The Business School Application Essay: The Right Way to Address Your Weaknesses

Written by Kelly Granson. Posted in MBA Admission

Failure is a part of life. Even the most gifted businessmen, athletes and scientists make mistakes, big mistakes. Mistakes, though, are not only dividable by severity. They can also be categorized into two qualitative classes: mistakes we learn from and mistakes that just fester.

Learning mistakes make us better. Non-learning mistakes don't change us for the better at all. Learning mistakes give us insight into ourselves. Non-learning mistakes just keep us in the dark.

Let's say you got laid off from your job, simply for logging a poor performance. Your mistake (poor performance) was a big one and had some pretty severe repercussions. But the real question is: how did you move forward from that point? How did you react? Did you dig a hole and crawl in or did you resolve to work on yourself in very specific ways to rid yourself of the weakness that got you fired in the first place? The answer will determine the difference between a winning business school candidate and someone who doesn't fit the bill.

When addressing your weaknesses in a business school application, it's important to show that you've got the mettle to deal with setbacks in a pro-active way. You must demonstrate your awareness of the underlying weakness behind your mistakes and how you went about it improving it. Adcoms do not expect perfection. Rather, they appreciate a candidate who had to face obstacles and used resourcefulness and determination to overcome them.

Your application essay is where you'll most likely get to show off your non-despairing, can-do attitude. Now, waiting for the interview to discuss these matters is not necessarily a mistake but in using the platform of your essay to flesh out your gritty and witty problem-solving skills, you have the all-important luxury of time to choose your words and approach very carefully.

These four easy steps should guide you when addressing your weaknesses:

Be honest: Always own up to everything that happened to you. If you got laid-off, just tell it like it is. There is no shame in it and chances are the truth will be exposed at some point anyway.

Be specific: Be very clear and direct as to what your shortcomings may be and how they have affected your career. Example: poor public speaking led to a business presentation that bombed.

Introspection: There's no need to get Freudian. Just explain how you've come to understand the reasons behind the failings. If you don't have a lot of experience in the business world because you changed majors, discuss the various interests you have that lead to your difficulty in making a decision. Or, going back to the public speaking example, maybe you just never put time into developing these skills or perhaps you have a genuine fear of crowds. Whatever the reason is, show that you have a handle on it.

Taking-Action: This is the most important part. Even with something as potentially damning as a low-GPA in business related courses, you could put a positive spin on things if you explain exactly why you were struggling in certain classes and when and how things began to improve. Maybe you got some help with your study habits or spoke to a career counselor who helped motivate you. Sometimes a nagging medical issue can stand in the way of success. It took much perseverance to resolve these issues. The main factor is that when you finally did, it resulted in significantly improved academic performance.

Follow these four steps and your essay's delve into the darker side of you, will be to your credit.

Once you get started addressing your weaknesses finding the right tone with which to describe these personal matters can be tricky. A lot is going to depend on your own writing style and personality.

There are certain faux-pas, however, that you'll always want to avoid.

Don't be overly humorous or light hearted about the exam you flunked or the math courses you had to retake. A mature and positive attitude is generally much more appealing in this context.

Don't beat a dead horse or be too dramatic. There's no need to unleash the Dostoyevsky in you when you're writing your essay by going on and on and getting into too much somber detail. You want to sound like "this is my life and I take it seriously." Clearly discuss the weakness by following the steps listed above in a professional yet non-detached (personal) manner, then move on.

What if a discussion of your weaknesses won't fit in your essay? Try taking advantage of the section in your application that asks you if you have any other information to add to write some informative paragraphs. Also, sometimes it's helpful to ask whoever's writing your recommendation letters to include something about your mistakes and how you turned it around. Just be sure you know exactly what's going to be written so you'll be ready to answer any follow-up questions!

Imperfection is practically synonymous with being human. Often, a person will let their failures drag them down to the point of inaction, thinking that there's no point in pursuing dreams of graduate school with such a low GPA, unstable work history or lack of volunteering/community service.

The first step then, is to congratulate yourself for deciding to move forward despite your setbacks. Be sure, that no matter what stain your record suffers from, there are ways to turn these perceived blemishes into advantages.

Arrogance is one of the worst human traits because it stymies our potential to learn and grow. We need to recognize weakness before we can really improve. If in your application you present yourself as humble and proactive, then you become a candidate who has unlimited potential for learning and growth; no school would pass that up.


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