When you finally pluck up your courage and walk into the harrowing experience that is The Interview, you’re likely to find that it’s not so daunting after all. Most interviews are simple and straightforward, and most interviewers are friendly and accommodating. With this is mind, let’s look at the various factors that will affect your interview experience: interview format (in-person, phone, or video) and type of interviewer (admissions officer, alum, or student).
Interviews generally take place on campus. If you’ve told your boss you’re applying (or maybe even asked them for a recommendation) they will likely let you take a half-day to attend your interview. Be sure to stay on top of your work to stay in the good graces of your recommenders. If your drive is short and the interview will only take a few hours in total, you might make it a work from home day.
If you haven’t told your boss, consider it a personal day off. If you can, go the night before to get the most out of being on campus.
Occasionally, interviews will take place off-campus. This usually happens when the interviewer is an alum rather than an admissions officer: if you live in the same city as an alum, you might meet at a local coffee shop or favorite lunch spot. Otherwise you might do the interview virtually…
If your interviewer is an alum in a distant city or an admissions officer at a distant campus, you may be asked to phone in or hop on Skype for an interview. While in-person interviews are vastly preferable, sometimes an alternative is necessary.
To make the same impression as an in-person interview, a live video interview has to be better. You should dress just as nicely for a live video interview as you would for an in-person one. Ideally, this would mean business professional from head to toe (not just a loose hanging button down over superhero sweatpants). Just because the interviewer can’t see your pajamas, doesn’t mean they aren’t affecting your interview. Wearing casual clothes puts you in the wrong mental place for maximum performance. Moreover, you don’t want to be caught in an awkward situation if you need to open your door or get a glass of water.
If you have the choice, using video is better than talking on the phone. When you eliminate the visual connection between you and the interviewer, important social cues will be missed (going both ways). There is much subtext that goes unsaid in an interview, and you don’t want to miss it.
For both phone and live video interviews, you need to be aware of your environment. Choose a location that’s going to be quiet, or ask those around you to keep the volume down. Turn off your phone and make sure there’s good lighting. Lastly, anticipate and proactively address possible distractions.
Bring as much energy as you can to any remote interview. Since you’re not in the same room as your interviewer and there might be some lag between when you speak and when you’re heard, words tends to fall flat. Illustrate your enthusiasm to keep your interview as engaging as possible.
Simulated Video Interviews
Though still not common, some schools are requiring “simulated” video interviews, in which applicants submit a recording of their responses to specific prompts. Similar to a traditional, two-way interview, in this format, applicants are presented a prompt or question and must immediately deliver a response, as if there were an interviewer on the other end. Simulated video interviews are typically included within the application portal, to be submitted along with the rest of your application.
Applicants should prepare for these interviews the same as they would an in-person or virtual interview, while bearing in mind the same tips regarding background and attire as virtual interviews. You should be well-prepared for these interviews considering you may only get one take to nail your response (just like a live interview).
Types of Interviewers
Someone who actually works for the school is the most common type of interviewer. If you’re interviewing with an admissions officer, the good news is that you will get a standardized interview with an experienced conversationalist. The bad news is that admissions officers may purposefully try to get you to slip up. Additionally, their deep knowledge about the school means they’ll know when you’re BSing them.
This is the second most common type of interviewer. If you get a recent alum who’s closer to your age, they’ll probably be easier to talk to. But, they’ll also probably be less experienced as an interviewer, and more apt to let biases and personal preferences affect their report. Compared to admissions officers, alumni are more likely to be a victim of their day (a bad mood might be the end of your application), but they also want you to get in. Admissions officers are vigilant judges, while alumni are more likely to be candidacy champions.
These are a few strategies for acing the alumni interview:
- Read up on current events. Alumni love to hear about what’s going on in the world and how you think it relates to your career and coursework.
- Be flexible. Let your interviewer choose the time and location of the interview. Make it easy for them, and they’ll enjoy your time with them more.
- Follow their lead. Let them choose whether to dive right in or dally in some small talk. Don’t try and set the tone — adapt to theirs.
- Talk about their experiences. It’s true, people love to talk about themselves. Plus, they have a unique perspective on what it’s like to attend your target school. Take advantage.
Current student interviewers are relatively uncommon compared to admissions officers and alumni, with business school being the big exception. Second-year students often interview possible candidates for their MBA program. Having a student interviewer shouldn’t change how you act (keep it professional, not casual), but it might change the questions you want to ask. Don’t be afraid to inquire about their opinions on classes, campus culture, and how you might fit in.
While schools do rely somewhat on student and alumni interviewers, they take the interview process very seriously. No school wants untrained or unstandardized interviewers to affect your chances of getting in.