As the government begins its crackdown on essay mill websites, it’s easy to see just how much pressure students are under to get top grades for their coursework these days. But writing a high-scoring paper doesn’t need to be complicated. We spoke to experts to get some simple techniques that will raise your writing game.
Tim Squirrell is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, and is teaching for the first time this year. When he was asked to deliver sessions on the art of essay-writing, he decided to publish a comprehensive (and brilliant) blog on the topic, offering wisdom gleaned from turning out two or three essays a week for his own undergraduate degree.
“There is a knack to it,” he says. “It took me until my second or third year at Cambridge to work it out. No one tells you how to put together an argument and push yourself from a 60 to a 70, but once you to get grips with how you’re meant to construct them, it’s simple.”
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The goal of writing any essay is to show that you can think critically about the material at hand (whatever it may be). This means going beyond regurgitating what you’ve read; if you’re just repeating other people’s arguments, you’re never going to trouble the upper end of the marking scale.
“You need to be using your higher cognitive abilities,” says Bryan Greetham, author of the bestselling How to Write Better Essays. “You’re not just showing understanding and recall, but analysing and synthesising ideas from different sources, then critically evaluating them. That’s where the marks lie.”
But what does critical evaluation actually look like? According to Squirrell, it’s simple: you need to “poke holes” in the texts you’re exploring and work out the ways in which “the authors aren’t perfect”.
“That can be an intimidating idea,” he says. “You’re reading something that someone has probably spent their career studying, so how can you, as an undergraduate, critique it?
“The answer is that you’re not going to discover some gaping flaw in Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume 3, but you are going to be able to say: ‘There are issues with these certain accounts, here is how you might resolve those’. That’s the difference between a 60-something essay and a 70-something essay.”
Critique your own arguments
Once you’ve cast a critical eye over the texts, you should turn it back on your own arguments. This may feel like going against the grain of what you’ve learned about writing academic essays, but it’s the key to drawing out developed points.
“We’re taught at an early age to present both sides of the argument,” Squirrell continues. “Then you get to university and you’re told to present one side of the argument and sustain it throughout the piece. But that’s not quite it: you need to figure out what the strongest objections to your own argument would be. Write them and try to respond to them, so you become aware of flaws in your reasoning. Every argument has its limits and if you can try and explore those, the markers will often reward that.”
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Fine, use Wikipedia then
The use of Wikipedia for research is a controversial topic among academics, with many advising their students to stay away from the site altogether.
“I genuinely disagree,” says Squirrell. “Those on the other side say that you can’t know who has written it, what they had in mind, what their biases are. But if you’re just trying to get a handle on a subject, or you want to find a scattering of secondary sources, it can be quite useful. I would only recommend it as either a primer or a last resort, but it does have its place.”
Focus your reading
Reading lists can be a hindrance as well as a help. They should be your first port of call for guidance, but they aren’t to-do lists. A book may be listed, but that doesn’t mean you need to absorb the whole thing.
Squirrell advises reading the introduction and conclusion and a relevant chapter but no more. “Otherwise you won’t actually get anything out of it because you’re trying to plough your way through a 300-page monograph,” he says.
You also need to store the information you’re gathering in a helpful, systematic way. Bryan Greetham recommends a digital update of his old-school “project box” approach.
“I have a box to catch all of those small things – a figure, a quotation, something interesting someone says – I’ll write them down and put them in the box so I don’t lose them. Then when I come to write, I have all of my material.”
There are a plenty of online offerings to help with this, such as the project management app Scrivener and referencing tool Zotero, and, for the procrastinators, there are productivity programmes like Self Control, which allow users to block certain websites from their computers for a set period.
Essays for sale: the booming online industry in writing academic work to order
Look beyond the reading list
“This is comparatively easy to do,” says Squirrell. “Look at the citations used in the text, put them in Google Scholar, read the abstracts and decide whether they’re worth reading. Then you can look on Google Scholar at other papers that have cited the work you’re writing about – some of those will be useful. But quality matters more than quantity.”
And finally, the introduction
The old trick of dealing with your introduction last is common knowledge, but it seems few have really mastered the art of writing an effective opener.
“Introductions are the easiest things in the world to get right and nobody does it properly,” Squirrel says. “It should be ‘Here is the argument I am going to make, I am going to substantiate this with three or four strands of argumentation, drawing upon these theorists, who say these things, and I will conclude with some thoughts on this area and how it might clarify our understanding of this phenomenon.’ You should be able to encapsulate it in 100 words or so. That’s literally it.”
