The Mistake Question

Many business schools ask variations on the theme of making mistakes. Describe a time that you failed; what did you learn from a mistake; tell us about a time when you should have done things differently, etc. These are all possible, if not likely, essay questions that you’ll confront during the application process, either during the interview or while writing your essays. Every applicant’s background is different and arguably you are really the only one who knows about your past mistakes. However, we’re here to share some guidelines about “the mistake question” that will help you select the right kind of mistake. For the purposes of this post, we’ll discuss the mistake essay question and how you can write about it in a way that actually sheds light on your strengths.

This question makes many applicants uneasy. Why would you want to talk about a time when you screwed up? Most candidates only want admissions committees to see their strengths, skills and leadership qualities – Why put a stain on a spotless application with an entire essay devoted to a mistake?

This concern usually leads to candidates selecting weak examples of mistakes. Maybe they choose an example from college, or they select a professional example that doesn’t carry much weight. What these candidates don’t understand is that acknowledging a big mistake, being honest about the ramifications of it, and sharing lessons learned shows a great deal of insight, wisdom and growth. These are strengths! Therefore, it’s essential that you reach back into your past and find a time when you really messed up. A professional mistake is usually preferred. Consider a time when you disappointed a team of colleagues, failed to deliver sufficient customer service or missed a deadline. These are examples of mistakes and failures that are significant.

When it comes to describing your mistake, choose information wisely. Share what is required to paint a full picture of the mistake, and try to avoid extraneous details. Word count is always a hurdle with essays, but with this essay, you want to make sure you have more than enough space to ruminate on the effects of your actions. In so doing, you should demonstrate mastery, so to speak, of what you learned and how you’ve improved as a result of this mistake.

If you’re still struggling with how to select the right type of mistake, Veritas Prep consultants are here to help. They are well versed in this type of essay question and can help you weigh the pros and cons of various topics you may be considering. Most importantly, this essay is an exercise in being honest and leaving your ego at the door. We all make mistakes; time to shine the spotlight on one of yours. Be brave!

Today’s post comes from Veritas Prep MBA admissions consultant Lauren Thaler. Lauren received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Brown University and started working for The Advisory Board Company in Washington D.C. shortly after graduation. She worked in Business Development, Account Management and Marketing, and Business Intelligence Delivery. After a few years she decided to go to Wharton to pursue her MBA, and has since worked with dozens of business school applicants and founded her own business, Punchwell Press.