Three Tips for MBA Interview Success
If you’ve recently hit submit on your MBA applications, after doing a little happy dance that you no longer have to spend every free moment on essays, your attention will quickly turn to the interview portion of the process. Most schools will release interview invitations over the next month or so (if they haven’t already) and, while you might not need to shift into full on prep mode quite yet, now is the right time to start planning your approach.
As a starting point, consider what schools are trying to learn about you from this portion of the application. In a nutshell, they want to understand the unique perspective you will bring to their class and gain a better understanding of whether there is an authentic ‘fit’ between you, your goals, and their program. Importantly, they want to see that you can convey these points in a clear, concise, and logical way when you don’t have the benefit of being able to carefully choose and then refine your language like you do in written essays.
While there are certainly outliers (such as Wharton’s Team Based Discussion), many of the top programs utilize a fairly straightforward, conversational format. You can expect to be asked for an overview of your background / resume, to outline your goals and how ‘program X’ will enable them, and likely some ‘behavioral questions’ that seek to understand how you’ve demonstrated critical skills like leadership and teamwork in the past.
As you consider your material and start to bullet out your answers to commonly asked questions, keep in mind the following three tips:
1. Control the narrative (without being obvious about it)
Think like a politician (albeit a very humble, not ‘politician-like’ politician). Politics 101 teaches us to ‘control the narrative’ or, said another way, tell the story your way, before someone else has the chance to draw their own conclusions. Controlling the narrative also relies heavily on storytelling – successful politicians (on both sides of the aisle) paint a compelling picture of society’s needs and powerfully advocate for how their policies will address them.
So how does this apply to you? If you’ve done a good job crafting your personal brand, you know the key tenets of what you bring to the table (both personally and professionally) and where you plan to go in the future. Think of the key stories that crystallize these points and jot them down. Now, bump these stories up against the list of questions you will likely be asked – think about how you can make all of your key points within the constraints of where the interview is likely to go.
It can be tempting to approach your preparation in the reverse order (looking at the questions and then thinking of the story from your arsenal that fits best), but that makes it easy for the interview to fly by before you share one of the key things that make you stand out from the pack. By keeping a mental list of the key points you want to make, you can be proactive rather than reactive.
2. Show your personality!
It can also be easy for the interview to fly by before you make a single mention of anything about yourself besides your work experience. How boring is that? You want the interviewer to see that you are curious, interesting, and would make a fun addition to the class. It’s hard for them to draw that conclusion if the only stories you’ve told are from work.
As you prepare, proactively look for places you can tell stories about yourself that don’t have to do with work. Brainstorm examples from your extracurriculars, hobbies, and personal history that make for impactful answers to the questions you will likely be asked and, as noted above, support the personal brand you portray in your application.
One simple tip is to practice ending your resume ‘walk through’ with a quick mention of your hobbies or interests. Something along the lines of ‘…in addition to my work at X firm, I love to spend time doing Y and Z’. This has the potential to make for an interesting follow-on discussion with the interviewer or, at the very least, shows that you are a dynamic, multi-faceted individual.
3. Reflect, reflect, reflect
As you undoubtedly discovered as you crafted your applications, business schools care a lot about the factors that have shaped you as a person as well as the things that motivate and drive you today. This is why Stanford asks its age-old question ‘what matters most to you and why’ and why Kellogg’s second essay question begins ‘values are what guide you in your life and work…’.
The interview is no different. The interviewer doesn’t just want to hear that you went to school X and took your first job at company Y – they want to know why you made each of these decisions. They don’t just want to hear that you plan to go into consulting after you graduate, they want to know what excites you about the work and why. A logical thought process rooted in self-awareness is truly what you want to portray.
On the most basic level, the message I hope you’ve gotten is that preparing for your MBA interviews is more than just writing out answers to every question you might possibly be asked. There is strategy involved! You’ve worked hard to craft a cohesive, compelling thesis throughout your application thus far – make sure that the interview reinforces it and you will set yourself up for success.