MBA essay questions, like the new HBS 2+2 essay question this year, that ask about failure, risk, mistakes, and difficult interactions or conflicts, cause applicants to cringe, squirm, and bite their nails. After all, you want to show yourself succeeding and conquering the world in your application essays. Not falling down.
Schools ask these questions because they want to see how you get up, how you grow following setback. Do you try again? Do you view the stumble as temporary? Move on? Applaud effort? Accept a helping hand when offered?
You want to display resilience in your essays and applications. I have seen clients and others portray setbacks as growth opportunities and occasions of achievement. They definitely acknowledge a “blew it” moment – and a real one — but their failure essay screams backbone, resilience, and character. In other words, success.
As always, don’t just talk about “resilience”. Demonstrate it with anecdotes that show you picking yourself up, improving, acknowledging effort, persisting, and ultimately succeeding in one way or another.
These qualities will convince the committees that you can indeed conquer the world. Or at least straighten up after a stumble.
For more suggestions on writing compelling MBA essays, please see MBA Essays 101.