To Win, Connect Your Goals With Those Of Your Audience

Here’s is a bit more from MBA Admissions Strategy: From Profile Building To Essay Writing, just released (McGraw Hill Education, 3rd Edition, 2017). It is high-level in this extract, but the nuts and bolts of “the how,” that is, steps to take to concretely achieve the outcomes advised, are in the book too. However, this gives a good idea of the foundational approach…

MBA admissions success turns on the simplest and oldest rule in communications strategy: to win, you need to connect your objectives with those of your audience. You need to understand what your target need to see or is ready to hear, and to increase the overlap between that and what you say. If you are better than the next applicant at demonstrating the common ground between your objectives and the objectives of the MBA program’s admissions committee (Adcom), you are well on your way to getting admitted.

Conveying fit between an item and its target audience is like marketing in the sense that you are selling a value proposition (you) to a consumer-client (the admissions committee) in a situation where the consumer has lots of other choices. You have to understand their needs, wants, and desires so you know what they value and why they value it, and how to pitch your product within this value system. Like any market communicator, you need to research consumer preferences, and coordinate various methods of communication (essays, interviews, recommendations, etc.) to make it clear why you are an attractive and necessary product, so that you get picked off the shelf. You create a coordinated campaign to influence the admissions officers’ “buying” decision, and manage this campaign as it unrolls over weeks or months.

Understanding your admissions task in these terms should turn your application world upside down: it is about you but not just about you. It’s about them, and the overlap between you and them. Companies don’t make products and then try to sell them. They study the market, determine needs, and produce accordingly.  When you know what the admissions committee is looking for and listening for, you can almost always find things in your profile that match this.

Staying true to you

There is an important, immediate caveat. Nothing about this market-communications approach implies that you need to or should try to bend yourself into something you are not, or to what you think the mold of the ideal business school applicant is, and “package” yourself as such. There is no such mold. In fact, trying to be the stereotypical candidate puts you right outside the successful profile because Adcom wants and needs a full spread of different, diverse, authentic individuals, not an applicant stereotype. Why? Because business school education is not a pre-packaged set of skills that you are going to be spoon-fed, but thousands of learning events, co-created between faculty and students, and between the students themselves. In such “peer learning,” which is a huge part of MBA education, the scope of experience of the student group directly raises the quality of the learning. Adcom cannot just admit “the best.” They have to balance the incoming cohort for diversity of abilities and experiences in order to provide the best overall peer-learning mix.

Therefore, your first task is always to be highly individualized, authentic, absolutely true to yourself—but once beyond that, then also savvy as to which parts of your unique special selfhood also happen to overlap best with the admissions committee’s needs and preferences. Your application task is one of judicious profile selection and framing for chooser delight, not one self-compromise.