1. What brings you the greatest joy? How does this make you distinctive? (250 word maximum)
This is a variation on Stanford’s “what matters most to you and why.” Let’s parse it, but before we do, let’s keep one thing in mind: 250. (That’s the number of words we’re gonna have to explain the answer to this insanely challenging question.)
[Oh and by the way, if 250 words weren’t scary enough, if you look carefully, there’s not one but TWO questions in there. Ha.]
Part 1. What does that mean “the greatest joy”? Not the most amount of, not the most consistent, but the “greatest”? Think amplitude, rather than frequency. What thing, when it happens, makes you the “joyyyest.” The happiest. Here’s a bit of advice: Don’t be ordinary here. Whatever the thing is, make us wanna know more. Ordinary stuff like love and babies and family etc, will just make us yawn a bit. Unless you make those stories cooool and unusual.
Draw us into the JOY itself. Explain what makes you happy, and how it makes you happy. The thing doesn’t have to have intrinsic value. It could be the SMELL of the morning newspaper, because it reminds you of your father. It could be the act of making pizza dough, whether or not it turns out, because you feel like you’re a chubby Italian woman in Sicily and that image is somehow insanely meaningful to you. It could be watching a movie on opening night, because the shared experience is the one unpoliticized, honest, connective tissue that makes you feel connected to humans all over the world.
Whatever it is, there has to be a sense of the joy itself. You can compare this to a similar thing that DOESN’T bring you the same joy. You can explain why Thing X, unlike any other thing in the world, is capable of bringing you that joy AT ALL. You can explain how the FEELING is unlike any other feeling you experience.
Now, let’s remember that this is a business school application. On the one hand, you’re gonna get points for being human. It’s gonna be neat to see the McKinsey whiz kid have a vulnerable side. But… it also needs to be evidence that there is a soul there. That something on Earth makes you vibrant, life-loving, etc. The more fiery you are, the more likely you are to… do stuff in life. The guy who’s robotic and a bit dull will be a drone, not a leader. The leader has things he loves, otherwise he wouldn’t be leading.
So, the best is a combination of both. Something that BOTH shows that you’re gonna be extremely successful in business because the thing is connectable to your passions, goals, etc. But also, is an intimate insight into who you are as a person, outside of the business school conversation.
Part 2. How does this make you distinctive? Well, this can get tricky. You don’t wanna be presumptuous here. But you do have the opportunity to compare yourself to your peers, or people who by and large have slightly different trigger points for happiness. One way to do this is to say that most people like XXX ASPECT, but for me the YYY ASPECT is more meaningful because ZZZ. Or, most people HATE XX, but I LOVE it because ZZZ. Or, for some, XXX makes people unnerved, for me XXX is life-affirming, because ZZZZ. Or, you can say, this thing brings me so much joy because of my unusual upbringing: ZZZZ.
Lots of ways to do it.
2. What is your most significant accomplishment (250 word maximum)
Not the most impressive, not the biggest, but most SIGNIFICANT.
Again, let’s not forget that this is a business school application. It may be a sweet and cool story how you earned 1st prize in the World Capital Olympics in elementary school, and it may be huuuuugely significant to you, but it’s not gonna really tell us much in the context of a business school application. If there is a personal accomplishment that happened recently, that is somehow tied to your ability to succeed in your stated goals, then that could be potentially interesting. You supported your family during college while doing XX and YY, and this was more significant than anything because it taught you EVERYTHING you know about leadership and dealing with adversity, etc etc. See where we’re going with that? See how it’s both personal, but… business-personal?
Now, for the more standard business-related accomplishments, be sure to pick an impressive one, and then explain the significance in a way that isn’t accidentally disempowering. For example, if you overcame a tough opponent in the workplace because he was sexist, or a racist, or something… and your emphasis is on that more personal aspect of the “victory,” (that you taught everyone a lesson, or that you didn’t cow to those types of pressures), you could come across as something of a whiner, or someone who has a hidden agenda, etc etc. Know what I mean? Be sure the significance isn’t too heavily CHARGED with emotional baggage, is all. Keep it professional. Keep it focused on things that highlight qualities about you that make us go “wow, if you were to apply THAT spirit to some future situation… this kid’s gonna be a winner.” See the difference?
3. Describe a time when you questioned an established practice or thought within an organization. How did your actions create positive change? (250 word maximum)
This is a tough one, especially for those who haven’t exactly done it. For those who have, we’ll get there in a sec, but I wanna devote some ink to those who struggle to come up with a response immediately.
The key “out” here is the word QUESTIONED. Forget about the heroic story about the time you ran a campaign agaist the advice/beliefs of the white-haired Board of Advisors, but turned it all around at the eleventh hour and emerged victorious, changing the company’s history forever! Employee of the century! Forget all that. Think about even the simplest moment in time when there had been “a way of doing things” that you took a moment to CONSIDER, because you had an instinct that…
- there was a better way
- this established system was somehow flawed
- there was laziness in honoring this tradition that everyone seemed to know was obsolete
etc etc… see how possibly EASY it is? Hopefully by now you’re no longer struggling to scare up ONE example, but have the opposite problem of figuring out which moment of MANY to feature.
