2012-2013 MIT Sloan Essay Analysis

by on November 4th, 2012

Cover Letter (up to 500 words)
Please prepare a cover letter seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA program. Your letter should describe your accomplishments, address any extenuating circumstances that may apply to your application, and conform to standard business correspondence. Your letter should be addressed to Mr. Rod Garcia, Senior Director of Admissions.

Why do we write cover letters? To get that interview. 9 out of 10 times, this is the real value of a great cover letter. Maybe there are enough resumes that indicate “qualified.” But the cover letter is the place where the reader can find a connection to the author. Where does that connection come from? Usually it comes from cleanliness of the writing itself—clarity of expression. Or, stating it the other way… LACK OF CLEAR EXPRESSION can be a death knell. But also, there’s an opportunity for the writer to suggest “fit” in the things he chooses to address.

In this particular case, MIT is asking for an unusually LONG cover letter. But the ideas are the same. We’re hoping to say something that CONNECTS with the reader, regarding our “fit” for this “job.” Let’s talk about that. What makes for good “fit”? Well, that’s easy. Anything that hints at future potential for success. Likeliness of future success. That much may make sense, but so you wonder… why are they asking about my accomplishments? Simple. Past successes tend to be an incredibly powerful predictor of future potential. So, let’s walk through what this cover letter needs to “say” … between the lines:

1. I have a clear vision for where I’m headed, and your program is gonna help me get there. [50 words]

2. Here’s a little bit about my goal, so you can understand where I’m headed and why. [75-100 words]

3. Here’s the proof that I have what it takes to CUT it.

  1. Example 1 [75-100 words]
  2. Example 2 [75-100 words]
  3. Here’s why MIT is a crucial piece of the puzzle. [100 words]
  4. My future is bright, and my vision to do X, Y, and Z is awesome, and will happen for sure once MIT happens. [50 words]

That is an excellent starting point. If your cover letter is lacking in any one of those areas, chances are it’s lop-sided to ill effect. Those are the KEY ingredients to earning their BUY-IN for what you’re all about, and where there may be some “fit,” given this cover letter conceit.

Oh, and the more confident your tone, the better off you’ll be. If you sound too polite, sheepish, meek, you’re not gonna feel like a guy whose success is inevitable. Gotta have some swagger. An appropriate amount of cockiness without being off-putting. Confidence, not arrogance. This has the result of making you seem like a guy who’s gonna achieve his goals WITH or WITHOUT MIT. That’s an incredibly powerful piece of leverage to have.

Essay 1: Please describe a time when you had to convince a person or a group of your idea. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page)

Believe it or not, we analyzed this very question last year. And the year before. Get into it right here.

Essay 2: Please describe a time when you overcame a personal setback. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page)

What is a setback? Familiar with that song “Opposites Attract” by good ole Paula Abdul? Two steps forward, two steps back… DJ Scat Cat was wise beyond his ways. It ‘s important to realize that we are on a continuum here. A consistent path, along which you experienced a hiccup that either stagnated your success or caused a temporary regression. In order for this story to work well, we need to understand fully the EXPECTED outcome, the DESIRED outcome. The “what should have happened.” Without this sense, the rest will fall flat.

Now, they’ve also specified “personal.” If they wanted a professional example, they’d have said so. But they didn’t. So, let’s dig deep into what a personal setback could be. In your personal life, has there ever been a moment that tested you? A moment that threw you off-balance? A moment that forced you to reconsider things? This is harder than it sounds. Professional experiences tend to write themselves because the objectives tend to be much clearer, but let’s use that as a helpful starting point. Let’s think of it in terms of objectives. What goals have you had in your personal life that have been challenged? Family challenges? A particular relationship that tested you? Something in your non-work life that you struggled with? As in a hobby, sport, etc.? There are many, many opportunities outside of work where we’ve been tested, and faced setbacks. Let’s work backwards to identify the OBJECTIVE, and establish that clearly. Then walk through the setback itself, explaining (from a personal standpoint) how it tested our resolve. Then we get into the MEAT of the essay which is the “what did we do in response” part.

  1. Objective—background, the goal, etc. [75-100 words]
  2. The setback—the thing that foiled it temporarily. [125 words]
  3. What we did in response to that. (What could have happened if you’d acted differently in response? What did you grapple with? Were there any hard choices? Where is there evidence in all this that there’s a leader, problem-solver in you? [75-100 words/75-100 words (2 paragraphs)]
  4. The significance of this—how it has helped define us, help us address future setbacks, etc. [100 words]

Supplemental Information (Optional)
The Admissions Committee invites you to share anything else you would like us or your future classmates to know about you. This may be in written or multimedia format. Please do not use Flash Media Player, and include a URL where it can be accessed online. Written essays should be 300 words or fewer.

Ooh, MIT going the way of Booth, NYU, Cornell, etc. with some free expression opportunity here. Now, to take full advantage, you’ll wanna do something that CANNOT be found in another application. That is, if you toss in a 4-page Powerpoint slideshow… guess what. MIT feels like second fiddle to Booth. What you’ll wanna do is show them that you’ve GRABBED this opportunity to do something super-cool, and different. Just to make a point of it, even if it’s the essay. Let’s look at the content, though.

What do you want your future classmates to know about you? Sure, this can be fun and silly, but it also has to be somewhat significant. That is to say, if its value begins and ends here, you’ve kinda missed the boat. This piece must ultimately say “Ha, this sounds like a cool kid.” You can’t seem like you’re trying too hard to impress, or trying too hard to pull at our heart strings… it has to come across effortlessly. Well, that’s easier said than done—how do you come across effortlessly? (“I dunno, fly casual…” anyone?)

Well for starters, you gotta figure out what you’ve conveyed in your app thus far, and what you NEED to convey in order to paint a complete picture of your VALUE. Let’s fixate on that word for a sec… “value.” This is your chance to hammer MIT over the head with how valuable you are. So, presumably you’ve covered some leadership moments, some goals, and some personal stuff—what’s left? What about your personality? What is it about you as a person that’s gonna GEL with a group of talents like your future classmates? And let’s be smart about this—what does this say about your FUTURE success out in the (business) world? If your creative expression makes us say “Aha, this is the KIND OF PERSON WHO… will be successful in some way yada yada,” you have succeeded. What you write about can therefore be about anything—as long as it gets THAT reaction. Figuring out what makes you valuable (that hasn’t already been covered) is as good a starting place as any to figure out what to mine.

Now, for execution, the key is in the content, not in the delivery device. If the device overshadows the content, you’ve just committed a cardinal sin. The medium you choose must be purposeful in carrying your meaning across most effectively. Could just be you addressing your webcam, but we will need a reason you delivered this message THIS way and not through the written word. It could be an audio recording—but again, why audio and not video? Or prose? If it’s something else… why that? We shouldn’t be impressed by the medium, but by the take-away of your message—this is key.

Above all else here—have fun with this. If that shines through, you’re halfway there.

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