Basketball superstar Kobe Bryant ended his 20-year NBA career last Wednesday, and many fans of the sport are using this time to reflect on, and learn from, his past highlights. Kobe’s career can be used for more than advice pertaining to basketball – we’ve imagined how he might have used his past accomplishments and failures to answer some common MBA application essay questions.
In this entry, we will discuss the ideal way Kobe could use the Failure Essay if he were to apply to business school. A staple of many MBA essay requirements and interviews, this prompt asks the applicant to relate a story of personal or professional failure that impacted his or her life. In answering this question, an applicant needs to demonstrate genuine reflection and self-awareness, while also showcasing leadership potential. Let’s examine how Kobe might answer a question like this:
Address the “Elephant in the Room”
In Kobe’s case, instead of mentioning missed shots, bad plays, or lost games as failures, it would be best to instead identify the failure to maintain a longer-term partnership with fellow superstar Shaquille O’Neal as his major failure. Aside from being an interesting topic – with rich layers and dimensions – this “failure” would help Kobe address concerns about his ability to collaborate with peers. As with all MBA essays, we want the Failure Essay to be interesting, relatable and vivid. Sharing specific details such as an argument that escalated, or personal thoughts from both superstars’ perspectives, will make for a powerful read for the Admissions Committee.
For example, Kobe could identify the double-edged sword of his incredible competitiveness and obsessive work ethic at that stage in his career, and contrast this compassionately with Shaq’s fun-loving personality and the physical challenges he faced due to his unique size, mobility, and the focus of opponents to wear him out. Displaying a high-level perspective and understanding will show the maturity and honesty that can serve him well post-MBA.
Lesson: Using an interesting situation, or identifying an “elephant in the room” in your profile, will serve the dual purpose of both addressing a red flag in your application, and displaying your self-awareness and personal development, all of which the Admissions Committee will want to see.
Show What You Learned
After setting up the context of the failure, Kobe can then highlight how he put the lessons he learned from this failure to good use. He can cite how this failure taught him to better manage relationships with teammates who shared some of Shaq’s qualities, such as the immensely talented Pau Gasol, the fun-loving Lamar Odom, and the physically dominant but oft-injured Andrew Bynum. Kobe can also share how learning from his previous experience with Shaq helped him build better relationships with his teammates overall and leverage their unique personalities to lead the Lakers to two more NBA championships.
Providing specific details as to how he built these bonds through sharing interests and communicating better with his team (whether through bonding over family activities, or by brushing up on his Spanish) would provide real insight into his world and allow the Admissions Committee to relate to him and appreciate his growth. Displaying his ability to lead and collaborate with talented peers would also prove that there is more to Kobe than just his basketball skills, and that he is ready to succeed in his future business ventures and social causes.
Lesson: Choose to discuss qualities or realizations that relate to your failure and would be transferable to future endeavors, rather than limited to a single situation. You can identify how your failure taught you to channel your inherent traits and use specific tools and techniques to proactively address potential problems. Show how you learned to leverage your personal qualities and background to collaborate towards common goals so that the Admissions Committee can conclude that the failure you experienced has helped put you in a better position for future success.
Applying to business school? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.
Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD.