This lecture builds on the principles introduced in the previous "Understanding the Admissions Interview" video lecture. You will learn you how to prepare effective responses to the types of questions interviewers ask candidates in order to gauge their qualifications for an MBA.
This lecture builds on the theories and principles from the previous 101 lecture; so if you haven't already completed 101 "Understanding the Admissions Interview", I strongly suggest that you do so before proceeding with this 201 lecture.
Welcome back everyone for the 2nd lecture in our interview prep series.
Let's start by reviewing where we've been and where we're headed in this lecture series.
In the 101 lecture: Understanding the Admissions Interview, I told you about the qualifications and qualities interviewers will be looking for and the types of questions you are likely to be asked on interview day.
So in final exam terms, we've covered what you're going to be tested on, and now you're ready to start preparing for the test.
If you'll remember, in the last lecture, I distinguished between two broad objectives: Proving You Qualify and Proving You Fit. In this 201 lecture, I'm going to teach you how to prepare answers that prove you qualify.
In the 301 lecture, we'll be talking about how to prepare stories that prove you fit.
As I've said before, prep and practice make perfect. Interview day isn't the time to be road testing your responses to common questions or smoothing out the rough edges in your delivery. You can practice interviewing with friends or, if you'd like you can sign up at via our website (mbaprepschool.com) for private tutorial mock interviews with me or one of our experienced MBA Prep School tutors.
Let's take a look at the 201 lesson plan.
On interview day, you must prove you're qualified for a spot in a top MBA program.
We'll start off this lecture by reviewing the four qualifying areas I introduced in the 101 lecture, and then I'll provide you with a step-by-step process for building interview responses that will score top marks with your admissions interviewer.
We'll also look at some examples of effective responses to the typical qualifying questions.
If you do the work I'm going to recommend in this lecture, then you'll be ready to put your best foot forward on interview day and prove that you qualify.
We'll also preview what's coming up in the 301 lecture, which is where I'll share the secrets of proving you fit.
So let's start out with a review of the qualifications for an MBA:
The four qualifying areas you'll remember are your:
- Career Goals;
- Career Progress;
- Motivations for Pursuing an MBA; and
- Potential Contributions to the program.
I'm going to teach you a step-by-step method that I use with my clients to help them build interview responses in each of these four areas. There are four steps in this process…
1st: You want to review the typical qualifying questions
I'll provide you with some example questions for each of the four qualifying areas. You should also study interview transcripts and be able to recognize other interview prompts for the same kind of qualifying question.
The 2nd step is to Internalize the Criteria for Top Marks
Before you begin building your answers you want to have a firm grasp on those criteria to serve as a kind of objective statement to test the response you're building.
3rd: You'll Assemble Your Content Building Blocks
Your interviewer may only ask you a single question to prompt a response, but what you'll see is that certain other questions are implied. I'm going to give you a set of content building blocks for each qualification area that will help you to craft a unique and powerful response.
The last step is to Outline Your Interview Response
With the ground work done; you'll be ready to write out your answers or at least create a very thorough outline.
Now that you understand the steps in the process, we'll go through each qualifying area. We'll review some typical qualification questions and the criteria for top marks. Then, I'll describe the content building blocks and show you how to use them. We'll even look at some examples of how other candidates used them to build their interview responses.
Let's start with Career Goals.
Some typical career goals interview questions include:
-- What are your short-term and long-term career goals?
-- What's your career vision?
-- and Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
When it comes to your career goals, top marks are earned by having clearly defined post-MBA career plans that go beyond climbing the corporate ladder. Interviewers will be assessing how much you'll benefit from an MBA, but they will also be gauging your passion for the career you describe and looking for evidence that your career goals are fueled by a larger sense of purpose.
I'm going to assume that you already have you career goals mapped out and have written about them in your essays. I'm going to give you a set of content building blocks that will allow you expand and improve your career goals interview response.
The four content building blocks for the career goals question are career purpose, career meaning, your long-term career goal, and your career action plan. For each building block, I'll prompt you with a question that will help you when it comes time to build the content for your answer, and I'll also show you an example of how one candidate assembled his Career Goals content building blocks.
The examples in this lecture are disguised composites of actual clients I've worked with. Our example applicant in this case is an investment banker who wants to return to private equity post-MBA. That career goal seems pretty straightforward so why did he need go beyond the answer "My goal is to work in private equity"? If he stopped there, he'd be missing out on an excellent opportunity to score top marks and to differentiate himself from every other candidate with private equity career aspirations.
As I define each content building block, we'll see how he developed content for each one and, afterwards, we'll listen to a sample of his interview response.
As you'll see, when building content for his answer this candidate goes beyond answering the "what question" and answers the "why question" – he describes his passion and purpose.
You too will want to create a statement of career purpose. A statement of career purpose doesn't exist on an organization chart. It's not the job; it's what you hope to achieve in the world in a larger sense. Tell your interviewer about a problem that you are passionate about solving and how your career will serve and benefit others.
In regards to his career purpose, our example candidate happens to be from the Ukraine and his career goal is to start a fund in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). His career purpose, in a larger sense, is to spur economic development in the former Soviet Union.
The next content building block is Career Meaning. A sense of purpose is important but to convince the interviewer that you are passionate about your career you should also share its meaning to you. Admission officers believe that great ambitions are achieved when an individual's goals are fueled by the heart as well as the mind. One way to express career meaning is tell your interviewer about the moment your career aspirations became clear to you; you could share a personal and/or emotional connection to your career goals.
In terms of career meaning and his personal connection to this goal, our example candidate plans to talk about a recent visit to a family member in Kiev during which his career goals came into focus.
The point is that your inspiration to follow a future path came from somewhere. Spend some time and find a personal and even emotional connection to your career goals.
Once your career's purpose and meaning is defined you can progress to building a succinct statement of your long-term career goals. The long-term career goal includes the job you want and the kind of organization you want to be leading in 10 years.
Our example candidate's long-term career goals are more unique than simply saying he wants to start a Private equity fund– his fund will have a geographic focus that relates to his family background and will benefit others by providing much needed economic development in the former Soviet Union. He even hopes to serve as an economic advisor to governments in the CIS in the longer term.
The final building block is your career action plan – it includes the jobs and organizations you plan to work for along the way toward your 10 year career goal. For each job on your path explain briefly how the position and role will move you a step closer to your long-term career goal in terms of things like additional skills, essential experiences, and a stronger network.
For his career action plan, our private equity candidate plans to work for an established fund in the region for a number of years before eventually starting his own fund. In the later stages of his career, he also hopes to become an economic advisor to the government in the region.
Let's take a moment to review our example candidates content building blocks.
Take a moment to review the four building blocks and his content for each and then let's listen to how he assembled them in his interview response to the career goals question.
We don't have time to analyze each interview response in detail; so I just want to ask a question:
Did this candidate score top marks? Did his answer provide "Clearly defined, post-MBA career goals which are fueled by a sense of passion and purpose"
I believe he did; I think his answer was comprehensive and memorable and it covers all the building block questions; this answer should set him apart for other candidates who also have their sights set on going to business school to work in Private Equity.
One other observation I want to make is about the structure of his response.
The structure he follows is Lead, Body, and Conclusion. I'll define each part of the structure.
The Lead is the executive summary of his answer. I like it when applicants give me the headline answer as quickly as possible. It can even be the first sentence that comes out of your mouth. An effective lead gives your listener an outline of the answer you're about to give. Interviewers appreciate this roadmap because it allows them follow your answer more easily.
Once you've provide the lead of your response you can proceed to the body of your answer.
The Body of your response depends on the question asked. It might be the elements of your career goals or it could be a story about working on a team.
You've been writing conclusions to essays for years; so there's not much more to be said, just a reminder that you should echo the points you made in the lead and body of your response. Another benefit of a clear conclusion is that you don't leave your interviewer wondering if you're finished with your answer.
The next qualifying area is your career progress. As I just did with career goals, I'll review some example interview questions and the criteria for tops marks before supplying you with some content building blocks and an example of a career progress story from the same applicant we've just been talking about.
Most interviewers will begin the interview by asking about your career progress thus far. They might ask you to walk them through your resume or about the decisions that led you to your current job. Even if the question is "Tell me about yourself" you'll want to transition fairly quickly from biographical background into your career story.
My advice is to avoid reciting the information on your resume. Instead, tell your career story. An effective response to career progress questions will give the interviewer a sense of the career decisions you've made, your major achievements in each step of your career, and what skills or knowledge you've acquired along the way. It goes without saying that you want to emphasize the experiences and qualities that business school's value such as leadership, teamwork, and problem solving.
Your career progress story should clearly demonstrate momentum toward your ultimate career goals including expanded skills, knowledge, and business relationships. Remember that admission interviewers will be assessing your "employability" and how well your career story might play with future recruiters.
To score top marks, you'll provide evidence of "distinguished academic and career performance in the top 10% of your peer group and demonstrated potential for future advancement."