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Chris, Berkeley Haas MBA
June 01, 2015 | Testimonials | shine | 0 Comment
I chose to work with Shine knowing that personal attention would be crucial to my success in the application process. From day one, Hillary went out of her way to really get to know my story, goals and aspirations. Her persistence in pushing me one step further on each resume and essay revision undoubtedly helped me achieve a cohesive and stellar application. Today, long after the application process has been completed, Hillary remains in close touch, a testament to her personal commitment to each and every person that she works with. -Chris (Denver, CO)
MBA Application Planning Timeline: 2015-2016
March 02, 2015 | Blog | shine | 0 Comment
Planning to apply to business school this fall? Though it’ll still be a few months before applications are released, there's plenty you can do now to get ahead of the curve and reduce your stress when crunch time approaches. 6 Months Before the Deadline If you still need to take (or retake) the GMAT or GRE, now is a great time. Not only can you give it your undivided attention but you also give yourself wiggle room should you need to take the exam again. If you’re lacking in certain aspects of your undergraduate profile (limited quantitative experience, poor grades in business courses), you could also use this time to ace a local or online course in finance, statistics, or accounting. It’s never to late to show the admissions committee that you can handle the academic rigors of the program. Additionally, this is a good time to reflect upon your leadership experience. If you fall short, find or create ways to take on more responsibility. Propose improving an area of your organization that is in need. Step up to be the captain of your recrational soccer team. If your personal passions have been pushed by the wayside, reconnect with them. Volunteer at the animal shelter. ...
Max, Emory Goizueta MBA
March 23, 2014 | Testimonials | shine | 0 Comment
I would recommend Shine to anyone, especially any former military officers looking to transition to business school. Hillary was crucial in helping me quantify my military service in way that admissions committees would understand. Her resume help was outstanding, and her help with essay writing and interview prep were essential to my application process. She always made time when I needed her, and was a great sounding board for me during some of the more anxious times of the process. Shine admissions is absolutely worth the investment. - Max (Colorado Springs, CO)
Katrina, Purdue Krannert MBA
April 09, 2014 | Testimonials | shine | 0 Comment
Coming into the application process, I felt like I was drowning—I was unsure of what to do and how to go about doing it since I was starting late. I knew I was a challenging applicant coming from a non-traditional work background with less than two years work experience. After reaching out to Shine, Hillary became my lifesaver. She helped me understand how the process worked, what to do, and navigated me every step of the way. She knew exactly how to showcase my strengths while turning my weaknesses into great discussion points. She was always reachable and willing to work around my short timetable. Beyond that though, she is very personable and works hard to understand who you are and what your desires are. She knew exactly what business schools are looking for in resumes, essays, and interviews and how to present my points in a direct, concise manner. Without her guidance, I honestly do not think I could have gotten as great of a turnout. Hillary’s support helped me garner interviews with all five schools I applied to and admission to three of them! - Katrina (San Jose, CA)
Andrew, Columbia MBA
April 04, 2014 | Testimonials | shine | 0 Comment
Hillary was my chief editor and partner for my entire MBA application process. She was always extremely happy to help throughout my year-long journey. From deciding where to apply, how to go about visiting schools and speaking to admissions, to the big-ticket items like writing my essays and prepping for interviews, she was there every step of the way. She differentiated herself from peers and mentors by knowing how the admissions teams think, and getting into the weeds working with my essays, and thinking about how to best craft my story. The thing Hillary really does best is not change an applicant's resume, life story, etc. (these things would be impossible), but highlight the best possible version of the applicant for admissions to see. There are auxiliary benefits to working with her as well; I believe my writing improved markedly after working with her on my MBA essays. Looking back to how much my application strategy changed after seeking her advice, I honestly don’t think I would’ve been admitted without her. - Andrew (New York, NY)
Amy, Dartmouth Tuck MBA
April 04, 2014 | Testimonials | shine | 0 Comment
