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Talking About Your Accomplishments in MBA Applications

by Stacy Blackman Consulting, Apr 16, 2024

Many MBA hopefuls who have come to this blog for guidance feel uncomfortable talking up themselves in their B-school applications. They know their worth but are humble about shouting their successes from the rooftops. While humility is admirable, the fact is that you must talk about your accomplishments in MBA applications. How else can you convey what differentiates you from other candidates? The goal is to lose some of that awkwardness when tooting your own horn—without veering into obnoxiousness. So, let's dive into how you can do that in different parts of the application.

Promoting Accomplishments in the MBA Resume

As we often stress, your resume is arguably the most crucial part of your MBA application package. You have one page to communicate what makes you stand out from the pack. Fortunately, that limited space can work for you when it comes to making blunt statements that would sound boastful in a conversation.

The cardinal rule for resumes is to quantify accomplishments and shift the focus toward achievements over responsibilities as much as possible. For instance, if you led a project that resulted in cost savings or increased revenue, emphasize those hard numbers. Always include leadership skills because they demonstrate your ability to make impactful decisions.

"I was kind of obsessed with the fact that I wasn't a typical MBA candidate," says SBC consultant and B-Schooled co-host Chandler. "To get around that, I specifically formatted my resume to highlight the quantifiable results I'd driven.

"I put a big focus on quantifying successes not only in terms of dollars raised or children reached, but also in terms of how I performed relative to the goal, relative to expectations, and relative to performance in previous years."

Highlighting specific examples of organizational impact is a terrific way to significantly boost your profile's appeal. Mention how you streamlined processes, resulting in efficiency gains, or developed strategies that led to market expansion. These instances showcase problem-solving abilities and capacity for strategic thinking—both highly valued traits within business schools' context.

As these examples show, your resume is where you can pull off being direct when stating your accomplishments because that's what the admissions committee expects. (With its character limits, the data form is another place where conciseness is a must.)

Bragging by Proxy

A prime place for touting your accomplishments in MBA applications is through your recommendation letters. But don't assume your recommender will remember all your glowing achievements. They also may not know what schools seek in letters of recommendation.

To help them get started, create a bullet-point list of the projects you have worked on. Next, give them an outline of your strengths that goes into more detail than your resume. You want your recommenders to read this document, so keep it to one page and don't overload them with information. It should be a quick, helpful reference.

Then, decide on four or five characteristics you would like them to emphasize throughout the letter. For example, think of leadership, teamwork, creative thinking, determination, focus, intelligence, charisma, and integrity. Finally, develop at least one concrete example that illustrates each characteristic.

Likewise, if you have a stellar accomplishment that feels too "braggy" to mention yourself, let your recommender do the heavy lifting! For example, if you were:

  • The youngest person in a specific role
  • Promoted early,
  • The first person in a particular role,
  • The only associate to work on a deal of that scale,
  • Or, if the company created a role just for you,

Those statements sound much better coming from your recommender. That's because a recommender will have the context of managing people in your role and your level. So, if they say you're "the youngest" or "the first" to do X, that's a more believable and objective source than if you say it.

The Essays: Prime Real Estate for Talking About Accomplishments in MBA Applications

People often struggle to trumpet their accomplishments when writing MBA essays. Again, our advice is to keep it factual and direct. A favorite technique we recommend is the STAR method, which stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. Especially in the context of an essay with word limits, the STAR format helps you get rid of extra stuff that could border on bragging or not being self-aware. If you keep to:

  • The project was about this,
  • Here's what I had to do,
  • Here is what I did,
  • Here was the result,

It can help you avoid anything that might not be serving you.

Finally, note that while it's crucial to highlight your accomplishments and strengths, some applicants make the mistake of turning their essays into a laundry list of achievements. They focus solely on what they've done without delving into the "why" or the impact of those accomplishments.

Why not dig deeper? Instead of merely cataloging your accomplishments in MBA applications, share the stories behind them. What challenges did you overcome? What did you learn from your experiences? How have they shaped your aspirations and values? You'll make your essays more engaging and meaningful by providing context and reflection.

Nailing the MBA Interview

MBA applicants can run into trouble with the MBA interview without word count limits or scripts to corral them. Presenting yourself succinctly can be especially difficult with behavioral questions ("Tell me about a time you…") because it is natural to launch into a story without a clear destination. The goal is to stay focused on telling your story to demonstrate the qualities you wish schools to see.

A surefire way to control that is to use the STAR format for your interviews as well. The power of the STAR method is that it allows you to formulate a complete answer, but it keeps your answer organized and prevents you from rambling on and on—a common occurrence in interviews.

Here's one example of how you can organize your notes:

Situation: "Product A was losing market share to a new competitor."

Task: "I needed to create a plan to regain our lost share."

Action: "I led a team to implement tactics A, B, and C."

Result: "We regained lost share, plus 10 percent."

And then you stop.

The interviewer will often probe further, asking for specific details related to your story. You need to be prepared to elaborate, but start with your story's essential elements. STAR will help you get there.

B-Schooled Podcast #94: A Deep Dive on Behavioral Interviews

You should always have multiple stories in your back pocket that you have practiced out loud. These should include new stories you haven't mentioned anywhere else in your applications. Consider recording yourself as you rehearse. That way, you can assess your body language and tone and adjust as needed. Also, be ready for situations that you did cover in your essays, but practice recounting them with new details to mix it up a bit.

Finally, the most vital advice we can give is to be yourself and allow your personality to shine through. The AdCom wants to admit authentic people, so it's okay to show your nerdy, quirky or sarcastic side in the MBA interview.

The information on evaluation criteria for admission at Stanford GBS includes the following instructions to candidates:

"Take time to reflect on who you are, and have confidence. There is neither an 'ideal' candidate nor a 'typical' Stanford MBA student. In your application, we would like you, quite simply, to be yourself."


Stacy Blackman Consulting is the only MBA admissions firm with a complete panel of former Admissions Officers from every M7 program and the elite European MBA programs. We offer multiple services to meet your MBA application needs, from our All-In Partnership to hourly help with essay editing, interview prep, and MBA resume review. Contact us today for a free 15-minute advising session to talk strategy with a Principal SBC consultant.