Here’s a question from B-School applicants that our team fields quite often:
“When the adcom asks about our strengths and weaknesses in an essay, how do we address that? Which weaknesses can be highlighted in such an essay? And how should be these presented to make a positive impact? What things should NOT be highlighted in this essay?”
Here’s an answer from our CEO, Jon Frank.
Strengths are easy
Focus on leadership if you can, because everybody (Not just HBS!) loves leadership. Call yourself a natural leader, and prove it. That’s a surefire smart move.
As for your second strength, find something that allows you to tell a great STORY. Refer back to your greatest hits, and support your second or third greatest hit with a smart strength. Done.
Weaknesses, of course, are a touch harder
Why? Well… why would anyone want to discuss something negative in their application? So, the trick is to pick weaknesses that somehow shed light on your strengths. Actual weaknesses, mind you.
You want to find stuff that shows that you are mature enough to recognize that you’re not perfect. Of course you’re not, and admitting it is a sign of strength.
So what kinds of weaknesses? Ones that shed light on your strengths. Ones that make sense, given your strengths. Here are some examples:
Strength: “I am a great leader.”
Logical Weakness:“Sometimes I overlook some of the details.”
Why does this make sense? Because that is a LOGICAL weakness, given the strength we have discussed. You’re a “big picture” gal or guy, a great speaker. So from time to time… a detail slips through the cracks. That makes sense. Better yet, it makes you seem even MORE like a leader. It makes your background seem even more strong, focused.
Strength:“I am a great communicator.”
Logical Weakness:“Sometimes, I avoid confrontation. I am afraid to make people hate me, afraid to say ‘no,’ to yell etc. “
Of course, sometimes to be a successful leader, we have to be able to come down on people, to be firm, etc. By admitting this, you not only reinforce your strength as a great communicator, but you show the ability to criticize and improve yourself, another great leadership trait.
So that is your goal: connect some weaknesses to some strengths. The best weaknesses will highlight your strengths, as we have indicated above. And of course, they will be actual weaknesses, and not cop outs. : )
Writing about your strengths and weaknesses in MBA Admission Essays
This essay is about your awareness of yourself as a person. The admission officers are keen on finding out, how much you know about your own skills. Your strengths and weaknesses determine where you stand in this competitive world. The thing that matters more to the admissions committee is your consciousness for your strengths and weaknesses. Focus on where you see your strengths and weaknesses in relation to your current positions of responsibility and to your goals/ambitions. Assess your skills, and you will identify your strengths and weaknesses. This is an exercise worth doing before writing your essay. Make a list of your skills, dividing them into three probable categories;
Personal Traits: These spotlight your unique qualities of how dependable, flexible, friendly, hard working, expressive, formal, and punctual and a good team player you are.
Knowledge-Based Skills: This can be your computer skills, languages, degrees, certifications, training and technical ability acquired from education and experience.
Transferable Skills: These are your portable skills that you take from job to job such as communication and people skills, analytical and critical thinking abilities and problem-solving and planning skills.
Once you prepare the list, choose few of those strengths that match the requirements of the admission people. Here is an opportunity for you to differentiate your candidature from the pool of applicants. You need to write about the qualities or traits in you that you have not covered in any other essays. You can highlight any of your qualities such as leadership, initiative, teamwork, creativity, innovation, courage and volunteerism, that you think makes you a strong applicant for a top ranking MBA program. Other applicants might also have similar strong attributes, but your anecdote needs to be convincing enough to compel the admission committee to distinguish you among the massive crowd of applicants. Though you do not have space for rambling stories one or two succinct anecdotes would help the cause.
Just mentioning the strengths will not suffice. You have to present examples of how you have demonstrated those strength. Make sure you can give specific examples to demonstrate why you say that as your strength. Further during interview, when confronted with this question, remember the admission officers are looking for a fit. They are forming a picture of you based on your answers. Put your energy into your strength statement. Before writing about your assets, judge yourself if you actually consider it as your most powerful strength. Further discussions with friends, peers and family members will help you in finalizing a trait and anecdote. You can focus on any quality that is much blown up in you, let it be personal or professional.
If you proudly admit about a specific talent in you, then it is quite obvious that you have demonstrated this skill of yours in certain situations, or how do you support your answer? Discuss the situations where you have employed your asset to deal with the circumstances and also share what knowledge or experience you gained from it. It is also advisable to share how you developed the quality in you. What are your motivational factors or what has influenced you to transform this quality of yours as your most powerful strength.
For this essay, SAR (Situation, Action and Result) will be a good approach.;
- Describe what the situation was and what your role was.
- Delineate what action you took and how did you utilize your skills to deal with the situation.
- Discuss the result from your action.
- Mention how it benefited you and your organization.
- Discuss how this skill will help you to prosper in your career.
Discussing these points will surely serve the purpose and will definitely show your uniqueness to the admissions committee. Hence take this question as an opportunity and furnish the information, expose the surface which admissions committee wants to see.
Weakness: Try not to talk about too many weaknesses - one or two will be sufficient. You can mention that you do not have a particular domain knowledge/skill/type of experience. Example: In your previous role as a Technical Manager, you did not get much exposure to marketing and branding aspect of business. Therefore, you lag the required skills to market your products. Then you need to discuss how you are planning to develop these skills. You should give evidence of your ability to determine the skills required. Remember to present a genuine weakness, so that you can talk about the strategies you are using to deal with the same. This will let the admission officers know that although you are not perfect, you are working on your shortcomings.
What stops You?
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Any one essay, 500 words, single round reviewing with detailed feedback for improvement, no editing.