A resume is a list of jobs and achievements -- a career story provides the connections and interrelationships between those jobs and brings your resume to life. In the next series of slides, I'm going to show how to assemble the building blocks for your career story.
Your first step in writing your career story is to identify the major phases in your career so far. You can think of these as the chapters of your career story.
Keep in mind that you won't have time to go in to detail about each phase of your career – even if a chapter of your career lasted two or three years your interviewer only wants the Cliff Notes.
Typically the chapter will begin with your decision to take the job, proceed to the most significant challenges and achievements in that role, and end with a brief accounting of your learning and growth. The bridge to the next chapter are the reasons you decided to take the next step in your career journey.
After you've outlined the content building blocks for each chapter, you will want to create a lead or central message for your career story – think of it as what you want your interviewer to remember about your career as a whole. Although you'll create the lead as the last step, in building story it will generally be delivered at the beginning of your interview response.
Let's take a closer look at the steps you'll go through to assemble your career story and how the private equity analyst I introduced in the career goals section assembled the content building blocks for his career story.
Your first step is to decide how you plan to divide your career into phases or chapters. Changing companies is an obvious chapter break but a step forward inside the same company such as a promotion, a major increase in responsibility, or being assigned to a high profile project might also mark a new phase in your career.
Mentioning promotions and special recognition from your superiors is a good idea but you want to avoid sounding like you're bragging. For example, when referring to a promotion emphasize the accomplishments that resulted in the promotion and the increase in responsibility rather than the new job title.
Our example candidate has two major chapters in his career story. Chapter 1 is graduating from college and accepting a 2-year analyst position at Deutsche Bank, which culminated in an offer for a third year. In Chapter 2, he passed up the promotion at Deutsche Bank and accepted an analyst job at Astrix Partners where he's now been working for 18 months. For example purposes, we'll be focusing only on Chapter 2 of this candidate's career story.
Each chapter in your career story should have a beginning, middle, and end. Begin the chapter with your career decision: Interviewers can read about what jobs you had on your resume but only you can explain why you took the job -- or volunteered for a big assignment.
Ideally each new chapter in your career was initiated by you and signified a step forward in your career plan, but if it was unplanned and outside of your control that's okay too. For example, if you were laid off, instead of hiding it, focus on the positives – it's a chance to show resiliency and that you can land on your feet after a setback.
For our example candidate, we'll just focus on his decision to leave Deutsche Bank and join Astrix Partners. He'll certainly want to mention that he was offered a 3rd year analyst role at DB because it's a distinction that only the top performers can claim.
The next building blocks are the significant challenges and accomplishment during this chapter of your career. Provide a quick example of a stand out moment if possible.
In terms of significant achievements, our candidate plans to talk about sourcing a private equity deal, which is again quite rare for someone of his age and position.
The third building blocks are learning and growth. You could talk about knowledge acquired, lessons learned, or even how your network expanded, but the most important and interesting things are what you learned about yourself: a new talent discovered, the emergence of a new career interest, or clarity on an existing one.
Our private equity applicant's learning and growth is pretty straightforward, but I think he's wise to emphasize his passion for the private equity field and what skills he's acquired because as we know from his career goals answer, he plans to continue in private equity after his MBA.
After you've generated content for the chapters of your career story take a step back and create a Lead for your story. You'll remember that a Lead is a kind of executive summary that communicates what the story is about. If you had to sum up your career in a sentence or no more than two how would you do it? Some people call the career story lead as your elevator speech – imagine that you had to convey the essence of your career story to an interviewer during the course of a short elevator ride.
The lead for our banker's career story is that he's progressed from a fresh-faced analyst to an experienced private equity veteran.
Let's look at the assembled building blocks for chapter in his career story – his time at Astrix Partners.
Career Story Lead: Progressed from a green analyst to a private equity professional
Take a moment to review the building blocks and this candidate's content for each.
I think this career story is a good example case because there's nothing particularly exotic about his career. He has followed a more or less typical path from tier 1 investment banking into a private equity shop. Although his career path is fairly traditional, he is able to prove he qualifies for an MBA by going beyond the information that the interviewer can easily glean from the resume.
Let's listen to how he assembled these content building block in his interview response to the career progress question.
Again, we aren't going to analyze this interview response in detail, but let's test it against our qualifying criteria: "Distinguished academic and career performance in the top 10% of his peer group and demonstrated potential for future advancement."
Presumably, he'd cover academic performance in another area of his answers, but I think this excerpt clearly validates his career performance and potential for future advancement, not to mention employability in Private Equity post business school.
The third qualifying area, which we'll cover next, is your motivation for deciding to apply for an MBA.
