Reject Analysis: MBA Decoder

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We at MBA Decoder have been helping candidates with the MBA application process, specifically with their essays, resume and recommendations strategy and putting it all together to present a stellar application. A few months ago, I had invited la...
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Analysis for Darden MBA Application - 2012

Q. Share your thought process as you encountered a challenging work situation or complex problem. How did this experience change your perspective?

Darden is known for its emphasis on the case method, and each student does atleast 400 cases in the two years he/she spends there. For a case discussion to succeed, students have to participate in class and contribute their own real life examples that add to the combined learning of the class. Therefore applicants must ensure the adcom through the essays, that they are going to be effective contributors in class, not just spectators.

So, for this essay, applicants should select an example that impresses upon the adcom, their ability to articulate relevant experiences in class. Additionally, the essay should be a means to emphasize how the applicant can process complex information to deal with difficult situations.

Sarah Neher, Admissions director at Darden has also explained this in her blog when she writes that this essay should present “an example that someone in class will learn from”.

Moving back to the essay analysis, the applicant selected an all-too-easy and common situation for a software professional – automating a process.

The essay is a monologue where the applicant describes one step after the other, without pausing to explain the challenges faced, his thought process during them or his solutions. There are some other non-insightful sentences thrown in, such as: “ I had an initial meeting with the customer …… It was essential for me to have this meeting because as far as customer satisfaction is concerned the end user experience matters a lot to me”. Not the kind of insight you would want to hear from the classmate sitting next to you, right!

There is an entire paragraph devoted to explaining strict deadlines. But isn't that the work culture in most jobs? Aren't investment bankers, management consultants or commodity traders chasing unachievable deadlines as well? When you keep the big picture in mind, or rather the diversity and depth in the class composition of Darden, then these details seem trivial.

In the end, the applicant sums up by saying, “the approach was so unique that we are trying to file a patent on this technique”. However, I did not get any sense of this unique approach while reading the essay. Getting a feel of it could have turned the table in the applicants favor.

What is your short-term career goal and why?

The essays begins as: “In the hindsight I wanted to see myself growing in the IT sector as a technology consultant and going forward, I aspire to be a manager in this field. I am looking for better growth opportunities”.

MBA Decoder's question is, isn't every professional seeking better growth opportunities? This is stating the obvious.

Moving on, the applicant talks about becoming a technology consultant because he is seeking client interaction to make and sell top notch products. This is a confused statement. As a consultant he would only be in an advisory role to his clients on their IT requirements, he would not make and sell their products. For that he should have sought a product manager's role in an IT product company.

This is the basic research that applicants must conduct when they are applying to any b-school. Getting your career goals wrong can get you a ding despite other essays being good, because ill informed career goals prove to the adcom that you do not have clarity about your future career or what you are seeking from the MBA.

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Where is part 1 of HBS essays ?

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NUS Essay Analysis: the career goal essay

We would like you to tell us about your post-MBA immediate career goals and how your professional experiences have prepared you to achieve these goals. You may do so by a 300 words written essay or a two-minute video.

The essay begins with the statement, “Upon completion of my MBA, I would like to pursue opportunities which involve working with emerging markets”. The applicant then talks about his 3 year career in the microfinance industry and explains his role in his past two jobs.

The big problem arises because he does not explain what he wants to do after MBA, other than saying that he will work in an emerging market. This is itself is not complete. Here are some questions that he should have answered: Work with which company? For what kind of role and what would his broad responsibilities be there? How would his career grow for the next 3 -5 years after his first post-MBA job? Not mentioning any details conveys that the applicant has no idea about what he will do, and that's not a good impression to make.

Similarly, the last paragraph has another fleeting statement that strikes no chords (or the wrong ones!)

“With Asia being home to the most promising emerging markets, I am confident that the NUS MBA, with its unique model of bringing together the best of East and West, will help me achieve my goal of discovering new markets in emerging economies”.

He has not explained how his specific career goals get met by “Asia being home to emerging markets”. Its not clear which 'markets' is he talking about. What will he do there and for which industry? And is his career goal to 'discover new markets' (like Vasco da Gama) or to do some specific work there?

