By the time you get to the admissions interview in the MBA application process, you’re probably already miles ahead of where you were just a month or two earlier, when you first started preparing your business school applications. Still, while you’ve perhaps become an expert on yourself and your MBA goals, your interview skills may be a little rusty, and your admissions interview strategy may still not be solid (or, maybe you never fully developed them in the first place).
Understandably, most applicants see the MBA admissions interview as the most nerve-wracking part of the application process. The face to face and live nature of this portion can be stressful to many, particularly for those who are less experienced presenting themselves in this format or less comfortable thinking on the fly (after hours and hours of essay rewrites and edits to get my story perfect, now I have to explain it to a stranger in real time?!). Preparation with key MBA admissions interview themes, examples, common responses, and delivery will greatly reduce anxiety with the admissions interview.
While no two MBA admissions interviews are the same, we’ve conducted enough of them (and have prepared enough clients for them) that we know how to spot an admissions interview that’s helping your cause vs. one that’s going down the tubes in a hurry. Here are five important signs that your MBA admissions interview is going well:
1) You come off as confident without being arrogant. Many MBA admissions interview experts stress that you need to project confidence, while others tell their clients they absolutely cannot come off as arrogant. They’re both right, and you need to strike a balance between the two. You don’t want the interviewer to feel sorry for you as you sweat through every question and answer, but a little humility is always appealing. Candidates are advised to put their best foot forward in admissions interviews. This is true but make sure this indeed your foot! Refrain from making up stories, stealing credit, and shifting blame, these tactics are very risky and will negatively affect how you come across (twitches and micro-expressions are a telltale sign to the interviewers that something is amiss). You do not have to be perfect or be the best. Interviewers are looking for authenticity and self-awareness, somebody who will be able to work well with others and be open to growing during their MBA experience. Sharing areas where you know made mistakes and where you can grow is the first step towards demonstrating them. For reference, see how former US President George W. Bush was able to use his gaffes and pedestrian academic track record (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpDJb3ZQu0Y) as jokes to charmingly build relatability to the masses in spite of his privileged upbringing. Coming off as a real, authentic human being makes it easier for the admissions interviewer to root for your success than putting forth an illusion of perfection, which will just shatter your admissions interview’s chances of success.
2) Your answers are succinct. Perhaps the surest sign that a business school admissions interview is going badly is when you find yourself rambling through answers. This means that you weren’t prepared for the question, or you have an answer but can’t present it in a brief, coherent way. Your answers should be conversational, but should always have a clear beginning, middle, and end, and should take no more than a minute or two each. Practicing your answers and preparing a basic structure on how you organize them would greatly help your admissions interview. Organizing with a list, e.g. “my 3 strengths are creativity, persistence, and collaborating with teams” is a great way to start your answers with organization and structure. You can then signpost with an example for each, imagine pausing to start a new paragraph, this prevents you from rambling, and keeps the admissions interview on track by sustaining the listener’s attention better. You may also imagine the way football coaches would summarize key reminders on the whiteboard for easy reference. You should have this in your mind to guide your interview. If you are unsure of where to go with your answers or if you should share further details, you may politely clarify with your interviewer, “Did I answer your question?”, or “Do you want me share more details?”. Respecting your interviewer’s time and attention, while clearly presenting yourself is a good path towards admissions interview success.
3) You manage to get all of your application themes on the table. If you go into the MBA admissions interview knowing that you need to really drive home your leadership ability and your analytical skills, for example, then you absolutely must do that by the end of the admissions interview! MBA admissions interviews often start off with “Walk me through your resume,” or “Tell me about yourself” — this is a great way for you to hit on your key themes right away. A good MBA admissions interview strategy would also be to prepare examples that can touch on 2-3 key qualities. For example, leading a new product development in a foreign country can show leadership, innovation, and cross-cultural collaboration. Having 3-4 examples that you know you can use several ways can greatly reduce stress and awkward moments during you admissions interview. Some interviewers can prompt you with “Can you give another example?” after you have shared your carefully prepared first one. Ideally, your examples would show a wider range across work functions, geography, and accomplishments. Facilitating admissions interviews, we know that hearing the same project come up again and again during the interview is not as interesting as hearing a new story. Aside from keeping the interviewer engaged, it would be best to present a wider range of experience, it also increases the chances of hitting a topic that the interviewer appreciates and relates to better. In addition to getting all your application themes on the table, you want to leave the admissions interview with a sense of personal connection with the interviewer.
4) It’s a two-way conversation. Interviewers will vary greatly in their style, but you ideally won’t do all of the talking during your business school admissions interview. Comments such as “That’s interesting, tell me more,” and “That’s pretty impressive,” are good signs that you’re getting through to your interviewer. Reading non-verbal cues, a spark of excitement through the interviewer’s body language such as a smile, a nod, or a lean forward can prompt you to discuss an example or a subject further. This would help you make a stronger and deeper impression during your admissions interview. Showing interest and respect to your interviewer is also essential, remember that this is an actual conversation, your interviewer would also have pride, ego, and even personal biases. Thus, be in the moment and responsive to the conversation on hand, and not be too focused on delivering a prepared material. Whether we like it or not, the personal rapport with the interviewer will affect how your admissions interview is evaluated. Even your body language, and how you interact leading up to the admissions interview and afterwards can impact your chances.
5) … but it’s still an interview. Ideally, you will be able to strike a smart balance between having an enjoyable conversation but still maintaining the structure of the MBA admissions interview. Make sure that your themes are covered and that your interviewer covers everything he needs to. After all, when your interviewer is done he needs to answer some questions about you, and he can’t do that if you’ve just spent 45 minutes talking about politics and football. Make it enjoyable, but remember that it’s still an interview!
Speaking of politics, watching politicians, particularly presidential candidates delivering campaign speeches and debating can give you great insights into the tips discussed in this article. Preparing talking points, sharing personal stories, visual examples, substantiating with figures, and building a personal connection with the audience are all key elements of the MBA admissions interview process. Look carefully and you will see how flaws, and mistakes are turned into assets by making the candidates feel more human, relatable, and likeable. Take it with a grain of salt but watching post-debate analysis by political pundits on both sides can help accelerate your learning curve on the rationale for the carefully crafted wordings, deliveries, and responses, as well as the unexpected errors. Many of these observations are interestingly applicable to your MBA admissions interview, too.
Finally, make it part of your MBA admissions interview strategy to outline key themes, highlighting and recapping them at key points. This allows your admissions interviewer to easily make notes of your profile. Your interviewer will be making an interview report on his general impressions of your key qualities, and why you should pass the admissions interview. Make it easy for him to justify an “Admit” -and to clearly summarize to the rest of the committee the salient reasons for making that recommendation!
If you’re now preparing for your business school admissions interview and want some expert help, take a look at Veritas Prep’s MBA admission interview preparation services. An experienced consultant who has seen the best practices and common errors from hundreds of applicants will save you valuable time and reduce your anxiety – putting you in the best shape for your admissions interview. Insights on what to highlight in your profile and how to best tailor your answers to best fit what the target program is looking for are also important contributions that your consultant can make towards your MBA admissions interview success. Additionally, the book Your MBA Game Plan contains dozens of sample MBA admissions interview questions (and answer strategies for each) to help you get ready. Good luck – you’re made it this far in the MBA admissions process, so now let’s finish the job!
If you’re now preparing for your admissions interview and want some expert help, take a look at Veritas Prep’s MBA interview preparation services. Also, Your MBA Game Plan contains dozens of sample MBA interview questions to help you get ready.