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Why You Need a Personal MBA Soundbite

by Stacy Blackman Consulting, May 5, 2024

Admissions officers and employers often make up their minds about an applicant during the first few moments of a conversation. That's why starting on your best foot in a compelling, dynamic, memorable, and authentic way is critical. Today, we'll discuss powerful opening statements that we call the personal MBA soundbite. Just as with essays, the first sentences of your interview have an outsized impact.

Imagine your interviewer asks a quintessential icebreaker, such as, "Tell me about yourself," or "Walk me through your resume." That's when it's vital to pause, reflect, and then share a concise and thoughtful summary of who you are, your work, and your future goals.

"I would hazard that they are the most important sentences of your entire interview," says SBC consultant and B-Schooled host Chandler Arnold in this episode of the podcast. "Avoid the impulse to dive quickly into the weeds."

Let's say the interviewer asks you to walk her through your resume. The obvious option is to go chronologically. For example, "After graduation, I took an entry-level position at the American Cancer Society, then blah, blah, blah…"

However, there are more dynamic and memorable ways to start an interview. More to the point, that approach uses up the first substantive sentence of your conversation by going into detail about something that is potentially one of the least relevant or interesting work experiences you've had in that first job after college. So, rather than making the first sentence of your first answer about that first job, consider answering the same question with a different introduction.

Try this Instead

What if you said something like, "You know what? I'm a cancer survivor and my personal passion is to develop new corporate and individual fundraising models to raise the funds needed in partnership with cutting-edge researchers to find a cure for the cancer that I had during my lifetime. After graduation, I took an entry-level position at the American Cancer Society and blah, blah, blah…"

You're still answering the question and talking about that first job. Yet the second opening is a much more powerful way to start a conversation. It also sets the tone for the rest of the dialogue over the next half hour or so.

And to be clear, you don't need to be a cancer survivor to have a powerful opening statement. Anyone can create a personal MBA soundbite that immediately piques your listener's curiosity. Now, by definition, these should be personal. No one format or formula will work for everyone. But before we share some of the elements you might consider as you develop your own, let's cover a few of the main goals of what this personal MBA soundbite should accomplish.

First, it summarizes who you are in a memorable, dynamic, and compelling way at the start of your interview. Second, it creates a framework for the first part of your conversation so that the interviewer understands your life and work experience in the appropriate context, given your future goals. Beyond its use in interview prep, it can also help in other elements of your application journey, such as when speaking to current students, alumni, admissions officers, etc.

Ingredients of a Stellar MBA Soundbite

So, what elements should a perfect MBA soundbite include? Let's spell out four of them. Number one, it shares something personal and vulnerable about you. Again, you don't need to be a cancer survivor to be vulnerable. However, sharing something candid and authentic at the beginning of an interview can create a nice dynamic and connection between you and the interviewer.

Number two, the opening soundbite must be short. If you share something vulnerable about yourself, do it briefly. If you add a personal tidbit, don't tell the whole story. Instead, reference it as an on-ramp to your larger point about who you are and the work you're passionate about. The interviewer will likely come back and ask a follow-up question. Or, you'll have the opportunity to dig deeper into this personal story later in the interview.

Third, it's crucial to highlight what you're passionate about. Whether it's sustainability, diversity, or any other cause close to your heart, painting a vivid picture of your passion can engage the interviewer and show them your drive and commitment.

"I've done alumni interviews myself, and if there's one common thread to the applicants who didn't wow me, I would say that they failed to share their passion in the interview," Chandler says.

Finally, consider how to set up your overall career pathway narrative. This is your opportunity to connect your past experiences to your future goals and why you believe an MBA is the next step. While it's important to keep it short, this context can guide the interviewer's understanding of your journey and aspirations.

Check out The Scoop on the MBA Elevator Pitch

Case in Point

With the applicant who's a cancer survivor, the person sums it up by touching on new fundraising models to help researchers find a cure for that cancer in the applicant's lifetime. This isn't long or complicated, but it does begin to paint a picture of who the person is and what they want to do with their life.

