“Why do you want to go to business school?”: Multiple constituencies, multiple answers

By Jeremy Dann

You’re going to be asked that question a lot over the next several months, so you need to come up with a good answer.  Actually, several different good answers, each tailored for distinct constituencies.

MBA admissions boards: Show them that you know appreciate the value of learning opportunities and have taken advantage of them.  Illustrate how the MBA program will be a better place to develop your skills and further your interests than your current job or even your likely next job would be.

Colleagues/managers: There are many firms where young professionals regularly exit to attend MBA programs, and a fresh crop of MBAs cycle in every fall.  In other workplaces, some colleagues might view an exit as “giving up on the team.” You don’t want your MBA admission to cast a pall over your final months in your current job.  If you explain your MBA as an opportunity to prepare yourself for opportunities a decade or two down the road””rather than as a route to get a better job than you could get coming from your current position””they may be more supportive.

“The Doubters”: Last year, a couple of my clients recounted how alumni interviewers probed deeply on why they were applying, even going so far as to say to an entrepreneurially inclined individual, “You don’t need an MBA to do what you want to do.”  Candidates who may want to stay in the same field (or return to the same firm) after graduation and those who want to enter the not-for-profit or government sectors often hear the same stuff.  My would-be-entrepreneur candidate was prepared: she countered with a list of a half dozen world-renowned entrepreneurs from this particular MBA program.  And in the political world, the President of the United States received his MBA”¦I mean the Mayor of New York received his MBA from Harvard.

“Da Haters”: There are people who don’t see the value of business school at all (shocking”¦shocking, I know).  After all, business people usually don’t need accreditations like doctors, lawyers and some other professionals.  You should be prepared to talk about why this will not just be a “two-year vacation” for you.

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