The Matrix

Overwhelmed by the MBA essay wrtiting process? Use a simple matrix to ensure you cover all your bases.

There’s a ton of things to think about when applying to business school, almost to the point of being overwhelming.  But when you strip things down to their base elements, it’s really five key areas of competency that all business schools are looking for:

Leadership, Creativity, Intelligence, Maturity, and Teamwork skills.

None of these areas is any more important than the other, and to ignore or omit any of them in any business school essay package would be foolish.  In short, it’s what all schools are looking for, so you’d better demonstrate competency in each. To ensure you are balancing the representation of these critical skills and to make things simple, use a matrix.  Start by getting a blank piece of paper and list these five attributes across the top of the page as column headers.  Next, list the general essay question topic headers down the left hand side of the page as rows.  Also add a row called “Academics/GMAT.”  Clearly you will need to do this for each school, since each school’s questions are different.

Now that you have the structure of your matrix jotted down, begin simply putting checks in the boxes you have created where appropriate.  If your leadership skills can be highlighted in the question about work experience, put a check.  Perhaps your raw intelligence is best demonstrated with your grades or GMAT score.  If not, you will have a blank in that box and will need to see a check for that area in another essay.  The point is not to “check all the boxes,”  but to show balance.  If you have any area that is not represented on the matrix, you need to dig deeper and get more creative in how you are demonstrating that skill. 

Maturity and creativity are often the most challenging for MBA applicants to conceptualize in the essays.

While age alone can sometimes demonstrate maturity, you should think of it more as having a mature perspective.  Knowing your strengths and weaknesses and being able to express what you have learned from failure will also show maturity.  Finally, having a sound vision for your future and how your past experience (post MBA) will set you up to achieve it speaks very loudly that it’s not your first lap around the track, so to speak. 

When addressing creativity, you sometime have to be, well, creative. If you are lucky enough to have a job which lends itself towards this area, its easier, but what if you don’t and you have a long column of blank boxes on your matrix in this area?

Never forget that creativity is synonymous with innovation.

You can show innovation in several ways. Perhaps you have to “manage upwards” in your office and the influence you have had on your boss has made an impact.  That’s innovation.  Or maybe your idea was the one that was adopted in your neighborhood association. That’s innovation too.  Business schools just need to know that you can approach problems or situations creatively and with a fresh view.  The matrix can help expose your shortcomings.  Use it wisely!


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