This is a bad ending and wastage of space in an essay that already has a tight word limit.

Instead he should have mentioned: How would an MBA from

1. NUS ,

2. Singapore help him achieve his career goals?

Mention of school-specific benefits would have helped make his application stronger. He should also mention the importance of earning his MBA from that specific country.

MBA Decoder's Tip: After you have penned your essays (typed these days), go back and ask yourself questions for every line written there. Does the sentence leave behind an incomplete thought, which may leave the reader bewildered? If yes, then complete that thought, and make your essay sound more meaningful.

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Thanks for your comments. Your views are much appreciated.

As all b-school adcoms say, the application package is a mix of various factors- the academics, GMAT score, diversity, employability (which reflect through career progression and clarity of career goals), and the brand names on the resume (the unsaid part).

However I do not agree that lousy essays will get an applicant in even if everything else is in place. He may be perceived as having a non caring attitude or being plain lazy- not something that makes the right impression.

More important, why take that chance when as an applicant you are in any case toiling hard for more than 6 months- writing the GMAT, filling the online forms, writing lousy essays (assuming they will get you in), maybe doing some last minute volunteering, and above all paying some $100- 250 per b-school that you apply to. When you are putting in so much effort in any case, then why not do the best on the essays as well?

There's another way of looking at it - a lot of our clients have told us that essay writing involves thorough introspection, which has helped them understand themselves better and get more clarity on what they want from their careers.

When I read essays for this thread, I can quite clearly see, despite sparkling GMAT scores and brand name companies on the resume, that applicants are confused about their career goals, or have not done a good job of presenting their achievements as expected and that looks like a possible reason for the ding.|  Free Profile Evaluation| Ph: 9901566772. Ask us your queries on PagalGuy
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Having been thru all this process and having done my MBA from a US school. I know a few things which no school,or MBA help firms would ever admit.Essay though an important part of the application but it is definitely not the most important
Any school, US or India looks for 3 particular things on the resume :
1. GMAT Score: This is the most and utmost part of your application. It is like an eligibility criteria. A low GMAT will automatically end your changes to get into a good top 15 B school in the US unless you a son /daughter of big business house or you are an intentional icon like Malala Yousufzai.
The truth is that International students ( particularly Indians ) are like goldmine for the US schools when it comes to GMAT some of them purely admit internationals to bump up the average GMAT of their school.
Now they will easily say u are in a competitive group where everyone has a good GMAT so you need to get better GMATs. This is like saying that since US athletes have better skills an Indian athlete should be given a 10m advantage when running a 100m race !

2. Brands on your Resume: After you have met the first eligibility criteria. The second most important thing is BRANDS on your resume. I will split this into two subsections on how a Brand is evaluated.
a) The better (named) companies you have worked for the better chances you have. and US school only consider big US or European companies as a brand.
for ex. say one guy has worked in IBM or Accenture in India will have much much better chances of getting in vs a guy who has worked in Infosys or TCS ( considering they both have worked in IT outsourcing ).
Similarly they will treat a guy working in Mckinsey knowledge center in India or HSBC kpo in a better light then a person who has a front end exp in an Indian consulting company or an Indian bank. Does this mean that a guy from Maruti or Infy or Yes Bank cannot have good experiences or cannot have better stories to tell? He definitely would have handled bigger teams, would have demonstrated more leadership than person slogging out in a KPO. but it doesnt matter, US schools know HSBC is brand and they shut the case.
b) The company you are working for should have some history of past candidates how have gotten into the school. For example every year you will find several guys from ITC getting into the same batch in Harvard and ISB. You will not not find employees of any other Indian company which will have people getting into Harvard with such a regularity. Why ? coz they just have a history of providing candidates.
Similarly a person educated in a 50th ranked school in the US has better chances then a guy who has done his undergrad from a top 10 school in India.
Now the better school you apply to the better the brands you should have ,simple.

3. Employbility : You essays and resume is first and foremost judged to see your employbility in the US.How easily will they be able to place you is the first thing on their mind. Brands on your resume again makes it easier for them to place you.

4. The rest ( Diversity ): There are good number of points for diversity such as female candidate, a non engineer, non IT , additional masters in US etc.
Recommendations signed by an American supervisor or a client , International work exp. also make your case stronger.

