Showcasing Leadership in Your MBA Application Essays

Essay questions are a crucial component of almost every MBA application, and many programs call on candidates to demonstrate their leadership capacity as part of their responses. This only makes sense. Business schools are training future managers, so their admissions committees are naturally keen to make sure that applicants bring leadership potential.

So how can you showcase your professional or personal leadership experience? To learn more about the best ways to approach these particular questions and really sell yourself as a great candidate, we spoke with long-time business school admissions consultants Alex Brown and Eliot Ingram.

Why do business schools value leaders?

By admitting students who already have a talent for leading others, business schools have an even better chance of graduating exceptionally capable managers. “If you look at the mission statements for most business schools, they are seeking to educate leaders who will make an impact in the world,” Brown says. “Schools want to admit students who have a propensity for leadership in order to help fulfill their mission, and the best way to determine if someone has that potential is to explore prior experiences.”

What do admissions committees consider leadership experience?

Drawing on examples from professional roles you’ve held is a great way to demonstrate leadership experience in your essays. In particular, you want to go into detail about the way you led others, as well as whether your efforts produce the desired outcome. Great examples to use include ways you’ve engaged peers on a project, persuaded peers to see your point of view or led an impactful project at work, Brown suggests.

Of course, admissions committees understand that many MBA candidates have not yet formally managed others in a professional environment. These applicants should look to demonstrate leadership by referencing activities from volunteer organizations, undergraduate student groups, professional associations or extracurricular clubs. If you have helped manage a volunteer group’s fundraising drive, for instance, the steps you took to effectively oversee your group would be relevant to your essay. And if your title in the organization reflects leadership, even better.

What are three important things to consider when writing about leadership skills?

Ingram suggests three key ways to demonstrate leadership as part of your business school essays. First, leaders have a vision or point of view on how to solve issues. So consider examples that demonstrate times when you recognized solutions to issues, even difficult ones.

Next, leaders have to be able to communicate effectively to key stakeholders, including bosses, clients and coworkers. Therefore, providing examples of how you are good at communicating—whether through speaking, writing memos or even creating a PowerPoint—can be a valuable addition to your essays.

Lastly, leaders excel at persuading stakeholders to buy into an idea and then execute upon it. This execution can involve delegation, management or motivation to deliver high-quality results on time and on budget. Can you offer an example of your persuasive powers at play?

Overall, leaders can solve problems, communicate solutions and effectively get others on board. By drawing out examples of these leadership techniques in your essays, you can make a strong case for how you would add to a business school class.

As a final point, Ingram advises applicants to offer concrete examples. What new experiences have allowed you to communicate to others that your ideas deserve following? If you can show that you have the vision to set a goal and then execute against it, chances are good that business school adcoms will be receptive to your story.


About the Author

Lindsay Mack

Staff writer covering feature articles on higher management education issues and the MBA space in particular for MetroMBA.

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