After receiving positive feedback on my on my written application during my interview last week here are some ideas I’d like to share with you. if you’re going through a similar applications process yourself then hopefully you’ll find this useful.
Referencing back to my experience during my Sloan MSc application interview at the back end of last week, The LBS Sloan MSc Interview.., it was clear that the LBS admissions team invest a lot of time in analysing an applicant’s written submissions. With this in mind, here are a few approaches that I found useful and productive while writing mine.
Fortunately I had quite a lot of time leading up to my application submission as I had decided to apply almost a year ago. From my experience I would recommend the following:
- Learn as much about the course and the school as possible:
- If you live near by; pay the school a visit. LBS has several events throughout the year from open lectures to question and answer sessions with alumni and faculty. These will give you a more personal experience of what the school is about, hopefully they will help you pick out attractive elements that are personal to you. I would also encourage you to reference these experiences in your application as they will likely be discussed during interview. You are also likely to meet fellow applicants, who may have questions or have discovered information that you hadn’t thought of.
- Use the wonderful world wide web to discover as much about the programme as possible. A very useful website to get you on the road to discovery is the exceptional blog written by one of the Sloan 2014 class: LBS Sloan MSc information resources. This blog is a few years old now, but still very much applicable today. It also contains other posts that give tips on the written application.
- Contact the school! The applications team are very pro-active and helpful with any questions that you might have. Specifically I would recommend getting a copy of the Sloan MSc brochure, and also a breakdown of the elective (optional) courses that are offered on the programme. If you are making initial contact, use this link: LBS Contact.
- Familiarise yourself with the essay questions:
- Although one or two of these may change from year to year, not all of them will change, and they will always be on similar topics even if they do. Knowing what questions you need to answer in advance will give you more time to decide what you want to write about. In at least one essay you will be asked to describe a particular instance in your life, and how it affected you and others. The first hurdle here is to select what event you want to write about, if you are anything like me this was not easy and took quite a lot of deliberating.
- Carefully choose candidates to proof read your work:
- You will need people who are not only willing to read your inputs, but also are willing to offer positive criticism and amendments. This is a much bigger commitment than simply quickly browsing through your essays and then giving you a thumbs up. Many people are likely to offer to read your essays as most people will not want to say no. However when you are asking someone to read the fourth iteration of the same essay and you need to submit within the next 12 or 24 hours, you really need to have chosen wisely!
As a great woman or man said once (it was more than likely a woman!): Failing to plan is planning to fail. With this in mind, it is very useful to be clear about the submission deadline that you are aiming for, and that you leave yourself enough time to not rush your submissions. Each and every person will have different requirements with regards to timescales needed to complete their application. Personally, I gave myself five weeks, but I was simultaneously working a full time job. I broke down the application into several main elements, these were:
- One page CV (Converting from my standard two page CV)
- Organisation Chart
- Essay #1: What are your immediate and ultimate goals and how will the Sloan help you realise these?
- Essay #2: What is the most difficult professional decision you have made in your career so far?
- Essay #3: What are the issues faced by your region and / or sector in the next five years?
- How do you spend your time outside of work (hobbies and interests etc.)?
- What impact will your participation on this course have on your family and friends?
- What do you see as being the key challenges for you on the course?
- What are / were your roles and responsibilities of you current and previous jobs?
- Several other smaller entries.
If you have familiarised yourself with the application in good time, hopefully you have an idea of what you would like to write for each of the above. Some will be more straight forward than others, and thus take up less time.
I would put together a loose plan of how many of the above you want to complete over time, and then track yourself against it to ensure you are not getting too far behind. I would also fire off some first drafts of one or two entries to your proof readers as early as possible, this will help you in the following ways:
- Breaking work into small batches is one of the foundations of productivity advocated by Toyota Production System, which is the bedrock for operational excellence and efficiency across the world today: Wiki: Toyota Production System. Learn about it, live by it.
- It will mean that they are being read in parallel to you doing other essays – increasing total productivity.
- Giving work to your helpers in small chunks is less likely to overwhelm them, people are more likely to spend a quick 10 – 15 mins here and there to read your entries than several hours reading every piece of your application in one lump.
- You will get these ‘chunks’ back with plenty of time to make changes if required.