Hillary was exactly what I was looking for in a consultant. As someone who was feeling discouraged by a previous GMAT attempt and unsure of my overall odds of getting into a top school, I cherished the honest yet positive input that Hillary brought into the mix. She was the one person who I felt was with me throughout the entire application process, from revamping my resume to editing essays and interview prep. She had an extremely effective way of pinpointing my relevant strengths and advising me on the best way to showcase them within my essays and applications overall. I truly feel that Hillary allowed me to put my best foot forward at every step along the way and I cannot imagine what it would have been like to try to apply to business schools without her help. Through the ups and downs of this crazy process, Hillary was my voice of reason and the first person I wanted to call with good news! - Amy (San Francisco, CA)
Katie, Northwestern Kellogg MBA
April 02, 2014 | Testimonials | shine | 0 Comment
The team at Shine was integral to my admission offer to my dream program at Kellogg. I came to Shine after retaking the GMAT, but still feeling insecure about my competitive position. Coming from an non-traditional background with 10+ years of work experience I wasn’t sure how schools would consider my application. Hillary helped me to organize my application as a package that brought out my strengths in areas I considered weaknesses. She also encouraged me to look to schools that I had considered out of my reach, such as Kellogg. Tactically, the resume review and editing services were extremely helpful and the essay brainstorming and editing process was critical to my success. When I got off the phone from the Admissions Officer at Kellogg after receiving my offer of admission, the first and only thing I could think to do was text Hillary to say “Holy s*$^! I got in to Kellogg!!!” - Katie (Denver, CO)
Emily, Harvard MBA
March 06, 2014 | Testimonials | shine | 0 Comment
I highly recommend Shine to anyone who is applying to business school. At Shine, you’ll work exclusively with the company’s founder, Hillary Schubach, whose insight into MBA admissions process is unparalleled. Hillary not only improved my resume immeasurably, but also provided thoughtful, school-specific feedback on each of my essays. Hillary’s guidance throughout the process made me a much stronger applicant than I otherwise would have been, and I’m incredibly appreciative for all her help! - Emily (New York, NY)
Branding yourself for business school applications
July 24, 2013 | Blog | Chris | 0 Comment
We believe that the MBA admissions process is inherently a marketing exercise. This does not mean “spinning your story” to impress the admissions committee or telling them what you think they want to hear. It means, presenting your authentic self in the best light possible. It means taking a premium product (YOU) and wrapping it in beautiful packaging, showing off your true colors inside, then adding a well-written label that lets your personality shine through, so that you stand out from all of the others. And as any good marketer knows, the key to marketing success is a solid brand foundation. It’s impossible to market a brand effectively if you don’t know what it stands for. Similarly, before jumping into the application-writing process, it’s important that you understand your own personal brand and have the same sense of understanding about yourself. You may have heard the terms “brand identity” or “brand positioning statement.” Coming up with your personal brand is a very similar exercise. While there are a number of meaningful elements that comprise the branding process, we recommend that you focus on these 5, and you’ll be off to a running start: Vision ...
Insights from the 2013 MBA admissions conference
July 03, 2013 | Blog | Chris | 0 Comment
After attending our annual AIGAC MBA admissions conference in Philly—and tweeting up a storm—I stand before you armed with insights directly from the mouths of the admissions directors who’ll be reading your future applications. In attendance were Wharton, Columbia, Tuck, NYU Stern, Yale, Cornell Johnson, Texas McCombs, UNC and others—as well as representatives from GMAC, test prep companies big and small, and fellow AIGAC consultants deliberating the hot issues of today’s admissions process. Here are a few of the highlights: We first dissected AIGAC’s annual applicant survey results, administered by Huron Consulting Group and completed by this past year’s applicant pool. Among the takeaways: respondents spent 70-110 hours on their applications (plus another 21-30 hours on GMAT prep)! 50% scored a 700+ on the GMAT. And 57% used an admissions consultant last year—99% of whom would recommend that future applicants do the same. Of strong interest was the issue of candidates being asked to write their own recommendations—a definite admissions mistake. (Our recent post “Securing the strongest MBA recommendations” tells you why, and offers our advice). 38% of survey respondents faced this very ethical dilemma last year. Be on the lookout for ...
