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Are You Ready For An MBA? Credential Seekers Need Not Apply

12/17/2015 12:40 EST | Updated 12/17/2016 05:12 EST
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So you know you've always wanted to do an MBA, but do you really understand why? A typical interview question during the MBA admissions process is, "What brought you to apply?" Too often, the response is limited to, "I have always known I would do an MBA." But that is not a complete answer.

It is important for MBA applicants to remember that the admissions interview is not an exercise in getting the "right" answer, but instead an opportunity to demonstrate what differentiates them, and aligns them with the school's admissions criteria and reputation. A complete answer will include those aspects. We want discerning partners as part of our community.

The best schools want you to be discerning. They're not interested in those who only appear to be seeking credentials.

Of course, application processes can vary from school to school, but for those applying to Ivey and other premiere schools in a specific region, here's a tip: Demonstrate that you understand the value proposition of both the degree and the school, and then relate it back to your own experience. This will show us you have depth, and that you are thinking in a critical way about whether this is a good decision for you.

The best schools want you to be discerning. They're not interested in those who only appear to be seeking credentials; those applicants who wait to see which schools will accept them and then take the one with the highest scholarship. They want to know that you are thoughtful about the investment in yourself, and want to make a contribution in the lifelong community you join. Contributing to the school's community and reputation is a responsibility shared by students, alumni, staff and faculty.

So what components make for a good answer to the question, "why do you want to do an MBA?" Although simplified, here are some key ingredients:

1. Build on where you have been: Unpack for your interviewer the things you have accomplished and failed at in your career so far. Don't be afraid to admit your mistakes. This gives you an opportunity to then explain how an MBA might have helped you in those situations. This is an interesting way to approach the conversation on your goals for utilizing the program content. Be sure to make it clear that you understand this is just one step in a grander and longer career plan.

2. Know who has come before you: Do your research about alumni. Talk with the alumni that you know -- or want to know. Speaking with alumni and current students will help you to get a sense of the calibre, approach, and professional expectations of those associated with the school. Weave some of this research into your answer to prove you understand what a good "fit" with the school is about and know the role of both students and alumni in shaping the school's reputation.

3. Explain where you want to go: Too often we see a rigid answer that suggests you are only doing an MBA to land your next job. The best schools want to know that this degree is an investment in an already interesting journey. They want to know that you understand the MBA is part of a larger career story, not just a means to a singular job after graduation. Prove to us that if you don't initially get the job you targeted, you have done enough leg work to know what alternative paths might get you on your way.

In short, be generous about your thinking and decision-making around where the school and degree fit in with your career plans and your life. The best schools want to help you to make the best decision, even if you don't choose them. Credential collecting is an immature approach to this important decision. Use the interview to demonstrate that you are ready for this!

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