You may not realize it, but when you’re just a few years out of university like most MBA applicants, you stand at a crossroads.
If you have decided on an MBA, or are just exploring the idea, you’ll want to carve out ample time for self-reflection.
Top business schools want the story beyond your CV. Admissions officers want to understand your motives, and MBA applications are designed to solicit a thoughtful analysis of your personal growth, future potential, and how you intend to transition into the next stage in your career.
You’ll have to respond to some profound questions in the application essays and during interviews. Stanford GSB asks, “What matters most to you, and why?” Chicago Booth asks candidates to, “Tell us something that has fundamentally transformed the way you think.” Answering such questions in a way that will grab the admission officer’s attention requires considerable maturity and self-awareness.
Before sitting down to write, my advice is to pause and reflect on where you’ve been and where you’re going—in your life and your career. With the hectic pace of life, especially for fast-track young professionals, it can be difficult to find the tranquility of mind or time to ponder such questions. In doing so, you’re more likely to craft a compelling MBA application, and to be both authentic and confident in the interview.
It’s challenging to see beyond your current horizon. Introspection doesn’t come instinctively to all of us. Some people feel uncomfortable thinking too far ahead, or unsure about how big they should dare to dream. Insight may not arrive immediately. But as INSEAD professor Gianpiero Petriglieri commented in Harvard Business Review, “It is often when we yearn for an answer that we stand to learn the most from staying with the question.”
A word of caution: Do not start this reflective process two weeks before your MBA application deadline. You’ll ideally want to do some deep introspection at least six months ahead, allowing time for deep reflection and inspiration to come. You may discover that answers come at odd moments—when reading an article, brushing your teeth, or pacing an airport lounge.
Begin by brainstorming a good list of questions. What are your motivations and future ambitions? Your strengths and weaknesses? When have you experienced success or failure and what did you learn from these experiences? What do you want from your career—meaning, wealth, work-life balance, international experience, power, status, interesting colleagues? No job will be perfect all the time, so what kinds of characteristics will make it worthwhile for you personally?
Don’t do this in a vacuum. Ask family, friends and colleagues to reflect back to you what they perceive to be your strengths and weaknesses, or where they can see you in 10 years’ time. The answers might surprise you.
You may not realize it, but when you’re just a few years out of university like most MBA applicants, you stand at a crossroads. You likely have just enough professional experience to take stock of your career progression and assess your interests, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses, in a way you couldn’t have perceived back in college. You’re also still young enough that you can change course with relative ease. This becomes harder the older you get. This moment is a sweet spot in your life. Don’t waste the gift of choice —or skimp on introspection.
Author: Caroline Diarte Edwards. Caroline is a director at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and former Director of MBA Admissions at INSEAD.
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