The admissions interview is the final exam in the application process, and in this video you will learn what you are going to be tested on so that you can focus your preparation on the areas that matter most. We introduce the typical interview questions that you'll need to be prepared for and help you to master the basics of admission interviewing before moving onto more advanced topics in the second and third lectures in our Admissions Interview Prep series.
Whether you've already received an interview invitation or are anticipating one, this series of lectures will provide you with a step-by-step approach to preparing for interview day.
There are three lectures in this series. Let's start off with an overview of what I'll be teaching you in each of those three lectures.
I believe there are four steps to effective interview prep:
1st: understanding the admissions interview
2nd: preparing answers that prove you're qualified
3rd: preparing stories that prove you fit
And 4th: perfecting your delivery.
In this 101 class, I'm going to help you to understand the admissions interview – I tell my clients to think of the admissions interview as the final exam in the application process; in final exam terms, this lecture covers the things you're going to be tested on.
In the 201 class, titled "Proving You Qualify", I'll show you how to prepare responses to the questions interviewers will be asking to gauge whether or not your qualified for an MBA.
In the 301 lecture, I'm going to show you how to build stories that will convince your interviewer that you're a great "fit" with his or her school.
If you attend all three classes and follow the steps I'm going to share with you, you'll have the content you need to put your best foot forward on interview day. To perfect your delivery, you'll want to practice your responses on your own and complete a mock interview or two with friends and family or with one of our experienced admission consultants via a private tutorial.
I'm eager to share the tool and tips that have helped my clients stand out of from the competition on interview day. Let's take a look at the lesson plan for the 101 lecture.
The 101 lecture is about helping you to understand the admissions interview. Using our "Final Exam" analogy, I'm going to talk about what you'll be tested on; so that you can focus your preparation on the areas that matter most.
From the standpoint of preparing for this final exam– or any exam for that matter – you want to master the basics first and then move on to the advanced topics.
The basics are the questions your interviewer will ask to determine if you're qualified for an MBA. I'll talk about those first.
If you can prove you're qualified then your challenge is to prove you're a great Fit. Proving you fit requires providing evidence that you possess the qualities the school values most. In this class, I'll be sharing the "Fit Qualities" valued by most Top MBA programs.
Besides the Qualifying questions and the Fit questions, there a few other categories of questions that you'll want to be prepared for, and I'll cover those at the end before previewing the lesson plan for the 201 lecture.
So now that you have a sense of where we're headed in this prep series and in this particular class, let's get started by talking about the types of questions you'll be facing in an admissions interview.
The questions you'll be asked in your interview fall into two broad categories:
Qualifying Questions; and
Qualifying Questions generally address four areas, your…
-- Career progress
-- Career goals
-- Motivations for pursuing an MBA
-- and Potential Contributions to the program
The other category of questions are what I call "Fit" Questions. Fit questions are asked to determine if you're a good fit with the school, which is another way of saying that you possess the qualities the program values most such as leadership potential, a collaborative orientation, and creativity. We'll come back to the different types of Fit Questions in a few minutes. For now I'll just say that they often don't sound like questions at all; more like invitations to tell a story, which is exactly what they are. Fit questions are designed to elicit stories that will provide the interview with some insight into your past behaviors, strengths, weaknesses, decision making abilities, and personality.
Because there are many more qualified candidates than there are seats in the class, the secret to convincing your interviewer to recommend you, is proving you "fit".
Let's talk about proving you qualify first. Then I'll have more to say about proving you fit.
The four qualifying areas again are:
Motivations for Pursuing an MBA; and
Potentials Contributions to the program
I'm going to talk about each of the four qualifying areas and share an interviewer's criteria for assigning top marks. Let's start with career progress.
Most interviews will begin with the interviewer asking you to recount your career progress. Typical questions include:
-- Walk me through your resume.
-- Tell me about your career so far
-- And What decisions have you made that led to your current role?
