For some of you, it may be just a little too late. For others, this post is right on time. Because it’s about interviews—how to prepare for them, excel in them, and follow up after them. Whether you’re applying to college, graduate school, or a job, you’ll likely have to interview. Here are items to keep in mind at every stage of the interview process.
Before the Interview
—Make sure you know your experience. They’ll likely have read about you in your application, or at least seen your resume or CV. But in the interview, you’ll have to bring all that material to life. Think about key moments and experiences in your life, and how they relate to your goals and the program you’re applying to, then be ready to use these to answer specific questions.
—Make sure you know your goals—and why you have them. This one will vary a bit by what kind of program you’re applying to—less important for college, much more so for business school. A lot of people make the mistake of knowing their goals very specifically, but not thinking about why they arrived at these objectives. If you want to be a professor, remind yourself of where your love for research and teaching came from. If you want to be a marketing manager, think about how much you’ve enjoyed publicizing events and/or understand what engages groups of people in your professional and personal life until now.
—Make sure you know the program. This should be a given, but I can’t emphasize it enough. You have to show knowledge of the program, through what you’ve read (e.g., online and in print), what you’ve heard (e.g., from students and alumni of the program), and ideally even a campus visit. This is one of the simplest ways to differentiate yourself. Use it.
—Make sure you know yourself. This pertains to knowing the traits you want to emphasize in the interview (e.g., leadership, problem-solving, persistence) and areas of interview-related weakness that you need to shore up beforehand (e.g., a tendency to talk too fast or too slow). Link stories and examples to traits you wish to illuminate, and practice, practice, practice to work on weaknesses.
—Use positive visualization or other techniques. Beyond practice, there are ways to boost your confidence for interviews and other high-pressure situations. One of these is positive visualization.
During the Interview
I present several in-interview tips—using structure, projecting confidence, and reading your interviewer—in a different post. But keep all of these in mind.
—Use stories and specifics. It’s easy to fall into the “generic trap” in answering questions: “I am the type of person who really brings people together in a variety of situations. I do this by finding common points of interest and reminding us of our goals.” Is there anything memorable about that? No. Instead, use stories/examples that highlight the same ideas: “For my college fraternity, I helped create effective sub-committees for our major fundraiser by identifying each member’s interests and skills and matching these to the committees. Then, at weekly meetings, I kept us on track by checking in with each group and reminding us of our fundraising goals.” Same ideas, much more specific and memorable.
—Take a couple moments. If you get a really hard question you haven’t prepared for, it’s okay to take a moment or two to answer. Just say, “That’s a really interesting question. Let me think about that for a second . . .” They’d much rather hear a thought-answer after a brief pause than a rushed jumble of ideas immediately. But don’t take a moment for every question!
—Be succinct. The biggest mistake most people make in interviews is rambling on and on, often with little substance. Try to use structure and specifics, your best friends in the interview, to give focused answers. I tell my clients you should be able to answer most questions in a couple minutes, tops. If they want more information, they’ll ask for it.
After the Interview
—Say thanks and . . . A quick follow-up by email is entirely appropriate. In the email, thank the interviewer for their time, point out one thing you learned, and note that your interest in the program is even stronger now and that you look forward to hearing from them. That’s it.
—Look forward, not back. More than likely, in retrospect you’ll think of questions you could have answered better or information you wish you shared. Don’t sweat it. They’re not looking for robots, but people—and people make mistakes. Take note of what you wish you’d done better, so you can apply it to future interviews. Then think about your career/personal goals, and keep moving toward them on multiple fronts.
We’d be happy to help you prepare for your interviews—and keep them in perspective
- MBA Admissions Interview Feedback — Reports organized by school
- FREE MBA Interview Prep Mini Course
- MBA I.V.: MBA Interview Questions & Tips, an ebook.