Resources for MBA applicants
February 06, 2013 | Blog | Chris | 0 Comment
In addition to the insights that we provide through our blog, speaking engagements, and 1x1 MBA admissions consulting services, each year we always like to take stock of the additional resources that our clients found valuable in preparing their applications. Whether you’re focused on nailing your GMAT or preparing for that final interview, here are some of our clients’ personal recommendations for future MBA candidates: GMAT Preparation Kaplan Manhattan GMAT Veritas Prep Princeton Review "The Official Guide to GMAT Review," by GMAC Beat The GMAT blog Admissions/School Insights Shine blog (Illuminations) School websites, admissions office blogs, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, campus visits “How To Get Into The Top MBA Programs” by Richard Montauk “65 Successful Harvard Business School Application Essays,” by Dan Erck Beat The GMAT blog Business Week MBA articles GMAT Club “Calling All Applicants” threads Clear Admit blog Admissionado (formerly Precision Essay) newsletter MBAadmission.com blog Alumni/Student Conversations School admissions offices LinkedIn Interview Prep Shine blog (Illuminations) Clear Admit interview reports [For more information about preparatory resources or general MBA admissions consulting, please contact: ...
Mike, Dartmouth Tuck MBA
January 30, 2013 | Testimonials | Chris | 0 Comment
Hillary is an extremely talented, honest, creative, and caring person. Through the homework exercise and in-person meetings, she truly got to know who I am as a person, which made a huge impact when she reviewed my essays and resume. Instead of just proofreading and watching the word count, Hillary helped me get the best out of my stories and experiences and helped me to put my best foot forward in the admissions process. Whenever I had questions about any aspect of the application process, she was always quick to respond and made me feel like I was her only client. I am so thankful to have worked with Hillary, and I will be attending my first choice, Tuck, next year. For anyone applying to any MBA program, I would strongly recommend working with Shine. - Mike (New York, NY)
Gratitude during the MBA admissions process
November 21, 2012 | Blog | Chris | 0 Comment
With Thanksgiving upon us, this seems a perfect time to think about all of the people who have helped you in the MBA admissions process thus far. Very often, in the throes of essay writing and interview prep, we get lost in your own heads. We’re sleep-deprived, focused on our own deliverables, balancing full-time jobs on top of it all. Perhaps we’ve even felt the heartbreak of receiving disappointing news from one of our dream schools. We’re likely not thinking about too many other people right now. However, it’s never too early, or too late, to show your appreciation to those who have given their time and support to you through the admissions process. First and foremost, your recommenders. They’ve spent hours upon hours hearing your story, preparing their write-ups, glowing about you, and doing everything within their power to help you get accepted to business school. Secondly, your friends and family. The ones who’ve diligently proofread your essays, encouraged you to aim high, listened to you complain, and missed spending time with you as you holed up with your computer. Thirdly, all of the alumni, students, and faculty members you may ...
I’ve submitted my round one MBA applications, now what?
October 24, 2012 | Blog | Chris | 0 Comment
Congratulations! If you’re one of the motivated few to get your business school applications in early, you may be wondering what to do with yourself next. Here are a few suggestions: Apply to 2nd round schools You’ve already got great momentum from all of your hard work in the 1st round; why not continue moving forward? Worst case scenario, you develop an additional set of applications and end up with the fantastic news that you’ve “wasted your time” because you were accepted to your 1st round schools. Best case scenario, you use these next few months wisely to write outstanding applications and create options for yourself--rather than scrambling at the last minute, if 1st round decisions don’t go your way. Prepare for interviews You may not know yet whether you have been invited to interview at your 1st round schools, but once you are, those interview dates come up quickly. A great use of your time would be to begin preparing your responses to the long list of commonly-asked questions—which can be found through independent research or by working with an MBA admissions consultant. Mock interviews are also great confidence-builders, whether conducted ...
Mastering part one of your MBA application
October 03, 2012 | Blog | Chris | 0 Comment
Did you finally finish writing your business school essays--excited that you were at the “end” of your MBA application--only to discover that Part One was actually chock full of enough short-answer questions and mini-essays to put you into a deep depression. Fortunately, you discovered this before the day your application was due. And fortunately you had enough guidance to do yourself justice on this portion of the application, rather than detract from the value of the beautiful set of essays you’d just poured your heart into creating for Part Two. Here are a few tips to make Part One of your application as strong as possible: Characters vs. Words First the basics: follow the instructions. We’ve seen plenty of people share with us their 250 word answers to a question calling for 250 characters. Read the question carefully. Determine whether “characters” includes or excludes spaces. Test your theory by filling the data form with Xs, cutting and pasting it onto a MS Word document, and then running your character counter. Resume Redundancy If you’ve already done an outstanding job with your resume, there’s no reason that you can’t repeat the same language ...