All in All one should evaluate himself on these 4 parameters first , if you have a strong pedigree of these factors essays will give an extra fillip to get you into a good school and scholarship, even with lousy essays you can still make it into a top 20 school.
If no then you can write your essays with blood and have them edited from anyone, you will land no where.
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Reject Analysis : ISB ESSAYS- 2013 intake.

Essay 1:

“My diverse shades of experience, changing from a village boy to a business development manager in a start-up and from leading a XXXX to running my own successful advertising agency, have collectively offered me invaluable lessons on leadership”.

These are the starting lines of the first essay asked by ISB for the 2013 intake- Make a strong case to differentiate yourself from an exceptional set of applicants.

What's wrong in this line? Well, everything!

We have taken this line as an example specifically because far too many applicants try to fit in their entire personality into the first paragraph of this essay. Result for the adcom ? They get far more information than they can digest at one shot. Result for the applicant – the essay fails to create any impression at the onset itself. The final verdict can lead to a ding!

A better strategy: Focus on 1-2 key personality traits that really define the person you are. Mention them in a few sentences and demonstrate them through strong examples, which could be professional or personal.

Essay 2: (Where do you see yourself three years after you graduate from the ISB? )

In the career goals essay, the applicant manages the first 150 words talking about his entrepreneurial venture, without telling anything meaningful. For instance, he does not mention the hardships he faced in setting up the company, or what were his key milestones and achievements, or how did he grow his team to an X number company.

His short term career goal is to grow his venture to a multi-city, multi-billion Rupee company.A sketch of a plan would have made the growth forecast more credible.

Lastly, the benefit of ISB did not emerge very strongly.Talking to students/ alumni with a career path similar to what you want to follow is important- you can get some sound bytes from them that will sound impressive in the essay and also tell the adcom that you made an effort to know more about the b-school.

With ISB's student connect program, information sessions and 500- 700 students graduating every year ( read as big alumni force), making a connection should not be a tough task.
Though, start this process early.

Essay 3: Please provide additional information,that will significantly affect the consideration of your application to the ISB.

“By education, I am an engineer. By learning, I am a visionary. At heart, I am an entrepreneur”.

Hasn't the adcom heard that line before? Its a clichéd start for sure, so refrain from making such statements.

In the following paragraphs, the applicant has described 3 events in his life – on travelling, on helping an ailing family member and on helping a relative's tanking business.

The essay ends with the note: “Thus, a love for exploration, core values, and an entrepreneurial spirit – these are what define me”.

Our point is: the beginning statement and the ending statement speak of different things.
An essay has a specific structure- you begin with a statement, support your statement in the essay body , and end with a conclusion that is a reiteration of the initial statement. Therefore there has to be some correlation between the opening and the ending of the essay, else the essay sounds inconclusive.

These are some pitfalls applicants must avoid when writing essays.

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Hi Puys,

We are back with this year's edition of Reject Analysis. If you did not get favorable results from the b-schools where you applied, you can send us your resume and one set of essays. We will analyze the possible mistakes you have made and let you know our feedback.

A much shorter and impersonal analysis will be posted on this thread so that it benefits the PG community as well.

Please PM me your request and we will take it forward from there.

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HBS Application Analysis : Part 2


Its been very hectic at our end with the application cycle kicking in. With ISB R1 finally over, we have got some time to post our 2nd part of the HBS essay analysis.

The second HBS question is: Tell us three setbacks you have faced.

Example 1: The applicant talks about his journey from being a shy, reticent school-boy to an out-going college grad. All good, but this example required detail. It would have been interesting to see the applicant's struggle through this transformative phase, but those details were missing and his evolution sounds too simple to impress.

Our advice- the details of how you navigated through a difficult situation can make your example become alive. Its these nuances which differentiate okay essays from the ones that shine.

Example 2: is about the applicant not landing a job through campus placements in the world's worst hit economic years: 2008- 2009. With some search, the applicant did get a job a few months later. The HBS adcom's reaction to this would have been “ Our country is where it all started and we've heard of applicants emerging from far worse situations!”. Even we at MBA Decoder were not convinced this was a real setback.

