Thoughts on the HBS Introduce Yourself Essay

"It’s the first day of class at HBS. You are in Aldrich Hall meeting your “section.” This is the group of 90 classmates who will become your close companions in the first-year MBA classroom. Our signature case method participant-based learning model ensures that you will get to know each other very well. The bonds you collectively create throughout this shared experience will be lasting.

Introduce yourself."

(click here for my full HBS page)

So two things to notice right away.

1) Unlike for the past two years, this year's HBS essay is no longer optional.

2) Nominally speaking, the audience is no longer the adcom.

I imagine that the reason for the second change is to get even further away from the over-earnestness that traditional MBA essays tend to elicit, and for which too many applicants subsume their real personalities, only to be replaced with the pablum that results from second guessing "what the adcom really wants to hear". After all, what you tell your peers and how you address them should be more candid than a similar missive to the HBS gatekeepers, especially now that - for the purposes of this essay- you've already been accepted. The new HBS essay topic should also prevent folks from simply recycling their Stanford "What Matters Most" essay and vice versa, which has been an understandable and effective approach for the past two years.

Most people will naturally build their introduction around some "greatest hits" combination of personal and professional experiences, potential contributions to their section mates, and future goals. That much is obvious and the approach unassailable on its face. But HBS has done something clever by including the fact that, if you are indeed accepted, you might be sharing your essay with your new section buddies. I can't imagine a more dispiriting time than having 90 clearly accomplished people drone on about what badasses they are, so while it's fine and necessary to share your accomplishments, it needs to be done modestly at a minimum - and even with humor and creativity for those of you who dare - but always with an ear for how it will sound to others, that is with self-awareness. Part of ensuring that is by not blasting everyone with everything you've ever done, but rather by choosing your accomplishments and experiences strategically so that they contribute to the larger story you're trying to tell about yourself. (And if you don't know that, get in touch!)

There is no one winning formula here. And as I have said elsewhere on general strategy for HBS and Stanford GSB this year, leave these schools for last among your applications if you can in order to build up to them.

And a final thought about length for this unrestricted essay. When I worked in radio for NPR, the rule of thumb was that every 250 words of script was roughly a minute of speaking time. If you were to really stand up and read your essay to 90 other people, how much time would you need to tell your story while still being respectful of your audience?

And another final thought: this whole exercise is done in the context of the case study learning environment. In that environment, you have to push and fight and argue and persuade and collaborate so that your ideas and perspectives will be heard, appreciated, and hopefully taken on as the group's. Are you demonstrating this potential in your introduction?