If you find your heart beating a bit faster or your palms a bit clammier these days, it may be because interview season is here. Time to dust off your suit, clear your throat, and prepare to answer even the most outlandish questions from admissions staffers and students at your schools of choice.
There’s no shortage of information out there about what kinds of questions to expect (see our MBA Interview Database for the most recent questions top schools are asking) or WHAT to say during your interview. But there’s less about HOW to say it. So I’m presenting three key tips on how to present yourself during those crucial face-to-face minutes. Even if you’ve heard some or all of these or already practice them faithfully, they’re worth repeating here.
1. STRUCTURE YOUR ANSWERS. If you’ve worked with me or read my blog posts, you know I’m big on using solid structures in essays and interviews. And that’s not just because I worked as a McKinsey consultant for three years. Structure helps your interviewer see where you’re going with your answer and helps you remember where you’re going. 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 . . .” (trust me, some clients start this way when we first practice). Instead, lay out a clear structure: “There are three primary reasons this is my top choice: curriculum, culture, and community.” Of course your answer doesn’t have to be alliterative. 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. “I think you’re going to get an offer,” a McKinsey assistant said to me after I completed my last grueling interview in the third and last round of grueling interviews. “Why?” I said. “Because you seem confident,” she replied. She was right: I got the job (how I performed in it is another story!). Many of my clients are naturally confident, which helps explain their achievements to date. But even some of my highly accomplished clients fail to project much confidence when we practice for interviews, in part because the stakes are high and the competition stiff. Regardless of your general confidence level, do your best to clear your mind of doubt and believe that you deserve an offer. In a future blog post I’ll cover positive image visualization, which helps some of my clients project confidence. For now, 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 . . .”). They’re much more likely to accept an overly modest applicant than a boastful one.
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. Now I’m not saying that you have to behave and talk exactly like your interviewer, but use common sense here: if your interviewer talks super-fast, make it a point to up your tempo a bit if you’re a “slow-talker.” If your interviewer doesn’t even react to a couple attempts at humor, stick to a more serious approach. Though schools stress that they seek objective opinions from their interviewers, we all know the reality: a large factor in interview performance is likability, 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 longwinded 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.
Obviously there are many more things to keep in mind for your interviews, but these three tactics are crucial. Accepted’s staff of experienced, professional editors would be happy to help you practice them for the your MBA interviews.