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Saying What Makes You Special

We all know this type – the guy or girl who doesn’t get many dates because everyone thinks they're 'nice but boring.'

It happens to b-school applicants, too. First, this is not a bad thing! Far better for the committee to find your app "solid though a little boring" than "interesting but lots of areas of concern." Ideally, though, you want to be both "solid" and "interesting."

Sometimes I have to fish around with someone to find the thing that will make their application compelling. Everyone has something interesting to offer, but sometimes it can be hard to figure out what.

S. had this problem. She had a great GMAT score – 740 – and a decent GPA from a good school, but her work experience was uninspiring. She had started graduate school but dropped out because she didn't like it. From there, her career stagnated. Her goals were vague, and her job was far below her potential.

Getting her to articulate a career plan was tough. I had to push her to think about specifics, and we spent considerable time brainstorming based on many different jobs that I have had exposure to through my own career. She had disliked the solitary nature of her grad school program but had yet to find something that really spoke to her.

Finally, after lots of conversations and introspection, she started talking about an informal orientation program she'd helped create at her job. She totally lit up! It was obvious that she connected with situations that involved teaching and mentoring.

Once we figured this out, it was far easier to put together an application with a consistent "story." By looking at themes throughout her entire life, not just college and beyond, we realized that the early influence of team sports had strongly impacted her, which was a perfect way to address leaving grad school, why the MBA, and her fit with future goals in training and development.

It worked. She got in at several of her targeted top 10 schools, and even got a scholarship offer from one.

– Contributed by Senior Consultant Susan Shaffer. Susan is a Stern MBA and former Senior Associate Director of MBA Admissions at New York University.

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