Forbes: How To Ace (Or Fail) Your MBA Video Essay

V P Blog

Source: Forbes

by Matt Symonds,
September 1, 2016.

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

Smile! You’re on camera — a video camera, now integral to our lives. Video Conferencing applications have gone from nouns to verbs. Most of us Skype, Google Hangout, or FaceTime friends and relatives both near and far. Web conferencing solutions like GoToMeeting and Vydio have become a regular part of our working lives. We post and watch recorded videos daily on social media and send them to each other on our Apps.

This year, more business schools than ever have video essays as part of their admissions process, either as a required component of the application (Kellogg, INSEAD, Yale, Rotman) or an optional way to answer prompted questions or provide further information about yourself (MIT Sloan, NYU Stern). While each school will ask different questions and allow for varying lengths of time for your answers, at the heart of the video essay is the hope that they will get an authentic and unscripted view of your personality, passions, maturity and motivations.

Many of us have become more or less comfortable in front of a camera, so it’s tempting to think of the video essays that are becoming increasingly common in MBA applications as an easy win.

Think again.

Cassandra Pittman, an expert coach at Fortuna Admissions has an MBA from Columbia and worked in admissions at two of the world’s leading business schools, shares her advice to ace (or fail) your business school video essays.

“MBA Video essays are a recent trend for business schools and combine the most challenging aspects of live interviews and written essays with the added pressures of time limits, camera and technology concerns, and, perhaps the most challenging of all, the lack of any real-time feedback.

My first tip? As cliché as it sounds, just be yourself. Business schools are looking for fit, and this is just one more way to help them get to know you. My colleague, Caroline Diarte Edwards, former Admissions Director at INSEAD reminded us recently in this post, video essays aren’t just a challenge; they are also an opportunity. “Some great candidates aren’t brilliant at presenting themselves on paper, but can do a much better job verbally. So video essays are a positive evolution in terms of giving candidates more scope to express themselves in the application process.”

Here Are Three Things You Need To Do Now To Ace Your Video Essay

1. Practice

2. Practice

3. Practice some more

Have you ever started to answer a question in an interview and seen your interviewer’s eyes start to glaze over? You could see you were on the wrong track, and could therefore change direction to save the conversation. Or maybe you saw their eyes light up. You knew you had found a point of connection – a topic you could continue to explore and highlight throughout your conversation. With your video essays, you’ll have no such feedback. Your video essays are just like your written essays. You have to put your thoughts out there without any idea how they are being received by your audience, but in this case without the benefit of being able to edit and revise. You’ll need to think on your feet and come across as poised and articulate. And you only have one chance.

So, dust off your webcam and use an app like iMovie or Windows Camera to record yourself answering sample questions. Some MBA programs that use video essays in their application process have sample questions on their website; others provide some to start with during their in-person or online admissions events. Here are ten good questions to start with:

• What is your favorite book and why?

• If you knew you could not fail, what would you do?

• How would your teammates describe you?

• To what organization or cause have you dedicated significant time? Why was it meaningful?

• Who has had the greatest impact on you and why?

• What will your classmates be surprised to learn about you?

• If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?

• What is the most meaningful thing you have done for anyone else?

• What is the most meaningful thing anyone has done for you?

• What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Six Questions You Need to Ask Yourself To Ace Your Video Essay
1. Was the background uncluttered and absent of any distractions?

Have you taken the time to sort out your laundry? Is your cat happily scratching away at its post just over your shoulder? Are your cousins fighting over who gets the PlayStation just out of eye shot? All visual and audio distractions should be removed. It is best to film yourself against a plain wall if you can, and if there is a larger view of the room in the background it should be clean and tidy, with no other people or furry friends there to keep you company. Video is not just about what you see, its also about what you hear, so make sure no sound can be heard other than your voice on the screen.

2. Was my face well lit?

Admissions Committees aren’t judging you on your looks, but a poorly lit image can be incredibly distracting. Make sure they can see your face (and your smile!).

3. Could I hear myself well and did my voice sound natural?

Make sure your microphone is well positioned and working propoerly. You should be speaking at your normal conversation level and you should be clear and easy to hear. You may have to try different mics or experiment with different positioning to get this right. Talking into a computer can take some getting used to, and at first you may find yourself speaking in a monotone. Make sure to give yourself enough practice to feel comfortable speaking as you would in a conversation, with natural variations in your tone, pace, and pitch to make your voice sound interesting.

4. Were my non-verbals consistent with what I would expect of myself in any in-person interview?

Wear business dress or business casual (at least from the waist up!). Make sure your posture is good. Think of the webcam as your interviewers eyes (it is!) and make appropriate eye contact. Smile – but not too much. It may be helpful to imagine the face of someone else at the other end of the camera.

5. Were my answers succinct, authentic, and interesting?

Your responses will be time-bound in your video essays. You’ll often only have 60 to 120 seconds to give your answers – that’s not a lot of time to fit in the What, Who, When, Where and Why your audience should care. Finding the balance between brevity and authenticity can sometimes be a challenge, so don’t be surprised if this takes quite a bit of practice. You won’t always know the questions in advance, but by getting into the habit of answering reflective questions in a minute or less, it will start to feel more natural — just ask any of the talking heads on cable news!

6. Did my answers fit into the overall narrative of my MBA application (while not being repetitive)?

When you’re put on the spot, it’s easy to forget that your video essay is just one component of the overall portrait of yourself and your ambitions that you need to paint for the Admissions Committee. Make sure the stories you tell fit into the narrative you have built throughout your applications, and, while not being repetitive, connect with the wider themes you have explored in your written essays.

You play like you practice, as the saying goes. It’s good to answer a few practice questions at a time, and then, after at least a few hours have passed (longer if you have the time), watch your recording, and try to honestly evaluate yourself against these six questions. Even better, show your recording to a trusted friend or an admissions coach and ask them for their honest feedback on each of the questions and your overall performance. Then answer a few, trying to tweak and improve your performance a little every time.

So, take a deep breath, relax, and tell your story.