Cover Letter: Please submit a cover letter seeking a place in the MIT Sloan MBA Program. Your letter should conform to a standard business correspondence and be addressed to Mr. Rod Garcia, Senior Director of Admissions. (250 words or fewer)

The first MIT question is your classic career history and aspirations essay, except more succinct. They have only allotted 250 words, which means you have to speak directly, clearly, and briefly – there is no space to wax poetic in this essay. Just say it like it is and let your experiences speak directly. This cover letter is not the time for inflated adjectives.

The cover letter should mention your career progress to date, your future career goals, and why MIT will help you achieve those goals. You can separate each section as their own paragraph, even though they will end up being relatively short. This structure will not only organize your cover letter properly, it will also help you organize your thoughts and keep the different steps of this answer straight.

The first 1/3 of your cover letter should discuss what you’ve done to date. As you begin to write about your career progress to date, know that MIT really really (did we mention REALLY) likes to know what your impact was on an organization. In previous years, MIT has asked about a big accomplishment you’ve had instead of asking for a cover letter. Their mentality has always been: we don’t just want to hear about a flashy job – we want to hear about what kind of impact you can have on an organization. Even though the cover letter doesn’t ask for this explicitly, it is crucial to touch on. So don’t only mentioned what you learned along the way, but also what mark you left on the organization as you moved on to the next step of your career. Also, MIT wants to know why you would be a good fit for them – so it would be a good idea to conclude the “career progress” section by tying everything you’ve done to an MIT related value like leadership or innovation.

In the next section of your cover letter, discuss your future career goals. Your experiences should have some relation to what you want to do, even if at first glance it seems indirect. We created a “Function x Industry” matrix to help you test the legitimacy of your short-term goals.

Career Matrix

Here’s how it works: each position you hold has both a function and an industry. If you’re a software engineer, engineering is your function and tech is your industry. Now, when you think of your short-term goals, you should align your desired position in one axis: either function or industry. For example, if your short-term goal is to be a product manager in a startup, you’ve shifted functions, but maintained an industry. This makes your overall professional story coherent, sound, and feasible. If your goals are in line with your experiences and follow a reasonable track, the admissions committee will be excited to help you take your next step. However, if you write your short-term goal to be a consultant in McKinsey, you’ve shifted both industry and function. This jump is too big and makes you seem unreasonable. If you notice that your short-term goals have jumped both industry and function, revisit your career path and hone it back to something that is more in line with your professional history. Furthermore, note that shifting an industry can be a little trickier. If you want to shift industries, you should be able to draw some tangential connection of skillsets or work styles that make sense within both industries. Emphasize these similarities to soften the jump so that it isn’t too jarring. Let this matrix serve as your sanity check.

As for your mid-term goals, they should be a logical step forward from the position you intend on holding at the short-term level. Long-term should be a both realistic and ambitious. In other words, your long term goal should be something that would take a while to build up to, hence the short and mid-term goals, but it should also seem reasonably achievable considering your professional experience and past successes, your passions, and your career strategy.

And finally, the last third of your cover letter should be dedicated to explaining why MIT is the institution that can help you to achieve your goals. Your answer should be tailored to the courses, clubs, recruitment opportunities, professors, programs, and any other offering at MIT Sloan that will help support your career path. Essentially, Sloan will be serving as the bridge between your current employment situation and your short-term goal – so now is the time to say what it is Sloan offers that specifically will help you get there. Leave nothing to the imagination of the admissions committee regarding how Sloan’s program can be beneficial to you. You should also show that you intend to take advantage of the more socially oriented or networking opportunities at Sloan. This will demonstrate that you also understand the importance of campus life and that you will be a good fit for the student body just as much as you will be a good fit academically. Here is an example of the degree of specifics you should aim for:

cbs Q1 example 1

 

Additional Information (Optional) The Admissions Committee invites you to share additional information about yourself, in any format. If you choose a multimedia format, please host the information on a website and provide us with the URL.

Here’s a secret for you: this isn’t really optional. Don’t wonder “if” you should answer this question; start wondering “how” you should answer this question.

As you could probably tell, the first essay is very cut and dry: what did you do, what will you do, and why MIT. Besides personal impact on an organization, there is not much place in the cover letter to show your character. So the optional essay is MIT’s opportunity to learn who you are.

Here’s another secret: MIT loves to see you. And we mean, literally seeing you. So you should absolutely choose the multimedia option as your medium. Your response should be a 2:00 – 2:30 minute video that demonstrates to the committee who you are, what your life looks like, and what your key characteristics are.

When you approach this project, the first thing you need to come up with is a concept. The concept is an overarching theme to the whole video so that it actually has an interesting thread that ties everything together. If you don’t have an overarching theme, it will end up being a bat mitzvah-like slideshow of your baby pictures. If your relatives didn’t care to see that, the admissions committee won’t care either. The idea of this multimedia response is to show another side of who you are and add color to your application in an appealing way. Your video should come off in such a way that makes the view think, “wow – this is the kind of person I want here on campus.” This short video is a gift because appealing to an audience in a strong, unmediated way is much harder to do via text.

There are a few ways to come up with the overarching theme. For some, this theme screams out from their resume. If you’ve been involved with a certain activity or skill your whole life, you should use this as your overarching theme. If you don’t have such a thing, you can build a concept out of your experiences. Let’s go through both options to give a clearer picture of what this means.

