The timer begins as you’re staring into your computer screen. You have exactly 90 seconds to wow a business school admissions officer with your story. Will you be able to pull it off?
With some practice and an understanding of what b-schools are looking for, the answer is yes!
Video essays are a relatively new part of b-school admissions, but they are becoming more and more popular. The point of the video essay is to see what an applicant would be like in an interview setting.
They’re called “essays” but they’re actually more similar to recorded, impromptu, interview questions because you won’t know the exact questions until the filming begins. Usually, video essays include three questions done through a portal, and take about fifteen minutes to complete. Applicants will generally submit theirs within a few days of their general applications.
At least one question is likely to be a behavioral interview question, such as “Tell us about a time you didn’t meet a deadline.” Also, almost every school will ask some version of the question: “What is your story, what is your desired career path, and how will [business school] help you get there?”
Here is a list of four tips for b-school applicants who want to ace their video essays.
1. Know Your Story Inside and Out
Knowing that you’ll likely be asked about what drives you to pursue a particular career trajectory via business school, be prepared to tell this story. But because these are impromptu questions, each of which will have subtle variations and nuance, you won’t want to memorize an answer.
When you memorize, you risk not answering the question they’re asking. The better alternative is to steep yourself in your own story and message. This way, your answer will be natural, as if you were having a conversation with friends.
As you analyze your own past and story, look at special experiences that don’t shine through on your application. For example, perhaps you had a family responsibility or a job that was not only formative in your development, but has led you to a place where business school is the best step forward.
2. Know Your Future (And How Business School Will Help You Get There)
Schools want to know why they are essential to you; they want students who will make the most of the experience and who will ultimately reflect well on them.
Remember, you can expect some version of the question, “What are your goals and how will [business school] help you get there?” It is helpful to break this “meat and potatoes” question down into two parts.
First, business schools want an applicant to elucidate their reason for wanting to go to business school. To answer this question, ask yourself: “What am I looking to get out of my business school experience?” and “How will business school prepare me for my longer-term career goals?”
Next, the school wants to hear how they are going to help you achieve this goal. Dig deep on this one, and think about how each individual school’s programs, resources, and community will aid you in success.
Always make sure that your answer is tailored to that school. Admissions officers don’t want to hear a candidate use what is obviously a boilerplate response.
3. Practice (And Then Practice Again)
Practice for video essays like you would practice for an interview. Most schools will provide you with some guidelines about what they’ll likely ask; start there.
The format of these video essays can feel somewhat uncomfortable—you’re speaking into a screen with no feedback—so the key is to practice in a variety of settings, including talking at your computer.
Practice in several more ways. For example, practice by recording yourself on your phone, and then again with a friend. This way, you’ll become comfortable with the material no matter the format.
When you log on to complete your video essays, there is usually the opportunity to do a few practice questions. Use this practice to get the jitters out, but don’t wait until then to work through your answers.
4. Be Yourself and Relax
Admissions officers know that these videos are impromptu and that they won’t be perfect—they aren’t expecting that. What they are looking for is someone who is genuine, thoughtful, and passionate. And your most passionate self is probably going to be one who is comfortable being exactly who they are.
It’s obvious when an applicant is trying to fill some formula or read from a script (either a physical script or one in their head) instead of simply answering the question at hand.
“Be yourself” is such common advice, but that’s because it’s great advice. There is only one “you,” who is already so great and deserving, and it’s your job to show that school the very best version of you.
Just like it’s okay to fumble or to take a breath in a normal interview, it’s fine on video essays as well. Relax and know that the content of your answers is more important than perfect diction.
You don’t have to be perfect, but you do need to seem genuinely excited for the opportunity to go to business school. Schools want people who want to be there, and that often shows through on video.
If you’re having a hard time calming your nerves, don’t forget: it’s just one piece of an overall admissions puzzle, and should be viewed as an opportunity to give yourself a little extra “oomph.”
Know your story and your future, practice as much as you can, and believe in yourself. You got this!
Have more questions about making your time in b-school count? We can help. Get connected to one of CommonBond’s own MBA alumni. They can answer your questions and make sure you maximize your MBA experience.
And don't forget to join CommonBond's Pre-MBA group on LinkedIn, where you can ask questions, connect to other "pre-MBAs," and be first to see exclusive b-school content.
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