Make Your Essay Questions Great

It's been a while since many of us had to respond to an essay question. How do we ensure success?

As change managers, communication is a core competency - we write all of the time! Leveraging those skills for your essay questions will go along way to strengthen your answer.

Basic Facts

  • There are five essay questions - You only need to answer three
  • Each question relates to one of the five process groups in The Standard
  • You are not graded on grammar as English is not the primary language for all applicants
  • You can use the same examples in more than one essay
  • Responses are confidential, though you can use pseudonyms to refer to clients

Tips

Ensure you Understand the Complete Question. The most common issue with essay responses is not answering the right question, or not answering it completely. Ensure you understand all of the elements.

  • Read the question carefully, then read it again
  • Ensure you understand what specifically is being asked 
  • Ensure you understand all the elements being asked

Begin with Brainstorming. Before you begin writing the response, take some time to think about ideas, experiences and examples that will answer the question.  

  • Jot down all your ideas
  • List experiences that relate to the question
  • Prioritize your list of ideas and experiences to select the best

Write a Draft. Be Specific and Use Your Experience. It's not recommended to write directly in the application form. Give yourself more space to work and don't worry about length yet. It's easier to remove than add once you are done.

If you are too 'high level' or respond in a 'general' way, it's hard to determine that you know how to handle the question in a practical way. If referencing best practice, rules of thumb or bodies of work, provide a clear explanation of what you did or would do in relation to those things. Use examples to demonstrate your experience.

  • Open a word processor
  • Keep writing until you feel you have covered all of the critical elements

Consider:

  • How would you handle the situation presented?
  • Based on your experience, what is most important to consider?
  • Which elements have you learned to pay particular attention?
  • What would you avoid based on your experience?

Review and Edit. Review your essay response several times by reading it out lound to ensure it:

  • Clearly communicates your message.
  • Is no more than 500 words.

Common Issues

Our first group of applicants provided several insights into the essay question writing process. Here are the common reasons people did not pass the essay questions:

1. Answer is incomplete

  • The essay questions have multiple parts; ensure you answer all of them.
  • If your essay response is very short it's unlikely you have answered the whole question.

2. Answer is off topic. 

It's easier to write about ideas and information that you are more confident about, but if it doesn't relate directly to the question being asked, leave it out. Some applicants get 'off topic' and therefore, fail to provide an adequate response.

3. Answer is theoretical / Your experience is unclear.

Theory and models are good, but the essays are meant for you to show your experience. Anyone can quote from The Standard, so that doesn't tell us you know how to apply it. Demonstrate you have applied effective practices in change management.

  • Describe the impact you made on a change project related to the question.
  • If many people were involved in the change, be clear about your role in any experience cited.

4. Answer Lacks Detail 

  • Be specific in your answers and avoid being too vague, general or unclear as it fails to highlight your experience and unique contributions.

Comments from our Beta participants

Need more guidance? Here is what our testers told us:

  • "Plan to spend at least two hours on the application and essay questions if your resume is not detailed and up to date on your change experience."

  • "Give considerable thought to your essays before you ever put finger to keyboard!"

  • "The hints to use Word for word counts and not to be too short were helpful. I found the estimate of 2 hours to complete were very optimistic. I took at least 2 hours per essay and then came back to it for a rewrite. All in all I thought the essays were fair. They seemed to represent a good test of experience."

  • "I created an outline for my essays and then revisited them a few times before sending. I wanted them to be complete and thoughtful."

  • "I put my answers in Word, monitored my word count as needed and it allowed for easier editing.  Also, putting it away and coming back later gave me a chance to improve my responses.""

  • "I would say I needed 2 to 3 hours for each including editing and final version."

  • "It's very similar to behavioral interviewing techniques in that you focus on what you did, thought, experienced, versus what you would do, would think, etc. So I tried to visualize the 'story' end to end before writing it."

  • "Don't rush it."

  • "Review the corresponding aspects of the standards for the key aspects for consideration for each essay question.  This will help to ensure that your essay includes the necessary aspects." 

  • "At first I was wary of having to do an essay question. I found it challenging to keep to 500 words but it forced me to think more about providing an impactful answer. I wouldn't change a thing (no pun intended)."

  • "Remove industry and insider jargon (reviewer may not understand them)."

  • "Take your time, think about the work you've done and what went well. Rely on project best practices/ lessons learned for answers."

  • "That process was pretty easy - if people have done the work they should be able to talk about it via an essay. People at this point in their careers should be able to write appropriate responses from the prompts provides. The challenge was including everything in the word count allowed (being concise.) "

  • "I read through the questions and gave my essays A LOT of thought before I sat down to write.  I knew which questions I had best stories for and I thought out the main points I wanted to make in each essay.  I even took handwritten "outline-type-notes" before I started typing.  I love to write, so for me, the problem wasn't writing ENOUGH, it was writing too much!  My first essay was 998 before I edited it - twice as long as allowed.  My best advice is, THINK IT THROUGH BEFORE YOU START TYPING."