How to answer MBA Failure, Setback or Mistake Essay?

MBA Failure Essay

Our MBA Application Essay Review Service requires the client to write about their failure even if the essay does not ask them to do so. You know why we torture our energetic applicants to relive the dark phases of “FAILURE”? We noticed that a greater measure of the emotional maturity or EQ of a person is the manner in which she explains her failure. If “We”, a word used sparsely during questions about success is frequently used when the topic is about Failures, the blame game has already started. 

Failures – Cultural Implications

For the Japanese, failure carries a much deeper psychological wound than what Americans lightly term as “setbacks.” For Indians, a Govt. Job or the predestined Engineering or Medicine degree hold a higher prestige than the failure-filled Entrepreneurial route while for the Chinese, a Business failure is tolerable with a recent Chinese OECD survey showing that 90% of the participants would give a second chance to the failed Entrepreneur.

For MBA applications, failure is not limited to the narrow scope of Entrepreneurship but includes Life Experiences. Failures from your personal experience might be setbacks for an American reviewer, a catastrophe for an Indian reviewer, and a tolerable blip in your otherwise glowing career for a Chinese reviewer. Understanding a universally acceptable life experience independent of the reviewer’s cultural and personal upbringing is crucial to connect with the admission team.

Survivor Bias

Search for Book titles with “How I survived a --------------“.

Now fill the blank with Divorce, Cancer, Failure, Financial Meltdown, Bankruptcy, you name it.

Have you ever seen a best-selling book – “How I lost it all” without any redeeming phrase in the end?

We all love the redemption story, not because we are the soapy sentimental type, but our hope machine depends on stories of survival. With an evolutionary bias towards stories about survival, failures never become part of the news.

Steven Levitt, the Freakonomics author, did tackle this question directly. While reviewing Good to Great by Jim Collins – the early start-up bible for many, Steve noticed that Jim had shortlisted 11 companies from 1435 listed companies. The companies were those that picked momentum when Jim was writing the book (2001). He found a common trait that bound them all together – “a sense of discipline”. Unfortunately, for Jim, one of the 11 outperforming companies was Fannie Mae, which went bankrupt in 2008 and delisted in 2010 after several attempts by the Govt. to resurrect it. Moreover, the other 10 companies underperformed heavily compared to the S&P 500 index. When a company is delisted, it is never part of the analysis, and Financial Analyst do historical analysis of companies that have succeeded over a small period of time, and then try to find attributes that seem like a common trait. This is what Books about Entrepreneurship does.

For every Steve Job or Zuckerberg working out of their parent’s Garage, there are thousands of other Entrepreneurs who didn’t even cross the first stage of funding. To attribute success to “Persistence” and “Ramen Noodles” based on who became successful is a flawed approach.

MBA Failure Essay: Over citation of Persistence

Essays have turned into those Entrepreneurship Books. Applicants are trying to credit the usual suspect – “persistence” for their comeback. You can do better than that. Specificity wins over general attribute matching. The Admission team is reading the 100th essay about Persistence. For once, highlight your problem-solving capability. You didn’t persist perhaps. You changed direction by analyzing the reasons for your failure. Very few applicants have that perspective and very few actually get into Harvard.

Don’t Dwell on Failures: Curse of Self-Help Books

If you go to any self-help books from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to How to Win Friends and Influence People, to the bulk of the Tony Robbins and Zig Ziglar titles, a unifying theme emerges. Don’t dwell on Failures - a common advice MBA Admission Consultants give partly to meet the 500-word limit where you have to include the ‘corrective action’ but mostly because it is not cool to keep sulking on your failures. The moment have passed. Look forward. Learn from your mistakes. Even superstar Entrepreneurs keep giving the same advice – “If you are afraid to fail, you will never succeed, and then swiftly change subjects to the next big venture they took off the ground.”

For the thick-skinned Entrepreneurs and Global Business Leaders, who talk about Failures in such impersonal terms – why is it you might wonder, they never spend even 20% of their words on this crucial aspect of their life journey. Failure is seen as an Idea Virus, and the more you discuss or analyze failures, more the chance that you will approach your next venture with ‘negativity’. The reality is further from this myth.

