The failure essay in MBA applications tests your ability to learn from mistakes, your willingness to recognize your errors (humility) and your analytical capacities (understanding your mistakes). This ability to learn from your mistakes is one of the essential qualities of leadership.
What the Admission Committee is looking for here is not to judge the seriousness of a failure, but rather to evaluate the ability of the candidate to analyze and learn from his/her mistakes.
At first, this essay seems difficult to write as applicants tend to believe that writing about a failure will affect their application in a negative way. Please be assured that that all your competitors confront the same question.
The essay will become easier for the candidate if he/she approaches the topic with honesty and highlight in the analysis and lessons that he/she was able to draw upon from his/her failure. Use as much effort as possible to produce a good essay that leaves a good impression on the reader.
One mistake absolutely not to be committed is to try to highlight the reason for the downfall or to describe a near-defeat situation on to some external factor; otherwise, the committee will have difficulty in understanding why the applicant has never experienced a situation of real personal defeat in his/her entire life.
Tips for the essay:
Responding well to this question involves a description of an error and an explanation. Some candidates attach too much importance to the description and not enough to their explanation. Be careful then to follow the guidelines given here.
It is appropriate to explain what you learned from a particular circumstance but more importantly to discuss what were the general lessons that you were able to use later on in other situations. For example, the essay below describes a situation where the candidate could not continue her dance lessons because she could not find time in her professional life. The lesson she received from this was not the importance of taking dance lessons, but rather the importance of planning her efforts to arrive at her goals, even when these goals seem easily attainable.
Last but not the least, be genuine. Talk about a situation in which you really did make a mistake. You should be aware that failures are valued by the business schools. Successful people reflect about their shortcomings. They can sometimes even boast about the ways in which a mistake permitted them to advance even further in their professional career.
Avoid stating failures which aren’t really failures (an example would be: I really wish I hadn’t been ranked 24th in my school!). The essay below is a good example because one has the sense that the author really is being frank and that she has learnt a lot of important things so she can now achieve more difficult goals.
I have been a keen classical dancer since I was five years old. Throughout my school years, I had easy access to teachers, practice rooms and a schedule that had openings in it for such activities as dance practice. My years at University also left me with time during the week to carry on (though not so regularly) with dance lessons and practice. Where I feel I have failed is that since entering professional life, I have not found time to continue dance lessons and get down to some serious practice. I believe I did not manage these years for one main reason: I did not make time, I let day to day routine prevent me from doing things that really mattered to me even though I knew I would regret it – and I know today, that even though I have started to get organized again, I will not be able to make up for the time lost.
This has led me to think on the matter and has taught me a fundamental principle on life: define priorities, place them in an hierarchy, and once this order of importance is clear, do what you have to do to keep to your choice. What I did, was define the importance but not follow it up. I did not get a hold on my time and it has shown me that it is too easy and very dangerous to just let things go on in life and gently float along with the tide. This leads to one missing out on many things, some of which may be important or even fundamental. The real lesson is that one should always try and shape one’s destiny, and take matters into one’s own hands. Now I am much more organized in my schedules, learnt to delegate or outsource work that I don’t absolutely need to do and I am able to concentrate more on things that matter more to me and on things that