Tag Archives: Career Development

How to tackle the MBA Admissions Essay

By Víctor Manzanares Bonilla, (MEng Polytechnic University of Madrid [UPM]), IESE Business School

“For those aiming to start a successful career in business, there is no better springboard than the MBA. Since its inception at the Harvard Business School more than a century ago, it’s become an incredibly prestigious qualification, sought after by many employers in the world of business. The MBA provides a unique opportunity for flexible, intensive learning that alters thinking and challenges perspectives across a number of key areas. Put simply, if you’re looking for a transformational experience, a change in your career or to take a few steps up the ladder to get noticed in the world of business, an MBA is for you.

“Through a combination of hard work and good fortune, I was humbled to receive a scholarship from SMF to pursue an MBA with the IESE Business School. As a civil engineer, finance and business have never been my strong suit, so I’m very much looking forward to filling these knowledge gaps and complete my profile as I think about progressing my career.  However, gaining an MBA placement is about more than scholarships. The MBA admissions essay is a key part of the on-boarding process, and for many institutions will make or break your application. Having been through this process and tackled the MBA admissions essay myself, I thought it might be good to share some thoughts with aspiring MBA candidates.

Honing your message
“First, it’s important to understand that almost everybody applying for an MBA will have a stellar CV and a solid GMAT score, so these aren’t necessarily things that are going to set you apart.  Make the assumption that every other applicant is as qualified as you are – if not more so – so you’re going to need to look beyond academia and professional career to make an impression. For the MBA Admissions Committee, this is their first ‘handshake’ with you. They’re going to be interested in what makes you who you are, how you’ve progressed in your career and what your ambitions are for the future. What are you hoping to learn? How will an MBA further your goals? What motivates and drives you?

“These are all great questions to think about and require some time for self-reflection. I’d also recommend thinking not only about what the course can do for you, but what you can do for it. What can you bring to the table? How will you be an asset to the particular school you’re applying to?

“The admissions essay is a great time to open up and reveal a little more about your thoughts, values and aspirations beyond the academic grades.

Setting aside the time
“Quite often, the admissions essay will in fact be admissions essays, if you’re applying to more than one school or course. I had to write four essays for IESE, and before starting each, I’d spend at least one day ruminating about what I wanted to say.  I’d think about the title of the essay and how it aligned with my experience and career objectives.  I’d check the business school’s website again to remind myself of their mission and values, and how I might be able to contribute.  An entire day may seem like a long-time to plan a short essay, but if you put in the hours, you’ll find the writing process that much easier.

“That said, I think you also need to know when to call it quits. Having two or three drafts is fine, but if you constantly tweak and modify your final draft into something you think the committee wants to hear (as opposed to what you actually want to say), you run the risk of sounding very generic and impersonal. Remember, the committee wants to get to know you – not a version of you.

Structuring your essay
“Structuring your essay is something very personal, but I would say that all good essays have an introduction, a main body and a conclusion.  However, with something like an admissions essay there’s a little more to think about. First, you need to make sure your introduction is very short and to the point. It should consist of one or two sentences that directly relate to the title of the essay. If your essay title is a question, the first sentence or two should answer it as concisely as possible. As for the body, this is where you show your ‘working out’.  Expand on the introduction, drawing on your past experiences and your own personal values and judgements to support the essay’s core message. Your conclusion should be as concise as the introduction – a quick summary of the main message and the thinking behind it.

“If you’re struggling to get started, do what I did.  Sit down with a blank piece of paper and write down what you want to convey in very simple bullet points.  Then assign relevant milestones and achievements in your life to those bullet points. This will give you a neat structure with a unique personal angle.

Keeping things relevant and in context
“It’s very tempting to fall into the trap of simply listing achievements and qualifications throughout your essay to make up the word count.  Remember, the committee already has your CV and knows how capable you are. This isn’t the time to prove what you can do, it’s the time to prove who you are.

“While this might sound contrary, you should also avoid making the essay all about you. Yes, the committee wants to get to know you, but they also want to gain a deeper understanding of what kind of student you’d be and how you’d fit into their school.  So, talk about yourself, but do so in context.  Each time you mention one of your experiences, traits or values, think about how that might resonate with the school or course you’re applying for.

Answering the ‘big question’
“One of the questions that makes us all secretly want to run to the hills is, “Why do you want to study an MBA?”  It’s a very reasonable question, but it’s intimidating because it’s so vague and there are so many wonderful answers you could give.  While there isn’t necessarily a wrong answer to this question, there are right ways to go about answering it. You should start by talking a little about your career and experience and what led you to discovering the MBA as a qualification. Talk about your deepest motivations and why an MBA in particular appealed to you.