Example 3: is about the applicant's team marginally missing out on a prize for 'Knowledge Discovery in Databases', one of the most challenging data mining contests in the world. According to us this is not a set-back situation at all - the team participated in a contest where anyone can win or lose and it's the spirit of participating in a competition that really matters.

Our feedback :

A setback is where you faced a road block in your process. This could be due to an external reason, due to a wrong decision taken by someone else or by you, the applicant.

Most important here is that you explain what you did to mitigate the effect of the setback. Also what was your thinking process during this time. What measures did you take to come out of the situation and what was your learning for future?

The 3 examples used by the applicant did not have enough depth in them as they did not explain any of the pointers listed above.

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Analyzing the HBS Application (PART I):

HBS essays have changed completely for this year. However, these essay questions are still crucial as they appear in abundance in other b-schools' applications. So, we are going ahead and publishing the analysis we have given to one of the PG members.

Essay 1: Tell us about three of your accomplishments. (600 words)

At roughly 200 words per example, this question does not give much chance to applicants to get into minute details. Therefore it is necessary that you come straight to the point. Explain your role in the situation and how your actions led to make it a success. The applicant had used the space in the reverse- there was more space allotted to the situation buildup, leaving the reader wanting to know more details about his process he adopted, that eventually led to the accomplishment.

The second accomplishment was the types that Harvard likes to know about – awe inspiring. The applicant talks about how he tackled ' a lack of exposure to the outside world' among under privileged children by introducing children to a 'daily newspaper session'. This got their minds activated and they started asking all kinds of questions. Other equally inspiring details follow, which we are not publishing here. Through this example, the applicant was able to demonstrate that he had taken an initiative of his own will and created a model that would continue to benefit the delivery of education at the grass root level. This is the kind of stuff that works with HBS.
In the third example, the applicant talks about resuming his childhood interest in classical music by taking up classes as a working professional. Interesting, but not enough to make its way through in the MBA application. This example does show the applicant's desire to cross over from his comfort zone to try something new, but it seemed like an easy ride. Had he gone through some tough challenges to make this happen, the example would have been more endearing.
HBS had asked for 3 achievement examples to ascertain consistency in applicants' behaviors. In this essay, one example clearly outshines the other two thereby lessening the overall impact.

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ISB Essays reject analysis for older applicant (Experience of 8+ years)

Essay 1: Older applicants to any b-school face additional challenges in the form of showing an upward career graph, great achievements at work and a clearer vision about their career goals. They are also expected to have maturity in their outlook.

For this reason, they must select their stories carefully. A good strategy is to look for leadership examples within the past three years. Anything before that sounds old and suggests that you have not had any achievements worth mentioning in the recent years. In our view, selecting a relatively old achievement story happens to be this applicant's first pitfall.

Having 8 years of work experience, he must be leading teams by now. But a 4 year old example where he did not have a major leadership role does not create the intended impact. On the other hand, a recent example would have showcased his leadership style closest to what it is now, when he applies to b-school.

The second pitfall: We agree that team work is important at the workplace and also at b-school, where a major chunk of your learning takes place in one team setting or another. However, YOU are still the HERO OF YOUR STORY. Using too much of the word “WE” reduces your importance in the storyline. We do not suggest that you take the credit for everyone's contribution. But don't get too modest and give away the credit you rightly deserve to your team. It's your story after all.

Essay 2: The career goals opens with the following lines:

Galileo Galilei once said, “You cannot teach a man anything. You can only help him discover it within himself”. A Post Graduate Program at ISB will impart me the necessary skills to thrive in the corporate world. However, it will be effective only if I apply this knowledge correctly and gain relevant experience to further enhance it.

This is completely avoidable for two reasons:

Firstly it can be interpreted as an applicant telling ISB that your program will help me, but only to a limited extent. This is hara-kiri in a scenario where other applicants are emphasizing how ISB is an indispensable step for them to reach their career objectives.

Secondly it suggests that the applicant is not 100% confident that he would be able to utilize what he learns through the ISB PGP program. Why do the MBA at all in this case?

Both reasons create negative impact.


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