Worst Possible Results: Was it really ‘The Worst’?

Our minds are naturally working on paths of least resistance, and daydreaming about the best-case results. If you look back at your failures, they were some of the worst results but were they the worst possible results. Perhaps not. It would be a rarity if your failure contributed towards a company going bust or your company losing a major client. Sure there was a loss of revenue. Most contracts have penalties for delays and underperformance. Otherwise, how is it a failure? But the relationship was amended by a colleague or the supervisor with the Gift of Gab.

Even if you took a company down – don’t defend yourselves with all those silly MBA jargons about “Synergy and Team Spirit”. Those applicants never make it to the interview stage.  For those, who came out from the worst to a better position, panicked, and desperately tried solutions to get out of the slump. Even a solution that allowed you to survive is a comeback. The redemption story need not be that dramatic. Most dramatic comeback stories are not believable, and the AdCom will file your essay with the list of fictional books for their private reading.

Analyzing Failures: The Growth Mindset

An applicant with Growth mindset looks at challenges as opportunities for mastery. What most applicants confuse is the difference between mastery and persistence. To persist means to continue in a path despite failures. Mastery is more of a mindset than action, and how do the Admission team know? The tone with which you write about Failure will expose your mindset.

The Fallacy of Talent: Those who think that talent is fixed will make an observation about their God- given talents, and reveal weaknesses as talent deficiency. That is a red flag. No one is an in-born Financial Analyst or a Software Programmer. You acquire the skills by working on your Math and Logical skills. You don’t become a great writer by reading thousands of essays and visualizing sentences. You write – some great, some unpublishable but some worth keeping in your MBA Essays. Talent once developed need effort to sustain. When your failure essay is not about Talent but effort, you have taken the first step in differentiating yourselves.

Applicants who are defensive about Criticism will either not mention it in the essay or put a positive spin on their experience. If you have failed, you will attract criticism from your supervisors, your colleagues, and your clients. It is a natural reaction. How did you take the criticism should be the thread that you use to write about the corrective action, not the self-realization or calm reflection about events that led to the failure. Let us be real. When we fail, we are least likely to act like a monk. The common thread in the criticism from different stakeholders will reveal the real reasons for your failure (lack of focus, effort, or faulty decisions).

Support:  When we fail, someone else will do the rescue act. Most applicants fail to mention the role of the colleague or the supervisor, who was decisive in taking over the project or helping you during the crisis. Use them as inspirations. What did you learn from them? Did you consider the failure as an opportunity to persist or as a lesson to master your skills? How did you approach the next project after the failure?

Don’t worry if writing about Failure with a growth mindset doesn’t come naturally to you. We will guide you through the writing process. Subscribe to our Essay Review Service.

Sample Essays + Essay Writing, Review & Editing Tips + 15 School-Specific Tips = Winning MBA Essay Guide

"Pressed against the deadline, I ordered F1GMAT's Winning MBA Essay Guide as their blogs always had something interesting to say. It was by far one of the best decisions I have made in my life. Going through the Essay Guide, I learned the art of storytelling, using various ploys mentioned in the book. Most important one being the “W pattern,” a strategy of information sharing that creates a sense of excitement in the mind of the reader." -
MIT Sloan MBA Candidate

Only 1 in 900 gains admission to Harvard MBA program. If you write your essay focused only on your achievements, post-MBA goals, and your pre-MBA experience, you will be among the 899 rejected applicants.

ATTENTION is the secret ingredient. How will you get the attention of the essay reviewer?

You know why parables shared 1000 years ago are still shared among us?


Yes, the art of storytelling has won presidency for Obama, transformed Apple from an unknown start-up to a brand synonymous with Quality, and gained admission for the average MBA Applicant.

F1GMAT's Winning MBA Essay guide will teach you how to transform your essay to an epic life journey with trials and tribulations that will move the admission team.