The interviewer is perfectly capable of reading your resume. A good answer to these types of 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 have acquired along the way.
Think of this as your career story. A resume is a list of jobs and achievements -- a career story provides the connections and interrelationships between those jobs. Your career story brings your resume to life.
In the 201 lecture, I'll be teaching you how to build an excellent response for each qualifying question. For now I want you to understand what an interviewer is listening for when they ask you about your career progress.
To score top marks on the career progress questions, you'll need to provide evidence of distinguished academic and career performance in the top 10% of your peer group and demonstrate your potential for future advancement.
Your career story is about the past; at some point in the interview, the discussion will shift from the past to the future – your career goals.
These questions are easy to recognize they include:
-- What are your short-term and long-term career goals?
-- What is 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 and earning loads of money. 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. If you can communicate your career vision clearly and with enthusiasm, you'll also send signals about your leadership potential.
The third category of qualifying questions are about your motivations for pursuing an MBA.
The interviewer is going to ask you:
-- Why you need an MBA?
-- Why now is the best time for you go back to school.
-- And more specifically, why are you applying to his or her school?
The best answers I hear to these types of questions are both personal and specific. They are personal because they cover the unique challenges that you (as opposed to candidates with different career goals) need to prepare for in the future. They are specific because they draw distinct connections between your motivations for an MBA and the specific resources that particular school has to offer. An excellent response will show that you don't just want an MBA, you want an MBA from that particular school.
The final category of questions in the proving you qualify area are your "Potential Contributions to the Program"
-- What can you contribute to our program?
-- How can you enrich next year's class?
And even a point-blank question like:
-- Why should we accept you?
Competition is fierce for seats in a top program; so your interviewer will want to know what you can bring to the table. Concrete answers about what you can contribute to the program are very important. The schools want to admit candidates who will put in just as much as they take out.
The secret here is to be concrete and specific. Too many candidates answer in vague generalities: "I' plan to be student leader" or "I'll be a team player" or "I can bring a diverse perspective." You'll score more points if you've identified a specific club you'd like to lead or even one you want to start. This question is also an invitation to express your unique personality, perspective, and values. Your life experiences and how they could benefit your classmates are treasures that only you bring to the table.
Proving you qualify moves you one step closer to receiving an acceptance letter. But because this final exam is graded on a curve, and many candidates are qualified objectively speaking, you must convince the interviewer that you are the best "Fit."
So let's talk about how to "Prove You Fit".
Fit isn't a specific quality; rather it is a combination of qualities -- you might think of them as the highest common denominators amongst candidates who are accepted. They are the qualities and characteristics that the program values most.
The categories of Fit Questions, and I'll define each one shortly, include:
--and Personal/Conversational questions
No matter which Fit Questions you're asked, the criteria for top marks are the same.
You must provide ample evidence of the specific qualities the school values most.
In this class, I'll introduce you to a list of universal qualities that I believe all of the top MBA programs value.
But first, I'll cover the various types of fit questions and provide you with some examples of each type and a few tips on how to approach them.
The primary category of Fit Questions are the behavioral questions.
Behavioral questions don't sound like questions at all; they sound more like an invitation to tell a story, which is exactly what they are. Examples include:
Tell me about a time you lead a team
Tell me about an accomplishment you're proud of ...
And When have you made a lasting impact on an organization.
The theory behind behavioral interview questions is that your past behaviors are the best predictor of your future behavior. Your stories are a window into the qualities you possess. The interviewer will be listening for evidence of the qualities the program values in the stories you tell.
We devote the entire 301 lecture in this series to the secrets of proving you fit, but for the time being I'll just say that if you know what qualities the program is looking for and use those quote/unquote "Fit Qualities" to select and shape your stories, then you'll have the evidence you need to prove you fit.
Another category of fit questions are the self-evaluative questions:
Questions in the self-evaluative category include:
-- Tell me about yourself.
-- What are three of your strengths? – Or the much dreaded:
-- What are three of your weaknesses?