Let’s imagine we have a candidate who was a national karate champion. This would be a theme that distinctly jumps out from the resume. In the first 30 seconds of your video, you would give some background on your activity: “I’ve been practicing karate since the age of 4, competing in national championships, and refining my technique since as long as I can remember. Karate has accompanied my whole life and has served as my teacher.” The brief introduction needs to give a scope of your level of involvement with and commitment to the activity as well as what it means to you. In the rest of your video, you will show what the activity has taught you and how those lessons have influenced other aspects of your life: “Karate is based in three pillars: leadership, mutual respect, and boldness. Through my years of practice, I have developed each one of these.” Once you’ve listed the three key attributes you learned, you go back to the first one (in this case leadership) and show that you learned to be a leader in karate and in real life. For example, you’ll start by showing pictures of you being taught in the dojo explaining the type of leadership that was expected of you. Then you’ll go on to say that leadership goes beyond the walls of the dojo, showing other instances in which you’ve demonstrated this particular type of leadership. Maybe pictures from your army service? Maybe you were captain of a sports team? Maybe you led a group of boy scouts? Maybe you were a counselor or instructor of some sort? The idea is to show how you are a leader in life through the guidance of a lifetime of karate. Then we move on to the pillar of mutual respect. “Mutual respect is a way of life” – here you will match pictures or videos of you bowing to an opponent. “And this understanding has given me a grateful lens through which to see the world.” For this sentence of the script, you will show pictures of yourself volunteering, spending time with the elderly, etc. Lastly, the video needs to mention boldness – the third pillar. The script will mention what boldness is and what you learned, while showing pictures of yourself doing crazy spin-kicks and breaking piles of cinderblocks with the palm of your hand, and the real-life parallel will be pictures of you bungee jumping or eating bugs in Thailand. Again, the idea is to show one pillar from karate, and show how you carried it into the real world. Once you’ve showed all of those things, you will conclude by tying it all back to MIT. “I know MIT Sloan is an incubator for similar values and holds them in high esteem. Therefore, I am excited to continue honing these skills and would be honored to start my career at MIT Sloan.”

If you don’t have anything that you feel jumps out from your life story (we realize that most people aren’t karate champions), you will have to create your theme by examining different interesting elements in your life. First of all, everyone has something cool. The above example can serve as a good template even if you’re not the next karate kid. Moreover, your “central activity” doesn’t have to be “extreme.” Are you a photographer? You can show your life through photographs. Do you come from an interesting family dynamic? For example, if you have five sisters, you can build your video around “girl power” and learning to see the world through 5 extra sets of eyes. Anything that is unique to your life could potentially serve as a theme.

If there still isn’t one major theme you can think of, you need to build one from the bottom up. One way to do it is to list all the different things you are involved with or have done, and then try to find the common denominator between them. For example, if you volunteer twice a week as a mentor to kids with special needs, you love cooking for your friends, you travelled around the world with your brother, and you love to perform improv comedy with your troupe, the common denominator here is that you are invigorated by doing activities with people you love.

Another option is to choose a theme of something that you really enjoy. For example, someone who loves math can make a video about their life in numbers. Or you can go down a more humoristic approach – for example, a video revolving around what your mom thinks you do versus what you actually do in your life. The point is: this is your time to get creative in order to tie everything together and tell your story in a compelling way. If you still can’t think of anything, try to think of an anecdote of a specific moment in your life and how it influenced you. But note that if you do choose to go down this particular route, the anecdote needs to be truly influential. The logic here is, if you choose to represent who you are via one particular anecdote, moment, or story, it needs to be robust enough to reflect your character.

Once you’ve brainstormed your ideas and come up with a theme, put together a script. Don’t just try to throw everything onto a PowerPoint presentation and call it a day. Make sure you know the timing, and that you’ve built the “story” in a tight and well-paced manner. After you have your script, you can storyboard your story. This is the time to decide what visual will go along with each sentence or two of your script. You can choose pictures, short videos, or even film something from scratch. Note that you should only really film from scratch if you are good with this sort of thing or have a friend who can help direct you in a flattering manner. Otherwise, you run the risk of losing your message in shoddy craftsmanship.

Here’s our last secret for you: you don’t have to be Quentin Tarantino or Steven Spielberg to make a good video – you just have to be genuine. You get to choose what you talk about and address in this essay. So choose those things that paint you in a flattering light and tell it in a way that comes off without pretense.

 

Interview question: Mission of MIT Sloan is to create principled, innovative leaders who improve practice of management. Please share something from your past that aligns with this mission.

The third MIT question comes with the interview invite. The way to answer this question is to take one big accomplishment or a couple mini-accomplishments, and show how these accomplishments reflect the important values the prompt asks for specifically: how did your accomplishment demonstrate principled and innovative leadership. Ultimately, the accomplishment should show how you improved the professional sphere from which you come. That is to say, you don’t need to change the world, but you need to show that you’ve left a mark in relation to the world you’ve come from. This isn’t the time to talk about personal accomplishments that only affected you as a person, but rather, a time that you as a leader were able to influence others.

The best structure for this essay is the SOAR structure: Situation, Obstacle, Action, and Result. Situation tells the reader what the circumstance was, what you were doing, and what needed to happen. Obstacle shows why that thing you needed to achieve wasn’t easy to achieve. In other words, why can’t everyone do what you did? The “action” section speaks to how you went about solving the problem. This should be the meat of your essay; we want to hear about the how because how you did things says a lot more about you than what you needed to do. The “how” will show what type of leader you are, how you treat others, and how you go about accomplishing a task. They are most interested in what you did and what your thought process was along the way. So focus your energies on describing how you analyzed the situation, what you said, what you felt, and what actions you took to arrive at a solution. Lastly, mention results. It is important to show what came of your endeavors because MIT is results oriented. They don’t just want to see how you went about solving something; they also want to know to what extent you ended up solving it.

Don’t try to answer this question in a roundabout way. MIT is unique in that they have no implicit agenda. What you see is what you’re asked. That should give you a sigh of relief. Now you know that if they ask for something, give them that something.

Check out our MIT Sloan page for more application info, or set up a free MBA admissions consultation, and let Ivy help boost your application.