The Personal Interview – Why MBA?

A question that bothers people a lot is the short and not so sweet “Why MBA?”.

The true answer, for most aspirants, is pretty obvious – more money. But that seems such a crass thing to say in an interview (besides which, the interviewers already know that part). So you need to find some more palatable reason to present, which you can defend. Effectively what is being asked here is your statement of purpose, your manifesto so to speak.

And a good answer is not just a matter of saying “I want to learn how to manage a business”. At best, that’s a space-filler answer which the interviewer will accept and ignore. At worst, the interviewer might decide to get into specifics and ask you exactly how an MBA is going to teach you to manage a business. The thing is, this answer is kind of missing the point – even if an MBA will teach you that, you need to explain why you wish to be taught how to manage a business in the first place, and why at this point in your career/life. So you need to lead up to what it is in your past life which led you to this fateful moment of the interview.

Note that this is not a clichéd or one-size-fits-all response. Like most of the standard questions, your answers needs to be tailored to you, and compatible with the other answers you provide and the overall picture of yourself you are attempting to build in the interviewers’ minds.

For example, a person with 2-3 years of standard work experience could talk with quiet sorrow about how there is little new learning and opportunity for growth in the role, and how an MBA would revitalise an otherwise dormant career. A fresher might talk enthusiastically about how a specific subject led him to consider getting into management (or even a specific field in management – for example Industrial Engineering leading to Operations, Organisational Behaviour leading to HR, a course on Options leading to Finance). A budding entrepreneur might talk about how an MBA would enable him to avoid the common pitfalls which await careless start-ups, while someone who has already been part of a start-up might explain how they were often hampered in their work by a lack of knowledge outside their narrow and specific domain. You could mention a relative, or a teacher, or a well-known business maven, and enthuse about how that person has inspired you to go for an MBA.

But in every one of the above cases, you have to be willing to defend your answer, and for that you need to think about the further questions which are likely to ensue from your statements.

To take just one example, if you claim that entrepreneurship is what drives you, then it wouldn’t hurt to be able to talk confidently and passionately about the kind of company you intend to start up, the current state of that particular sector, the potential initial investment needed, the number of people would you need in the first couple of years… Too much, you think? Perhaps – but remember that saying “I want to be an entrepreneur” is a very fashionable answer among aspirants (who seem to think that it will sound impressive while saving them from specific questions on Finance or Marketing or any such field). What’s an interviewer to do when everyone claims entrepreneurial talent? Quite often he’ll decide to check. And so you had better be prepared!

Also, if you claim entrepreneurship, the interviewer is well within his rights to ask something on the lines of “so why do you need an MBA? Tell me three famous entrepreneurs who are MBAs” and for an unprepared candidate, this line of questioning can be quite a googly…

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