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Connecting Goal, Why MBA, and Why This School Questions

One way or another, you’ll encounter these questions during the course of almost every MBA/EMBA application. I want to share an effective technique for setting up your answers to really help the listener follow your vision – it’s called the inverted pyramid.


Step 1 – Long-Term Goal


This is the top of the pyramid, which is now the largest piece, the base. 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, your hook. What I mean is that it’s easier to rally your listener around, say, your plan to develop an AI solution that benefits disabled people, rather than you wanting to work for IBM.


Discuss your inspiration for acting on this goal. Answering the question WHY always reveals your values, and when you speak to them, 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 a GMAT score or GPA, but they do for someone with whom they share common values.



Step 2 – Short-Term Goal


Now that you’ve established your foundation, the short-term goal is where you bridge the gap between “inspiring goal” and “current reality.” In my experience, when you start here, the reader simply doesn’t know where you’re going with it. They are missing the big picture and how your experience connects to your long-term goal. Without that, the short-term goal isn’t terribly compelling.


Going back to our example, this is when you talk about how working for IBM first might help you start up the company that will bring this AI to life. You would like to understand the organization that brought about Watson, the AI that beat Ken Jennings on Jeopardy and is now helping physicians come up with treatment plans for cancer patients. You might mention how learning from a leader in the AI space would benefit you and help your chances for success.



Step 3 – Why MBA


After building the foundation and bridge, you’ve arrived at the most effective, powerful time to talk about why you need an MBA and why you need it now. The listener now 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” found at the end of every rescue animal commercial. They don’t start with a stark plea for your money against a blank screen; rather, they give you context. They first share sad pictures, success stories, the upside, and the vision realized. This way, you can envision success and you’re emotionally invested. This motivates you to help them (or maybe not, but they’ve substantially increased the chances that you will).


Carrying through our example, this sounds like, “I am an Electrical Engineer with experience in automation; however, I don’t have any business or entrepreneurial skills. I would also like to learn how to lead employees so they are motivated and happy working for my company.” The school understands how they can help; what role they can play in your success story and how you are changing the world.



Step 4 – Why This School


The point of the pyramid. This is where it all comes together. You begin with looking several years out after you’ve amassed a ton of experience (long-term goal), dial it in to the 3-year mark (short-term goal), and then ultimately where you could start with it in business school (why MBA). Now you need to get very specific and related your Why MBA to the school you’ve chosen. Our example AI developer has selected Wharton, and their speech might go a little something like this.


“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. The healthcare emphasis at Wharton will be invaluable 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 and your practical plan to get there, they can appreciate your rationale for why you’ve chosen their school. If you were to start off with information about Wharton’s strengths and offerings, it just sounds like you’re vomiting up the website. Making it all specific to you and your goal is paramount.


Your answer to Why this School is compelling to the degree that you apply what the school offers to YOUR goals, to your specific situation. It is vital to your chances of success.



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