MBA Admissions: Preparing For The Interview

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“MBA Admissions: Preparing For The Interview” is the latest post in our series Navigate the MBA Maze.

Here are three key tips on how to present yourself during those crucial face-to-face minutes.

1.  Structure Your Answers. Structure helps your interviewer see where you’re going with your answer and helps you remember where you’re going, too. So when they ask, “Why do you want to attend Harvard/Stanford/Kellogg?” don’t say, “Well, I was born in Florida in 1984, and . . .” Instead, lay out a clear structure: “There are three primary reasons why this school is my top choice: curriculum, culture, and community.” After providing the structure upfront, provide details for each reason you mention. Not every interview answer requires an upfront structure (some are more story-oriented), but use one for those that lend themselves to it. You’ll be glad you did.

2.  Project Confidence. Regardless of your general confidence level, do your best to clear your mind of doubt and believe that you deserve an offer. As you prepare for the interview remind yourself of your past achievements in challenging circumstances. And make sure your confidence doesn’t spill over into arrogance (“Well of course you should accept me because…”).

3.  Read Your Interviewer. Some are high-energy. Some aren’t. Some like humor. Some don’t. Some are by-the-book. Some won’t ask a single question you’ve practiced for. While you can’t prepare for every single type of interviewer, you can adjust your style a bit to match theirs. Though schools stress that they seek objective opinions from their interviewers, we all know the reality: a large factor in interview performance is likeability, and interviewers like candidates who remind them of themselves. An even simpler strategy is to pay attention to clear cues from your interviewer— if they’re yawning and looking at their watch, you’re probably being too long winded or need to use more compelling examples; if they’re asking probing questions for everything you say, try including more details in your initial answers.

If you are interested in individualized interview coaching or a mock interview, check out Accepted.com’s MBA interview assistance packages.

Download your copy of Navigating the MBA MazeAccepted: The Premier Admissions Cosultancy

Related Resources:

• How To Ace Your MBA Interview [Free Guide]
• MBA Admissions Interviews: Behavioral AND Qualitative Questions [Short Video]
• MBA Interview Questions: Walk Me Through Your Resume

Selling Yourself Short?

Get advice for writing exemplary personal statements.

Don’t sell yourself short!

“I founded a small candy company.”  I could see in the faces of my fellow admissions committee members that they were not that impressed with the candidate; none of them had ever heard of “Del Sol Candy,”* and Roberto’s modest description did not make it sound all that impressive an accomplishment.

Many times while interviewing international MBA candidates, I have found that some of them sell themselves short, particularly with regards to their work experience. Whether it is because of culture or family upbringing, there is a certain type of candidate who finds it hard to present his or her own professional accomplishments in the best light.

This contrasts dramatically with what is expected from MBA applicants; committee members expect candidates to present their best case and promote their accomplishments. This mismatch between the candidate’s culture and the committee’s expectations can sometimes harm the candidate’s chances of admission. A second layer of complexity also arises for some international students: if an American applicant mentions that he or she is a regional manager at Hershey’s, for example, the adcom would have at least an idea of the size of the operation, the level of responsibility, and the selectiveness of the company. If, on the other hand, you come from abroad and your company is not well known in the U.S., the adcom may have a harder time evaluating your work experience.

Just by chance, I had been to Roberto’s home city the previous year on a recruitment trip, and I happened to know that the company he had started from scratch was not only the biggest candy maker in the country, but that it exported millions of dollars’ worth of goods to international markets as far away as the Middle East. During the interview I asked him a couple of probing questions about it, and once he started talking about specifics (sales figures, market share, etc.) he became more comfortable. More importantly, the committee was able to assess the magnitude of his accomplishments.

If you, like Roberto, feel hesitant to promote your achievements for fear of sounding boastful, you need to be aware of those emotions and make a determined effort to overcome that tendency. It is up to you, the candidate, to provide the school with enough information to evaluate your accomplishments.

A good way to overcome any qualms regarding self-promotion is to be ready to provide the adcom with hard data that will document what you have done. If at all possible, do research and be prepared to provide them with a benchmark, a point of comparison with an American company, or at least some details of the level of the operation, but most importantly, the size of your responsibilities. By preparing yourself with facts, you will dramatically improve your chances of admission and, later on, your employability prospects for internship and beyond.

Learn how to use sample essays to create an exemplary essay of your own!

Esmeralda CardenalBy Esmeralda Cardenal, previously the Associate Director of Admissions at Yale SOM, Director of MBA Admissions at MSU Broad, and consultant at Cardiff Business School in the UK. She is happy to help you showcase your achievements in your MBA application.

Related Resources:

• The Quick Guide to Admissions Resumes
• 4 Application Strategy Tips: Stand Out AND Fit In
• 4 Ways to Show How You’ll Contribute in the Future

Why Do You Need an MBA?

Click here for step by step interview prep help! Reason for asking the question: The interviewer wants to make sure your reasons for getting an MBA match up with what the MBA degree will provide you.

How to prepare: This is hopefully one of the easiest questions for you to answer. Coming from almost any function, the likely answer is that you have a significant amount of depth in a particular field (marketing, finance, IT, engineering), but in order to break free of being labeled as simply a subject matter expert, you need more breadth.

Most people look to get an MBA in order to move into a management role or to change fields. To succeed in management, you need to have understanding of all functional areas of business, from finance to operations to technology and more. An MBA degree provides the toolbox you need to succeed in management in the shortest amount of time.