Your interviewer is almost sure to ask why you believe you need an MBA and even about the timing of your decision to go back to school. Even if the honest answer is "I'm in a two year analyst program, and I didn't get offered a third year", you had better "expand" on that answer.
This is a major life decision– not to mention a major investment decision. If your interviewer finishes this part of the interview with a sense that you haven't built a solid case for this huge investment, then he or she would be justified in wondering what kind of business leader you're going to be in the future.
Along the same lines, when you're asked "Why are you applying to our program?" telling your interviewer that you looked at the BusinessWeek rankings and they were ranked first, just won't suffice.
When it comes to your motivations for pursuing an MBA, you'll score top marks if you make it clear that your future career requires an MBA: not just the diploma on the wall or the letters on your resume but all the things that an MBA imparts: skills, knowledge, the network, and personal growth.
Interviewers will also be impressed if you give them an honest assessment of your development needs and connect those to the unique classes, programs, and experiences available in that particular MBA program. As you'll see in a moment, the best answers are both personal and specific.
Hopefully, I have convinced you that communicating a compelling case for pursuing an MBA is critically important. Now, I'm going to show you how to build your case.
Responding to the motivations question is about impressing your interviewer with the clarity of your rationale for going to business school and convincing them that the program is a perfect fit with your career goals and development needs.
The mistake I see applicants make when responding to this question is that their answers are "boiler plate:"
"I want an MBA because of the comprehensive business education. Your school has all the classes, clubs, and professors I could ask for. You have a strong alumni network. Oh and I want to be a better leader too."
I guess those answers are an improvement over saying you're applying because of the BusinessWeek rankings -- but not that much better. You haven't convinced your interviewer that you've thought deeply about the decision to pursue an MBA or that this program is absolutely the best one -- not for just anyone but specifically for you.
The interesting thing is that your interview response should cover the same categories in the boiler plate example I just gave you; you just need to make your points personal and specific. The content building blocks for an effective response are:
- Academic Programs
- Student Organizations
- Alumni Network
- And Leadership and Management Growth
You should personalize your motivations by expressing them in terms of your specific growth and development needs as related to your future career goals.
Specificity means making your reasons specific to the program you're interviewing with. If possible, point to academic programs, professors, and clubs that will only be available in the MBA program you are interviewing with.
In the next slide, I'll take a boilerplate response and show you how it's improved by being personal and specific:
To personalize your motivations for pursuing an MBA, you want revisit your career goals and ask yourself what sorts of challenges you'll be facing in the future and what new skills and knowledge you'll need to succeed.
Again, I want to encourage to go beyond boiler plate answers such as "I need to learn about marketing" and personalize your answer – Go further and think about what facets of marketing are important given your career goals.
For example, our case study applicant plans to start a luxury retail manufacturing company; so marketing expertise will be important but specifically expertise in building a brand in the luxury retail sector.
Personalizing your learning objectives given your career goals is the first step, but let's not forget that your interviewer isn't just asking why you need an MBA, but "Why do you need an MBA from my program?"
That's where specificity comes in: If you've explained that one of your motivations for pursuing an MBA is to acquire expertise in brand building then you need to point to specific programs and resources that the school you are interviewing with offers in that arena.
Let's see how our example candidate built his case for Columbia by being both personal and specific.
It's not a generic marketing course that appeals to him -- it's the "Design and Marketing of Luxury Products Course" and the "Marketing Master Class"
He's not applying because of the quote unquote "Top-Notch Class Professors "– he's going specifically to study with Retail Marketing Guru, John Smith.
Sure the school has 80 student organizations but he wants to be President of the Retail and Luxury Goods Club.
And yes, the alumni network is valuable to him, specifically the fact that New York is a major fashion hub and he'll have access to Columbia alums who work in fashion.
So I hope you can see that proving you qualify requires motivations that operate on two dimensions: they are personalized to your development goals and tied to the school's unique attributes and resources.
Let's take a listen to how this candidate assembled his building blocks to answer the Why MBA, Why our School" question.
Our example interview response is an excerpt from this candidate's Why Columbia answer.
What I want you to notice here is the personalization and specificity achieved -- all his self-assessment and the research he's done on the program pays off. Let's listen:
Our candidate proves he qualifies because he has provided convincing motivations for pursuing an MBA, specifically an MBA from Columbia. This isn't easy to do and that's exactly why in depth research on the school's unique resources will differentiate you from the competition.
Ok, so let's cover our fourth and final qualifying area: Potential Contributions to the Program.
