing. Because Michigan Ross has the MAP program and everything funnels towards what perspective you bring to the class, it became a good reminder and something that felt worthy of passing along.
Who You Are vs. What You Can Do
For context on this, you have to start by understanding that there is always going to be a tension during an application process between advertising who you are and what you can do. A candidate who is quite strong on paper needs to do very little of the latter and a lot of the former (to become a human being, to connect with their file readers, and to differentiate from other elite candidates), whereas a weaker candidate may need to put a lot of their focus and effort on just displaying what they are capable of (to, quite frankly, get in the game). There is a balancing act between fitting in and standing out - and a good rule of thumb is that the more you "look the part" in your numbers, work experience, and so forth, the more you can put your emphasis into standing out with introspective writing, biographical content, heart, etc.
Framing Your Personal Story
But even if we accept that basic premise, there are still good and bad ways to frame introspective, personal, emotional, and very human content. Even if you are a top candidate who makes the wise move to sidestep the "accomplishments arms race" and focus on connecting rather than impressive, you still have choices in how you do it. Is your focus going to be entirely biographical, meaning "this is who I am?" It likely won't be, if you want to succeed. You can't *only* tell a tear-jerker story or detail who your role models were or describe an amazing trip to a remote village in Australian bush country ... you need to tether these narratives to something concrete. In most cases, the anchor you can tether to is your career goal narrative. Here is what I want do, meaning how I want to spend my life ... and here is why. It's a natural, smooth way to get personal, get biographical, and allow a reader to connect. We spend a LOT of time on it here!
A Unique POV Can Be the Right Framework
But even within the "standing out" category, there are ways to organize your thoughts. What you want to do with your life is certainly a good one, but "here is what I can bring to the class" is definitely another. At a school like Ross, where differentiated perspectives and a cross-section of disciplines is essential to their entire model working, it might make more sense to stake your claim to "this is what I bring that is different" than it does to go all in on "this is why I want to do what I want to do." I would not recommend taking this path at a school like Stanford, where they literally ask you both "What matters most to you" AND "why GSB" (aka what do you want to do with your life once you get this amazing degree). But there are a lot of schools where it's open-ended and you could easily go with perspective sharing as your path. Many UK schools (LBS, Oxford, Cambridge) rely heavily on a "global conversation" as part of their dynamic, you have schools like Yale and Booth that are very interdisciplinary and focus on a sort of "life of the mind" dynamic, and then there is HBS, with its Case method and need for all kinds of vantage points for that to succeed (as well as "mini Harvards" like Tuck, Darden, and so forth).
Why All This Matters
The point of all this is that "hey, I have a unique POV" is actually a big selling point and potentially even the right pillar for your whole application and value proposition. The schools, you have to understand, are not just in the business of handing out merit badges or even stocking a career path pipeline (save for Columbia, that is! I kid, because I love). They are trying to build a class. This means putting together a group of people who may actually enrich the experience for others. If I am putting my MBA class together and I can pick one really accomplished person who tells me "I have a unique perspective because I grew up in a multi-ethnic family" or a slightly-more accomplished person who says "I have done amazing deals," which am I going to pick? So let your POV be something you strongly consider as part of your arsenal. Parts of your life might seem normal or boring to you, but analyze whether they are actually quite unique or even valuable compared to typical MBA applicants. You might find that your entire application platform is right there, in plain sight, welded to what you always thought were pieces of trivia about your life.
If you are looking for help finding the right platform for your story - or even if you need to worry more about fitting in or standing out - email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other posts by Adam Hoff that may interest you: