7 Essentials to Ace Your MBA Interview

4. Map out your key selling points and stories

The content you prepare should include at least 5 key selling points to share during the interview. For each selling point you should have a couple of short stories to illustrate your point. Some of our clients find it helpful to map their selling points and stories in a matrix, inserting which questions can be answered with each story.

Your key selling points and stories should relate to your strengths, your contribution to the school, your personality or soft skills (leadership potential, teamwork skills), and your career goals. Your stories should consist of behavioral examples that illustrate the key selling point, and should be shared with honesty and humility. Take the time to reflect on how a key selling point will benefit the MBA community, how it will help you reach your career goals, and how it fits with the school’s core values.

When mapping out your stories, use a technique such as SARL to make sure you don’t forget any pieces of the story. Keep your points concise. Your worst enemy is digressing – you will lose your interviewer’s attention and waste precious interview minutes that could have been used making a case for yourself.

You should be able to talk without hesitation about why you are pursuing an MBA, why you are interested in this school, and what your career goals are. You’ll want to be ready to speak about how you will contribute to the community, and you’ll want to have examples of your leadership and teamwork. Be ready to give a two minute answer to “tell me about yourself”, or “walk me through your resume”.

It is a good idea to read the Economist, the Wall Street Journal, the FT or The New York Times on a regular basis before your interview so that you can show that you are informed about the business world and macroeconomics when you answer these types of questions.

5. Know how to approach tough questions

You should anticipate questions on any weak areas in your application. Expect to be quizzed on anything you bring up, so don’t bring up topics voluntarily that you’d rather not discuss in detail. Similarly be ready to talk about any hobbies listed on your resume.

With many tough questions the key is to present yourself in a positive light by focusing on your growth, whilst showing honesty and humility. Don’t dwell on how a certain tough situation in your career did not go the way you had planned, instead focus on what you learned and how you grew from this situation. An MBA program is an opportunity for you to grow and stretch yourself, showing how you have stretched yourself in the past can become a success story.

For weakness questions, frame your weaknesses in a way that allows a demonstration of your personal growth. Show that you have the courage to own your failure or weakness. Describe what actions you have taken to work on this weakness. Provide an example of a success following this growth.

For questions related to leaving an industry, the focus can be on how your new career goals will allow you to go deeper in areas that may presently be lacking in your current industry.

For failure questions and difficult management questions, focus on the lessons learned, and how these lessons positively impacted your leadership style.

Questions on your decision to pursue an MBA are an opportunity to show how much thought you have given to how this MBA will help you reach your goals in a way that would not be possible without it.Pay attention to follow up questions – sometimes follow up questions help delve deeper into a topic – but they can also be a second chance offered to a candidate who did not really answer the first question correctly. If you are not certain what the interviewer is asking you, pause and reword the question back to the interviewer asking if you understood correctly. This will ensure that you don’t misunderstand the question twice.

What if you gave a bad answer? Do not lose confidence. Take a breath, keep going and at the end of the interview ask to clarify your answer to the earlier question. This shows confidence and most interviewers will let you do this.

Even with the best preparation, you will likely get a question that you hadn’t anticipated. Take a deep breath, take the time to think before you speak, show a logical thought process and conclude your answer succinctly.

6. Be ready with questions for your interviewers

Before your interview you should prepare meaningful questions that you can ask at the end of the interview. If you are given the name of your interviewer ahead of time, do your research – look him/her up on LinkedIn for example. Taking into account the interviewer’s profile will help you tailor your questions accordingly. For admission representatives, you might ask questions specific to the strengths of the school community, or logistical questions about support for families and spouses. For alumni, you could ask questions specific to their own experience at the school and their career path after the MBA.

7. Stay grounded

Be respectful and pleasant with everyone you interact with – this including school staff when you walk into the campus building; or if your interview is with an alumnus in a place of work or public place, the office or café staff. A good interviewer will pay attention to how you behave in your general surroundings.

Try to approach the interview as a conversation. Keep the general tone calm, stay away from emotional statements; you want to come across as a grounded, personable, and thoughtful candidate.

During your interview you want the interviewer to feel this is your first choice of school. You may not be directly asked why you have chosen this school, but you can use the conclusion time of your interview, when your interviewer asks ‘anything else I should know’ to emphasize your excitement about the school, show your knowledge of the school programs, and mention contacts you have had with the school community. Be prepared to talk about what you will contribute to the school community, and emphasize how the school is a good match for your professional goals.

In closing, I want to re-iterate: if you are invited to interview it is because the school believes you have the potential. You really do have a chance of getting in. So prepare your key selling points and stories ahead of time, and go into the room feeling confident that they wanted you there, and enthusiastic about the prospect of joining the school’s community.

Good luck.

by Malvina Miller Complainville, Expert Coach at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions, and was an Assistant Director at Harvard Business School. 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.

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