Your whole life you have probably heard the battle cry, “Failure is not an option.” When it comes to MBA applications, however, it certainly is.
Failure is a teacher like no other because we learn far more from failure than we do from success. After all, successes might be luck, but failure usually comes from our own decisions. There is always something we could have done differently to have avoided it.
Business schools know this.
Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison are both credited with the quote, “I have not failed. I have merely found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” Well said. And business schools want to hear about these failures. In fact, you can almost guarantee that somewhere in your MBA application journey, whether it be in your application or in your interview, at some point you will be asked the question:
What is your greatest failure?
This question is something you should definitely spend some time pondering. I’ll give you a hint, the only wrong answer is that you haven’t failed. People who haven’t failed at anything either haven’t been around the block enough times or have not taken risks appropriate with MBA-level leadership. You need to have had some failures in order to have the perspective on how to sidestep future failures. The deeper and more meaningful the failure, the more valuable your perspective.
Does this mean you should go out and engineer a failure?
No. Failures are not mere fodder for applications. If you manufacture one, schools can sniff it out. It is only in the trenches of real risk and true failure that the learning will be evident. If you find yourself having trouble thinking of a time you failed, you either need to think more creatively or take another lap or two. Failures don’t have to be dramatic or catastrophic. It might be as simple as losing influence at work on a project or suggesting an idea that turned out to be a poor one. The point is, we have all fallen short in life somewhere, so re-visit your past, both personal and professional, swallow your pride, and get real about admitting when you have failed. It may sound counter-intuitive, but the maturity and perspective it communicates to the adcoms may be just the thing that makes you relatable and admissible as an MBA student.