Who Should Buy The Winning MBA Essay Guide?

If your essay looks too bland, our Winning MBA Essay Guide will show you, with examples, on how to use the elements of Storytelling like Incorporating "The Struggle", Using Emotional connectors, narrating the Journey and the use of Chronology, Vividness and Active Verbs to transform your essays.

If you are stuck in the Writing process, our Winning MBA Essay Guide will show you how to silence the Analytic Mind and overcome mental blocks.

If you feel that the essays are not persuasive, our Winning MBA Essay Guide will teach you how to use the W-Pattern narrative, Contexts, Turning Points and "The Show Don't Tell Approach" to write a Winning MBA Essay.

If you don't have enough leadership experience, our Winning MBA Essay Guide will show you how to highlight non-obvious qualities like Trust, Focus, Listening Skills, Personal Responsibility, Humility, Self-Knowledge, and other secondary traits to prove your leadership.

If you don't know how to review your essays, our Winning MBA Essay Guide will demonstrate how to improve readability with the power of iteration, and maintain your original voice by removing review biases.

Pages: 666

Winning MBA Essay Guide Includes
+Harvard MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    Sample MBA Essay – Gratitude & Giving Back (319 Words)   
    Sample MBA Essay – Entrepreneurship (Influence of Childhood) (401 Words)   
    Sample Harvard MBA Essay - Volunteering (Mental Health Awareness)   (774 Words)   
MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    Sample Why Stanford MBA Essay (Consulting)(399 words)  
    Sample Why Stanford MBA Essay (Tech Entrepreneur) (390 words)  

    Sample Why Stanford MBA: Career Switch(Finance to Green Energy Consulting)(394 Words)
    Sample Essay A: What matters most to you, and why? (740 Words)
+ Chicago Booth MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    Sample Booth MBA Essay #1: Oil & Gas to Consulting (475 Words)
     Sample Booth MBA Essay #1: Social IMPACT to Marketing (478 Words)   
     Sample Booth MBA Essay #2: Leadership experience (Father’s Restaurant Business)(493 Words)   
     Sample Booth MBA Essay #2: Leadership experience (Teach for America)(640 Words)

+ Columbia MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
   Sample Columbia MBA Essay 1: Enterprise to Consumer Marketing (495 Words)  

    Sample Columbia MBA Essay 2:  New York for Marketing Professionals (244 Words)  
    Sample Columbia MBA Essay #3 - Team Failure (Marketing Lead) (242 Words)  
    Sample Columbia MBA Essay #3 - Team Failure (Technology) (248 Words)  
    Sample Columbia MBA Essay #3 - Team Failure (Pharma) (244 Words)  

+ MIT Sloan MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
     Personality Type (Accepted MIT Sloan Students)   
     Cover Letter Checklist   

     Sample Cover Letter – Technology Consulting (286 Words)
     Sample Cover Letter – Healthcare Entrepreneurship (296 Words)
+ Kellogg MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    Sample Essay 1: Demonstrated Leadership (Marketing) (449 Words)
     Sample Essay 2: Demonstrated Leadership (Technology) (449 Words)   
     Sample Essay 3: MBA as a Catalyst for Growth (Technology) (438 Words)
     Sample Essay 4: MBA as a Catalyst for Growth (Non-Profit to Consulting) (442 Words)
+ INSEAD MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
   Sample Essay 1: Candid Description, Strengths & Weaknesses
    Sample Essay 2: Achievements and Failures

