I just wanted to offer some advice on the main essay topic as I know some people are racking their brain over this. Oxford wants to learn about your values. If it is shocking to you then it’s probably tripping upon some deeply felt principal. Ponder what that might be and speak from that place. Consider that they are trying to get to know you at the deepest level by understanding what motivates you, and examining if those values are a match for the Oxford Community. To generate some ideas you might actually consider looking at successful essays for Stanford’s main essay question which also speaks to values. For the part about how you would change this, I think they are looking to assess your innovative and strategic thinking abilities. Be imaginative.
Last time, I promised to show you how to increase your chances of admission by having firm, clear goals. One of the key reasons for this is to demonstrate fit. This phrase is widely used, but not generally understood. To illustrate, let’s take the case of a common applicant who wants to enter the world of management consulting. And let’s say they are aiming high – to get an offer from McKinsey, Bain or Boston Consulting Group. But they might also be kicking around some other ideas and (I’ve seen this) investment banking seems like an equally interesting idea. The best place to start – is a JOB DESCRIPTION for each goal. Sounds simple, but this is what’s called thinking from the end. Ask yourself, what excites me about this job description? When it comes to the qualifications – what do I have now, and what do I need? How will an MBA help me get what I need to become qualified? Which programs are best suited to doing that? Rather than spend $200K guessing what might work, posting stuff on GMAT Club asking for advice from other applicants who might be equally in the dark, go to the end user here. Who are you trying to sell this education to? Who is going to help you pay off loans, and help you establish a positive net worth? I would recommend that the applicant contact the MBA recruiter (yes, this is a real person) at the MBB office where you want to work post MBA. Ask about where they recruit, because each office recruits locally, to some degree. Also, find headhunters and independent recruiters who tend to place applicants for top consulting firms. And lastly, of course, network with people who are doing what you are thinking about doing. Who have been in your would-be shoes. To do this, I am a big fan of the advanced search feature on Linked In. You can identify the parties mentioned above by school, employer, etc. In this situation, you will probably want to send some “inmails.” I’m not trying to sell Linked In here, but get premium, it’s free for 30 days, and this is your life, after all. Don’t be pinching pennies when it comes to identifying and landing your dream job, one that won’t feel like work, and will help you feel good about Monday morning. Because this is the goal, not attending business school Business school is a means to an end, and that end is to get you into a job that makes you happy (however you define that.) Some might say it is to find a better paying job – however I have seen too many people get that better paying job and then use money to try to make themselves happy, when they could have just achieved it directly. Write a letter to these people that is easy for them to answer. Please do not write something like, “Tell me what management consulting is all about.” That is abstract, unfocused and you would not want to be on the receiving end of that email. They would be thinking, this joker doesn’t really get that I work 80 hours per week and have no time for games. I recommend that you work with a career coach and put together a kind of cover letter, stating the specific information you are seeking (how to select schools, in this case) and then put together a list of 10 questions where the answers will be more than yes/no, but won’t require the recipient to delve into the depths of their psyche. Not everyone will respond, but if you put together an effective email (edited by someone like myself) you WILL get responses. This always seems to shock my clients (quote, “just to be clear…you’re telling me to email the former Prime Minister of Australia?!” but many people out there DO care and would like to help others sidestep mistakes (and loans) that could have been avoided. In certain circumstances, my clients have decided NOT to attend b-school and to instead attend a school of public policy. Or just focus on how to achieve their goal in a different way, from their current position. I am thrilled, frankly, that this process saves my clients potentially wasted years and several hundreds of thousands of dollars. So, after getting the qualitative input on the job itself, you think – would I be OK with being away from home Monday through Thursday? How would my wife and dog feel about that? Do I enjoy having to interview employees about what they do? Do I like Excel well enough to build models? Is this my thing? If it isn’t, you might take Kellogg or Tuck off your list o’ schools. But if it is, review their employment stats reports. You might discover such and such school is a big feeder for Deloitte but less so for MBB – would that be OK? If so, move on to subscribing to their You Tube channel and watching You Tube videos and video “podcasts” to find out more about the culture there. Take note of the values they state, explicitly or implicitly, and in your essays, write about how those values resonate with you, and give examples of how you’ve modeled them in your life. Reaching the adcom on the level of common values is a much deeper connection than most make – and it is effective. It makes you memorable.