Well, in that case, pick the one you felt most strongly about. Where the disparity in “established practice” and “the contrariness of your idea” is the largest. That’s the one.
Now, for those who have this in the bag, let’s talk about structure here. Two parts, 75 to establish the “old way.” The fixed way. 75-100 to the description for WHY you questioned it. Give us the reasoning. Not the results, not the action (yet), but the reason WHY you couldn’t let it go. And the final 75-100 to describing, specifically, what you DID (and the results, super quickly).
The key here is understanding how you operate when you have a potentially unpopular (and risky) idea. How do you get people’s buy-in? Do you even bother, or do you just “do” first and then let people see the results? What are the tools you use to persuade? Argue? Convince? Are you a leader who springs to action? Or do you passively THINK about ways to improve a situation, without taking action?
4. Describe a time when you were a student of your own failure. What specific insight from this experience has shaped your development? (250 word maximum)
Oh, Haas. A “student of your own failure”? Really? Okay so maybe there’s some nuance here that’s worth paying attention to. Failure stories can sometimes encompass team failures of which you were a part. Here, they’re implying that you were somehow an agent of the failure itself, and then became a victim of it. [Or, a student if you want, Mr. Haas.]
So, you caused something to NOT SUCCEED. This could be by “hitting the wrong button” (active—i.e., actively/consciously making a choice that turned out to be incorrect). Or, by NOT doing something you were supposed to (inactive—I knew we were headed down the wrong path, but I failed to present my case in time, because I was scared). There is gray area in between, of course, but some way or another, an objective wasn’t reached, and something was LOST… because of you.
The key here isn’t what caused it. Or what the failure was. Or how much was lost. In 250 words, we aren’t so much interested in delving into those details. Instead, that word “student” is nudging you in the direction of LESSON LEARNED. What we want to see (what HAAS wants to see) is the way in which you took the lessons learned here and ACTIVELY applied them to “getting better.” How do you take failure, and TURN IT INTO SOMETHING… AWESOME?
Basically, we want to know that when life clocks you with a baseball bat, you don’t get bruised, your arm doesn’t snap off, you don’t run crying to your mom. Instead, like Obi-Wan Kenobe… you become STRONGER. You get hit by life, and you get BETTER.
Not by magic. But because, “as a student of your own failure,” you convert it into something positive. How do you do that? That’s what we wanna know. See the difference? It isn’t just an inert description about a time you failed and what you learned. It’s the stuff that happens AFTER that. Okay, you failed. Okay, you learned something. But NOW what do you do? What happens NEXT?
Give us the setup, failure, etc, in 75-100 words. Spend the next 150-175 explaining what you DID to turrrrrn (active active active) that lesson into a very positive one.
5. Describe a time when you led by inspiring or motivating others toward a shared goal. (250 word maximum)
Haas really has a specific audience, don’t they? This isn’t just any leadership story, they wanna know something very, verrrry specific. This isn’t a project at Google where everyone knows exactly what they need to do, agree on the deliverables, everyone’s on board, and there’s a project “leader” coordinating the effort and driving it across the finish line. What’s missing here? Anyone?
This question assumes that at some point in your leadership effort, either people weren’t on board at the start, or lost their way in the middle, and it fell on you to INSPIRE them.
How did you EARN their buy-in? How did you turn a non-believer into a believer? Or a slacker, into an overachiever? Or a disgruntled senior guy, into a hungry team-player?
See the difference? This isn’t about how good a coordinator, or manager you are. It’s the other guy. The guy who can gel a team around a vision. This is almost never easy. And it demands a certain type of prowess to pull off. Now, there are many ways it can be done.
What’s YOUR way?
Describe the tactics. Describe the process. Describe the decision-making nodes. Let us into your approach.
50 words on setup.
150 on WHAT YOU DID and WHY.
50 on the results.
6. a) What are your post-MBA short-term and long-term career goals? How have your professional experiences prepared you to achieve these goals? b) How will an MBA from Haas help you achieve these goals? (1000 word maximum for 6a and 6b)
1000 words. Yeesh. Not sure you need that many, but this isn’t our application, it’s Haas’s 1000-word problem.
1000 words most often leads to structure-less, boring-as-paste essays. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen. The first rule here is not to get excited because you’re all of a sudden ABLE to cram in more words and more detail. Don’t stuff the thing just cuz you can. The absolute WORST thing you can do is take a 600 word essay or a 750 word version and stick in more details. Build this sucker from ground up. Be methodical. Let’s do it together.
Gonna start backwards. How will an MBA from Haas help you achieve your goals? 200 words.
How have your professional experiences prepared you for your goals? 300.
