­How To Use The “Show, Don’t Tell” Approach to Win MBA Essays?

­If you’ve ever worked with a diligent admissions consultant or a mentor figure who pushed you to your wit’s end during the strenuous essay writing process, chances are high that you would have heard the person say, “Hey Sam, show, don’t tell in your essays!” And if you don’t ever recall them telling you anything even remotely similar, you have some important life decisions to make (and choose a better mentor)!

The “Show, don’t tell” approach is a cornerstone of writing compelling journalism or business school essays, as in our case. It is the strategy that successful B-school applicants leverage to vividly illustrate their experiences and attributes through specific examples and impactful storytelling.

The bone-dry piece of sample writing you see below (example of telling) is very similar to the initial drafts MBA applicants write because they have no idea how to sway the admissions committees with vividness and emotions. When applicants fail to understand the importance of the “Show” approach, two things will happen:

1. It shows a lack of creativity. Being creative is a highly sought-after attribute in an MBA applicant. A person who cannot be a good storyteller, will likely not be able to convince bosses, clients, or team members in the post-MBA jobs.

2. It gives the AdComs an opportunity to play the critic and challenge your claims of “being a top-notch leader” due to the lack of evidence.

Can you compare the two examples below and clearly understand the difference between “Telling” and “Showing”. I have made the differences in these paragraphs more pronounced for applicants, who are just starting with the application writing. However, an expert eye can easily critique even the seemingly well-written example of Tell type.

Showing vs Telling in MBA essays

Here is Some “Show, Don’t Tell” Essay Examples:

Example of Telling: “As an army officer, I was deployed to a high-stakes mission in a volatile region, where I led a team of soldiers in executing strategic operations under intense pressure and uncertainty. Our mission required precise planning, quick decision-making, and effective communication to achieve our objectives and ensure the safety of our personnel. Despite facing numerous challenges and adversities, my team and I completed our mission, earning accolades from our superiors for our professionalism, resilience, and commitment to excellence. This experience solidified my belief in my leadership abilities and reinforced my determination to excel in demanding environments.”

Example of Showing: “In 2013, I led my first commanding operation to mobilize Floods Disaster Management Operations within a 150 km radius in Kedarnath. As the cloudburst hit us, I briefed my 40 soldiers about the exigency of the disaster and the procedures to evacuate civilians. As rubbles flowed down the Himalayas, safeguarding military communication equipment with security algorithms posed additional challenges to National Security. My men’s morale dampened as dead bodies piled up in debris. Hollering words of encouragement amidst the chaos, I urged my team to strive. I alerted civil authorities and secured standby equipment to safeguard military communication devices. After 48 hours of strenuous efforts, my team rescued at least 50 civilians. The Civil Authorities awarded us the Army Chief’s Commendation for exceptional bravery. One can acquire the best theories on management and leadership, but having managed men and critical resources in grim situations first-hand, I will bring my practical experiences to ABC MBA”

If you were an admissions evaluator, which piece of writing would you prefer?

Here’s another example, albeit a more complex one-

Example of Telling: “I became a doctor because I was interested in solving problems since childhood.

Example of Showing: “I vividly remember when our trusty family radio fell silent, how my ten-year-old self found an ailing capacitor through trial and error. With a newfound understanding of its inner workings, I breathed life back into radio, leading to the joyous resurgence of music. In retrospect, the gratification I derive from restoration and pursuit of solutions has been integral to my decision to explore the intricate tapestry of life itself within the field of medicine.”

One sentence has turned into multiple sentences, but the updated paragraph reveals the applicant’s thought process and his love for fixing problems. It becomes clear that the person did not choose medicine because all of his friends did. His fascination is in the mental stimulation that precedes the resolve.

In the MBA admissions process, while your GMAT scores, academic background, and resume play a role, they can only take you so far. As a serious applicant, you must be willing to go beyond these basics and dedicate time to self-reflection. This deeper understanding of yourself will shine through in your essays and make a significant impact on your MBA application.

Needless to say, essays that extensively follow the “Show, don’t tell approach” have 10 times more chances of receiving invitations from the most competitive B-school programs. And yet, something as simple as giving examples often gets overlooked in essays because applicants lack the understanding or proper guidance during the B-school journey.

Get personalized advice tailored to your unique circumstances in the B-School admissions process. Reapplying? Get a free ding analysis today.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Your Comment*




    × Chat With Us