How To Ace Your MBA Video Questions

Cassandra Pittman

Cassandra Pittman is an Expert Coach at MBA admissions consulting firm Fortuna Admissions and an Executive-in-Residence at London Business School.

Over the past few years, video conferencing applications have gone from nouns to verbs. We Skype, Google Hangout, or FaceTime friends and family, whether they are down the street or across the globe. Web conferencing solutions like GoToMeeting and Vydio have become an integral part of our work lives.

This year, more and more business schools are incorporating video questions into their admissions process, either as a required part of the application (Kellogg, INSEAD, Yale, Rotman) or an optional way to answer prompted questions or to further show who you really are (MIT Sloan, NYU Stern). While each school asks different questions with varying time restrictions, video questions are generally meant to be character profiles: they offer a genuine, unscripted portrait of a student’s personality, passions, maturity and motivations. As we become more comfortable in front of a camera, are video components becoming easy wins?

Such video questions offer a unique challenge to applicants. They combine the most challenging aspects of live interviews and written essays with the added pressures of time limits, as well as camera and technology concerns. But perhaps the most challenging part of recording video responses is the lack of any real-time feedback.

The plus side of video questions, however, is that they allow applicants to showcase their authentic selves. Business schools are looking for fit, and your video is a way to prove you are that fit. My colleague, Caroline Diarte Edwards, former Admissions Director at INSEAD discussed recently in this post that video questions aren’t just a challenge; they are also an opportunity. “Some great candidates aren’t brilliant at presenting themselves on paper, but can do a much better job verbally. So video questions are a positive evolution in terms of giving candidates more scope to express themselves in the application process.”

Here Are Three Things You Need To Do Now To Ace Your Video Questions

  1. Practice
  1. Practice
  1. Practice some more

Have you ever started to answer a question in an interview and watched your interviewer lose interest? You could see you were on the wrong track, and could therefore change direction to save the conversation. Or perhaps you saw their eyes light up. You knew you had found a point of connection – a topic you could continue to delve into. With your video recordings, you won’t receive this kind of feedback. Like written essays, video questions require that you send your thoughts out into the universe without any information about how they are being interpreted. But unlike written essays, video questions don’t provide you the opportunity to revise. You’ll need to think on your feet and appear poised and articulate. And you only have one chance.

So, dust off your webcam and use an app like iMovie or Windows Camera to record yourself answering sample questions. Some MBA programs that use video questions in their application process have sample questions on their website; others provide some to start with during their in-person or online admissions events. Here are ten good questions to start with:

  • What is your favorite book and why?
  • If you knew you could not fail, what would you do?
  • How would your teammates describe you?
  • To what organization or cause have you dedicated significant time? Why was it meaningful?
  • Who has had the greatest impact on you and why?
  • What will your classmates be surprised to learn about you?
  • If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?
  • What is the most important thing you have done for anyone else?
  • What is the most important thing anyone has done for you?
  • What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Six Questions You Need to Ask Yourself To Ace Your Video Recordings

  1. Was the background tidy and absent of any distractions?

Have you forgotten to sort out your laundry? Is your cat happily scratching away at its post just over your shoulder? Are family members arguing over who gets the remote control? All visual and audio distractions should be removed. Film yourself against a plain wall if possible, and if there is a larger shot of the room in the background, it should be clean and organized, with no other people or furry animals making their way into view. Video is just as much about what you see as about what you hear, so make sure your voice is the only one that’s being recorded.

  1. Was my face well lit?

Admissions Committees aren’t judging you on your looks, but, naturally, they prefer a well-lit image. Make sure they can see your face (and your smile!).

  1. Could I hear myself well and did my voice sound natural?

Make sure your microphone is well-positioned and working properly. Speak at your normal volume and pitch and make sure your voice is clear and easy to hear. You may want to try different mics or experiment with different positioning. Talking into a computer can take some getting used to, and at first you may find yourself speaking in a monotone. Practice enough to feel as if you are having a normal conversation with old friends, using natural variations in your tone, pace, and pitch that will keep the audience interested.

  1. Were my non-verbals consistent with what I would expect of myself in any in-person interview?

Wear business dress or business casual (at least from the waist up!). Have good posture. Think of the webcam as your interviewer’s eyes (it is!) and make eye contact. Smile – but not too much. Imagine that the face of a friend is on the other end of the camera.

  1. Were my answers succinct, authentic, and interesting?

Your responses will be time-bound. You’ll often only have 60 to 120 seconds to give your answers – that’s not a lot of time to fit in the What, Who, When, Where and Why. Finding the balance between brevity and authenticity can sometimes be challenging so don’t worry if achieving this balance requires some practice. You won’t always receive the questions in advance, but getting into the habit of answering reflective questions in a minute or less will help you feel more confident — just ask any news broadcasters!

  1. Did my answers fit into the overall narrative of my MBA application (while not being repetitive)?

When you’re on the spot, it’s easy to forget that your video recording is just one portion of your application. Make sure the stories you share fit naturally into the narrative you have built about yourself throughout your applications. Without being repetitive, connect the story in your video with the wider themes you have explored in your written essays.

You play like you practice, as the saying goes. It’s helpful to answer a few practice questions at a time, and then, after at least a few hours have passed (longer if you have the time), watch your recording, and evaluate your performance. Even better, ask a trusted friend or an admissions coach for feedback. Then answer a few questions again, trying to tweak and improve your performance a little every time.

So, take a deep breath, relax, and tell your story.

By Cassandra Pittman. Cassandra is an Expert Coach at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and an Executive-in-Residence at London Business School. She holds an MBA from Columbia Business School, and has worked in Admissions at both INSEAD and London Business School. Fortuna is composed of former directors and associate directors of admissions at many of the world’s best business schools. Connect with Fortuna Admissions’ dream team of admissions experts for a free consultation

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