Begin Your Essays with Your Strongest Accomplishments and Enliven Them with the Active Voice

When preparing personal statements that require significant information about career progress, many MBA applicants choose to discuss their accomplishments in chronological order. Although the simplicity of this approach makes it appealing, we encourage you to consider another way of showcasing your more recent and therefore potentially stronger accomplishments first. By taking this approach instead, you may capture your reader’s imagination more quickly and reduce the risk of being lost amid similar candidates.

Consider these examples: (1) a software analyst who is now a project manager managing a budget and leading a team of 20 programmers and (2) an investment banking analyst now in their third year with a company who has been sent abroad to work directly with a CFO.

The Project Manager

Chronological: “Joining ABC Technology as a software programmer, I…”

Reverse: “Scrutinizing my plan one last time, I waited to present my team’s $3.7M proposal to our client…”

The Investment Banker

Chronological: “As an investment banking analyst at Deutsche Bank, I started…”

Reverse: “Arriving in Taipei, I was admittedly nervous to finally meet the CFO of XYZ Co. and lead my firm’s due diligence process…”

In these “reverse” examples, the candidates immediately present their standout accomplishments and thrust the reader into the excitement of their stories. Although this kind of introduction is not applicable in all cases, it can be a feasible option in many. Still, in choosing this approach, candidates must be able to fluidly return to earlier moments in their career later in the essay—a task that requires creativity and skill.

Another task that requires skill is determining when to use the active voice. Many writers use the passive voice in their essays, but the best writers know it should be used only sparingly, if ever.

The passive voice puts the verb in the “wrong” place in the sentence, thereby removing the “action.” Subjects become acted upon rather than performing actions. Sentences with the passive voice typically include verb phrases such as “was” or “has been” (e.g., “it was determined,” “the project has been completed”).

Consider this example of the passive voice:

“The marathon was run despite my injury.”

In this sentence, the verb (or action) is diminished because the writer says the marathon “was run.” A better way of describing the same activity is to use the active voice, as illustrated in this example:

“I ran the marathon despite my injury.”

Here are two more examples:

Passive: “The contract was awarded to us.”

Active: “We won the contract.”

Passive: “It was decided that I would be in charge of the project.”

Active: “My boss selected me to be in charge of the project.”

Remember—you are the center and subject of your essays. The best way to tell your stories and explain your accomplishments is to make sure that you are the catalyst of the stories you tell. Using the active voice ensures that the admissions committee(s) will see you as an active person who makes things happen.

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