From MBA networking events to campus visits to the formal interview, how to make the most key touchpoints offered by your top schools, with dos and don’ts for making a great impression.
A huge milestone in the MBA application process is your admissions interview, but if you’re lucky enough to secure one it shouldn’t be your first interaction with the school. Knowing mutual “fit” is a critical component of admissions success, business schools offer a variety of touchpoints for face-to-face interaction. Taking full advantage of these opportunities can set you apart from other polished professionals: not only can you gain invaluable insights and connections to strengthen your application, you have the chance to make a lasting personal impression with an admissions gatekeeper.
In my former role as Yale SOM’s Deputy Director of Admissions, I had hundreds of memorable interactions with prospective students, both positive and cringe-worthy (tip: memorable doesn’t always mean positive!), from MBA fairs and campus events to formal interviews. Running SOM’s recruiting strategy and campus visit program, I had the privilege of designing the kinds of experiences that would cultivate meaningful interaction between prospective candidates and the school. Here are four key touchpoints to take advantage of, with dos and don’ts for making a positive impression:
- Attend an MBA Networking Event
Once you’ve done some honest self-reflection about your strengths, skills and value-add, as well as which schools will be on your target list, consider attending an MBA Fair or networking event. (The CentreCourt MBA Festival, co-hosted by my Fortuna colleague Matt Symonds and Poets&Quants, kicks off next month in nine cities.) MBA Fairs are an excellent opportunity to assess program fit and whether a school is right for you. It’s also a chance to check out programs that weren’t initially on your radar and learn from their admissions representatives.
- DO … have your elevator speech ready. This means being able to explain ‘why business school’ and your post-MBA plans in a minute or two. Be yourself and convey your excitement to be taking the next step in your career. You should have a slightly different story tailored to each school depending on its focus and values. (For more on how to develop your MBA elevator pitch, read this article by my Fortuna colleague, Sharon Joyce.) It’s also wise to come prepared with two-to-three thoughtful questions for your top schools to showcase your level of interest.
- DON’T … start selling yourself without the proper context. There’s a fine line between well-prepared and overly pitch-y, and your ability to know the difference speaks to your good judgement. So do your homework and listen attentively. Representatives are looking to see how well you understand the culture and personality of their school, and a few hours of listening at the event will make you better equipped to position yourself and stand out.
- Go to Campus
Nothing will give you a better feel for the culture and vibe of a school than visiting its campus. You can also pick up a great deal of insight to strengthen your application.
- DO … learn as much as possible from different stakeholders. In advance, think strategically about how to maximize your time on campus by reaching out to students for coffee chats, or trying to connect with a faculty member whose research you admire. Sit in on a class, attend an information session with admissions and position yourself to learn as much as possible throughout the day.
- DON’T … forget about the staff. From support staff to passersby, make sure you’re treating everyone with respect. For the sake of being human, of course, but also because negative, rude or dismissive behavior has a way of making its way back to admissions. Being curious about everyone sets you up to learn unexpected insights and perspectives.
- Prepare for Video Questions
More programs that ever before have adopted a video component in their MBA applications, including Yale SOM, MIT Sloan, Kellogg, INSEAD and LBS, among others. It’s a positive evolution, in that it gives you yet another mechanism to express yourself and communicate your candidacy. It also offers admissions staff an initial glimpse of you as a person and brings your application to life before the more formal interview. While schools pose different questions and time limits to respond, all are hoping for an unscripted and authentic glimpse of your character, maturity, passions and motivations.
- DO … prepare key selling points you want to highlight. Your key selling points should relate to your strengths, contribution to the school, career goals, and personality or soft skills (leadership potential, teamwork skills). Record yourself answering a few practice questions, and then later watch your recording to honestly evaluate yourself on camera. Try to look into the camera while speaking; it won’t feel natural so practice beforehand.
- DON’T … forget to smile. It might sound trivial, but a smile makes a big difference, especially if your face is projected on a large screen. It’s okay to pause and be deliberate as you field questions – you won’t know them in advance, nor will you have the benefit of any real-time feedback that you’d get in a face-to-face discussion. (My Fortuna colleague Matt Symonds offers more tips and tricks in his recent article, How to Ace the Video Questions.)
- Prepare for the Admissions Interview
First, get acquainted with the MBA interview landscape; you’ll encounter very different kinds of interviews depending on the program. Whether you’re paired with admissions officer who has read your entire file (like HBS) or with an alum for a blind interview (like Stanford GSB), you’ll need to speak with confidence and sincerity about why you’re pursuing an MBA, your career goals and your ardent interest in this particular school.
- DO … practice, practice! You’ll want to train yourself to give informative, natural and confident answers, and practice is the best way to build your confidence. Write up your outline of possible questions and answers, try them out on yourself and friends, and stage mock interviews if possible. Your preparation will help you to stay poised and calm in the event of tricky questions.
- DO … pause for a breath. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable pause of silence every now and then. Pausing for a few seconds at critical times in the interview is a way to collect your thoughts and reflect before automatically launching into the next topic, which projects thoughtfulness and sincerity. Pausing before answering a question from the interviewer shows that you are actively listening and thinking through your response.
- DON’T … push your own agenda and try to take control of the interview. Most MBA interviews are designed to be conversational – schools want to know that you’re the person you seemed to be on paper. Avoid sounding overly scripted by listening to the actual questions asked and tweaking your prepared answers accordingly. While you want to convey your key selling points, most importantly, you want to present yourself as a sincere and thoughtful candidate. (For additional MBA interview tips and advice, check out my Fortuna colleague Malvina Miller Complainville’s recent article.)
For more advice on how to maximize your face-to-face interactions with schools, view my brief video strategy session with Fortuna Director Matt Symonds.
Kristen M. Beyers is an expert coach at admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and former Deputy Director of Admissions & Senior Associate Director of Career Development at Yale SOM. Fortuna is composed of former admissions directors and business school insiders from 12 of the top 15 business schools.