MBA Admissions Essays: Where Have All the Teamwork Questions Gone?

Business School AdmissionsWhen business school admissions officers evaluate a candidate, they primarily look for four dimensions that round out a strong applicant: leadership, teamwork, innovation, and maturity. (These applicant dimensions are detailed extensively in Your MBA Game Plan, the industry’s most effective book on MBA admissions strategy.) All four matter, and admissions officers look for signs that you possess all four of these important attributes.

Why, then, have essay questions that directly hit on teamwork mostly disappeared from business schools’ applications over the past decade? Why have many of them been replaced by diversity questions? Could this mean that teamwork suddenly doesn’t matter like it used to? Are business school going to revert back to the “every man for himself” reputation that has (rightly or wrongly) been assigned to them over the years?

Most definitely not. While most schools no longer directly as about teamwork in their essay prompts, you can be sure that they still care about this attribute a lot. They have just moved from asking about teamwork directly to looking for signs of a team-friendly attitude in your other essays and interview answers, as well as in your letters of recommendation. They want to see that you can get things done by working with others, rather than by working around them or in spite of them. While they could ask you in an essay prompt, many have found that they get more useful answers via the interview process and your letters of recommendation.

Some essay prompts still do at least indirectly hit on the concept of teamwork. Take one of MIT Sloan’s essays from this past year, for example:

Please give us an example of a difficult interaction you had with someone. Please describe the situation, what was difficult about it, and how you resolved it.

While many applicants hear “teamwork” and think of sunny days and trust falls, it’s a much more involved concept than that. It requires a willingness to share successes and take accountability for failures. It also calls for a great deal of empathy and emotional intelligence (also known as “EQ”), which admissions officers talk about almost endlessly these days. MIT Sloan’s essay attempts to get at that — an ability to “feel out” a situation and figure out how to work with someone, even when they may not want to help or your goals may not be aligned. While the word “team” doesn’t show up at all in this question, you can be sure that the core traits that make someone a good team player are still lurking underneath.

So, don’t doubt that teamwork is going away as a core attribute that admissions officers want to see; they’re just measuring it differently than they have in the past. Whether you communicate this ability via essays or letters of recommendation or any other medium, you absolutely must bring teamwork to the table in order to be successful in the MBA admissions process.

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