Some parts of the MBA application, like your GMAT scores or your academic record, are pretty easy to define. The MBA metric is fairly universal, and, for the vast majority, the numbers tell their own story.
For other elements of the application, though, telling the story is not quite so simple. “Leadership experience” is a prime example- it’s a broad term that many students find difficult to distill into specific experiences.
Too often, that difficulty leads to generic or disorganized accounts that fail to paint a sincere and compelling portrait of a student, and that can be detrimental to an application’s success.
Don’t fall into this trap- think carefully about your leadership experience and how you will present it on your application.
Defining leadership experience
Students often define leadership experience too narrowly, thinking that only instances where they were clearly “in charge” will fit the bill.
This leads some students to think that they have little experience to offer, and others to report instances that do not do their abilities justice.
Being “in charge” does not automatically prove your leadership- you should really be looking for experiences where, nominally in charge or not, your input drove the end result.
The best examples of leadership illustrate a clear correlation between your actions and the ultimate success of the people around you and the task you were trying to achieve.
Articulating the value of your experience
Even the most spectacular leadership record can fall flat if you fail to articulate how you achieved it and what you learned from the experience. To avoid that outcome:
– Choose two or three key skills to emphasize. Think about what specific skills you had to use to provide leadership, and how those skills emphasized or challenged your personal strengths and weaknesses
– Remember that leadership is not just about the bottom line– Don’t forget to include the relationships and people skills that defined your leadership experience- motivating others, figuring out how to best use their talents, and keeping everyone together as a team.
– Alternate between explaining soft and hard skills. You want to showcase both people skills and an ability to impact the bottom line- that combination indicates successful leadership.
– Evaluate where you can improve. Be honest about what you could have done more effectively and what you learned as a leader. Too many applicants leave this analysis out for fear of showing weakness, when actually, analyzing your performance candidly shows commendable honesty and a desire to continually learn and grow.
Out of all of this, perhaps the most important thing to remember is not to focus on what you think you should be saying, but on relating your story as sincerely as possible.
Don’t worry about what other students might list as leadership experience- every candidate, and every leader is unique, and the best way to stand out is to be true to your own style.