Everyone who has been through the MBA application process will suggest that you start early. Listen to them…and then start even earlier. Organizational Behavior professors stress that planning and execution times are inversely related. Negotiation experts inevitably emphasize preparation. Yet somehow, when faced with an application deadline, we all want to jump into action. Instead, I encourage you to leave yourself at least a week in which you only ask questions.
What do you do well?
This is not the familiar ‘strengths and weaknesses’ question from interviews, but a deeper consideration of what you contribute. Look back through your performance evaluations and see what themes stand out. Ask colleagues to participate in a 360-degree review. See what words or phrases your family and friends use to describe you. This question is meant to reveal what your resume often can’t: an ability to manage up, an unflappable manner in a tense meeting, presentation skills, or emotional intelligence. You add a layer to your application when it reveals your skills as well as your accomplishments.
What do you enjoy?
Hobbies and volunteer activities speak to how you would spend your time without being paid to do it. What role do you play on the team? What position do you hold in the organization? And what does that say about how you would fit into an MBA class or project team? Triathletes and marathoners might like the personal challenge. Linguists and knitters probably enjoy learning new skills. Amateur chefs, musicians, or dancers could be balancing an analytical mind with creative expression.
What do you want?
If this isn’t explicitly an essay prompt (usually phrased as “Why an MBA?”), it will undoubtedly be an interview question. This is your opportunity to be nebulous before you refine your thoughts for formal answers. Where do you see yourself in five years? What does it look and feel like? Now how does that fit with the values or core principles of the programs to which you are applying?
The answers to these questions and others will dictate which bullet points to include on your resume, what to highlight in your essays, and even how to approach potential recommenders. As you move through the process, the answers will be distilled into the core of your candidacy—your personal brand—and it will show through in every piece of the package you present to the committee.
Sara Kabot, Forte Fellow
Class of 2014
UC Berkeley Haas School of Business