As I've said before, there are more qualified candidates than there are seats in the class; so an interviewer is interested in what you can bring to the table. In your interview, you may be asked what you unique things you can contribute if accepted.
Typical questions include:
-- How can you enrich next year's class?
-- How will you contribute to our community?
-- In one case, one of my clients was asked point blank: "Why should we accept you?
The questions wasn't asked in a mean-spirited way. The interviewer just wanted to give my client a chance to argue his case for being accepted. This was actually another chance to differentiate himself.
The Contributions Questions are an invitation to express your unique personality, perspective, and values. Your life experiences and how they've shaped your perspective and could benefit your classmates are gifts that only you can give. The key to scoring top marks is to avoid vague generalities and provide concrete examples of what you can contribute to the program.
Let's talk about the content building blocks for the contributions question:
The first building block question is to help you brainstorm your Unique Features. You want to ask yourself:
"What are my unique life experiences, knowledge, strengths/talents?"
Really suspend judgment and brainstorm at this stage. Come up with as many things as you can. When taken together these things make you a candidate who is unlike any other. This question is also an area to talk about your unique personality, perspective, and values. Those elements can differentiate you too.
The list of things that are unique about you are not your contributions but rather they relate to your potential to contribute. What you need to do next is to take your "unique features" and translate them into benefits to the program and your classmates.
You are unique – the question is:
"How could these different, interesting, and unusual things about me benefit the program and my future classmates?
Some of the unique things about you may not easily translate into benefits to your classmates. The one's you want to concentrate are those that will. You may have to be creative in you're your translation work as we'll see in our example in a moment.
For each benefit you come up with the final step is to customize those benefits for the MBA Program you are interviewing for.
The building block question is :
"In what concrete ways can I deliver those benefits if am accepted by the school I'm interviewing for?"
This is a step that many candidates forego. That's a shame because by specifying the way you will exercise your potential in a school-specific class, club, or program you paint a picture of the kind of student you will be if accepted; furthermore, you show your knowledge of the program by specifying the ways you can get involved.
That's what I mean by "concrete contributions." Don't make your interviewer infer why a unique feature will benefit your classmates or even how a specific benefit will be of value in the program you are interviewing for.
Let's look at some examples:
So we've covered three examples of how our case study candidate came up with a number of unique features or "uniques" and then translated those into benefits and then tailored those benefits to the specific program he was applying to: Kellogg.
Let's listen to how they were assembled in this fictional applicants answer to a question about how he could enrich the experience of his Kellogg classmates:
So this is a made-up example, but I think that this answer scores top marks in the contributions qualifying area. He qualifies by providing "concrete answers about what [he] can contribute to the program."
One last thing I'll say is that what's exciting about this kind of interview question is that just about any talent you have could be interesting to your interviewer and add value to your future classmates.
For example, one of my clients was a professionally trained singer who had participated in musical theater her whole life. She didn't think there was any point in mentioning this during her Wharton interview until after we did some investing and found out that Wharton has an acappella group called the Whartones and that the Wharton Follies, an annual student produced show that is one of the centerpieces of Wharton's social programs, was pure musical theater. Suddenly, she had an interesting and memorable talent to talk about that could specifically benefit her future classmates.
Let me just say that If you know the name of Wharton's acappella choir, do you think your interview will leave any doubt that you are sincerely interested in going to Wharton? Probably not.
On interview day, you must prove you need to prove you're qualified for a spot in a top MBA program.
We started off this lecture by reviewing the four qualifying areas:
-- Career Goals
-- Career Progress
-- Motivations for Pursuing an MBA
-- Contributions to the Program
I provided you with a step-by-step process for building interview responses.
-- We Reviewed the Typical Qualification and the Criteria for Top Marks
-- And the Content Building Blocks for building an effective response.
-- We also looked at lead, body, conclusion structure of outlining and delivering your Interview Response
If you do the work I've recommended in this lecture, then you'll be ready to put your best foot forward on interview day and prove that you qualify.
Let's take a peek at what's coming up in the 301 lecture, proving you fit.
"Admissions is all about the right fit."
In the 301 lecture I'll talk about fit and how you prove you fit.
Fit isn't a a quality per se, rather it's a combination of qualities -- the collection of qualities that the program values most. Fit is an intangible -- but it can be defined. In the 301 lecture I am going to show you how to define fit on a school basis, show you how to use those "FIT qualities" to select your best stories, and a few secrets to telling your stories more effectively.
I'll teach you to Prove You Fit because I believe that's the secret to earning an acceptance letter.
Reference: Lecture Slides and Speaker Notes