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.