MBA Essay on Failure - How to write about my biggest failure
Updated on Oct 27, 2016 - 2:52 p.m. IST by Shivani Bhatt
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Along with diversity, goals and ethical dilemmas, MBA essays on past failures and shortcomings are often asked as part of the MBA application procedure. The MBA essays on failure are required by the Admissions Committee in order to gain insight into the maturity level of the applicant. The purpose of the MBA essay on failure can be essentially inferred from the following lines:


“No human ever became interesting by not failing. The more you fail and recover and improve, the better you are as a person. Ever meet someone who’s always had everything work out for them with zero struggle? They usually have the depth of a puddle. Or they don’t exist.”

– Chris Hardwick

Business schools routinely ask for essays based on questions and topics centered on past failures of the applicants. Some of the MBA essays on failure asked for from the top business schools include:

  • Columbia University: Please provide an example of a team failure of which you have been a part. If given a second chance, what would you do differently? (250 words maximum)
  • Judge Business School, University of Cambridge: What did you learn from your most spectacular failure? (200 words maximum)
  • INSEAD France: Describe the achievement of which you are most proud of and explain why. In addition, describe a situation where you failed. How did these experiences impact your relationships with others? Comment on what you learned (400 words maximum).

MBA essays on failure are often the most difficult essays to draft for the applicants. This is generally due to the difficulty that many applicants face in self-acknowledgment of past failures as well as the disclosure of failures which tends to be embarrassing at the least and egoistically harmful in many cases. It is a well-known fact that people find it hard to admit to their own failures and it is further a daunting task to share the details of such a failure with others. Writing an essay on failure is a way of acknowledging one's past mistakes and shortcomings and is a learning process in itself. It is from failures that candidates can learn how to progress in life, therefore, the MBA essay on failure does not limit itself to the incidence itself but is also inclusive of the candidate's reaction as well as knowledge gleaned in the face of the failure. The way that a candidate handles failure gives tremendous insight into his or her personality.

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MBA Essay on Failure: Approaching the Question

Taking the MBA essay question on failure from Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge into consideration, a spectacular failure is not simply a failure that acted a great shortcoming in your personal or professional life. Instead, a spectacular failure is one which gave the candidate the opportunity to learn the most from. The best way to approach such a question would be to list down one's most monumental failures along with what could be learned from each failure. Based on the revelations and insight presented by each failure, the candidate should select the most impactful failure while answering such an essay question. 


MBA Essay on Failure: Answering the Question

The MBA essay question on failure can be answered in a number of ways. The best way to prepare these essay answers is a three-step process which involves recounting one's failures, describing the reaction, followed by what the candidate learned from the entire incident. Depending on the focus of the question in consideration, a viable mixture of these three elements can make an excellent essay on failure.

  1. When a candidate is asked to describe or mention his or her biggest failure, it should be important to note that the question is asking for factual details pertaining to the failure in question. The candidate should mention the story or incident in simple yet non-juvenile words with minimal emotional influence. Additionally, it would be best to conclude with a line indicating why the candidate considers that incident to be his or her biggest or most noteworthy failure.

  2. The second part of the MBA essay on failure generally requires the candidate to describe the impact and effect that the failure had on the candidate. INSEAD's question on failure asks how the candidate's experiences impacted his or her relationships with others. The question thus wants applicants to delve into the impact that their actions had on others; whether there were any changes in perosnal and professional relationships as well as the adverse or otherwise impact on the candidate. 

  3. The crux of the MBA essay on failure is the learning that the candidate gleaned from the incident of failure. This includes something that the candidate may have learned about oneself, about another person or a general teaching which had a significant impact on the candidate's outlook from then on. Additionally, candidates should mention how they implemented this insightful information in other situations which followed the incident.

Stuck with your essays? Download MBA Application Essays Guide E-book.


Obstacles to writing the MBA essay on failure

Candidates often encounter a writer's block when sitting down to writing the MBA essay on failure. This can be countered by deciphering the point of difficulty that the candidate may be facing. Some of the reasons why an essay may not be turning out as the candidate wants it to be could be:

  1. Dishonesty: Honesty happens to be the key aspect of consideration while writing the MBA essay on failure. Not only must the candidate be honest with himself, but the words must also depict the failure in bare honesty which can be done with simple and direct descriptions of real events. Candidates should steer clear of fabricating failures which they think would please the Admissions Committee. 

  2. Fear of being judged: Often candidate's are afraid of how the Admissions Committee will infer the mentioned failure and whether it will be a drawback during consideration for admission. Instead, candidates should understand that a failure is a learning experience and that writing about their failure will show the Admissions Committee how willing the candidate is to overcome mistakes and adapt for the better.

  3. Monetizing the failure: Every failure is not about monetary loss. A monetary loss may be the result of the failure but such an outcome is not necessarily a lesson for the candidate. It is more bountiful and apt to mention failures in judgment, decision-making, execution etc. rather than a failure which concluded with monetary shortcomings. 

  4. Using excessively grandiose vocabulary: While having a good vocabulary and grasp over language is considered a plus point while considering applications, excessive and flagrant use of large and pompous vocabulary tends to give an image of excessive narcissism and is generally a negative point in the eyes of the Admissions Committee.

  5. Missing out on the lesson: The greatest blunder that an applicant could make while writing the MBA essay on failure is missing out on the lesson and knowledge gained from the failure. Being the crux of the essay, the candidate should ensure that it is clearly stated and that the leaning is substantial. 

Example of an MBA essay on failure

In order to help candidates understand what is required in an MBA essay on failure and provide insight on how to arrange their thoughts as well as how to unfold the sequence of events, given below is an example of an excellent essay on failure. It can essentially be split into two parts.

Part 1: This part deals with the description of the incident as well as its impact on the candidate. 




Part 2: This part deals with the candidate's understanding and learning from the failure. 








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Also read:

MBA Essays: Tackling questions related to Diversity

How to write the best SOP for MBA

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