Most business schools provided the option for a video interview in the past, but the spread of the coronavirus pandemic has now made video interviews a necessity. Students who have already applied may have planned to do their interview during a now-cancelled campus visit, while others are fast-tracking their applications due to the economic uncertainty. Whatever the reason, B-school candidates can now expect to conduct their interviews via video conference.
While there are many similarities between video and in-person interviews, the technology adds another layer of complexity and potential for error. To help students make the best first impression possible, experts in admissions and recruiting at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management offer their top tips for acing your B-school video interview.
“Other than the essays, the interview may be the only time you have a one-on-one personal interaction. It’s your chance to show the interviewer who you are as a person,” says Bailey McChesney, senior associate director of admissions for the Vanderbilt Owen MBA program.
GET FAMILIAR WITH THE TECHNOLOGY
Test both your hardware and software beforehand to make sure everything is working, and check that your Internet connection can handle a video call as well. The interviewer should send you a link or invite to the call ahead of time, so familiarize yourself with Skype, Zoom, Google Meeting, or whatever platform they are using.
If you have any connectivity or technical issues during your call, keep cool: the interviewer will be watching to see how you handle the frustration. If the video call cuts out, and you can’t get the connection to restore, give the interviewer a ring on their phone and offer to continue the interview or reschedule for another time.
KNOW WHO YOU’RE TALKING WITH
At some schools, admissions interviews are only conducted by the admissions counselors. Other schools enlist members of the admissions committee, like faculty and career coaches. No matter who you talk to, you’ll usually know ahead of time who’s going to interview you, and the purpose of the interview will be the same: getting to know you and determining fit.
“The interview is our opportunity to get to know you on a personal level beyond the facts and figures in your application. We explore your story and how our program can help you achieve your career goals,” says Cherrie Wilkerson, assistant dean of Vanderbilt Owen’s Young Professional Programs.
BE READY FOR TYPICAL INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
Specific questions vary from school to school and interviewer to interviewer. In general, you need to be ready to walk interviewers through your résumé and explain how your undergraduate experience and/or past work experience fits with your future aspirations. You don’t need to have an exact career plan mapped out, but you should be able to clarify why you want to go to business school and how your chosen degree will help you reach your professional goals.
“Be able to articulate why you want to pursue this path. What has led you to this point? Where do you want to go after your graduate career is over? Graduate school is an important stepping stone for your career and I want to make sure our program is the right fit!” says Emily O’Dell, director of the Owen Master of Accountancy program.
PRACTICE BY YOURSELF OR WITH A FRIEND
It takes work to walk an interviewer through an example of your professional behavior in three to five minutes. Many candidates find it helpful to outline answers to common questions using the S.T.A.R. method (situation, task, action, result), and then practice until they can answer in just a couple of minutes.
Many applicants also like doing mock interviews with other people — such as a fellow applicant, spouse, roommate, or friend — to get comfortable with using video software.
“When answering interview questions, be concise and authentic. Be ready to talk about your career goals, interest in the school, interpersonal skills, leadership experiences, challenges and personal interests,” says Suzanne Feinstein, program director of the Owen Master of Marketing.
PREPARE THE ROOM
When the day of the call arrives, make sure the room you’re recording in is clean, with no distracting messes. Choose a space with a plain background and minimal ambient noise. Let any roommates or family members know you’re about to record a video essay so you won’t be interrupted, and if you have pets, make sure they’re contained and quiet.
As for lighting, try to sit across from an open window to take advantage of natural light. If you don’t have a window, or it doesn’t provide enough light, grab some lamps, place them behind the computer, and point them toward you.
When it comes to clothing, treat an admissions interview like a job interview and keep it professional: men usually wear a blazer and tie, while women wear a dress or a nice shirt with dress pants or a skirt. Avoid wearing bright white or solid black, as this can mess with the light balance of the camera. Neutrals like tan and gray are always good bets, as are rich jewel tones like royal blue or emerald green.
While some people are tempted to only dress professionally from the waist up for video interviews, be sure to wear a full-body outfit in case you have to stand up in the middle of a call — basketball shorts or pajama bottoms do not pair well with a nice blazer.
DON’T STRESS OUT TOO MUCH
It’s true that an interview counts for a lot, but don’t psych yourself out over it. Think of it as a conversation so the school can get to know you and you can learn more about the school. Attending B-school is a big decision, and you want to make sure you end up at the right place for you.
“You know yourself best and what you have accomplished, so relax and enjoy the interview conversation! It’s important for us to see your personality and make sure we are the right fit for you,” encourages Maura Clark, director of admissions for the Vanderbilt Owen Master of Science in Finance program.
Kara Sherrer is content and social media manager for Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management in Nashville, Tennessee.