For career-switchers, a full-time MBA program provides one of the best opportunities to make that switch. It gives you everything from critical coursework to training in “soft skills” and leadership to the all-important summer internship.

Important things to remember: This is not meant to be a “gotcha” question, and you should in no way feel threatened by it. The interviewer simply wants to ensure that your expectations for the MBA are in line with what the program delivers.  They want to know you are realistic.

Additional things to consider: There is no doubt that adding an MBA degree to your resume will bolster credibility and prestige. You want to make sure you don’t come across as only going after an MBA degree because of the pedigree. That is a big turn off.

Learn how to create a compelling MBA goals essay.

Jennifer Weld worked as an admissions consultant and Former Asst. Dir. of Admissions at Cornell’s EMBA program (4 years) prior to joining Accepted.com. She has an additional 10 years of experience in higher ed and corporate marketing.

Related Resources:

• The 10 Commandments of MBA Interviews
MBA Interview Questions: Walk Me Through Your Resume
Hone Your MBA Goals [Video]

How to Ace Your Team Based Interview [4 Tips for the Big Day]

Learn more about Team Based Interviews!

The key to a good TBD is balancing what to say, how much to say and when to say it.

Last week we shared our tips for preparing for Team Based Interviews. Today we’re going to move forward and offer 4 tips for acing the interview itself:

1. Don’t be confrontational. This is not a debate in which you’re trying to score points. It’s not Crossfire. It’s not a verbal battle. It’s a simulation of what you may encounter in a b-school classroom or group project, and so it’s that vibe and model that you’ll want to emulate. Interviewees should build on one another’s points, contributing to the conversation; they shouldn’t cut each other down with rude or judgmental remarks. Of course you’re allowed to disagree, and you should be persuasive and enthusiastic about your positions, but do so with respect and grace.

2. Think quality, not quantity. Participants are judged on the quality – and not the quantity – of their comments. You should add to the conversation, but certainly not dominate it. Refrain from speaking for the sake of being heard. Thoughtful and succinct comments are appreciated; chatter is not.

Don’t let this tip backfire on you! Qualitative comments are a must, so don’t hold back from speaking because you’re worried that your contributions won’t hit the mark. You need to find a balance – don’t blab on incessantly, but don’t be too shy to open your mouth either. You’re there to contribute; make sure you do!

3. Keep it real. While many of the topics or prompts given may lead you to a world of theoretical thought, you need to work to push through the theory to arrive at concrete points that are supported with evidence from your own firsthand experiences. Business schools are interested in students who have paid attention to their life stories and who are able to draw deep understanding and practical results from them.

4. Keep notes to a minimum. Just as a treatise of pre-interview notes will distract you from the interview action (as we mentioned in last week’s article), so will scribbling notes furiously during the interview. You definitely want to have a pen and clipboard or a tablet available if you need to quickly jot something down, but remember – this is a group discussion and you want to keep the flow of the conversation natural. Taking notes and then reading your monologue will certainly disrupt that flow.

Good luck!

Have a TBD Coming Up? Practice with the pros before your big day! CLICK HERE TO REGISTER FOR A MOCK WHARTON TBD!
Accepted: The Premier Admissions Cosultancy
Related Resources:

• Get Ready, Get Set, and ACE that Team Interview Challenge!
• Four Tips for the Wharton Interview
Wharton B-Scool Zone

4 Tips for Team Interviews

Click here for more TBD tips

Win an Academy Award for your interview performance

Since so much of b-school life and learning includes team discussions, the adcom needed a tool for assessing how applicants will fit in the team-based discussion culture of their programs. Thus, the Team-Based Discussion (TBD) was born.

In team-based interviews, applicants need to use a different set of skills than they use during traditional, individual interviews. Personal interviews require one-on-one presentation, interpersonal skills, and self-awareness, while team interviews require critical thinking, listening, persuasion, and leadership.

Here are four to-do’s to help you win an Academy Award for your performance in an interview:

1. Review school material. This includes the specific materials that the school provides prior to the interview, as well as all other material about the program. As with an individual interview, you need to know the school well – its mission, curriculum, teaching style, etc. Review the school’s website and speak with current students and recent grads so you get a clear picture of what it’s like to be a student at B-School X.

2. Read Case in Point. This is an excellent book by Marc Consentino that will teach you how to state your position during team-based interviews, and then clearly and succinctly support your position.

3. Role-play. Use family, friends, colleagues, and consultants at Accepted.com to role-play with you. The more in-the-know your mock interviewer and peers are, the better idea you’ll get of how the interview will run on the big day.

4. Take notes. You are allowed to bring notes to the interview, and while you don’t want to read off a piece of paper or even refer to it frequently, it may help you feel more confident knowing that some of your key points are written down in case you need them. You never know how performance anxiety may set in, and if your brain freezes and you completely forget your plan, you’ll be glad you jotted some ideas down beforehand.

TIP: Don’t bring a 400-page stack of papers! You don’t want to spend the whole time shuffling through your notes, making noise and ignoring your co-interviewees while they speak. Paperless notes on a tablet may reduce the shuffle, but they won’t reduce the distraction – keep paperless notes to a minimum as well.

Coming up next: 4 Tips for the Interview Itself  

Have a TBD Coming Up? Practice with the pros before your big day! CLICK HERE TO REGISTER FOR A MOCK WHARTON TBD!
Accepted: The Premier Admissions Cosultancy
Related Resources:

How to Ace Your MBA Interviews
7 Tips for MBA Interview Prep
The 10 Commandments of MBA Interviews