The MBA interviewing season is ramping up, and hopeful candidates all over the world are anxiously awaiting interview invitations from their target schools. One thing that I always emphasize to my clients at Fortuna, as I did when working with MBA students at Harvard Business School, is that they should not wait until they have an interview date scheduled before they start to prepare. As when preparing for a marathon, the last weeks are for your “peak training” having done your “prep training” well ahead of time.
The interview is a critical part of the evaluation process, all the more so with many schools requiring fewer essays as part of the MBA application. And an increasing number of schools are trying new interview formats, including the video interview at the likes of Kellogg and Yale. But whether you are spending 30 minutes with a Harvard admissions officer, one hour with a Stanford alum, or taking part in a Wharton Team Based Discussion, there is much that you can do to get ready to perform your best on the day. This preparation cannot be effectively done overnight.
Tip # 1: Do Your Research
First of all, candidates should make sure that they are deeply informed about the school with which they are interviewing. Schools are looking for candidates with the right fit for their program – and what you need to illustrate during the interview is not that you are perfect – but that you have the right fit. To convey this, it important to get a sense of the school’s culture and values. How do yours align? How do you actually see yourself in that community? You can develop this vision by visiting the school, attending networking events (in person and/or virtually) with students, alumni, or admissions, reading the school’s website carefully and reading updates from the school in newsletters and on social media. All of these things take time and should be planned out well before the interview invitation arrives.
Schools will expect you to be able to make insightful comments about trends in your current or your target industry. Stay informed by reading business news, and follow industry leaders you admire. It is a good idea to read one or two major publications such as the Economist, the Wall Street Journal or The New York Times on a regular basis before your interview so that you can answer these types of questions. This can be a great opportunity for you to link business news to your career goals.
Tip # 2: Develop Your Narrative
Know and practice your answers to the most common MBA questions. You should be able to answer these questions clearly and in a focused manner. Some of my clients find it helpful to use index cards and practice their answers aloud until they feel comfortable and they are not looking for words or struggling to express themselves. These questions include:
- Tell me about yourself or walk me through your resume
- Why an MBA
- What are your career goals
- Why this MBA
- What will you contribute to the school’s community
- Provide examples of your leadership/teamwork experience
In addition, anticipate red flags in your profile and prepare for any tough questions you may get. For tough questions – try to frame your answers with a positive spin. When answering questions on weaknesses, show personal growth. When answering questions about a failure, talk about the lessons you learned. Show honesty and humility.
Know your resume and application inside out. Depending on the school, some interviewers will have studied your entire application; some will have only briefly read your resume. If they have read your application (e.g. HBS), expect questions related to your application, and prepare new examples that have not already been covered in your essays.
Tip #3: Prepare Your Key Selling Points and Behavioral Examples
Plan to be proactive during your interview as opposed to reactive. Prepare your key selling points and think about how you can convey these during the discussion. Your key selling points should relate to your strengths, your contribution to the school, your personality or soft skills (leadership potential, teamwork skills), and your career goals. Reflect on how your key selling points relate to the school’s core values.
Prepare specific behavioral examples to illustrate each of your key selling points. Map out your examples to make sure you can set the scene and get to the point quickly – and remember to go from big picture to detail. Some of my clients find it useful to use a framework such as SARL (Situation/Action/ Result/Learning) to make sure they do not forget any pieces of the story.
Tip #4: Practice, Practice, Practice…
Find out what the school’s interview process will be and prepare accordingly. Settings can vary (on campus, alumnus office, skype, even a coffee shop), as can the formality and style of the interview.
Once you have done your preparation as outlined above, you should try to do as many mock interviews as possible. Practice with friends, your partner, a coach. If this is not an option, then videotape yourself. The key is to practice verbalizing your thoughts aloud; no matter how well you think you know your own story in your head. If these situations make you feel uncomfortable, all the better – you will be used to that feeling by the time you are in front of the real interviewer.
Malvina Miller Complainville is an Expert Coach at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions. She was Assistant Director in the Careers Services team at Harvard Business School. Fortuna is composed of former Directors and Associate Directors of Admissions at many of the world’s best business schools, including Wharton, INSEAD, Harvard Business School, London Business School, Chicago Booth, NYU Stern, IE Business School, Northwestern Kellogg, and UC Berkeley Haas.