Avoid these 5 Cliched storytelling Narratives in MBA Essays

Helping MBA applicants create memorable Essay forces consultants like me to differentiate the cliched from the original. It is not obvious to MBA Applicants. So, here you go:

Top 5 characteristics of a cliched MBA essay:

1. Attribution Error

You can’t write interesting narratives without reflecting and connecting two events. This essential skill can lead to misguided attribution and flawed causal relationship. The success of a project – timeline, exceeding quality guidelines and helping the company acquire a new asset or improving their stock value or reputation, depends on multiple factors.

In a hurry to quantify IMPACT, MBA applicants either overestimate their contribution or doesn’t cover the direct correlation of their contribution to the company’s quarterly/annual results.
Both stem from Attribution Error.

The sales-oriented applicant (working in Advertising/Marketing) has a natural inclination to exaggerate while applicants from Finance/Technology underestimate their contribution or pigeonhole themselves to a function without simplifying their function for IMPACT.

The brainstorming as part of creating the IMPACT table in our Essay Review/Editing/Profile Evaluation/Resume Editing filters the non-essential information from key performance influencers.

The most common occurrence of attribution error is in the Failure Essay. Citing a bad boss, a non-cooperative team member or vague external circumstances are all caught by the admission team as indicators of the applicant’s inability to take responsibility.

Whenever you feel tempted to attribute one reason for a result – pause and brainstorm. You can never attribute a result to one underlying cause, especially in a team environment or in a market where multiple forces are in play.

2. Overestimation of Risk

Taking a risk that pushed you out of the expected career path is a great story that should be included in the essay. I have seen clients who were from modest backgrounds taking on academic challenges and rising above the proven path of their community. They took a real risk, thought independently and achieved goals that seemed impossible.

The spark of greatness becomes a caricature when all the narrative is about risk-taking and overachieving. Applicants tend to overestimate risk-taking and spins even traditional projects as risky without realizing that some tasks don’t require you to oversee 100 people or spotting mission critical errors.

To translate mundane projects to a great story, one has to step outside the domain and ask questions.

1. What were you trying to achieve?
2. What were the opposing forces?
3. What were the limitations?
4. What challenges you had to face as an individual?
5. What challenges you had to face as a team?
6. What were the demands of the client?
7. What were the market forces?
8. How was the competitor outshining you?
9. What unique advantages your team had?
10. What unique qualities you had to complete the project?

The 10 questions will help you frame even the most boring projects to an interesting narrative.

3. Essay Templates

Most applicants believe that to create interesting narratives; one has to cling to a sound bite. Many read Sample Essays and try to fit in with the narrative structure. We have also shared Sample Essays in Winning MBA Essay Guide and individual essays guides, but the purpose of sharing them is to improve your writing style.

The #1 rule that you should remember while creating narratives in an essay is that without at least 3-5 values (integrity, creativity, and openness) in the story, you risk confining yourself to a stereotype based on your profession, nationality, gender or age.

It takes some practice but lesser you are influenced by any template, the more likely you will create an essay that is original and persuasive. A shortcut to achieve this goal is by approaching an outcome with a nuanced explanation. Include market factors, team contribution, individual learning skills and economic/competitive/political factors while articulating the results.

Learn how to create persuasive essays

4. Hindsight Bias

History is filled with narratives that painted a rosy picture of the small roadblocks that turned into World War II or the 2008 Financial Meltdown. The ‘experts’ had no clue that we were heading towards a disaster, but if we analyze now with all the information that we have, the connection is obvious. This is a common narrative mistake in essays too. The more complex the project is, the less likely you can connect the dots. Instead of creating brave non-existent connections, you can focus on the function that is easy to explain.

Not all narratives need IMPACT or ‘bigger picture’ analysis. Some projects are just too complex. Applicants in the Finance/Automotive/Energy/Technology industry will be part of projects that cannot be easily translated to essays.

The easy way out is to muddle the essay with Jargons.

Avoid this temptation.

Break Down the Jargons. We help you with that in our Essay Editing/Review Service.

First, create a summary of what you achieved with the daily responsibilities, challenges and the objective of the project.

In the second iteration, simplify the Jargons. It is extremely tough for functional experts as their daily vocabulary is embedded even in the way they think. As I had shared in the March Task – Create a Daily Blog to improve your MBA essay writing, explaining your job to an outsider will improve your storytelling skills.

The best example I have read recently is from Preethi Kasireddy who wrote Bitcoin, Ethereum, Blockchain, Tokens, ICOs: Why should anyone care?

She explains a complex topic with heart and an understanding that only a practitioner can offer.

5. Volunteer’s Folly

Volunteering is an indirect sales tactic that MBA applicants use to demonstrate that they are not worker bees but real humans who care about fellow beings. Potential MBA applicants just out of college reach out to me and brainstorm on how to position their personal brand. Their undergraduate degree, interests, and skills determine the ideal volunteering work.

I always ask them to avoid the Volunteer’s folly (dedicating time for activities that can be easily compensated with financial contribution). If you are not naturally inclined to hands-on activities, allocating your time for building houses will not help. Many of you volunteer for projects out of sheer passion. I wouldn’t discourage you. The only thing that you have to do while writing about your volunteering experience is to capture unique details (location, history, challenges and the purpose of the project)

Complementing skills should be strategic and should find direct application in one of the student clubs.
Example: Finance/Technology applicants applying their marketing skills and creative applicants learning to code.

Too often, the volunteering happens a couple of years before the application or the involvement is sporadic. To compensate the lack of volunteering experience, applicants exaggerate their contribution or spin the story to balance their quant skills with extraversion.

If you truly don’t have the volunteering experience, focus on your extra-curricular or unique talent.

If you are a creative person with skills in music, improv, writing or performing, this is the time to capture all your artifacts into one platform – preferably a personal website. With the privacy settings, social media pages are not easily accessible in Google search.

Googling your name is not a vanity search anymore.

Admission team uses the resume and google search to form the first impression. You  should be aware of how you are perceived in the search results.

Set a Google Alert on your name or the brands you are associated with.

Cleaning the social media profiles and changing the privacy settings is the first step. If you need help in positioning your personal brand, start a conversation here.

Applicants who worry about the word limit, censor their thoughts, even before the first draft, leading to essays that are dull and doesn’t capture their true personality.

With our help, you can edit the essays, but the originality of your thoughts can’t be replicated by anyone.

You have to write – the good lines and the terrible ones.

Flex your writing muscle, don’t censor yourself and write freely

For any help, you can always reach out to me or read Winning MBA Essay Guide.

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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