How to Master MBA Interviews

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA blog on U.S.News.com

‘Tis the season for interviews! This is the most unpredictable portion of the MBA application process, since every interviewer is different. The same interviewer may even react differently depending on his or her mood that day. For the lucky round one MBA applicants who have been invited to interview by their target business schools, here are several tips for preparing and guidance on what to expect.

The role of the interview varies by program, so if possible, reach out to your network of current or former students at the school for an insider perspective. Most MBA programs will offer the option to interview on campus or with a local alumni volunteer. You should make your decision based on your personal needs, rather than on the basis of how it may look to the admissions committee.

If you have the time and resources to visit the school, you’ll have a great opportunity to meet current students and attend classes. However, if an on-campus interview coincides with a big quarterly meeting at your job, the additional stress would likely make the experience far less beneficial, so it’s probably better to interview with a local volunteer. No matter which option you choose, the admissions committee uses the same metrics to evaluate your performance.

The first step in preparing for your interview is to review your applications. A few weeks have probably passed since you hit the submit button, so you’ll need to return to the MBA applicant mindset by reviewing your overall application strategy. If your interview is “blind”””meaning the interviewer hasn’t seen any of your application materials””this review will help you remember what aspects of your background you want to highlight.

At some MBA programs, such as Harvard Business School, the interviewer will have already reviewed your application and will tailor his or her questions specifically to help the admissions committee learn more about you.

The second step in your interview prep is to review some typical questions. Many candidates post their experiences online in boards, forums, and blog posts.

Once you have a list of likely questions in hand, you can use those questions to practice. Being concise, focused, and enthusiastic is your goal, and knowing what talking points you want and need to share will help. Write out short bullet points to outline what you would say in response to your practice questions.

When I was at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University meeting on-campus recruiters for a summer internship, I learned about an interview technique called the STAR method. I consider it one of the most useful frameworks for effectively answering interview questions.

For those unfamiliar with this technique, STAR stands for situation, task, action, and result. The STAR technique can be applied when asked “situational” questions, such as: “Tell me about a time you failed;” “Tell me about a time you came up with an innovative solution;” “Tell me about a time you managed a difficult project;” and “Tell me about a time you led a team.”

The power of the STAR method is that it allows you to formulate a very complete answer, but it keeps your answer organized and prevents you from rambling on and on””a common occurrence in interviews.

Here’s one example of how you can organize your notes:

Situation: “Product A was losing market share to a new competitor.”

Task: “I needed to create a plan to regain our lost share.”

Action: “I led a team to implement tactics A, B, and C.”

Result: “We regained lost share, plus 10 percent.”

And then you stop.

Often, the interviewer will probe further, asking for very specific details related to your story. You need to be prepared to elaborate, but just start with the basic elements of your story. STAR will help you get there.

Once you know what you need to say, the only thing left to do is to practice. Enlist the help of family and friends, and ask them to provide constructive feedback. After you have undergone several mock interviews, you will feel more relaxed and be able to focus on connecting with your interviewer and demonstrating your enthusiasm for the school.

If time permits, think of a few interesting questions to ask the interviewer at the end of the conversation. Alumni interviewers will enjoy reminiscing about their experiences, and will especially like any questions about clubs or activities they were part of. Current students can provide a great perspective on what they wish they had known, or the most interesting aspect of their MBA experience.

Now that you have done your interview homework, the final step is simply to relax and enjoy the process.

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