While business school interview processes revolve primarily around WAT-PIs and Group Discussions, one component of the process that is often neglected by MBA aspirants is the Statement of Purpose (SOP). The SOP, which is a requirement for many b-school interview processes, is essentially a summary of yourself and your decisions that lets the admissions team know you better. So what is the right way to structure an impressive Statement of Purpose? What are some major dos and don'ts in SOP writing? In this article, an IIM alumna explains what it takes to create the perfect Statement of Purpose!
The daunting part about writing Statement of Purpose for B-School applications is that they tend to force candidates to think about why they wanted to take up an MBA course in the first place. CAT as an exam takes up quite a large amount of candidates’ mind-space that they lose sight of what is their personal reason to take this decision. This is why it is alright to take a good 3 hours to just think about everything that led to that point and pen it down yourself. There is every possibility of overthinking the points you decide to put down initially with the assumptions you make about your chances to get into the institution, but this is a necessary part of the journey that you cannot delegate to someone, but you can definitely use the help of a mentor or someone who has just been in the same position. I say this because this SOP will help you convey your story with conviction when the time comes to speak about it in interviews.
The following are the things I kept in mind while writing my Statement of Purpose after CAT’16 but are still relevant for the SOPs most B-Schools like FMS, IIM Bangalore, NMIMS, etc.
Introduction Is Everything. It Can Make Or Break Your Statement Of Purpose!
This is the place you provide the initial hook for the reader to read further. It is generally advisable to leave a concise impression in the introduction. It is not uncommon to start with a quote or phrase. However, care needs to be taken to give the due credit, and that it doesn’t take up too many words. Since it is the hook on which the rest of the SOP will flow, keep in mind that you briefly touch on what you stand for as an individual. This would help the selection panel to categorise you better, given the number of applications they are bound to receive. It is not wise to exactly mention a point from your CV, since you will submit that anyway. This should not exceed two sentences.
There's no escaping this question. Despite looking quite innocent and predictable, this is the toughest question you will face in the interview. It also happens to be the most important part of your SOP. Reasons such as seeking the opportunity to network, learn from the best minds, frustration with the current job and quick financial growth are very common reasons. They may be supporting factors, but quite often a story that is narrated and comes from some personal or professional experience is more convincing. This could easily take two to three sentences. Here are a few examples of what you can do to answer this question -
Why did you choose the particular institute?
A conventional part of any Statement Of Purpose, this point needs to be aligned with the core values of the institute (which you can find from the website and social media pages or press releases) and maybe the specialisation it is known for. It is alright if it becomes a little predictable as you conclude this point, since there are comparatively limited responses to this question. It is generally clubbed with other points such as your long and short term goals. Include: How can the b-school help you in your career growth? Why should they select you? What value do you bring to the institution?
Read this to know what makes different institutions special: 10 Things That Make IIM Lucknow, IIM Kozhikode, IIM Indore, IIM Shillong, XLRI, FMS, IIFT, IMT, SCMHRD, & NITIE Special
Your Ambition And Career Goals
These include a brief description of where you see yourself 5 and 10 years from graduation. These two to three sentences should trace your motivation to achieve the same, and how the institute can help you get there. It would be favourable to mention your existing skill sets from your past experiences to solidify your point, whether that is your academic consistency or professional experience. It would also be advisable to let it be known that you are aware and focussed regarding the specialisation you want to take up. Points to cover: What are your goals? Your 5-year-plan and 10-year plan.
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Adopt A Narrative Style
Be careful not to use too many complex words to convey a point, since it only indicates a lack of clarity from your side. The word limit has to be strictly adhered to. While a good Statement of Purpose needs to cover all the above points, each point needs to flow from one to the other naturally. I would reiterate the fact that the SOP needs to reflect that you have a story behind your decision to pursue an MBA for it to be truly effective, hence the narration should be consistent with that idea throughout. For instance, if you are aspiring to make a career in Finance, it would be a good idea to hint at where the passion started from, how you nurtured it and what would help you succeed further. Don't be cliched. Don't be loquacious. Don't be condescending. Don't be repetitive.
Some General Dos And Don'ts
- While it's not unusual to start with a quote, don't go overboard with it. Statement of Purpose should reflect you and not someone else entirely.
- Don't sound pretentious in your SOP. The point is to make an impression, not a bad one. Don't use unusual words just to sound fancy. The SOP needs to be simple and to the point.
- Don't be polarising in your opinion. Any strong negative statements should be avoided.
- Consider making a structure for your SOP before you begin!
- Don't forget the word limit and get someone to review it once you are done. Also, remember that the first time you write it, it is just a draft - write, edit, re-write till it's worthy of sending it across.
You can also share your SOPs here on our Community Section and experts and b-schools students can help you review it.
In the event that you find it difficult to begin the SOP, you could jot down few top of the mind answers to the above five points and then go from there to build the rest of the SOP. Before submitting, it might be a good idea to have someone review the SOP, to understanding a fresh point of view, test if the narrative works as you intended it and to avoid very basic spelling mistakes that you tend to overlook while reading and re-reading the same passage.
This article has been edited on 15th November 2019 at 10:10 pm