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What to write in your Essays: Setbacks vs. Failures vs. Catastrophic Failures

As you might have experienced by now, switching styles is not easy in MBA Application Essays. We tend to overdo the blog part with self-references, slangs, or try our hand at humor. Essays have no place for any. But with recent edits in our review service, one part that has helped my clients is the Art of Pillaring. I have included a chapter on it in Winning MBA Essay Guide. The idea is to break the expected series of events. Do parallel storytelling or jumble the sequence to such a degree that you find the perfect balance in narrative and a standard essay.

Example: Project Manager Assigns a task --> I find the task challenging --> Spot talent --> Assembles a team --> Communicates the Goal --> Setbacks --> Eventually a Winning Team


Anyone who is reading a narrative about team building is expecting this sequence. Don't go crazy and do a Nolan, starting with the end or go deep into a sequence that is tough to interpret. Processing fluency impacts the first impression. The tougher it is to read your sentence or interpret the event, the harder it is to influence the admission team. The attention allocated for each candidate is limited (10 minutes). So don't force the reviewer to abandon your essay. Instead, start with an acknowledgment of your weakness.

I have found this to be the most difficult part of my job as an Editor and a Reviewer - bringing out true weaknesses from the applicants. Even those brilliant candidates you see on Class profile pages in HBS, Columbia, or Stern initially hesitated to write about their weaknesses. Our society has magnified the stigma so much that I see tweets from motivational speakers and champion athletes using "L" to represent the loss. They are not even acknowledging the word. Understandably so. It is painful. No one wants to relive those terrible moments.

You truly have one shot at admissions. If I were you, I would have hesitated too, and tried to put a positive spin to my failures.

But I have one question.

Without failures, how did you recognize your weaknesses?

Setbacks vs. Failures vs. Catastrophic Failures

Setbacks are speed breakers in your 5-day cross-country trip. They are inconvenient, but you eventually reached your destination. Failures are flat tires. You changed the tires perfectly or swallowed your pride and sought the help of AAA. Catastrophic failures are when your car catches fire, taking one side of your ass cheek and you barely escaped in one piece. Most applicants are ready with the speed breakers, but the admission team is expecting how after fixing one flat tire, you faced another one a mile away, but your determination to reach the destination, made you calm instead of shouting obscenities at the car.

Catastrophic failure is when your company goes bankrupt, a product triggers a Global Financial meltdown, or your strategy nearly cost a town its last penny. Entrepreneurial applicants choose an MBA when they find that their initial swing at owning their Business didn't quite pan out as they had expected. They have no other option but to mention catastrophic failures. Traditional applicants should avoid mentioning them.

Rest of the failures are life lessons that have taken you so far - to be among some of the best competitors in the world from Finance, Consulting, Technology, Marketing, and Strategy. You are going to win, but before that, list all your failures and setbacks.

Now use pillaring like this:


Traditional Example: Project Manager Assigns a task --> I find the task challenging --> Spot talent --> Assembles a team --> Communicates the Goal --> Setbacks --> Eventually a Winning Team

After Pillaring: I find the task challenging --> Project Manager Assigned a task --> Spot talent --> Setbacks --> Assembles a team --> Communicates the Goal --> Setbacks --> Eventually a Winning Team

Without setbacks and failures, your narrative will lack the authenticity and hook required to create a Winning Essay.

I have shared an extensive list of storytelling, writing and editing tips in Winning MBA Essay Guide (Includes 14 School Specific Essay Tips)

Download Winning MBA Essay Guide

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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?

Storytelling!

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: 691

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)   
+
Stanford
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
+
Haas
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: Post-MBA Goals (486  Words)
+ Duke Fuqua MBA Essay Tips (2018 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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