“The key here is context – you need to demonstrate how your own personal experiences and world view led you – as an individual – to consider an MBA. However, do remember that you’re not just applying for an MBA. You’re applying for an MBA at a particular school, and you should include your school of choice in your thinking. Don’t just talk about why you want to study an MBA; talk about why you want to study an MBA at your chosen business school.

“At its heart, the MBA admissions essay is an exercise in self-reflection. If you take the time to uncover your true motivations and articulate them in a concise, relevant and meaningful way, you’ll easily make the shortlist for your chosen school.”

How to Apply for the Sainsbury Management Fellows MBA Scholarship

If you are a professional engineer considering an MBA as one of the stepping-stones towards a business leadership career, visit our MBA scholarship application page, you could become one of our successful awardees –the individual scholarship is £50,000 and we award ten of these every year.

Will an MBA really make a difference to my career? – David Falzani, SMF President

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To a large extent, that’s up to you. An MBA (Masters in Business Administration) is much more than qualifications and getting the most out of the experience requires the right mindset and purposeful action.

Pursuing an MBA programme is likely to be one of the biggest development challenges you will face.  Certainly, for full-time programmes, the time commitment, the temporary loss of a regular income when you leave your job to study, and the fact that so many MBA graduates are filling the market each year, leads prospective candidates to question whether an MBA degree is worthwhile.

An MBA programme with a great reputation at an internationally renowned business school is invaluable for those looking to advance quickly to senior management roles. If you reach your full potential, it can be a genuine stepping stone for getting ahead in your current sector, or starting up successfully in an alternative sector. An MBA not only opens up opportunities in terms of experience and contacts, it also gives you an excellent practical and academic background in essential areas of business including finance and marketing.

The MBA will stretch your mind, not only through academic rigor, but also by enabling you to work with a diverse range of people with differing views and perspectives. You will also benefit by pursuing new interests through specialisation and developing long-term goals that help your personal growth.

A map for the future
Where do you want to be in the next five years? To ensure an MBA makes a difference to your career trajectory, you should ideally have some clarity about your future career path. At the outset, this doesn’t have to be as specific as working in a defined sector or industry, but it should cover factors such as time-bound career progression (eg when you want to be in a senior management role in a blue-chip company or set up your own business) and a strategy for using the MBA programme as a springboard to achieve your goal.

A roadmap will help you to decide which business school to apply to and in which country, the length of programme and electives. Your roadmap doesn’t have to be set in stone; it can be continually updated as opportunities arise and your interests develop throughout the course of your MBA.

Your MBA gives you access to a wide range of elective course modules both within and outside of your current programme. This might be anything from life sciences, property, environmental studies to digital media and computer science.

The MBA allows you to contextualise your studies within a business perspective. You might spot a new opportunity within a sector for a start-up. You could use that elective in ‘big data’ to work out new, broad strategies for your current company. Alternatively, you might be looking to move from a technical expertise-oriented position towards management, and require new skills and knowledge.

One of the most powerful things about an MBA is that it enables technical specialisation and growth of expertise in the context of a strong, business-oriented education. By making the most of your options on your course, you’re ultimately enhancing employability – boosting your expertise, opportunities, and potential salary. 

Many people, rightly in my view, place a high value on the people they connect with during the course of their MBA programme. You are in a diverse, international environment full of very talented people with vastly different experiences and aspirations who enrich the learning experience. But do be careful not to see this as an enhanced networking opportunity. Your MBA represents a major opportunity for developing new expertise and specialisation.

Many MBA programmes involve a company placement period where you will gain real-life experience in management on major projects, often at big brand companies. This is a powerful element of the MBA: it throws you into the deep-end of the management world and demands rapid learning and quality work. This experience will not only enhance your cachet and boost your CV but provides a valuable insight into what’s to come when you complete your studies. The lessons you learn during your placement will come in handy in your later career.  Often placements turn into real jobs.

Different business schools have different teaching styles and cultures so naturally, produce different kinds of managers and entrepreneurs. How you fit into the programme or a school’s environment will have a large impact on the outcome of your MBA – not least because the best schools are often recruiting grounds for big companies.

The impact an MBA will have on your career prospects and personal development will most likely change the course of your future. This is a major chance to study, develop your expertise and personal skills, make new contacts and collaborators, and even travel.  How you approach it that will determine whether your MBA fast-tracks you into your dream career, or whether you’ll end up having to learn on the job regardless.

Various scholarships exist for MBA programmes. If you’re an engineer seeking a scholarship, why not consider applying for our Sainsbury Management Fellows scholarship. Ten of these are awarded annually to professional engineers by the Royal Academy of Engineering. 

Read part 2: Will an MBA really make a difference to my career? Choices & Options.

