Tips to Help You Ace Every B-School Interview Format

Whether you’ve already received an interview invitation or are hoping to get an invite over the next few weeks, you want to make sure you’re prepared to do your best when the big day arrives. As you might suspect, the admissions interview is the place to convey your talent, drive and personality in a way no written application can match.

Businesswomen shaking hands

By knowing what to expect, you’ll be able to relax and focus your energies on dazzling the interviewer with your professional skills and strengths. But remember, he or she also wants to get a feel for you as a person, to find out how you’d fit in with the school’s unique culture, and how you would contribute as a student if admitted.

Applicants should begin their interview prep by learning their application and resume backward and forward in order to crystallize those professional goals and motivations. Ask yourself these key questions:

  • Can I clearly articulate my career plan and future goals?
  • What is my motivation to obtain an MBA?
  • How do I plan to use my MBA in my career?
  • What do I really want from my MBA experience?
  • Why is X business school the right place for me?
  • What can I bring to this MBA community?
  • Where do I see myself in 5, 10 or 15 years?

Here are three common questions that come up during the one-on-one MBA interview, with some advice on how to respond succinctly and with substance:

1. Tell me about yourself.
My first piece of advice: don’t go on and on. Quickly summarize the highlights of your college years and then move on to your professional career. Explain why you took the roles you did, what your main responsibilities were, and what you enjoyed or took away from each position. If you’ve stayed at the same company for several years, you could talk about how your responsibilities have increased over time.

2. Why do you want to go School X?
If you haven’t discussed your short- and long-term career goals yet, you could begin your response by briefly explaining what you’re hoping to do after graduation. Then you can state the specific skills and knowledge you’ll need to be successful in the future—and how School X can help you fill those gaps.

3. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
The worst thing you could say in response to this question is “No.” Even if you’ve had an hour-long discussion that covered everything under the sun and you’re feeling confident about how things have gone, you still should take this opportunity to reiterate why you’re excited about the program and why you’d be an asset to the incoming class. And, of course, if there’s something specific about your candidacy that you feel could improve your odds and you haven’t been able to discuss it up to this point, now’s the time to do so.

Do You Play Nice with Others? The Group or Team-Based Interview
Business schools want to see how candidates interact with peers before anyone’s even admitted, which can be very telling. It’s not actually an interview, per se, because no questions will be asked of participants. Through observation of each member’s discussions and communication with the group, the admissions team hopes to glean deeper insight into each applicant’s teamwork and interpersonal skills.

Here’s what you don’t want to do during a group interview:

  • Dominate the conversation
  • Cut others off or dismiss someone’s idea entirely
  • Raise your voice
  • Roll your eyes, cross your arms, or display any other kind of negative body language
  • Take out your phone or any other electronic device
  • Here’s what you should try to accomplish:
  • Demonstrate you’ve done your research (if given a topic in advance)
  • Listen—truly listen—to the others in your group when they speak
  • Seize any opportunities to either build upon or refer to someone else’s point
  • Put the group’s goal ahead of trying to get airtime
  • Offer to summarize if the conversation has reached a point where the group would benefit from a quick recap

As many MBA applicants are born leaders who are used to taking charge, you’ll need to be conscious of the fact that you might be surrounded by lots of Type A personalities and adjust your style accordingly. However, if you tend to be on the shy side, don’t let others intimidate you. If no one’s given you the chance to get a word in, you’re going to have to find an appropriate way to join the conversation before it’s too late.

Ready for Your Close-Up? Prepping for the Video Interview
In an era where MBA applicants often come across as overly packaged and polished, an increasing number of MBA programs have started using online video-interview platforms in order to get a better sense of your personality. They’ve seen what you have going for you on paper; a video interview can help them judge whether or not the “real you” matches the impression you’ve built through your other materials. Here are some video-interview tips:

  • Prepare (and practice) succinct responses for all of the typical MBA-related questions: Why Program X, Why an MBA overall, Why now, What are your career goals, Summarize your career to date, and so on.
  • Then add some “fun” questions and responses into the mix: Review the last book you read/movie you saw/TV show you watched; What’s your favorite song and why; Where’s the best place you’ve gone on vacation, et cetera
  • Record yourself answering these questions. Have a trusted friend review your responses and tell you how you’re coming off. Tweak your style accordingly.

When the big moment arrives and it’s time for the real thing, remember that no one is trying to trick you into embarrassing yourself. It’s just another opportunity for you to show what an asset you’ll be to an MBA program. So if you experience technical glitches such as a frozen feed or dropped audio, remember that maintaining your poise and keeping your frustration in check will further help you make a positive impression on your interviewer. Also, dress in appropriate business attire from head to toe. If you need to stand up for any reason during the interview and have nothing but boxers on, rest assured that is an impression the interviewer won’t soon forget.

Mind Your Manners
Finally, don’t forget to send your interviewer a thank-you note or email no later than the following day. Some admission committees need to make accept and denial decisions very quickly, so you shouldn’t let more than 24 hours go by before you send your message. If you interviewed in the morning, send it before the business day is over. If your talk was in the late afternoon or evening, get your email out first thing the next morning.

A word of caution: a thank-you note is not the place to try and sell yourself any further or write another mini-essay. The point is to show that you’re excited about and thankful for the opportunity to be considered for a spot in Program X.

It may sound cliché, but remember to just be yourself, and pay attention to first impressions. The evaluation process of your fit with the program actually starts before you sit down with your interviewer, so you want to make sure that every interaction you have, including with the office staff, is courteous and further adds to a positive impression of your candidacy. If you can show you’re prepared to work well with a team, know exactly how an MBA will benefit your career, and why X school is the best fit for you, you may soon find yourself on the positive side of the highly competitive MBA interview and application process.

This article, written by SBC consultant Sherry Holland, originally appeared on Poets & Quants

Image by Flickr user: CNJ’s photostream (CC BY-NC 2.0) 
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