The best way to cope when you’re anxiously waiting for news of any kind is to stay busy. And I’m not talking about devoting hours each day to stalking the MBA message boards. Though these forums provide a tempting distraction for MBA hopefuls waiting for interview invites and admit decisions, they also stir up enormous stress in candidates and often spread misinformation that can derail your carefully considered MBA application plans. You’re much better off focusing your energies on the following activities to pass the time productively.
Stay Engaged with the School
Sure, you don’t have a firm answer from your dream school yet, but you should still continue to invest the time to further immerse yourself in all things related to the program. Every b-school asks applicants “Why this school?” either explicitly in the application or during the interview, so you’ll want to keep up with any big news announcements that you can later reference as a way to demonstrate your interest and commitment to attending if admitted.
If you haven’t already done so, follow the school and relevant professors on social media, through their podcasts or blogs, and check the program’s event calendar for any winter break meetups designed for prospective students. The more specific details you can weave into your conversation with your interviewer, the more convinced the admissions team will be regarding your fit with their school culture.
Also, use this time to rekindle or reinforce those relationships with current students or alumni that you started cultivating months ago. Send a brief message reminding them that you’ve submitted your application and hope to have good news to share with them soon. This simple gesture signals your continued excitement about the program, and, as an added bonus, these contacts can answer any new burning questions you have as well as provide valuable admissions interview insight.
Prepare for Interviews
Last month, I shared my recommendation for 30 minutes of interview prep a day. That may sound like a lot of time, but given the fact that business schools typically weigh the applicant’s interview performance as heavily as their GMAT or GRE score, this area is obviously too important to just wing it.
Spend time coming up with appropriate responses to the most common MBA interview questions, such as: what are your strengths and weaknesses?; why do you want to do an MBA now?; why have you applied to this program?; what are your post-MBA career goals?; as well as the typical ice-breakers, tell me about yourself and walk me through your resume.
But be prepared for curveballs and behavioral questions that start with, “Tell me about a time when…” Harvard Business School is notorious for its atypical interview questions, which have ranged from: “What is one thing I’d never have guessed about you, even after reading your application?” and “What is the most interesting conversation you’ve had this week?” to “Explain to me something you’re working on as if I were an eight-year-old.”
While you can’t fully prepare for these types of surprise questions, it’s helpful to brainstorm stories and examples from your professional or personal life that support the general themes of leadership, overcoming challenges, and your unique passions and ambitions. Come ready to discuss things you haven’t already shared in your application.
Non-native English speakers need to make sure their language skills pass at a near-native level, and ramping up the reading is a great way for this subset of MBA applicants to prepare for the interview experience. Even reading five pages a day of a business publication or books related to your primary areas of interest can help improve your interviewing skills by giving you something memorable to talk about during the exchange.
Allow for a Plan B
These days, it’s wise to balance your ambition with a dose of realism. If you land on the waitlist in rounds one or two, will you try your luck in ultra-competitive round three? If you have your heart set on a particular school and don’t get in, will you reapply next year? If you don’t go to business school next fall, what career shift or lifelong dream might you pursue instead? Remembering that you have choices feels immensely reassuring. Having an acceptable backup plan in mind will go a long way toward not only coping with any potential adverse outcome, but actually thriving in spite of it.