The MBA Interview

How to Maximize the Interview Process

Schools vary in the goals they have for the interview. For some, it's a preliminary screening tool. For others, it's used to evaluate borderline cases or clarify questions within your file. Many schools use the interview to help determine the intangible “personal fit”. Most schools are now interviewing all admitted candidates. This means that an interview will likely be part of a successful application process. If you are given an option to interview, take it. It’s hard to demonstrate excitement over a target school if you are unwilling to meet with them in person.

Schools have specific approaches to their interviews. The focus can range from detailed questions about your job responsibilities to random questions about philosophies, current events or personal interests. Approach the interview as a conversation to be enjoyed, and an opportunity to speak about an area of expertise: YOU. You may talk more about your hobbies or recent travel adventures than your resume. This doesn't mean that it should not be treated as a professional interview. It just means you are being sized up as a human being, classmate, fellow alum and future professional in all your dimensions.

Interviews are conducted by current students, admissions personnel and alumni. Don't dismiss students as the lightweights; they are given specific direction and report back to the committee on specific criteria. Their insights and opinions are definitely valued by the admissions committee. Should You Interview On Campus? There are some benefits to an on campus interview. There is generally less variability in an on campus interview. The interview will be conducted by a member of the admissions committee or by a current student who regularly conducts interviews. Thus, they are well trained and immersed in the process. In contrast, when you interview off campus, you could be speaking with someone who graduated 10 years ago, who does one interview a year. They may have particular style that is not as in sync with admissions committee expectations.

In addition, an on campus interview carries the benefits of the campus visit. If you have not already been on campus, this is a great opportunity to do so.

However, don’t kill yourself to get on campus. An alumni interview is a perfectly valid interview and if you have already been on campus there is no real need to go again. You will not technically “win points” for going on campus. Some applicants may be more comfortable with the less formal feeling of an alumni interview, which may be conducted in a coffee shop, as opposed to the admissions office. This is a personal choice – there is no “right” or “wrong” answer.

General Guidelines

  1. Expect to discuss many things about yourself. Be ready to go into greater depth than you did in your essays (but know that most often the interviewer has not read the essays.)
  2. Put together two or three points about yourself that you want the interviewer to remember you by. Go in with specific examples to showcase your achievements.
  3. Practice speaking about your accomplishments and answering standard questions. While you do not want to appear rehearsed, you do want to be prepared and polished.
  4. Be prepared to give a strong and convincing answer to the inevitable questions, "Why business school?" and “Why here?”
  5. Prepare a list of questions that show knowledge of and interest in the school. If the interviewer is an alum, it’s easy to engage in a comfortable conversation about their experience with the school.
  6. Dress appropriately. If your interviewer works in a casual environment, you can safely dress business casual. Otherwise, dress in professional attire. It’s always better to err on the side of too dressed up than too casual.
  7. Bring a copy of your resume to the interview and if appropriate, send a copy prior to the interview.
  8. Show maturity. Talking about Mom and Dad, or high school, or even harping too much on college can suggest that you have not moved on to new, more mature experiences.
  9. Be on time.
  10. Write a thank you note (via email is fine in most cases) to your interviewer. Sending a thank you note means you know how to operate in the business world, and it goes a long way toward convincing the interviewer you belong there.

Answering Questions

Some frequently asked interview questions are listed below. You should have answers to most of these when you go into the interview. We will discuss approaches to answering interview questions in more detail, as well as conduct a mock interview during our work together.
  • Why do you specifically want to go here?
  • Why do you want to go to business school?
  • Describe your people/team skills.
  • What are your goals for post b-school?
  • 3 Strengths
  • 3 Weaknesses
  • How would your friends describe you?
  • What is your greatest accomplishment?
  • Walk me through your resume.
  • Describe a failure.
  • Tell me about a time you solved a problem creatively.
  • What do you think you will contribute to the school?
  • What makes you different from other applicants?
  • Tell me about a time you overcame an obstacle.
  • What is your work style?
  • On the analytical – creative spectrum, where do you lie?
  • How would you describe yourself?
  • Who do you most admire?
  • Do you have any questions for me?

Specific Preparation Techniques

Ideally, you will have about a week to prepare. Preparation is the key to feeling comfortable and confident in the interview.
  1. Prepare answers to the following key questions. Practice OUT LOUD, with a partner or in front of a mirror.
    • What are your short and long term goals?
    • Why business school?
    • Why school x?
    • Why now?
    • Name three strengths and three weaknesses.
  2. One valuable interview technique to practice is called the STAR method. The idea is that when you are asked a behavioral question (such as, tell me about a time you…), you frame your answer in terms of the following: Situation, Task, Action, Results. This will help you to stay on track and give a thorough answer that provides background, tells exactly what you did and ends with the critical results. Many interviewers will probe deeply once you have given your answer, but this technique provides a strong start and keeps you from rambling.
    • Situation: Begin with setting the stage
      “My brand was losing market share to a new competitor”
    • Task: Identify the task or project performed
      “I decided to revise our strategy”
    • Action: Describe the action you took
      “I surveyed customers to learn what traits they valued and implemented product changes accordingly”
    • Results: Summarize the outcome
      “We gained 20% additional market share”
To practice this technique, start by creating a spreadsheet with 8-10 stories, as illustrated below. Categorize each story, so that it serves as an example of at least one situation, ie: your leadership story, your failure story... Now you have a list of examples on your “mental shelf”. Practice telling your stories, using the STAR technique, OUT LOUD. When it comes time to interview, you will be able to pull stories off your shelf. You will be prepared with enough stories so that you do not need to repeat.

Story Situation Task Action Result Category
Gaining market share We were losing share to a major competitor Figure out why and come up with a plan to improve the situation 1. assembled a team of 6
2. conducted research
3. presented plan to CEO
Gained back share plus 10% Leadership Creativity Teamwork
Wining new business We had lost a great deal of business Develop more compelling sales pitch 1. survey customers
2. assemble cross functional team
Won 2 new clients Initial failure resilience teamwork initiative

Content Provided By Stacy Blackman Consulting
Since 2001, Stacy Blackman Consulting has helped clients gain admission to every top business school in the world. The company's approach, based on developing and implementing a winning marketing strategy, makes the application process less stressful and more successful.
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