Self-Reflection is a powerful process and an underrated skill. It’s also a critical process you need to go through if you want to go to business school. While it’s important, it’s often overlooked or understudied for many MBA applicants who are in a rush to get their applications out the door. For others, self-reflection is not an easy task, and trying to find a place to start can be daunting or challenging.
Self-reflection has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Between being a Theology major and being educated by some of the most thoughtful men and women educators it’s become a critical (if not, at times, paralyzing..) part of my life. I’ve been fortunate to work with many friends and colleagues over the years that have gone through the MBA application process and have applied my penchant for self-reflection to helping them determine why they want to apply to business school. I’ve put together a quick starter guide for how to get started, which can be useful if you’re trying to do your own self-reflection for applying to business school.
Part I: What Have You Done?
This part covers getting an understanding of what you’ve done thus far in your life and career. It’s meant to help you write a holistic summary of your accomplishments, skills, and experiences, while equipping you of an understanding of who you are and what you bring to the table to a group, team, or company. It’s a great way to reflect upon what you’ve accomplished to date in the roles and experiences at your company. Not surprisingly, many people I work with who do this section are eventually surprised at how much they accomplished in their current job/set of jobs. Generally speaking, if someone asks you to do something at work, it usually means it’s of value or importance to someone else. It can be easy to forget this skills or things that we do when we are “in the trenches” of the day to day of our jobs, so this part is a good reminder about what we’ve done, and why it’s valuable.
Remember, not only is business school about developing yourself, its also about contributing to the community and helping others. Everyone truly brings a unique set of talents to their class in business school and this process will help you figure out yours. Getting an understanding of your strengths, or why people might want you as a teammate, leader, or future employee will help you gain clarity on your own toolkit and personal brand, which in turn will help you develop your own marketability and story about your unique talents and skills.
Key Questions to Answer
- What are your strengths?
- What do you enjoy doing?
- What are your most impactful career accomplishments?
- What do people rely on you for help with?
Part II: What do you want to do?
Hopefully, this is the area where you have the most knowledge as it’s probably most closely related to why you want to go to business school in the first place – After gaining two years of learning and experiences in business school, where do you want to work, what do you want your career to look like over the short and long term? While it may be difficult to plot out the next 20 years of your life, this section should really help you narrow your focus to understanding the industries, functions, roles, and jobs that are most appealing to you. In some cases, individuals will be very specific, whereas, in others, people will be broad. My general rule of thumb is to be as specific as it makes sense to be. Furthermore, since there is some level of ambiguity for some about what they want to do after business school I really treat the “what do you want to do” as a hypothesis – there’s data and evidence to suggest that this is the path for you, but business school is going to be the opportunity for you to test of whether or not that hypothesis is true.
A quick note here – Business School is a time of transformation and change. Transformative experiences alter your trajectory, so there is an element of this that is guesswork. When you apply to business school, Admissions Committees understand that not everyone will do what they said they wanted to do in their applications, and they are mostly fine with that. What they want to see is that you’ve taken the time for self-reflection to identify a reasonable and sensible path for how you want to use an MBA to take you to the next phase in your career.
Finally, for some who are struggling with deciding on industries, functions, and roles, instead of focusing on titles (ex: Marketing or Finance, Healthcare or Retail) start drilling down as much as you can into the types of things you want to be doing in a particular job (ex: do you want to do cold calling or work with spreadsheets?) and try to see if there are specific jobs, industries or functions that align best.
Key Questions to Answer
- What industry, function, or discipline appeals to you, and why?
- What skills do you want to use in your next career?
- What strengths do you want to use in your next career
- From your previous job, what do you want to keep doing?
- Based on your past experiences, what else
- What don’t you want to do?
Part III: What will you do when you’re here?
Just as much as Admissions Committees want to know that you’re career goals are feasible and reachable, they’ll also want to know that whatever you do while at their school will enable you to achieve those goals when you graduate. They want to know that you’ve done research about how you are going to use the MBA experience at their school to achieve your career goals. They want to see the research you’ve done about their school, and to point to specific classes, experiences, and opportunities that you hope to use as a way to prepare you for a future career.
Lastly, one of the best aspects of business school is the students and the individual skills, experiences and talents that people bring to school. Make sure to think about what skills or talents you have that you will bring to the school that will enrich the lives of your classmates and the community. Being able to articulate how you can help your classmates learn and grow is a fantastic thing to add to your application.
Key Questions to Answer
- What skills do you want to build?
- Given what you know of School X, which opportunities will help you get these skills?
- What experiences or opportunities do you want to have while in school?
- What people do you want to meet and build relationships with?
- What do you want to do that you couldn’t do anywhere else?
This is a very basic guide to get started, but it should help you get clarity on some answers to important questions. While it’s not necessary to answer all of these questions, it’s also true that there are plenty of other important ones that are not listed, as such, I recommend you go with this until you get to a point where you think you have confidence in what you’ve discovered.