The new Harvard Business School questions for the class of 2015 have set most of the MBA blogosphere to screaming.

Sigh. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The new HBS questions are still asking what the old ones did—just in shiny new words. And, because of my age, I’ve seen this happen a number of times: from six, to four, to now two questions with a possible third one required to be answered in 24 hours or less should you make it to the interview (or, as I like to call it, “the final round”—does anybody else see the similarity to the G4 Network's American Ninja Warrior show?). Harvard has whittled their process down to two tough but great thought-provoking questions about how you see yourself, the ability to think on your feet in a high-pressure interview, and an insightful, memorable, sound byte-style post-interview essay.

Here’s the truth: This new essay strategy is tough. But it’s not different. All it means is that, once again, you have to have a strong candidacy. When taking on HBS, just as with every other school, don’t think in terms of essays, think in terms of your whole candidacy—the entire “who you are.” That’s how you take this on, and take it on powerfully. To quote Talking Heads: “Same as it ever was.” And, now more than ever, you need to take that candidacy on as soon as possible. Whether you plan to be part of the graduating class of 2015, 2016, et al, think in terms of your entire candidacy, not just the essays. To be powerful, you still have to:

  1. Have a great resume
  2. Be the first to raise your hand and take on projects at work
  3. Take on extracurriculars
  4. Face the essays…which I will talk about in next week’s blog.

It’s a candidacy as a whole.

The whole HBS frenzy is about essays, but your whole MBA candidacy is not really about essays, and it never has been. The frenzy is, at its core, a conversation about fear. Dealing with fear—your own fear about being accepted—in life, or at HBS, or at any business school. Taking this on is to be able to embrace challenge. And you must take on the challenge of approaching HBS, or any candidacy, powerfully.

So, how do you take it on powerfully?

First, take a deep breath and be the leader you are. This is about dancing in the moment—which leaders have to do all the time. The unexpected comes at you, and you have to hone your skills to be able respond to anything, at any time, under any conditions. How do you do this? Like an American Ninja Warrior. A ninja is strong, agile, fast, and skilled, but the winning element is his focus. That’s what enables him to be powerful and to not allow fear to dictate his responses. The same goes for yours, if what you want is to take on an HBS, a Stanford, or any top-level candidacy.

Hence, all this hullaballoo about the HBS questions is much ado about nothing—just a different path to the same result: being part of an amazing community of likeminded visionaries/leaders who will change an industry, community, country, or the whole damn planet. That’s all I care about and that’s all you should care about. If you take on your candidacy in this way, it will not matter what they throw at you, or the changes they make.

--Evan Forster (Auntie Evan)