“Lead” versus “Led” and Not Overusing Techniques in Your Application Essays

A common mistake we see in our clients’ MBA application essays is the misuse of the verb “lead.” A deeply entrenched and widespread misunderstanding seems to exist as to which spelling connotes present tense and which connotes past tense. One of our consultants even had a client raise their voice in passionate defense—of the wrong usage! In case you are not completely confident about this word yourself, we hope this blog post helps clear up the issue for you.

Lead or Led?

  • Lead—verb, present tense, rhymes with “seed”—refers to actively and presently guiding others.

In my current position as managing director, I lead a team of six analysts in completing market analysis.”

  • Led—verb, past tense, rhymes with “bed”—refers to the act of having guided others at an earlier time or at some point in the past. “Led” is both the past tense and the past participle of “lead.”

As part of my first job after college, I led two summer interns in a competitive assessment” and “I have led multiple teams of salespeople during my five years at the firm.”

Confusing the spelling and/or pronunciation of this verb’s different tenses is a simple mistake but one that stands out clearly to admissions professionals who have probably seen this verb more times in the past year than most people do in a lifetime! So, pay close attention to which is which, and be sure you are using the correct version every time.

Another essay-related issue encountered by some applicants is changing the structure from one essay to the next. For example, a candidate might choose to use a quote at the beginning of an essay to create a sense of urgency:

“This cannot be fixed. This cannot be fixed!” I stared blankly at the broken machinery and knew that the next few hours would be crucial…

Using this kind of attention-grabbing technique can certainly be effective, but you should never use any technique more than once in an application. By starting more than one essay in the same manner, you are essentially telling the admissions reader that you understand how to use a gimmick but not how to tell a compelling story in your own way. This is also a quick way to lose your reader’s interest! Be sure to vary your approach in each new essay within a single application. Presenting your ideas in fresh and different ways will help catch the admissions committee’s attention with each introduction and, indeed, each essay.

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