So often applicants think about other aspect of their application (school selection, resume etc.) prior to considering their MBA goals, and I really feel this is a classic case of the tail wagging the dog. THE EQUATION To write a persuasive application, it’s critical that you have those goals honed and refined. Background + MBA = Post-MBA Goal. So in order to solve for “MBA” part here, you need to figure out the right side of the equation. Then, take Goal + Experience = Long Term Goal. Hopefully this long-term goal will stir the adcom on both an emotional and analytical level. THE PITCH Consider this: schools invest more money in you than you pay in tuition. So while many consider this process to be shopping for an MBA program, in fact, your application should be likened to a pitch. Think Shark Tank. Why should they invest foundation dollars in you vs. someone else? They are more likely to choose the applicant who has carefully considered why they are applying to the school, and what they are trying to make manifest by going there. Successful Shark Tank applicants rarely walk into the room presented a with few different “options” for potential products, or a generic, half-baked idea. They don’t say, well, give me the money, I want to explore first, and see what sounds good to me once I get there. That would be a ridiculous way to approach starting a business, a sure plan for financial ruin. Yet, business school applicants do this all the time. THE PAYOFF Check this out. For the admissions committee, in this case, *YOU* ARE THE BUSINESS. You are the business they are investing in. Show them you have a business plan for business school. Show you have a strategy and specific tactics to carry out said strategy. This doesn’t mean that you can’t engage in big, blue-sky thinking. Schools like to see a big vision. One of my recent Wharton Lauder admits has a goal of establishing a consultancy in Africa that will allow Africans to effectively increase the percentage of arable land, solving part of the hunger crisis, and make the agriculture market a viable means of economic growth there. THE EXAMPLE So, big vision is encouraged, however, you need to connect the dots. Background + MBA = Goal. In this case, he had visited Africa, traveled extensively, and has a masters in Engineering. All he needs is a business education – knowledge if marketing, finance – mentorship, and an understanding of the competitive landscape there. The Lauder program allows students to spend time abroad doing these things, so this is a fit. What Wharton-Lauder offers matches what he needs to achieve his goal. But we couldn’t establish that fit with crappy, fuzzy, generic goals. So my message is this – set MBA goals first, to show how your Background + MBA = Goal. Demonstrate how YOU will leverage the opportunity – a key reason for adcom to admit you. Once you do this, the process of writing your applications becomes far easier, you gain momentum, and the passion and precision shines through. THE EXERCISE Next week, I’ll post a blog on how to identify these goals. It starts with your values. There is a huge amount of freedom that comes with making decisions based on your values. For me, it’s important that I work with clients who allow me to be authentic, honest and in a sense, playful. We can laugh together. These things reflect my values. When I sense a fit on this level, it is likely to be a good match. So this is a great guiding principle for selecting new clients. Complete this exercise to find out yours.
This is a hard question, and you should prioritize it in your efforts. The key is doing the proper introspection. Think about past experiences that point to specific strengths. With regards to examples, my #1 message about this essay is DO NOT TALK ABOUT WORK. They mention *personal* like 9 times in the prompt. This is the #1 error that most people make. There are so many opportunities to talk about work elsewhere in the INSEAD application. One of my R1 candidates has a past history of organizing groups or initiatives that help others achieve a dream they felt was impossible “on the cheap” and provided 2 quick anecdotes to support that. The mantra is show don’t tell. Make your claims, but make sure to illustrate this with examples (for both strengths and weaknesses.) If you don’t have a lot of clarity around your strengths and weaknesses- survey your friends and family and ask for their input with this. I use this tool, it is free for 15 days. Make sure to let everyone know you need feedback rather quickly. http://www.reachcc.com/reach/survey.nsf The strengthfinders assessment is also very useful, if you can support the results it with personal anecdotes. If you buy the book it comes with an assessment. http://www.strengthsfinder.com/home.aspx And finally, there is a values quiz on MindTools https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTED_85.htm The key is to reflect on past times in your life when you did well (and not so well) and trace back the strengths and weaknesses those point to. The objective of this question is to give them insight into who you are, not just what you have done. And from this, they can discern your level of self-awareness. With this question, you want to make an emotional connection with the adcom. So often applicants spend all their time discussing accomplishments but are afraid to open up and describe who they really are as a person. When someone is candid about their failings, it opens our heart to them, and we feel more connected to them. The importance of making an emotional, heartfelt connection to make you memorable cannot be overstated.