Networking and the MBA admissions process
September 26, 2012 | Blog | Chris | 0 Comment
Does networking with the staff, students or alumni of your target business schools help you in the admissions process? The answer is, it depends why you’re networking. If you’re interested in meeting school affiliates to help sway the admissions committee, you’re likely wasting your time. Derrick Bolton, assistant dean and director of Stanford GSB Admissions, has indicated that those types of unofficial recommendations really hold no weight. Given the many thousands of alumni they have, if every one of them reached out to the admissions office to “put in a good word” for a candidate… Let’s just say we wouldn’t encourage the practice. So how can networking with members of the school community benefit you? By giving you insight and information that you can use in your application. What better way to understand the culture of an MBA program than to talk with its current students. If you’re interested in a professional club on campus, its president would be a great resource to help you understand the type of programming the club offers and the ways you could get involved. Talking with local alumni can give you a great sense of a school’s ...
Your essay is terrible
September 13, 2012 | Blog | Chris | 0 Comment
There I’ve said it. You’re trying to get off too easy with your choice of essay topics. Be careful not to underestimate the caliber of your competition. They’re using every inch of essay real estate to sell themselves and fight for their precious spots in the class. They’re showing themselves as future leaders, future managers, people who inspire change, who impact their organizations, and who initiate new ways of doing and thinking. They step up when the opportunity calls, they persuade others, they get chosen as team captains. They excel above and beyond their peers. What are you writing about? Something you wish had gone differently (passive)…or a time when you screwed up and can own it--and have learned from it since (active)? General impressions of your experiences (nice)…or a vivid story about a specific example that has impacted you well beyond that moment in time (meaningful)? Here are a few indicators that your essay might be terrible: A failure that isn’t really a failure Missed opportunities are less compelling than admitting a true error in judgment. Consider picking a single story as your example. Explain what you did and why, show ...
Developing an MBA application with impact
August 14, 2012 | Blog | Chris | 0 Comment
Essays get the lion’s share of the attention when it comes to business school applications. They're the scariest beast to tackle, and they take the most time. You might even believe that they hold the most weight, though they actually do not. An MBA application is truly a package deal: resume, data form, essays, recommendations, transcripts, test scores, interviews—the admissions committee has it all in front of them, and it all matters. Your grand vision should be the combined impact of all of those items, not just the essays. With plenty of blog posts to choose from about writing strong essays, here are a few thoughts on the rest of the application: Resume First, the resume. Take the time to make it the strongest possible reflection of all of your professional and academic accomplishments. Use this opportunity to highlight your extracurricular activities, community involvement, certifications and memberships, special skills, and even your personal interests. Feel free to read our earlier blog post on what makes a strong MBA resume. The point is, you’ve got valuable real estate in the resume to communicate items that you can’t otherwise fit into your ...
Overcoming MBA essay writer’s block
July 31, 2012 | Blog | Chris | 0 Comment
It’s time to start outlining your business school essays, and your mind is a blank. What do I wish I had done better? What matters most to me and why? What has fundamentally transformed the way I think? Where should you begin? Here are a few tips to jumpstart your writer’s engine and get those creative juices flowing: Ask your friends and family Get the input of people close to you. What is their perception of what makes you tick? How would they describe your values, attributes, and opportunities for improvement? What are you doing when they see your eyes light up the most? You’d be surprised how an outsider’s input can inspire a seedling of an idea that ultimately blossoms into your best essay. Find creative inspiration Go to the local book store and flip through one of those “essays that worked for the top business schools” books. There are plenty of them. You might be moved by the unique approaches others have taken to an otherwise straight-forward question. Think outside the box. There’s no rule that says your essays should be conservative (and dare I say boring) in tone. The admissions committee loves ...
How to get into the top business schools from China
June 20, 2012 | Blog | Chris | 0 Comment
As applications to the top business schools in the US continue to increase from China, schools are forced to make difficult admissions decisions amidst this highly competitive applicant pool. Here are four tips for Chinese applicants to ensure excellence in the application process and differentiate yourselves from others. Brand yourself Many applicants from China are academically qualified for the top schools and offer high GPAs, GMAT, and TOEFL scores. The key for the Chinese applicant is to differentiate yourself by all of the unique experiences you bring to the table: professional, extracurricular, and personal. Share your passions, hobbies and activities. Let them see your special skills and strengths. Show off your personality, creativity and distinguishing attributes. Find your personal brand, know your differentiation from others, and let it shine through in your essays. Showcase your experience Because test scores are so elevated among Chinese applicants, the admissions committees also will be eager to learn the details of your work experiences and how you uniquely excelled in those roles. For both your resume and your essays, take great care to think through each position you’ve held (professional or otherwise!) and highlight your ownable accomplishments, ...
