Malvina Miller Complainville was an Assistant Director at Harvard Business School. As an Expert Coach at Fortuna Admissions, she has worked with many successful applicants to the world’s top business schools, and has featured on Forbes and the FT for advice on MBA interviewing. In this article she shares insights to make a winning impression in your interview.
1. Understand the MBA interview landscape
The importance of the MBA interview has never been greater. As business schools reduce the number of essays they require, and the likes of HBS and Stanford now only require two letters of recommendation, there is an increased emphasis on interviewing. Whether face to face or via video, interviews allow admissions to learn more about your desired career path and career goals, and get a sense of your teamwork, leadership and communication skills. Most importantly, they are looking for a good fit with the school.
Among the M7 schools your initial chances of admission are typically between 1 in 10 and 1 in 18. But secure an interview and your chances of acceptance have just improved to about 1 in 2. So if you are invited it is because the school believes in your potential. You now have a great chance of getting in, so take all the time you need to prepare yourself. Even if you feel confident about your interview skills, remember that you may only have a short time to impress so you need to get to the point quickly, focus on the essentials, and know how to adapt to various interview styles.
Candidates should expect to have very different interviews depending on the school they are interviewing with. We are seeing that schools are looking at new interview formats and using a wide range of interview techniques.
-At HBS you may have a two-on-one formal interview, with one admissions officer actively interviewing, and the other observing. The interview lasts 30 minutes and is based on your entire application which they have studied in depth before the interview.
-At Stanford GSB you may have an hour-long interview with an alumnus who is doing the interview blind – meaning he or she has only seen your resume. The interviewer will use behavioral questions to get a sense of your leadership and teamwork experience.
-At Kellogg, Yale, and Rotman – in addition to the more traditional interview – you will have a video interview as part of your application, prompting you to spontaneously answer a question with little or no prep time. These recorded interviews require that candidates think on their feet while communicating in a structured and concise manner.
-At Wharton and Michigan Ross you may take part in a Team Based Interview. The school brings a group of applicants together in a room and gives them a problem to work through together. Group interviews allow admissions to observe how candidates operate in a team setting – giving them a sense of how the candidate will perform in a dynamic MBA setting where interaction is extremely important. At Wharton this exercise is followed with a short one-on-one debrief with an admission representative; at Michigan Ross the Team Based Interview is in addition to a traditional interview.
2. Research what type of interview you will have
As the excitement of an interview invitation sinks in, you now need to understand the different interview formats used by each school to prepare appropriately. And you may have to prepare for more than one interview format. At Fortuna Admissions I have worked with clients who had to prepare for a traditional interview, a video interview, and a team based interview all taking place within a ten-day time frame.
Discuss with your coach, and your personal network, and review the school’s website to learn which types of interview questions you can expect to be asked: resume based, behavioral, etc. Find out who will be interviewing you: admissions reps who know your application inside out and will ask you pointed questions based on your experiences (e.g. HBS, MIT Sloan, NYU Stern, LBS); or alumni who will be leading a “blind interview” having had access to just your resume (Stanford GSB, Columbia, Kellogg).
3. Give yourself time to prepare for your interview
Preparation is key, and careful planning for this live component of the application process really is a must. Feeling prepared is the best way to build confidence and will allow you to approach the interview proactively as opposed to reactively.
Practice first on paper, then with video, then with someone putting you through your paces. Videotape yourself answering one question at a time. Short clips will be less painful to watch then long monologues – it will also allow you to save the winning answers in a folder organized by question.
Practice your answers aloud until they feel comfortable and you are not looking for your words or struggling to express yourself. Train yourself to give natural, informative and confident answers. Practice aloud when going through your achievement examples to make sure you can set the scene and get to the point quickly. Practicing aloud will help reduce your chances of rambling, which can be a damaging turn off for interviewers.