Business school interviews are a different breed. You need to not only prove why you belong at the institution, but also showcase what you’ll do with the degree once you re-enter the workforce. It’s essentially a school interview and a job interview all wrapped up in one discussion. As such, you’ll need to prepare a robust strategy. Here are nine expert tips to keep in mind.
Recognize that it’s a business: MBA programs that are considered desirable are measured on the jobs that students take after graduating, said Roy Cohen, a career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide. When you are being interviewed, you are being assessed for your ability to land a high-paying job. You’ll need to showcase how your prior experience – combined with an MBA degree – will give you the leverage to land a specific job, he said.
“If someone says I want to work for a hedge fund, and they’re currently working in the corporate retail program at Macy’s, good luck,” Cohen said. “Schools may disqualify people who need too much work for repackaging and repurposing.” Your story – or end goal – needs to make sense with your prior experience, at least in the eyes of the beholder.
“In the simplest terms, you want to connect the dots for the admissions committee: Your pre-MBA experience + your MBA at their school = reasonably likely to achieve your well-defined post-MBA goal,” said Wendy Flynn, founder of MBA admissions consulting firm, MBA Admissions Coach.
Answer questions…and more: You need to respond to what they ask, but then use it as a platform to convey your added value as a student, says Dan Bauer, CEO and founder of business school admissions consulting firm MBA Exchange. Allow them to ‘check the box’ with your answer, then begin to differentiate yourself.
Banish nerves through preparation: Your resume and application got you in the door, but it’s your ability to communicate that will get you an admissions offer. “Nothing is more damaging to an MBA applicant than nervous interview behavior,” said Flynn. Extensive preparation – including mock interviews – is the easiest way to refine your answers to be more natural. Flynn suggests interviewing on video so that you can go back and review your performance and identify ways to improve your delivery.
Check the pipe dream at the door: As mentioned above, schools want to admit ‘hire-able’ candidates. Coming in with a practical post-graduate goal that is not overly ambitious can help seal the deal in the minds of admissions staffer, said Cohen. “Don’t come in with a pipe dream without a defensible strategy,” Cohen said. “They may be humored by it, but it may not lead to admission.”
And remember: the goal is to get admitted. What you end up doing with your degree after graduation is entirely up to you.
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Questions aren’t meant to get answers: Use your questions strategically, rather than to just get information that’s likely available online, Bauer said. Bring up topics that provide opportunities for you to impress. “Use it as a device to make sure you that they know things about you that they didn’t ask but you feel are important,” he said.
Get specific: Speaking to current MBA holders, there are two questions that are asked in every interview: “What do you want to do with your degree” and “why us?” Surely, you’ll have an answer to first question. The second you’ll need to prepare for.
“Your answers to these questions need to be robust and thoughtful, not just parroting information from the school's web site,” Flynn said.
Be confident, but not cocky: “Never take the interview for granted, assuming your record is attractive enough,” Cohen said. “How you come across will be weighed heavily.” Weeding candidates out in the interview stage often involves identifying conflicts between a candidate’s GPA, their test scores and their ability to express themselves, he said.
Control red flags: If you have a red flag on your resume – whether it’s a lack of professional experience or a mediocre GPA, for example – be proactive, but wait to bring it up until the end of the interview, after you've established some rapport with the interviewer, Flynn said. Feel confident in the fact that they likely wouldn’t have interviewed you the red flag would end your chances.
Expect admissions officers bring it up, though, if you don’t. An MBA holder who asked to remain nameless had a red flag – a short stint at one undergraduate program – and said each and every interviewer inquired.
Two-way street: Finally, with all the impressing you’ll need to do, remember that you are interviewing them too, Flynn said. Pushing the interviewer well help you find the right school while also mitigating any sense of desperation that may otherwise be emitted.