An invitation to an MBA interview is an achievement and cause for celebration, but the interview itself can be a daunting prospect – if you are not properly prepared. Make the most of this opportunity by following our tips for a successful interview.
1. Preparation is everything
While you may not have control over the questions you’re asked, you can prepare a set of flexible responses that you can apply to commonly asked questions. You should be able to discuss the following:
- A walk through your resume (focus on what you accomplished and learned at each job, and why you transitioned to the next position)
- The reasons you chose your undergraduate school
- An example of an extraordinary achievement in the context of your job
- An example of how you influenced stakeholders to bring an idea to fruition
- An example of when you led a team to produce quantifiable results
- An example of when you failed and what you learned from that failure
- Your career goals and future ambitions
- The top reasons you want an MBA (make it school specific, explaining why the school is ideal for you, and what unique qualities you would bring to the school)
2. Structure your stories
Frame your answers to tell a story. If you follow a clear structure you can ensure you don’t leave out vital information while simultaneously displaying an organized mind and confident communication. I suggest loosely following the S-O-A-R framework: Situation-Objective-Action-Result. (I also suggest adding one more letter to the acronym: L for “Learned”.)
- SITUATION: Give background and context to the situation such as where you were working, what your role was, and who were the stakeholders involved. Be succinct, yet specific.
- OBJECTIVE: Describe what your goal was, and any obstacles that complicated the situation.
- ACTION: Discuss how you proceeded toward your goal, and how you overcame an obstacles.
- RESULT: Quantify the impact that you had on the situation.
- LEARNED: Tell the interviewer what you learned about yourself, leadership, or business from the experience.
Your response should take no more than about 2–3 minutes. You don’t want to bore the interviewer with a lot of unnecessary information. Once you’ve got your top stories down, when you’re on the spot you’ll have a reservoir from which to draw that will be easily adaptable to the interviewer’s questions.
3. Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice is the key to successful preparation. Make sure you find at least two people with whom you can sound out your answers. A close friend or family member is often more willing to put in the time but may be less objective when it comes to constructive criticism. An acquaintance, colleague, or teacher can give you good feedback on your first impression or body language without the hindrance of knowing you too well but may be less inclined to be negative than someone who loves you faults and all. Because of this it’s important to find a variety of practice partners to work with. More practice means you are better prepared, and you do want to practice – a lot – however, you don’t want to end up sounding over-rehearsed and unnatural. No memorized, robotic answers allowed!
We recommend setting up a mock interview or interview coaching from an Accepted professional to help you strike the right balance.
4. Stay relevant
Let’s say they ask you what accomplishment you are most proud of. In your heart of hearts, it might have been working two jobs to put yourself through university. Now that is quite an accomplishment. But if it was more than say, three years ago, you need to pull from something more recent. You don’t want the interviewer to think your best days are far behind you.
If it truly was a significant achievement from your past, you can use it. But bring that accomplishment into the present by explaining how it influences your values or interests right now. Show progress from past to present and how you are building on it for the future.
Keep your answers relevant to place as well as time. Customising your examples to show connection to a particular school will help you connect to the adcom on a personal level and show them why you are an ideal candidate for their program. Pick up on any relatable aspects of the course curriculum, school values, or alumni community and showcase them in your answers.
5. Hit the right tone
Remember the adcom is trying to imagine you fitting in with future alumni. You want to communicate your fit in the way you present yourself, including body language, the way you speak, and even what you wear.
This is a conversation between humans so be natural and at ease. Don’t list off your academic results like a machine– all that information is on your transcript. The interview is your chance to show who you are as a human being, not a set of grades or publications. Focus instead on your accomplishments in the real world, collaborating with others, and working as a team.
Don’t be argumentative or object to a line of questioning. Stay friendly, open, and communicative – the sort of person one would want to have a conversation with again in the future. Try to match your interview style to the culture and tone of the school and your chosen course. Some schools are more informal, some more conservative. Researching your school is part of good preparation and can help you decide which is the right program for you. Once you know that you can show the adcom why you are right for them.
6. Roll with it
Some schools like MIT and Harvard grant non-blind interviews. That means the interviewers have full access to your resume, essays, and letters of recommendation, though to what extent they’ve reviewed them is variable. Your interviewer could be an experienced senior member of the admission committee or a new member of the team. Many schools rely on alumni or current students to gauge the compatibility of applicants, and they typically only see your resume. For this reason it is extremely helpful to prepare for different styles of interviews so you can feel comfortable and self assured in each situation.
Sometimes an interviewer may throw a surprise question into the mix, just to see how you handle pressure. That curve-ball question is a great opportunity for you to prove your worth under fire. Keep calm and draw on that reservoir of prepared examples – the right preparation means you will have something relevant in the bank.
They will also want to know how you deal with problems and failures. Take the time to go over your resume (or have an objective person check it) for any discrepancies, holes in your work history, or problematic areas that the interviewer may pick up on so that you don’t feel blindsided. And if they do ask, embrace it! This is your chance to demonstrate your resilience in the face of obstacles, your ability to learn from mistakes, and your talent in converting adversity to accomplishment.
Be honest – don’t try to fudge things to make yourself look better. You can admit when something went wrong but make sure you show how you grew from the experience and what you were motivated to do as a result.
7. Group interviews
Some business schools, such as Wharton and Ross, require group interviews so they can easily identify the leaders and team-players. This is a framework that merits its own preparation as the dynamics can be more unpredictable. You don’t know what sort of people will make up the group or what task you will be asked to perform. Signing up with an interview prep service is the perfect way to make sure you are ready to think on your feet and deal with a high-pressure situation. How do you show natural leadership qualities without steamrolling the other applicants? Allow space for a team effort without being a pushover or shrinking violet? Can you collaborate easily within a team, making your voice heard but not alienating your teammates? Compete with other alpha candidates without becoming dictatorial? These are all skills that can be developed, practiced, and achieved with the right preparation.
The interview process gives you the scope to express who you really are, to jump off the page of your application and present yourself as a three-dimensional future MBA graduate. A successful interview is within your grasp if you put in the groundwork and take advantage of the fantastic resources available.
Our expert admissions consultants will work with you one-on-one to help you prepare for your interview. Check out our MBA Services Packages, including mock interviews, interview prep, and admission guides and get on the road to being ACCEPTED!Michelle Stockman is a professional journalist, former Columbia Business School admissions insider, and experienced MBA admissions consultant. Want Michelle to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!