- You will get an early idea of how much time each of your helpers needs to review your work, and what feedback they will offer. This will help you plan giving the rest of your work to them, and perhaps more importantly, give you an early indication to whether you have selected appropriate reviewers who will be able to give you what you need. If you need to recruit additional or alternative reviewers, you want to be doing this sooner rather than later.
As with all good projects, it is very likely that you will end up needing more time than you anticipated, so try to leave yourself at least a little buffer of time before the deadline. Additionally, if you can have some contingency plans up you sleeve (taking time off of work etc.), this will reduce the risk of missing your deadline, but also just as importantly will hopefully reduce yours stress levels.
Finally, perhaps the most important part, what to actually write! Here are my thoughts on the main sections. Please remember that these are my own personal thoughts, there are no right or wrong things to include in your written entries.
- One page CV: I tackled this first as I thought it was a nice intro, and would remind me of the main elements that I will be using when presenting my profile. I am happy to supply a copy of this to anyone who would like a working example to use as a reference. Basically this activity involved hacking large chunks of information out of my standard CV, hopefully leaving the more important stuff behind. The format I used was a few lines as a profile summary, followed by a short paragraph / bullet points for previous jobs, and then a few lines for my academic and professional qualifications.
- Organisational chart: I took the official org chart presented by the company I work for and then extended it to include details of my team, and any direct stakeholders (customer / suppliers etc.). If you are using your boss as a reference, I would advise asking him or her to review it before submitting.
- Essay #1: This is where all of your research on the programme and school will prove to be invaluable. I started by reading through the Sloan brochure, and highlighted any elements within it that I found of particular importance to myself. In this essay I also included particular experiences I have had at open events etc. at the school and the positives I have drawn from them. With regards to how these items apply to your goals – only you can answer this!
- Essay #2: For me, the most difficult part here is selecting what event to write about. Once you have picked this hopefully the rest comes relatively easyily. I was in two minds as to whether to write about a decision that was difficult personally (eg. a career or geographic change that had an impact on me and others in my personal life), or a to write about a tough technical decision (eg. a difficult or complex technical problem and the processes involved in solving it). Eventually I plumped for a hybrid of the two, citing a job change and the impact I had on my new organisation, including a particularly significant decision that was collaboratively made while I was there.
- Essay #3: I found this one the most enjoyable to write. I spent a fair amount of time listening to relevant podcasts, and took notes of any interesting points. I also canvassed several people within my industry who’s opinions I value. The end result was a blend of all of these inputs. I have included this essay in a previous post: My thoughts #1: The U.K. Aerospace Industry
- Impact on those close to you and challenges: I’ll bundle these two into one section as they are kind of linked. This really is personal to you so I can’t advise much. However I think the faculty are looking to see that you have made provisions to be very busy and under duress for the duration of the programme.
- Hobbies and Interests: This is your chance to show your human side, what makes you tick outside of work mode. Remember that the school is looking for a good fit between fellow students. I got the impression that they take this section fairly seriously and the content was brought up at least a couple of times during my interview.
- Roles and Responsibilities: For my current job I found it effective to keep a diary for a couple of weeks and then from that describe the key activities that I do. I tend to do a lot of ad-hoc activities that if someone asked me I would not be able to instantly describe, so this diary technique really helped. For previous jobs, I used content from my two page CV and then edited it to read slightly more fluidly.
That covers most items – if there are any specific items that I have missed that you would like any advise on please feel free to contact me.
Finally with regards to technique used writing essays, I would say at first completely ignore the work counts – just brain dump, and then edit. This will ensure that you freely include any points that you can think of, and you can then do a triage to ensure you include the most important items. On one of my essays I started with over 12,00 words and eventually trimmed it down to 300 – so don’t worry about the words!
I’m pretty sure I had another nugget to share with you but I can’t for the life of me remember it now. If it comes to me later I’ll add it in here. If you are reading this however it can’t have been that important as I haven’t been able to recollect it.
That’s all for this post, I hope some of you out there find it helpful, and I’d be interested to hear from anyone else who would also like to share similar experiences.
Well almost; I’d like to thank Miriam Haywood and Daniel Noviello for selflessly helping me with my admissions essays. Without help from you guys it is significantly less likely I would have been accepted for interview. Love you guys! xx
All the best, for now..