Three keys to successful interview preparation

MBA Admission for SmartiesIn honor of the first birthday of MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools, by Linda Abraham and Judy Gruen, we are posting a series of excerpts from the book. This post is excerpted from Chapter 9, “Prepare to Shine During Interviews.”

Throughout this book I’ve emphasized the importance of knowing your goals, knowing the schools where you apply, and knowing yourself. Finding where these points converge is essential for a successful MBA candidacy, including the interview process. For this reason, when you enter the interview phase, know three things and know them cold:

  1. Know how you fit the program and why you belong there.
  2. Know yourself.
  3. Know the school.

Know how you fit the program — You already have demonstrated your fit with the program substantially in your application, and yet you will be asked to cover that ground again in your interview. Review your notes from your initial school research to remind yourself of all the reasons this program stood out to you. Refresh your memory about how your own professional and educational background matches the school’s methodology, strengths and career opportunities. Review your essays again (yes, those too!) so when you have coffee with your interviewer, you have total recall about the programs and curriculum that drew you to the school in the first place. Interviewers are likely to ask questions that are meant to test your commitment to that school, such as: If you are accepted to this school as well as your other top choices, why would this MBA Program suit your professional needs best? Be prepared with an answer.

Sometimes applicants are caught short during interviews, especially when they are asked for more specifics about how they will contribute meaningfully to the program and cannot answer with any specifics. So if you’re applying to Chicago’s Booth School of Business and say that you look forward to joining Net Impact, a community service club, be prepared to mention whom you have spoken to in the club, and which of their current initiatives you find most appealing. Nobody can anticipate every question that an interviewer might ask, and it’s unrealistic to speak with an active member of every club you’re interested in at every program to which you apply. Still, a little contact can go a long way. Be prepared to mention at least one or two school clubs in ways that show you know what they’re about and that you’ve made contact with someone from the group.

Know yourself  – The interview is about you, not only professionally, but personally. One Harvard applicant noted on her resume that she had a passion for singing, and was actually asked to sing during her interview. Be careful what you write about in your essays or list on your resume regarding personal interests, or your interviewer may ask you to sing, too!

Have a strategy for what you want most to reveal about yourself in a very limited amount of time. Especially in a blind interview, be prepared with a list of your five top skills, experiences, or accomplishments, and have examples ready to substantiate each of your top points. Accepted.com has a database of feedback from hundreds of MBA applicants who reported on their interview experiences. Surprisingly, many report that questions they found the most difficult to answer were the ones they should have been prepared to answer even in their sleep. These include talking about a weakness in your profile, what your plans are immediately post-MBA, how you personally have contributed to your team and explaining a career change. These are all part of knowing yourself and knowing how the program fits into your professional goals and matches your personal style. Like the motto of the Boy Scouts, “be prepared.”

Know the school – Does the school you are interviewing for value innovation? Leadership? Teamwork? Challenging conventional thinking? Most top schools claim that they value all of these qualities, but some emphasize one more than another. Understand how the schools define the qualities they value, and be prepared to speak knowledgeably about how they try to put these qualities into practice and how you will too.


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You really don’t want to go further in the MBA admissions process without the succinct, cogent approach presented by Linda Abraham and Judy Gruen, who have been assisting MBA applicants since 1996 in MBA Admission for Smarties. Don’t miss out either on the practical advice or the savings. Order MBA Smarties today!

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