With MBA interview invitations from a number of programs already on their way out to Round Two applicants, and more anticipated in the days ahead (Harvard Business School will release its first batch of interview invites on Wednesday, January 27), we wanted to offer some advice on this element of the admissions process. The following are some steps one can take to prepare for the interview itself.
This might go without saying, but MBA interview types and duration vary across programs. For instance, nearly all invited Stanford applicants interview with alumni, while on-campus Wharton interviews are conducted by second-year students and admissions staff. UPenn / Wharton interviews include a team-based discussion as well as an individual component. Ross also includes a team-based exercise, but that is an optional element of their interview process. Candidates for Columbia Business School participate in an informative résumé-based chat, while HBS and MIT Sloan interviewers have in-depth knowledge of the applicant’s entire file. Last week we provided an overview of our four part interview series which covers these issues.
Interviews with admissions officers will tend to stick to a tight timing format, interviews with Alumni can vary considerably in terms of the length of the interview, and sometimes, its structure. Thinking carefully about the format of the interview and the person conducting it will influence the sort of questions you might come prepared to ask and help you arrive at a mindset conducive to success.
Because it’s important that you reinforce your positioning during the interview, reading over your essays and reflecting on the themes presented in your application is a great first step in preparing to speak about your ideas and objectives. While this is clearly important for blind interviews, where your interviewer is seeking to get up to speed on your candidacy before probing for additional insight, it is also important for interviews where the interviewer may simply decide to take a deep dive into something you addressed in one of your essays.
In addition to reinforcing your existing message (a critical component of most interviews), the interview is also a great time to expand or add new information to your file via the interviewer’s notes. Have there been any major developments in your candidacy that you should share? Have you visited the campus or spoken with students since submitting your written materials? Have you made any strides toward your goals? Even if just an example from work or an activity that relates to the interview question but didn’t fit into your essays, it’s a great idea to approach the interview with the goal of enhancing the admissions committee’s knowledge of your candidacy.
While most interviewers you will meet with are quite friendly, some can be a bit stoic and others cold or seemingly indifferent. The key is to remember that you aren’t at the interview to make best friends with your interviewer; you are there to answer their questions and tell your story. Keep in mind that when interviewers behave coldly or without much emotion they may be doing so to seem impartial and avoid being too chummy with candidates. They also may want to see how you react when your audience isn’t exactly a love fest; after all, business leaders routinely face challenging audiences with differing interests (shareholders, board members, customers, employees). Under all scenarios, as long as you are prepared you shouldn’t let your interviewer’s style fluster you.
Though it’s impossible to predict the exact questions you will be asked, the type of interview and historical data will provide some great clues as to the sort of information the interviewer will be seeking. The Clear Admit MBA Interview Archive could serve as a great starting point, as it features detailed first-hand interview accounts from applicants to the top MBA programs. After arriving at a list of possible inquiries, it’s a good idea to not only reflect on what you might say in response, but to actually practice articulating your responses, explaining your goals and recounting some significant professional and extracurricular experiences.
The interview is a key step on the way to achieving your goal of attending business school, but it is not a test of your knowledge – it’s a way for you to bring your story to life and to help the admissions team envision you as a member of their student body. Interviewing provides the admissions team with a critical data point that is simply not found in your written application, test results or transcripts – they get to meet you in the flesh (or in some cases via Skype). While it is easy to get wrapped up in the pressure of interviewing, ideally you will keep our advice in mind and strive to use the interview time to provide the admissions team with an ‘in-person’ look at your candidacy.
Best of luck to all those who are eagerly awaiting invitations and preparing for interviews!
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