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How To Rescue a Lousy MBA Interview


“I really bombed in there.”

I’ll bet you’ve said that before. Who hasn’t? From school tests to client presentations, we’ve all left a room shaking our heads. Maybe you were ambushed by unexpected materials or questions. Perhaps the members of your audience were checking their watches (or worse—getting up to leave). Now, you’re replaying every moment in slow motion, nitpicking every tiny detail. You stew, blame, and make excuses. You even start to doubt yourself. “Maybe I’m not good enough,” you think.

MBA interviews are no different. During your interview, you probably believe admissions is parsing every word, measuring you against that imaginary 750 GMAT who just returned from the Peace Corps. Who knows? Maybe your answers are vague and clichéd. Your crouched posture could reflect intimidation or defensiveness. If that’s true, what can you do to salvage your chances?

When an interview goes awry, you have a number of options, according to Stacy Blackman, a leading business school admissions consultant. In her latest U.S. News and World Report column, Blackman cautions readers not to be so hard on themselves:

“I’ve heard from so many clients convinced they bombed their MBA interview, only to learn weeks later that they were admitted to the school of their dreams. If you can get from point A to point B in a mostly clear, logical way; maintain a friendly and professional demeanor; dress appropriately; and have an inquisitive attitude about the program and all it has to offer, you stand a very good chance of coming out of the interview with flying colors.”

That’s comforting and all, but what if you’re confused, tongue-tied, or struggling to control your anxiety? Well, Blackman has some solutions there too:

  • Make a Mistake: If you want to reboot your response, Blackman advises students to be honest. One phrase she teaches is, “I think I haven’t expressed myself clearly. Could I try that again?” It provides you with time to regroup your thoughts and regain your composure. Remember, the interviewer is watching your demeanor just as closely as your response.
  • Can’t Answer a Question: It happens. From an interviewer’s perspective, listening to an applicant ramble or grasp at anything is a cardinal sin. Stumped? Admit it, says Blackman. “Take a deep breath and regroup,” she counsels. Some interviewers may even offer you a drink as you get your bearings. If anything, Blackman encourages clients to ask if they can think about the question or return to it. As before, “poise is paramount,” Blackman says.
  • Unsure What the Interviewer Wants: Same principle: You’re better off asking for clarification, rather than diving in fast and deep. One phrase Blackman suggests is, “Were you looking for me to answer from this perspective?” Follow it with a pause. This buys you time… and perhaps goodwill, too.

In addition, Blackman warns clients not to fret over mistakes, “real or imagined.” She adds that “interviewers often maintain an inscrutable demeanor, so don’t judge your interview performance based on their body language or verbal cues.” And “take heart,” she adds. “No single error in the interview process is likely to be a fatal one.”

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek

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