There are essential differences in the way every business school interviews its MBA applicants. Some programs rely solely on the admissions staff (e.g. Harvard and MIT), some have only alumni interviewers (Booth, Columbia, INSEAD), some (Kellogg and Haas) use both, and others (Wharton) involve second-year students. Many schools do “blind” interviews (i.e., Stanford and Tuck) that disregard your essays and/or resume/CV while others have your complete application in front of interviewer (e.g., Harvard and LBS.)
Regardless of a school’s process, the majority of applicants dislike, maybe even dread, the MBA admissions interview. Some candidates even feel physically ill from the stress. After all, interviewees get just one shot in this final, pivotal step in their admissions campaign.
But what if you could approach the interview as a positive, productive and even enjoyable – yes, that’s right, we said “enjoyable” – experience? Well, this can actually happen with a three-pronged approach that emphasizes:
Rather than planning and positioning your candidacy defensively (i.e., replying with short, safe, vague answers in an effort to avoid losing), we encourage applicants to focus on strategic tactics (i.e., answering the question but using the response to fully engage with the interviewer). This is best accomplished by sharing information and presenting insights that are honest, accurate and candid. Working with multiple clients on interview preparation we have found that replacing stress with confidence can help the interviewer feel more comfortable with you during the first 60 seconds of the interview.
Ultimately, an admissions interview is a conversation between two people. Each has an agenda: the interviewer wants to understand and vet the candidate for admission, and the candidate wants to “sell” himself or herself as a valuable asset for classmates and the school. But despite these distinct objectives, both individuals are seeking a human connection that goes deeper than the submitted application. Analysing the personality and communication style of your interviewer, then adjusting your tone, volume and body language in real time is critical to success. At the end of the day, MBA interviewers want to admit applicants who will bond and build lasting relationships with their fellow students. So the evaluation of this potential is a huge element of the interview.
MBA admissions interviews vary in scope, focus and style. Some schools like MIT believe your past accomplishments predict future performance. Some schools like Columbia believe your future plans and goals say even more about your candidacy. Other schools lie somewhere in the middle on this continuum. Likewise, some interviews target a few areas of your life but go deep in their questions. Other interviews cover as many aspects of your life as possible by going broad instead of deep. In any case, you want to present yourself as poised and articulate. However, the most successful responses must also have real substance. Your answers need to feature solid information that convinces interviewers you are fully qualified to learn, grown and contribute if admitted. The key here is to understand your specific strengths well enough that you can instantly and seamlessly align them with the expressed interests of the interviewer and priorities of the program. Knowing where your target school fits will help you prepare the right content strategy and help you decide whether to focus more on your past accomplishments or future plans. Similarly knowing how deep each interviewer will probe can alert you to the importance of being thoroughly consistent in all your answers. After all you don’t want to contradict yourself in course of an interview especially if the interviewer is interested in all deeper details and motivations for your actions.
So if you are invited by a school of your choice for your interview – think ‘Strategic Offence’ and not ‘Defence’. We can ensure that you have the 3C’s on your side as you tackle the interview round.