For those of you who will soon be interviewing for those European MBA and EMBA programs (and….maybe Berkeley-Haas..the big straggler!) I would like to share a technique for answering the goals questions, Why MBA, and Why This School. I feel it really helps the listener follow your vision. I call it the inverted pyramid technique. 1 – LONG TERM GOAL We start with the long-term goal – the big vision – and enroll the listener into that. This is generally the most inspiring aspect of what you have to share, so you can hook them with this. What I mean to say is that it’s easier to rally your listener around, let’s say, the artificial intelligence solution you plan to create to help handicapped people – than working for McKinsey. Discuss why you are inspired to act upon this goal – answering the question WHY always reveals your values. And when you speak on the level of values, you reach your listener on an emotional level. This is important. No admissions committee member pounds the table to convince their colleagues to admit someone because of their GMAT score or a GPA, but they do for someone with whom they share common values. 2 – SHORT TERM GOAL So here is where you bridge the gap between “inspiring goal” and “current reality.” In my opinion, when you discuss your short-term goal first, the reader simply doesn’t know where you are going with this. The reader is missing the long-term goal, of course, but also missing the all-important experience you already possess that shows how that experience connects to your long-term goal. If your interviewer asks for your goals, So I would encourage you to mention the how the short-term goal will take you from where you are now to where you want to be. The idea is to showcase what you DO have going on, and then mention what you are missing to achieve this big, Elon-Musk-esque inspiring vision that has opened their heart to you. So if you are seeking to start a company that creates an Artificial Intelligence solution for handicapped people, you might mention how it would benefit you to first work for Tesla, because you would like to understand the organization that brought about a self-driving car and is working to bring them into mainstream society. You could mention how learning from the leader in the artificial intelligence space would benefit you and help your chances for success. 3 – WHY MBA I feel that this is the most effective, powerful time to talk about why you need an MBA, and why you need it now. The listener has all the context for this (goals) and is therefore, primed to learn more about how they can help. Why MBA is the business school equivalent to “AND HERE’S HOW YOU CAN HELP.” When you see a Feed the Children or rescue animal commercial, they don’t start with a stark plea for your money with no context, against a blank screen. They first share pictures, success stories, the upside, the vision realized. This way, you can envision success and you’re emotionally invested. This motivates you to help them (or maybe not, but – this has substantially increased their chances.) Carrying through the previous example, “I am an Electrical Engineer with experience in automation, however I don’t have any business or entrepreneurship skills. I would also like to learn how to lead employees to they are motivated and happy working for my company.” 4 – WHY THIS SCHOOL This is like an inverted pyramid, because you start with several years out, having amassed all this experience, and then dial it from the 5-year goal to the 3-year goal, and then ultimately, where you could start with this in business school. Carrying through the previous example, “I would like to attend Wharton because it’s possible for me to take UPenn classes outside of the business school. I think it would benefit me to understand some of the legal issues surrounding artificial intelligence inventions. Also, I realize that as an entrepreneur, I will need to become a marketing expert in order to be successful. I like that Wharton has strengths in both finance and marketing. They healthcare emphasis at Wharton will be helpful as my invention is likely to be marketed through those channels. And finally, Wharton offers me the ability to start my company while I am in school. I would greatly benefit from the living laboratory that is Wharton.” Now that the listener is on board with your vision (long-term goal) and your practical plan to get there (short-term goal) they can appreciate your rationale for you’ve chosen their school. This, of course necessitates that you do the proper research to leverage the opportunity. However, if you had started the interview off with information about Wharton strengths and their offerings, it sounds like you’re vomiting up the website. Your answer to Why this School is compelling to the degree that you apply what the school offers to YOUR GOALS. Apply what they offer to your specific situation. That is vital to your chances of success. NAVIGATING THE INTERVIEW Putting this into practice. If your interviewer asks about your short-term goal before your long-term goal – ask them if you can first share your long-term goal. If they ask, “Why MBA” before you’ve had a chance to share your goals – I encourage you to ask them, “to better answer your question, I’d like to first give you some context but discussing my goals first. Would that be OK?” If you are saying to yourself, “Oh no, I am intimidated, and just want to be meek and compliant. I don’t want to rock the boat, I will just answer the questions in the order given” then I say to you that business schools are looking for leaders and innovators. Not yes-men, sheep, or government workers. The interviewer is likely to respect that you have a plan, and the presence of mind to navigate the interview in a way that will best lead the listener to the information they are seeking. They are likely to respect that you are acting deliberately rather than reactively, and say yes to your request. If you sequence the questions in this way, the interviewer will see you as having a clear plan that connects the dots. You will appear to be focused and also, marketable to recruiters. I hope this is helpful to you – wishing you the very best of luck in your MBA interviews! Reach out if you need help.