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Developing a Personal Inventory

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Welcome back to our 10-part series, in which we share an excerpt from the recently published book Becoming a Clear Admit: The Definitive Guide to MBA Admissions, with added commentary from its author, Alex Brown.

In this seventh part of the series, we look at the importance of developing a “personal inventory,” a document that you can then use for each of your applications.

Book Excerpt:

To develop and implement your application strategy, it will be helpful to create a working document that you can refer to throughout the admissions process. We will call this document a “personal inventory.”

Putting this document together should be an exercise of self-discovery. This requires a good deal of introspection. You should share this document with friends, and peers, to get feedback on how truly it reflects you in relation to your MBA aspirations.

Your “personal inventory” document should guide each of the applications you undertake.

Think of your application process as a marketing exercise. You are the product, and how you position yourself via your application is critical to your success in the marketplace. The schools to which you are applying are your target audiences. Target marketing means that you tailor your messages to each target market (school), adjusting your positioning based on your fit with each school and each school’s application questions, including its essay prompts.

Attributes and Themes

As a first stage to your personal inventory, identify two to three themes (independent of your plan) that capture who you are and highlight your most important experiences and accomplishments. Each theme should be a paragraph, and a positioning statement. Your themes will include your profile, your personality and your key experiences. Consider this your 30-second elevator pitch.


I am a UK citizen living in the United States. I work as a management consultant; I have worked in this industry for the last five years, expanding my client engagements across two industries: healthcare and real estate.

I have a passion for horses. I used to ride racehorses for a trainer in the mornings; I volunteer for an organization, CANTER, which helps transition retired racehorses from the racetrack to a second career.

I have an interest in the development of online communities, and how these communities can support philanthropic causes. I have helped establish a community for those interested in the topic of horse slaughter.

Your next step is to identify and list the most important experiences you have undertaken, whether from your professional or personal life. These should include leadership experiences, teamwork experiences, global experiences, entrepreneurial experiences, growth experiences, challenging experiences, an ethical dilemma, your greatest strengths, your greatest weaknesses and your greatest successes and failures. Identify the attributes and traits that each of these experiences showcases.

Finally, create headings for each of the five overarching attributes (intellectual capacity, effectiveness, ambition, passion and values) and list experiences that highlight and reinforce each.

Author’s Commentary:

The personal inventory exercise is designed to make sure candidates provide a truly holistic view of their candidacy to each of the schools to which they apply. It allows candidates to step back, really evaluate each of their experiences within the context of the attributes and traits they highlight and determine which experiences best tell their stories.

The exercise also ensures that candidates examine each of the schools they are applying to and pushes them to tailor each of their applications to the schools’ individual offerings and distinct mission statements. Candidates too seldom explore the missions of the schools they are targeting—but those mission statements reveal a lot about the character of candidates sought by the school to carry that mission forward in the long term.

Too often, candidates will simply focus on updating their résumés before starting in on the applications for each of their target schools. The personal inventory exercise is designed to remind you to take a step back; doing so will help ensure that your application is the best reflection of your candidacy. In fact, this is precisely the sort of exercise an admissions consultant might push you to complete as part of the application strategy development you pay him or her to help you with.