    Sample Essay 3: Extra-Curricular and How enriched you are
MBA Essay Tips (2018 Entering Class)
     Sample MBA Essay: Non-Profit   
     Sample MBA Essay: Technology   
     Sample MBA Essay: Marketing   
     Sample MBA Essay: Getting Fired   
     Sample MBA Essay: Diverse and Inclusive Culture   
     Sample MBA Essay: Leadership   
     Sample MBA Essay: Post-MBA Goal & How Pre-MBA Experience will help  
+ Yale SOM MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
Sample Yale SOM MBA Essay: Business Development (Mobile Start-Up)(486 Words)
     Sample Yale SOM MBA Essay: Investment Banking (IB)(404 Words)
     Sample Yale SOM MBA Essay: Consulting (442 Words)   
     Sample Yale SOM MBA Essay: Technology (452 Words)   
     Sample Yale SOM MBA Essay: Marketing (492 Words)
     Sample Yale SOM MBA Essay: Entrepreneurship (497 Words)
+ Ross MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    Sample MBA Essay: Finance Professional who was a former member of a rock band (96 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Marketing Professional with a hidden talent to do Impression (100 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Life Philosophy through the prism of an Entrepreneurial failure (94 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Consulting for a Pharma Giant (Made a Difference) (91 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Three-Level Sanitation Campaign (100 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Water Conservation Kit (99 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Losing client (100 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Misreading Market Conditions (93 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Strategic Planning vs. Tactical Dominance in Chess (97 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Out of my comfort zone(extra-curricular) (93 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Out of my comfort zone (Daily Science Show) (99 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: Simplifying Operations for Manufacturing (extra-curricular) (90 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: I am aware that I am different (Leadership and Culture) (98 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: I am aware that I am different (Technology Project and Last-minute change) (98 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: I am aware that I am different (Making Business metrics relevant to a Creative team) (91 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: I find it Challenging when People (Timidity)(98 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: I find it Challenging when People (Laziness)(100 Words)   
   Sample MBA Essay: I find it Challenging when People (Pessimism) (96 Words)   
   Sample Essay – Short-term Goals and why the goal is the right choice for you (Technology to Marketing)(299 Words)   
+ London Business School MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    London as the Financial Hub   
    London as the Technology Hub   
    London as the Consulting Hub   

    How to Cite the Curriculum (Example)
    Sample LBS MBA Essay (A Career Switcher from Technology to Consulting for FinTech) (489 Words)
    Sample LBS MBA Essay (A Career Switcher from Hospitality to Consulting) (499 Words)
+ Duke Fuqua MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    Framework for Answering the Duke Fuqua Short-Answer Essay Questions   
    Sample Short-term Goals Essay – Technology to Consulting (100 Words)   
    Sample Long-term Goals Essay – Consulting for Government (100 Words)   
    Sample Long-term Goals Essay – Plan B (89 Words)   
    Framework for Answering the Duke Fuqua 25 Random Things   
    Sample Duke Fuqua Essay: The Fuqua community and you (Max 2 Pages)  
+ NYU Stern MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
     Sample NYU Stern Essay 1: Goals (498 Words) (Finance)
     Sample NYU Stern Essay 1: Goals (494 Words) (Consulting)
     Essay 3:  Personal Expression (a.k.a. "Pick Six")    
     5 Examples with Images

+ Darden MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    Sample Darden MBA Essay – About yourself (100 Words) (Near Death Experience)
     Sample Darden MBA Essay – About yourself (100 Words) (Networking and Job Offer at an Unlikely place)   
     Sample Darden MBA Essay – About yourself (100 Words) (Mountaineering)
     Sample Darden MBA Essay – Where you want to go with Darden (47 Words)
     Sample Darden MBA Essay – Evolving Leadership Style (198 Words)
     Sample Darden MBA Essay – Meaningful IMPACT (200 Words)
     Sample Darden MBA Essay: Short-term Post-MBA career goal (149 words)
+ Wharton MBA Essay Tips (2019 Entering Class)
    7 Professional Gains
    Sample Wharton MBA Essay 1: Gain professionally from the Wharton MBA? (473 words)   
    Sample Wharton MBA Essay #2: Math Tutoring and Experimental music’s value (388 Words)

+ Sample Essays

+ The Art of Storytelling 
+ Leadership Narratives
+ Review Tips
+ Persuasion Strategies
+ The Secret to "unleashing" your unique voice
+ How to write about your Strengths
+ How to write about your Weaknesses

Download Winning MBA Essay Guide (2019 Entering Class)

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