Once you share that brief personal MBA soundbite, you dive into the details and describe those work experiences, knowing that the interviewer now understands the context and why these experiences were so important to you.

Personal MBA Soundbite Makeovers

During the podcast episode, Chandler shares examples of how applicants might workshop their personal MBA soundbite. The first case is a straight white male with four years of experience in private equity in the oil and gas space who wants to stand out in an oversubscribed category. Here's a familiar way that a typical interview opener goes:

Interviewer: Could you walk me through your resume?

Applicant: Sure thing. As you can see from my resume, I have four years of private equity experience: a year with firm A and three years with firm B. In my first role…blah, blah, blah.

Now, here's a new and improved answer from the applicant.

Applicant: "Absolutely. But first, it might be helpful to give you some context. Looking at my resume, I realize I probably don't look like a rebel. I'm a white private equity guy who plays lacrosse, for goodness' sake. However, during my first year in private equity, I worked on this awesome sustainability initiative for one of our portfolio clients, which changed my outlook on the industry.

Not only did these sustainability efforts help the planet, but they also considerably increased our company's profitability. As a senior on the team, I've been able to encourage five other portfolio companies to explore their own green energy sustainability efforts.

Having done this work for almost four years, I know the sector is ready to evolve, and I feel like I'm in a powerful position to drive positive change in the sustainability category. So, let me walk you through my resume with that in mind..."

That's a much better opening to the interview. Not only does it give some context, but the applicant also injected some self-deprecating humor that showcases his emotional intelligence and makes him more approachable.

Applicant Combining Work in Two Different Sectors

For this example, let's say the interviewer starts with a general question like, "So great to meet you today. Why don't you start by telling me a little about yourself?"

Applicant: Sure thing. I grew up in New York City, and as you can see from my resume, I have spent my time since graduation working in two very different fields….

Now, here's a more compelling way to answer this question:

Interviewer: Hey, why don't you tell me about yourself?

Applicant: "Sure. I grew up in New York City, and when I was ten years old, Disney's Pixar released the movie Wally. I was captivated by this story! Not only because it was about a cute little robot who literally saved the world but also because it was essentially about a super-powerful computer that could not only think but also feel.

For as long as I can remember, I've been fascinated by this connection between artificial intelligence, human emotions, and how people make decisions. So, I started my career in AI and spent the last year or so doing marketing work with a Fortune 500 company.

When friends hear this, they sometimes make fun of me, seeing these as two completely different worlds. But I've always considered these two sides of the same coin, and leading brands must understand both.

So, let me walk you through my resume and tell you why…"

Both examples show that these more thoughtful personal openings bridge the gap between your past and future and offer you a powerful way to start the conversation.

Listen to B-Schooled Podcast Episode #147: Your Personal MBA Soundbite

A Roadmap—Not a Formula

Starting the interview off on the right foot not only means aceing the first question but also confidently approaching future questions in a way that allows you to truly enjoy the conversation. We're not suggesting there's a single formula that works for everyone. Nor do we believe your entire personhood can be boiled down to a soundbite. But we do think this format can help anyone set themselves up to succeed.

So, remember these four key points.

1.) Share something personal and vulnerable.

2.) Keep it short.

3.) Highlight your passion.

4.) Signpost your overall career path narrative.

We'll sign off by challenging you to develop your own personal MBA soundbite. We hope you're already thinking about how to start that all-important conversation with your admissions interviewer. Remember, we're cheering for you!

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Stacy Blackman Consulting is the only MBA admissions firm with a complete panel of former Admissions Officers from every M7 program and the elite European MBA programs. We offer multiple services to meet your MBA application needs, from our All-In Partnership to hourly help with essay editing, interview prep, and MBA resume review. Contact us today for a free 15-minute advising session to talk strategy with a Principal SBC consultant.