B-schools pose essay questions about your accomplishments to gauge what you will bring to their program.
In your ‘Goals' essay, you have proclaimed great potential/ skills that have enabled you to set high goals for yourself. Through this essay, B-Schools want to know how far you have been successful in translating your skills into concrete results that have significantly benefited your organization. They also want evidence of what sets you apart from your peers and what demonstrates your ability to function well with them.
Remember your accomplishments should show IMPACT and interpersonal skills. The applicant who has led a team that could accomplish a multimillion-dollar gain has an advantage over the candidate who developed a world-class software application on his own. Therefore, your essay should not only focus on the technical or procedural aspect of the achievement but also on your team working and leadership skills.
1. How different schools ask this question?
Business schools word their accomplishment essay questions differently based on what they are looking for in their potential candidates.
Some schools word their accomplishment question in such a way that it gives you maximum leeway. For example, questions like “What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why you view them as such?” (Harvard) or “Tell us about your most substantial accomplishment?” (HAAS)
It gives you so much freedom that you need to be careful in evaluating your accomplishment story. So, you should select a story that has challenged you to show your leadership skills- a story that has made an impact on your community or organization. Moreover, in a multi-accomplishment essay, it will be your best bet to choose one professional, one community, and one personal accomplishment to demonstrate that you are a multi-faceted personality.
Some schools specify that out of two accomplishments, one can be personal and one professional (INSEAD), which makes it easier for you to choose one accomplishment from your personal life and the other one from your professional life.
On the other hand, some schools deliberately narrow down their essay topic that almost forces you to think and answer in a preferred manner. For example, questions like, “ Please describe a time when you went beyond what was defined, expected, established, or popular.“ (MIT Sloan) and “Describe a time when you questioned an established practice or thought within an organization. How did your actions create positive change?” (HAAS) expect you to confine your definition of accomplishment to a specific area of your work life.
Finally, all schools want you to describe not only the accomplishment but also why you value it or why it is meaningful to you. Remember, whether the schools specify it in their essay question or not, you still must explain what you think of your achievement.
2. How to choose your accomplishment stories?
Choosing your accomplishment stories can be a daunting task when no specifications have been provided. The following questions will help you to brainstorm your accomplishments stories.
- Am I truly proud of this accomplishment? If yes, why?
- Did this accomplishment make a tangible impact on an organization or an individual?
- Did this accomplishment help me learn a new skill I did not know before?
- Did it require me to take initiative and step out of my defined role or perform beyond expectations?
- Did I view myself or did others view me differently after this accomplishment?
- Did my role in the organization change after this accomplishment?
- Did it lead to opportunities and responsibilities I did not have before?
- In what ways did this accomplishment require me to be creative and innovative?
- Did this accomplishment teach me skills that led the way to other accomplishments?
While choosing your stories, try to avoid discussing professional accomplishments that do not involve working with teams. Your accomplishment essay SHOULD bring out some of the following qualities: Dedication or focus, persistence, ambition, vision, expertise, initiative, high personal standards, leadership, team skills, energy, self-discipline, organizational ability, etc.
3. How to structure your essay?
Now that you have identified your accomplishment story, your next challenge is to structure it properly. To do full justice to your story, you may organize your essay following the four-part structure below:
- The Challenge
Begin your essay by engaging opening sentences to draw the reader in. Your introductory paragraph should set the scene by providing the context of the story. It should also directly state what the challenge was.
Example: In October 2010, when I was working as automation lead at TCS, the client expected automation of new functionality for maintenance drugs in three weeks as against the usual five weeks, and the teams had little knowledge about this functionality Initially, this deadline seemed to be unachievable, but after brainstorming with my team, I took the calculated risk and went ahead with the project.
- The Action:
Instead of providing a laundry list of ‘I did x….’, ‘I did y…’, tell a story that has a beginning, middle, and end. Describe this part in detail as this is the most crucial part of your story. If your story describes in detail what you thought, felt, said, and did, it will not only interest the Ad Com but also tell them who you are and how you navigate through challenging situations. If your story describes in detail what you thought, felt, said, and did, it will not only interest the Ad Com but also tell them who you are and what you want to be.
Example: However, after 10 days, I realized that we were still behind the schedule. Hence, after considerable deliberation, I discovered that the functional analysis effort could be reduced by 25-30 percent with more test scripts. So, I created these scripts by aligning my team appropriately and by putting in extra work hours.
- The Outcome
In order to provide closure to your story, make sure to state the ultimate result of your achievement. To showcase your accomplishment’s impact, it is advisable to state the outcome in quantitative terms.
Example: “On May 13, the whole design passed all the testing successfully and got deployed into the production two days prior to the deadline.”
- The Significance:
Even if the school does not ask you to discuss the significance of your accomplishment, you should always describe it. Make sure to wrap up your essay by explaining why your accomplishment is meaningful to you and what lessons you learned from the experience. Your accomplishment’s significance and the life lesson it taught you must be genuine and personal to you. Please remember that external benefits like raises and promotion should be mentioned in the third part of the essay (outcome), and not in the end.
Example: Today I recall this project as one of the most memorable projects. From a revenue perspective. It was not the biggest project I handled, nor was it the most complex project. However, it was the most challenging project in terms of saving my company and my own reputation in front of the mounting unforeseen challenges.
4. What should you ‘NOT DO’ in an accomplishment essay?
- Do not write about an accomplishment that was not your own but your team’s and your role in that team was not distinct.
- Do not write about ancient accomplishments (e.g. High school). Focus on something within the past 2-3 years.
- Do not select accomplishments involving your friend, family, marriage or romantic relationships unless your story is truly distinctive and the impact substantial.
To sum up, you should draft your accomplishment essay as per the requirements of different schools. Before choosing your accomplishment story/ stories, ask yourself specific questions and then reflect on your experiences that answer those questions. Furthermore, make sure that your accomplishment story has all four components: the challenge, the action, the outcome, and the significance. Lastly, focus on your achievements in the past 2-3 years as this would imply you are making constant strides in your career instead of basking in the past glory.