We’re nearing the holiday season, and for MBA applicants, that means it’s interview season.
While it might not be everyone’s favorite time of year, it is one of the most important for MBA hopefuls. It is the time when admissions officials get to know you beyond a few pieces of paper.
Often, it is your last and best shot to prove yourself and rise above the competition. If you’re nervous, you are not alone.
It is nearly impossible to avoid at least a bit of nervousness under such circumstances, but there are steps you can take to help you rise above the nerves and give your best interview.
Whether you are preparing for a traditional on-campus interview, or a video interview like those now being offered at schools like Yale School of Management or Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, the following tips will help you convey your personal brand and make a strong, lasting positive impression.
Before the interview
On the day of a big game, elite athletes do not simply walk onto a field and pick up the ball. They have spent weeks, months, and years training and educating themselves for that moment.
Try to begin interview preparations several weeks before the scheduled date. During that time, you should accomplish the following objectives:
– Determine talking points. Based on the personal branding strategy you have developed and the application you have already submitted, you should be able to identify several central points that you want to showcase in the interview rounds.
During the interview, you should both revisit these main points and be prepared to give them new dimension.
Think of it as a work of art- you drew the main outline during your application, and your interview is a chance to shade in different colors, fill in the gaps and complete the picture.
For example, if you emphasized your international experience in your application, the interview is a great time to share a few anecdotes from your business travels and explain how your travels have shaped your outlook.
– Prepare for a wide variety of questions. You never know what you will be asked, so it is useful to think about and outline answers for many different topics. Main points to consider include:
– Accomplishments and extracurricular activities- how have they impacted you? What have you learned? How can it help you in the workplace?
– Leadership- can you give several examples of your leadership ability? Can you describe a time where you failed as a leader and what you learned from it? What do you believe are the most important qualities of strong leaders? Who are some leaders that you look up to and why?
– Failures and weaknesses- can you give examples of mistakes you have made in the workplace or challenges that you have faced? How did you overcome those challenges? How do you view your strengths and weaknesses?
– Future plans- where do you see yourself in 10 years? How can a particular school help you to get there? Why are you seeking an MBA? How do you intend to use your MBA degree?
– On-campus involvement- why are you interested in this particular school? What do you hope to get involved in on campus? Are there particular causes or groups that you are interested in? What do you think you will contribute to this campus?
– Prepare questions- Research and compile a list of questions that you want to ask your interviews. Prepare several questions that focus specifically on the school’s unique programs and attributes.
– Practice. Stage mock interviews for yourself. Ask family, friends, or colleagues to go over questions with you. Ask for their feedback, not just on your answers, but also on your posture, body language and eye contact.
If you are preparing for a video interview, record yourself with the same time constraints that will be applied on the day of the interview. Test your sound, lighting and appearance on camera to make sure your set-up is correct.
– Don’t forget the details. Make sure you plan out what you are going to wear (simple, professional business attire, please).
Know the exact location of the interview and how you will get there, and where you can park your car, if you are driving. Leave early to guard against unexpected delays- tardiness never makes a good impression.
During the interview
• Introduce yourself with a firm handshake, get the names of each of your interviewers and remember that a genuine smile will always make you appear more relaxed and confident.
• Give yourself a few seconds to formulate your answers- you do not have to answer every question rapid-fire. When you give each answer, make eye contact with the individual who asked the question, and periodically shift eye contact to include any others in the room.
• Don’t let one challenging question throw off your entire interview. If you feel that you struggled on a question, make a mental note to address the point in another answer, if possible.
Then, move on to the next question and do your best to forget that you ever struggled. If you dwell on mistakes, you will draw the committee’s attention to those mistakes.
• At the end of the interview, shake hands with each interviewer once more and thank them for their time.
Make sure you clarify any next steps that need to be taken, reiterate your interest in their school, and say that you hope to hear from them.
After the interview
• Shortly after the interview, send an email thank-you note to each of your interviewers.
While it might seem more proper to send a written card, those often arrive after an interviewer has turned in his or her report.
An email will arrive promptly and will be easy for the interviewer to reference at a later date. Don’t be offended if the interviewer doesn’t give you a chance to get his/her business card, though.
• In the email, thank interviewers for their time, mention a few points discussed in the interview, and emphasize your interest in the school.
Reiterate that you are available to answer any questions and provide all appropriate contact information.
• In the days following the interview, list what you did well and what you think you could have done better. This will help you as you prepare for other upcoming interviews.