Short term and long term goals? This is (and should almost ALWAYS be)… a two-part thing.
1) The high-level vision
2) The short term and long term goals… PLAN
The high-level vision should kick it off. 100 words.
The goals section should be a ridiculously detailed and logical plan that makes so much sense, you come across as a guy who simply can’t lose. 250 words.
What does that leave? 150 words. See what I mean? We have room left over. Let’s not waste it, but let’s do something WIIISE with it. But let’s go through it in order now and break it down further.
Part 1 – The high-level intro. Dazzle us. Make us think. Pose a question. Startle us with a crazy fact. Paint a cool vision of the future that you envision. Do something that gets our attention, whatever it is. Lure us in. This is like the cabaret dancer that enters the stage not by bursting through the curtain, but by slinking a leg in first. Get us to lean forward and WANT more. 100 words. This is always a key piece of the puzzle. You’re giving us a taste. No details, just a taste. Lay out a suuuper high-level vision so that we know where it’s all headed.
Part 2 – Dive into your background. But don’t just dive hastily. Do so with extreme calculation. Every single thing you tell us about your professional experience HAS TO (repeat, MUUST) explain ways in which you have BUILT UP the wherewithal to ATTEMPT TO SUCCEED at your stated goals. Let me repeat. You are about to make a case for wanting to achieve something. The background is NOT a walkthrough of your resume. It is, rather, a proof of how you have EARNED THE RIGHT to have those goals.
Let’s suppose my goals are to be a professional baseball player in the major leagues. Here’s my background: first I graduated high school with honors. Then I studied Art History in college and graduated magna cum laude. Then I took a job working at The Met in New York City where I was quickly promoted to Assistant Curator, faster than anyone else in the history of the museum. And then one day, I met Derek Jeter who told me how cool it was to be a professional baseball player, so I decided I’d like to do that. My short term goal is to read a book about the rules of baseball to learn the sport. Then, my long term plan is to play First Base for the New York Yankees.
Do you believe that guy? The goal may be well and good, but does the history (professional experience) show how this guy inched closer and closer TOWARD that goal? Not at all.
Consider the next guy. My goal is to be a professional baseball player. After playing Varsity Baseball in high school, I took one year off before college to travel to the Dominican Republic to play baseball all year round due to the favorable weather. After developing my skills in some of my weaker areas (base-running), I applied to the best Division 1 schools in the country and walked onto the team at Florida State. There I worked under Coach Taylor tirelessly to blablablabla….
You get it. The second guy states a goal, and then walks us through a “professional past” that indicates GROWTH… toward that goal.
This is what you must do here. Don’t give us the job titles alone. Tell us how certain experiences (and you can be specific here and discuss stellar, defining moments) pushed you toward your goal by developing your skills/knowledge somehow.
Part 3 – NOW give us the short term and long term PLAN. Using the word “plan” instead of goals. They are two different things. What we need is the step-by-step, bulletproof plan that you may even MAKE UP, or TOSS OUT the second you show up at bschool. Doesn’t matter. The fact that you HAVE a great plan suggests something magnificent about your ability to succeed at it. So, do it. Give us a plan that is virtually infallible. And where it’s fallible, give us a Plan-B.
Be specific. Don’t just show us the dots along a timeline. Show us how they connect, starting with the short term goals all the way through the long terms ones. Don’t assume we know your industry well. In fact, assume the opposite. Connect the dots FOR us. This is key.
Part 4 – Finally, explain how a Haas MBA will help you achieve those goals.
This is not a love letter to Haas. This is not why you love Berkeley, California. This is maybe three case-in-points of how Haas will help you achieve your goals.
Think about Mission: Impossible. Or any good heist movie for that matter. You put together a team of specialists.
1) The explosives expert – this guy’s job is to blow up the door leading to the bank.
2) The safe-cracker – this guy knows how to crack any and every safe known to man.
3) The computer hacker – can tap into the bank’s network the day before to blablabla.
4) The inside-man – in this case, it’s a woman who pretends to fall in love with a dull back teller (she’ll eventually steal his key card…)
5) And… “Haas” – this guy’s job is to……… what?
Haas is a member of your “mission impossible” IMF team. This business school is going to serve some incredibly important role in helping you pull this thing off. What’s it gonna do?
Think of it in those terms. And explain Haas’s value, not as a business school, but with respect to YOUR GOALS. Your “heist.”
Now, what happened to those extra 150 words? Well, everyone’s gonna use ‘em differently. Some are gonna have to explain a career change. Others will require a lengthier backdrop to introduce their vision. Others might have a deep connection to Haas that warrants some explanation. My point in stowing those 150 words aside in the first place, was to impress upon you that you shouldn’t just slap extra FAT onto each piece just because you have the room. It will reveal itself where those extra words need to go. Before you worry about that though, make sure you nail what you’re supposed to nail in the other sections. Then marble this sucker with the good kind of fat.