3 Ways to Recover a Fumbled MBA Interview

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

Many students are coming upon the interview period for the second round of business school admissions, and many applicants experience considerable angst about this component of the business school application process. There are a few things to keep in mind about MBA interviews that may put your mind at ease, but there are also some tips that can help you get on track if you stray off course.

It’s important to know that a business school interview isn’t like a job interview. In a job interview, your application has merely gotten your foot in the door, and the interview is your chance to dazzle the potential employer and show that you stand head and shoulders above all other candidates.

[Learn how to sell yourself during the MBA admissions process.]

An MBA interview is simply one component of your application package, and the goal is to present yourself with confidence, enthusiasm and intelligence. You’ve already impressed the school with your qualifications, scores and essays. Think of the interview not as a test with a pass or fail score, but rather as a tool used by the admissions committee to make sure you really are the person they think you are based on your application.

No matter how much you’ve prepared for the experience, you are only human. You may get nervous and you may mess up. Unfortunately, there is no “delete” button and no rough draft. But there are ways to recover and prevent the interview from spiraling into the disaster zone.

1. Acknowledge any mistakes: MBA candidates often try to memorize their responses to interview questions in advance, only to find themselves scrambling as they try to adapt to slightly different iterations of the anticipated questions. You won’t win anyone over based on how fast you answer their question, but the interviewer will hold it against you if your answer rambles or doesn’t make sense.

If you are unsatisfied with a response, you might say, “I think I haven’t expressed myself clearly. Could I try that again?”

Your ability to address that you got thrown and correct a mistake with grace will stick out in the interviewer’s mind more than the initial fumble.

2. Take time to relax and regroup: Out of nervousness, it’s common for applicants to continue barreling forward when trying to answer a question that could have been addressed in 30 seconds or less.

When in doubt, it’s OK to take a deep breath and regroup. Most interviewers will offer you something to drink, so take a sip of that water or coffee to provide a natural pause in the conversation.

Before launching into a story that may take you further afield, say, “Let me think about that.” Or if you’re really stumped, ask if you can come back to that subject at the end of the interview. Remember, maintaining poise is paramount.

3. Ask for clarification: Sometimes, an applicant will launch into an answer and halfway through realize that perhaps he or she misunderstood the question. Don’t be afraid to become very clear as to what your interviewer wants to learn more about.

You might ask, “Were you looking for me to answer from this perspective?” Pausing for further clarification shows that you have self-awareness – a highly valued trait – and buys you extra time to get back on track. And don’t be afraid to take a moment to ponder your reply. A well-thought-out answer is never a bad thing.

[Follow these three steps to stand out as a b-school applicant.]

Don’t spend too much time during the interview fretting over your mistakes, real or imagined, as this will only distract you and likely cause you to stumble in other moments as well. Interviewers often maintain an inscrutable demeanor, so don’t judge your interview performance based on their body language or verbal cues. And do not ask for feedback from your interviewer, which gives the impression that you lack both good judgment and confidence.

Take heart, because no single error in the interview process is likely to be a fatal one. If you get the sense that your interviewer enjoyed the conversation, he or she is likely to leave with a positive impression of you. But if you’re in doubt, just move on.

I’ve heard from so many clients convinced they bombed their MBA interview, only to learn weeks later that they were admitted to the school of their dreams. If you can get from point A to point B in a mostly clear, logical way; maintain a friendly and professional demeanor; dress appropriately; and have an inquisitive attitude about the program and all it has to offer, you stand a very good chance of coming out of the interview with flying colors.


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