If you are making decisions about taking an MBA course, you will also be thinking about whether to study in Europe or America.  For some thoughts on this topic, read our blog USA or Europe – where to study for your MBA?   

You may also be interested in reading interviews with the winners of the SMF MBA Scholarship.

Use your Personal Brand to Build your Business and Boost your Career

Kathy Ennis Personal Branding Specialist SMALLER

Extract from a presentation delivered at the Sainsbury Management Fellows’ Networking by, Katy Ennis, mentor, trainer and public speaker

An effective, authentic personal brand will help you build a profitable business and boost your career success, but before looking at personal brand I want set the context by looking at the underlying principles of ‘brand’.
What is a brand?
The response that I often get from asking this question is a list of criteria such as logo, strapline, trademark, colour etc. It’s a bit more complicated than that.

At its heart a brand is a collection of thoughts and feelings that customers have about a particular product or service. For example, if you consider your response to two different types of car you may get something like:

Bentley – expensive, stylish, sleek, leather
Hyundai – nippy, cheap, functional

Creating a brand is a step-by-step process that starts with the organisational values and emotional response you want to create; well before images, colours and fonts appear. You can break it down broadly into three sections:

The Brand – at heart this is an emotional response; it is the thoughts and feelings that a customer (or potential customer) has about your products or services.

The Visual Identity – the visual aspects that form the identity of the brand, such as, colours, fonts, shapes, words, symbols. 

The Logo – the simplest form of the brand in that it identifies it via a mark or an icon using the colours, fonts, shapes etc that form the visual identity.

Why is branding important?
There are five main reasons why branding is important:

  1. Recognition: a brand helps customers recognise your product or service
  2. Differentiation: a brand differentiates your product or service from your competitors
  3. Loyalty: a brand helps to build loyalty
  4. Relevance: a brand makes what you have to offer relevant to particular target markets
  5. Focus: a brand enables you to focus your marketing message

Sensation Transference
Back in the 1930s Louis Cheskin, a scientific researcher, clinical psychologist, and marketing innovator embarked on a life-long obsession to understand how customers’ perceptions motivate their purchasing behaviour. Through his research he observed that people’s perceptions of products and services were directly related to the aesthetic details of their design. He named this relationship sensation transference.  He spent most of his life investigating how design elements could significantly impact perceptions of value, appeal and relevance.

Q: What colour is margarine?
A: The answer is often ‘yellow’. The real answer is that it is not. In its natural state margarine is a greyish-white. Cheskin convinced the manufacturers that they would sell more if it looked more like butter.

Do you think he was right?
In his 2005 book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell considered the work of Cheskin and a number of studies that followed on from his work and in summery Gladwell wrote:

“people give an assessment of something they might buy … without realising it they transfer sensations or impressions that they have about the packaging of the product to the product itself … most of us don’t make a distinction – on an unconscious level – between the package and the product. The product is the package and the product combined”

Blink: the power of thinking without thinking, Malcolm Gladwell, 2005.

Personal Branding
So, where does this leave us in terms of personal branding and its impact on our businesses or our careers?

Well, the first thing to realise is that the process of going through a personal branding exercise is exactly the same as the process for branding a business or a product; you take the three brand elements and apply them to the individual:

Brand – identifying the inner you; your values, your message

Visual Identity – creating the outer you; your ‘look’

Logo – managing the inner and the outer you to determine how you make your mark; build, manage and maintain your reputation

The five elements that make branding important – recognition, differentiation, loyalty, relevance and focus – are summarised in my definition of personal branding:

Personal branding unites your passions, strengths, skills, behaviours, attitudes and core values in a focussed message. It makes you instantly recognisable, differentiates your uniqueness, builds a loyal following and makes you relevant to your target audience.

A personal brand:

  • enables clients or employers to recognise your potential – “does what it says on the tin”
  • differentiates you from your competitors – what makes one engineer better than another?
  • helps build loyalty – client loyalty means they keep coming back (it is far easier to keep a client than it is to find a new one); employer loyalty can influence job security and promotional prospects
  • helps clients and employers understand you and buy into your core values – people buy from (and buy into) people they like
  • makes what you have to offer relevant to your target market
  • enables you to focus your personal marketing message

Developing a personal brand allows you to understand your core values and create an authentic key message. Your values and your message are then applied consistently across all aspects of your life, your business and your career to enable others to have that ‘emotional response’ and ‘know’ what they are getting when they buy from you or buy into you.

A mentor, trainer and public speaker, Kathy Ennis uses the concepts of engagement marketing and personal branding as a method of business and career development; she firmly believes that it is individual effectiveness that contributes most to the overall success of any organisation. She helps people grow their business; and enhance their networking and communication skills. www.kathyennis.co.uk