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Lesson Eight: Ethical Dilemma


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Why MBA?
Contribution and Diversity
Accomplishments
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Failure
Ethical Dilemma
Getting Personal
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Transfer Essays

Ethical Dilemma

To recognize that effective managers are able to learn from failure, describe a failure that you have experienced. What did you learn from the experience? (Harvard)

Any applicant who tries to claim or assert perfection on the application would, at best, be treated as a joke. No one is perfect, and no admissions committee expects perfection. Yet, more than any other question, this one strikes fear into the hearts of applicants. However, answering this question does not need to be difficult. You must get past the biggest hurdle -- your own reticence.

Failure often results from good intentions and admirable qualities such as initiative, leadership, and risk taking. Take advantage of the fact that failure will sometimes result from our best qualities. Any leader who has tried to forge a new path has made a mistake somewhere along the way. If you are honest and forthright about the mistake you made, people will remember the intention over the result. Besides, the committee is not interested in judging you on your mistake, they simply want to know how you dealt with it. The only real way to flunk this question is to dodge it. If you choose a trite or irrelevant topic, the committee will either question your honesty and your maturity or doubt your ability to lead, take risks, and think outside the box. If you can't admit failure, you probably can't see it coming, or so they think.

If you are having trouble choosing a situation, consider the following guidelines:

1. Choose something that has happened recently. Delving too far into your past is an obvious cop-out.

2. Do not limit yourself to professional failures, but do not shy away from them either. Admissions committees are aware of the risk inherent in choosing job failures and will give you points for being forthright. Athletic failures are trite.

3. Do not choose anything overly dramatic or that would call your morals into question. The reader should be able to relate to your failure, not be shocked by it.

If you cannot clearly state what you learned from the incident or the actions that you took to amend it, then pick something else. When you are writing, take a simple, straightforward, objective tone. Do not try to excuse your actions. Let your story speak for itself. Keep your essay as concise as possible.

SAMPLE ESSAY:

Note: This essay appears unedited for instructional purposes. Essays edited by EssayEdge are substantially improved. For samples of EssayEdge editing, please visit EssayEdge.com.

Describe an ethical dilemma you experienced firsthand. How did you manage and resolve the situation?

Example Of What Not To Do. This is a poor answer to this question.

In April 1995,[company] had been repeatedly contacted by the management team of a factory in [city], who presented their company as a potential [deal] prospect. However, our prior investigations had classified the company as an also-ran, without great potential for improvement. We reasoned that a visit would be a waste of time and served no viable business purpose, but wondered: why not utilize this opportunity to wring industry information out of the factory? Afterwards, we could simply state our lack of interest with no loss on [company]'s part except travel expenses. Looking back, I recognized the dishonesty inherent in my team's motives, but rationalized that the cover of being interested in the factory was a professional necessity. In any case, no one would be hurt, or so we surmised.

Most of the visit went smoothly; under the guise of interested investors, we toured the factory and interviewed management, laying the groundwork for negotiations that I knew would never occur. The factory manager was extremely responsive in providing answers and was a gracious host, toasting us with eloquent speeches at dinner. Afterwards, as we prepared to return to our hotel to arrange the next day's travel, he surprised us by announcing a special post-dinner presentation. Following a short car ride down a deserted dirt road, we were brought to a ominous, isolated building and led inside. As we walked through the door, I recall nervously questioning what we were doing there and wondering if the factory had somehow learned of our true disinterested nature.

The first thing I noticed inside the building were the five hundred men, women and children in the room standing and applauding us; we were led to the seats nearest to the stage. Immediately, a group of young girls, perhaps ten years old, shuffled onto the stage and began to chime "song 1" and "song 2" in broken, but perfectly understandable English. The program on the table in front of me detailed a list of art demonstrations, comedy routines, and musical/dance exhibitions which were to be performed by troupes of workers and their families. The two-hour show displayed a great deal of time and effort and was truly one of the most special, and painful, memories from my time in [country].

I remember my ensuing letter of rejection to the factory with a sense of regret. I wish I could say I managed this dilemma well, but I realize that I failed to account for the fact that [country] factories are more social, educational and vocational unit than workplace. By not giving thought to the consequences of our actions, my team had caused wasted effort and dashed hopes. Through this, I have learned a valuable lesson on integrating business and ethics, and have vowed to utilize this insight into all of the decisions I make.

 

From ESSAYS THAT WILL GET YOU INTO BUSINESS SCHOOL, by Amy Burnham, Daniel Kaufman, and Chris Dowhan.  Copyright 1998 by Dan Kaufman.  Reprinted by arrangement with Barron's Educational Series, Inc.

 


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