How Do I Prepare for My MBA Interviews?
I believe the key to success with this whole MBA admissions thing is research: research yourself, research your goals, and research the school, in that order.
Research yourself: self-reflection, understanding your strengths and weaknesses, knowing what culture best suits you, understanding your values, and knowing your USP: unique selling proposition. What your brand is, meaning, what you are known for and deliver in every setting.
This is what makes both your essays and interview responses have depth and feeling. Robotic and superficial responses will not make them root for you. Like all aspects of this process, the objective is to HELP THEM GET TO KNOW YOU.
So to do that, you must know yourself. Some people say they don’t want the coaching, just help with their essays. Without doing the introspection, the essays will fail in helping the admissions committee get to know you.
All of this is critical, this is a large part of the work I do with clients. And what they feel is most long-lasting and transformational aspect of our engagement.
Research your goals: make LinkedIn your friend, big time. Think of yourself as a product and the recruiter is your buyer. How will you position yourself to make the sale? What do you have in your background that lends itself to your post-MBA role? What do you still need?
You can make a lame attempt at trying to figure this out but why not go to the source. DO INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS. This always goes a VERY LONG WAY with the admissions committee and shows them you are a serious person. They don’t want to work with students who “pitch it over the fence” and make your dreams their responsibility. Taking initiative now will position you and as someone who will partner with career services rather than become a problem for them.
Research the schools: they want to know they can help you achieve your goals. If you apply to INSEAD in September batch, and your goal is Investment Banking, well then you didn’t research your goals well enough to know you need an internship. September batch does not feature an internship, and so they will have to say “no” because they can’t help you. Same would be to state a goal in real estate when the school has no substantial curriculum on that industry.
Interviewers consider themselves the gatekeepers, screening who wants to become part of their family. This is a long-term relationship and they want to make sure your head is in the right place and you share their values. Applicants massively underestimate how different one program is to the next; their culture, values and orientation. Knowing these things and weaving them into your interview will OPEN THEIR HEART TO YOU. You want this.
So once you have done this research, you are now ready to prepare talking points. It takes a lot of work to make it look easy. Some decide to “wing it” so not to sound “rehearsed.” I hear candidates promote this approach a lot more prior to interview than post if you know what I mean.
The interviewer expects you to have your $hit together; we all know they are going to ask you the standards: why MBA, why now, what are your goals, why this school. Have your story straight; it’s much better to have a planned response, as long as you deliver it slowly and thoughtfully. This allows you to make eye contact and build rapport than straining to find an answer with a constipated look on your face.
Summarize your stories into 2-minutes each. Have at least an idea of what you might say for all the questions you find in interview debriefs. Focus on the communication objective: getting your USP across, what are you known for and how do you tend to add value? Prepare a story about your role in teams; how you have led others without having direct authority over them?
When discussing your anecdotes, rehearse them on camera for time and edit yourself. Use the STAR method – touch on all parts of the STAR – but make it focused; think targeted rather than comprehensive. This is not an autobiography but a story to illustrate something interesting about you. Ask yourself, “what do I hope for them to take away from this story?” Leave out any details that aren’t essential to illustrating your claim and stay under 2 minutes (aside from “walk you through my resume” or “tell me about yourself, where 4 or 5 minutes is passable.)
Check in with your interviewer. If they have an open posture and seem engaged, great, but if you see their attention wane or deviate, ask if you are answering the question, if this is the kind of information they were after. Give them a chance to stop you and get you on the right track. The last thing you want to do is ignore their body language and doggedly plough through responses aka “ear-rape” them.
In your response, have a claim and then a story to substantiate that claim. For example, you tend to leverage everything you learn for the benefit of the whole office, by teaching/training/mentoring. Then give them a compelling example. You have to illustrate the claim briefly – you don’t have a 500-word essay to do it. And then talk and chew gum. It takes some work.
Remember milestones, don’t memorize words. Milestones that cue you to move on from one part of the story to the next. However, do not script things. Prepare talking points but allow yourself to speak extemporaneously with regards to those talking points for the most part. Think of them as “cue cards” to keep things flowing.
Prepare thoughtful questions for the interviewer. Google your interviewer and check out their LinkedIn profile. Choose questions that are attuned to their background. For example, if they are the Diversity Recruiter, inquire about that. Many applicants think this is about gathering information. In part, yes, but the larger opportunity is to establish rapport.
You do this by touching on topics that would resonate with them. How would they define the culture of the school? What was their most memorable moment in the program? What qualities make someone a Boothie, Sloanie, GSBer, etc.? What might separate one of their graduates from those from other schools? Show genuine curiosity and ask open-ended questions that will stimulate a meaningful exchange.
Finally, send them a thank you note within 24 hours, if you have their contact information. Show gratitude for what you learned from them! Mention how it developed your understanding of the program and how you feel there is a fit. If you stumbled on any questions, consider clarifying information that you might have left out in the moment.
They might or might not respond; don’t panic if they do not. They might want to avoid appearing biased. And at that point, it is best to focus on other interviews or applications; trust you did your best and move on. Worrying never increases your chances; create options for yourself, and find ways to keep your mind off things. If you did your best, no regrets!