Interviews ahead? Don’t miss these 5 must-conquer interview themes
The shock that you might actually get into a top MBA program has worn off and the reality that you have only 45 short minutes between you, MBA success and $100K in debt has set in. Well, not to worry – you can sign those loan documents shortly if you can formulate strong answers to these 5 themes in your next interview.
1. Your story: “Tell me about yourself.”
Let’s face it—it’s the question you’ll hear it at some point during the MBA interview, usually in the beginning. Prepare to deliver a clear, concise “elevator speech” about yourself to the interviewer.
Capture the first few moments with your experience during your undergraduate career, give a run through of your work experience and accomplishments until now, and state your career goals. While you’re doing this, give clear transitions with insights into why you made each career move.
More to come on how to tell a good story in a future MBA post.
2. Your Vision: “Why do you want an MBA and what are you going to do with it?”
Be ready to articulate a compelling rationale for why you want to make this investment at this time in your career. If you are a good applicant, you will have known by this point why you want to pursue an MBA. If you’re still unsure—“I just feel it” or “know it” type—now’s the time to sit down to really flesh out your gut feelings.
“Just moving on” type of answer won’t do the trick. “I’m ready to leverage my analytical skill set to make a transition into finance” sounds a whole lot better.
In addition to acing the “Why MBA” question, you’ll need to give a clear explanation why you want an MBA from that particular program. Yale SOM is very different than Haas or Booth. Preparing for this question might be challenging if you’ve applied to a bunch of different schools, but it’s extremely important.
Whenever it’s logistically or financially possible, plan a visit the school prior to an interview, so you can really nail the question about why that school is the right fit, but you can also connect with students and alumni at your target schools on platforms like Admit.me, or personal connections.
Finally, career goals. We can spend an entire blog on this (and we will be soon), but the most important thing here is to be focused and realistic. Your career track (short-term and long-term) won’t be audited after business school, but they need to make sense to the MBA interviewer. If you’ve spent the last three years in Teach for America, your best chance of going into private equity right after business school might be an outbreak of a finance virus that wipes out all former bankers and private equity analysts. Sorry, but #notlikely
3. Leadership and character: Show it, don’t say it
Here’s some simple logic on leadership: Business schools want business leaders. Business leaders are successful. Successful people make money. Successful people with money tend to give back to their alma mater.
Business schools LIKE that. Show schools that you have demonstrated some leadership. That leadership can come in lots of different forms including project management, people management, leading others in an informal way, and community leadership, among others. Schools are looking for some demonstrated leadership (not necessarily management unless you are an eMBA) that would give them an indication that you have the potential to be a successful leader and, thus, write checks. Follow the logic people.
Regarding character, schools have had enough headline risk over the years that they’re done accepting low character people. Think about what you value in life and the times when your values were challenged. Lots of questions could go in this direction, so have a good set of answers. If not, copy someone else’s (just kidding). Questions tend to take a few forms:
- What would you say are your key values? (Upfront list)
- Tell me about a time when someone challenged your values. (Experiential principle challenges)
- What would others say about you? (Reflective character)
- You’ve seen this scandal in the news, how would you handle…? (Mini case study)
4. Weaknesses: Be humble yet determined
Everyone has weaknesses. If you don’t think so, ask your significant other. Forget those cheesy answers like, “I’m a perfectionist” and so on. Take some time to really think about it. The key is to think about those weaknesses AND what you’re doing to improve them.
A good example is: “I’ve never been a great orator, but I’m now active in Toastmasters and led a presentation at my company offsite in front of the entire company.” This shows your willingness to attack your weaknesses head on.
Humility is an important theme you want to weave in your overall story. Once you’re in, you’re part of the brand forever and arrogance is a huge turnoff. No one wants to be working with an arrogant colleague or classmate.
This is why some schools (i.e. Wharton) adopted group interviews. Schools are finding that they learn a lot about the candidates by simply observing them in a group setting. It’s more difficult to hide your interactive weaknesses that way.
Stick to highlighting what you did and the impact you made – let your recommenders tell the admissions committee how great you are. I’m a Cam Newton fan, but leave your gold MVP shoes at home for the interview. I’m just saying.
5. Differentiation: Color in a monochrome crowd
The importance of MBA differentiation—or MBA branding as we call it at Admit.me—cannot be ignored, especially in a large pool of competent applicants. Your goal is to deliver a targeted message that highlights key character traits/stories while making sure to appropriately answer each question.
Think about it this way: At the end of the interview, you want the interviewer to be your biggest advocate and be able to clearly articulate exactly what makes you a good candidate. That’s differentiation. Make it easy on the interviewer, otherwise, you may find yourself on the outside looking in.
Make a list of 4-6 key traits or stories you want to be the core of your “MBA brand.” Once you know what messages you want to deliver, prepare each interview question with a multiple choice answer set with those key themes as the potential answers. Easier said than done—Experts at Admit.me have been developing resources and assisting applicants to perform MBA branding at its best.