Tim, NYU Stern MBA
June 01, 2012 | Testimonials | Chris | 0 Comment
Hillary was a great help guiding me through the stressful MBA admissions process. She helped me with each step, from school selection to framing my experiences into essays to the interview process. Her knowledgeable advice helped me feel more confident throughout. Most importantly, I got into my top choice NYU, among other top-tier schools like Chicago Booth and Yale! - Tim (Brooklyn, NY)
The Months Before Applying To Business School
May 01, 2012 | Blog | Chris | 0 Comment
So, you are planning to apply to business school this fall. Anxiously, you’re awaiting the release of the essay questions you’ll have to answer, possibly studying for the GMAT as we speak, and likely feeling a bit hopeless that there isn’t more you can do NOW. The good news is, there is. If you make the most of this waiting period over the next few months, you’ll not only be ahead of the game, you may strengthen your candidacy as well. Resume There’s no need to wait to update your resume. Certainly leave room underneath your current position for additional updates, but your past positions won’t be changing. Take the time now to think through all of your professional accomplishments, roles and responsibilities. Remind yourself of all of your community and leadership positions, your hobbies and personal interests, your activities and committees. It’s actually the ideal way to kick off the brainstorming needed for your applications. Recommenders Identify your target recommenders and approach them now to ask them if they’d be willing to write your recommendations. Look at past applications to familiarize yourself with the types of questions asked, ...
Writing Like a Future MBA
September 05, 2011 | Blog | Chris | 0 Comment
When you think of common business school application mistakes, I’ll bet some of the famed horror stories come to mind: the wrong-school typo, the too-personal essay topic, the inappropriate Facebook photo… What about writing ability? Not the baseline question of whether you can put an English sentence together—but the little things. The ones that aren’t deal breakers in and of themselves, but that pick away at the reader’s nerves. Things that distract the reader from the points you’re trying to make, and that make the experience of reading your application a less pleasant one than it could have been. And without meaning to, that slowly but surely begin to separate a weaker writer from other candidates in contention Before you finalize your resume or get too deep into essay writing, I wanted to share some of the more common writing-related issues I see on candidates’ applications year after year. May these suggestions help you to come out of the gate with your best foot forward: Active voice Always use active voice (“I did X”) rather than passive voice (“X happened to me”). Take credit for the choices you’ve made—particularly when they generated a ...
The Road To Be Traveled
October 25, 2010 | Blog | Chris | 1 Comment
The dreaded “career essay" What are your career aspirations and why? Why do you want your MBA (at our school)? It’s causing you angst to no end. Of course you don’t know 100% what you’re going to do after you graduate. Even if you think you do, you probably don’t. There’s a whole professional world out there to explore...isn’t that part of why you’re going to business school? Let me take the pressure off you: the admissions committee knows this too. And the good news is, no one will ever withhold your diploma in the end--cross-referencing your career plans with your application essays, making sure you stuck to your plan. Unfortunately though, in the admissions process, there’s nothing less attractive than someone who doesn’t have a clear sense of direction. “Soul searchers” are sadly not a recognized attribute of future business leaders. So, you just need to take a leap of faith based on everything you know today—and make the best case for your chance to explore tomorrow at the schools of your choice. Where to start Think down the road, maybe 7-10 years. Whose role could ...
What To Write About
September 10, 2010 | Blog | Chris | 0 Comment
For my first ever blog entry (which I'd been putting off because I didn't know what to write about), I thought it only fitting to write about...what to write about. It's the concern I've heard most this week from the business school candidates I work with privately. "I can't think of any good leadership examples!" "I don't have any time outside of work for extracurriculars!" "I can't think of a time when I really, well, failed." Let it come I conduct a number of speaking engagements, and I often begin my presentation with a section entitled: First and foremost... Slide #1 then goes a little something like this: BREATHE. It may not be hilarity, but it's one of the best pieces of advice I can offer. A creative mind needs some breathing room - and the best ideas likely won't come while staring stressfully at your computer screen. Plant some seeds and sit with them for a while. Carry a small pad with you and capture ideas while you're driving to work, out walking the dog, or laying at the pool. Pick your mom's brain while cleaning up dishes after family dinner. ...