Self-evaluative questions require you to demonstrate self-awareness and these questions are some of the most difficult ones to answer. Not only because seeing yourself objectively is tricky, but also because summing up what you know about yourself to another person can be particularly challenging.
Let's consider the "Tell me about yourself" question. This is not an invitation to tell your life story; it's okay to start with a few biographical details, but you'll want transition into your career story fairly quickly. As with all Fit questions, you want to use the self-evaluative questions to emphasize the qualities that make you an excellent fit with the program.
Also, a brief word of advice about weaknesses – don't try to get away with a strength disguised as a weakness like "I just can't say no to projects. I'm always taking on too much work." Admissions officers can see through those answers. Instead, focus on real weakness that business school might help you to address. For example, one of my clients who was working in Private Equity acknowledged that he had been so eager to have closed transactions on his resume that he'd developed a tendency to look at every deal through rose colored. He needed to learn to see what could go wrong rather than always advocating what could go right. That is a good answer to the weakness question because it a weakness that is unique to him and his situation and one that business school would help him to address.
As you can see from the types of questions we've already discussed self-awareness is important to MBA programs, that includes an ability to evaluate your past decisions, which is our next category of Fit Questions.
Past decision questions give your interviewer an insight into your decision making abilities and how your mind works:
These questions might take the form of:
-- Why did you major in economics?
-- Why did you leave your first job?
-- or Tell me about a difficult decision you had to make.
Questions of this type require you to recount the steps you went through when faced with an important decision. When you're telling a story about a past decision be sure to explain what options you considered, describe how you weighted the pros and cons of each, and the reason for your ultimate choice. By the way, I also think these questions are a good opportunity to talk about the values and principles that you draw upon when faced with an important decision.
One of the strengths that MBA Programs are interested in is the ability to recover when things don't go your way. Negative experience questions, our next category, are your opportunity, to demonstrate this quality.
You may have encountered a negative experience question when you wrote your essays. They include:
-- What have you learned from a mistake?
-- Tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult team member; or
-- Tell me about a time you failed.
My advice on these questions:
-- Try to choose a negative experience that you made the best of, or eventually had a positive outcome. For example, maybe you discovered a new strength or learned an important lesson.
-- Even though the experience you talk about was negative (e.g., you had a disruptive team member). Try to feature a quality that the program values (e.g., handling that disruptive team member with emotional intelligence)
-- If possible, avoid talking about situations that were challenging because you made them challenging, unless you have specifically been asked for a personal failure or mistake. When discussing your own mistakes are missteps, don't deflect blame or point fingers at others.
-- Finally, when it comes to a negative experience question -- avoid situations that are still emotionally charged for you. Those negative feelings are best vented elsewhere – not in your admissions interview.
Personal and conversational questions-- The final category of Fit Questions-- are a bit more light-hearted and fun, but they're still important part of proving you fit.
When your interviewer asks:
-- What do you do in your spare time?
-- Tell me about a book you read for fun?
-- Tell me about one of your favorite hobbies?
He or she is really asking: Is this person interesting? Would I want to sit next to her in class? Would I want to go out with this guy for a beer?
Too many candidates forget to present a well-rounded picture because they think that business school is all business. These kinds of questions can be your chance to discuss community service and leadership outside of office hours.
In terms of hobbies and interests, If you play the piano or sing in an a capella group or have a world class comic book collection then you might talk about it when asked one of these questions.
Before we leave this category, I guess it is a good moment to remind you that an interview is a conversation not an interrogation.
Now that we've covered the various types of Fit questions, I want to spend some time discussing Fit Qualities. In the 301 lecture, you'll learn that each school has it's own list of Fit Qualities, but there are some universal qualities that all the top schools value, and I think they'll provide a helpful starting point for your interview prep; so I'd like to review them with you now.
The nine qualities that I believe all top MBA programs value are listed on your screen. All nine are essential, and I can't imagine an admission director excluding any one of them from a list of important strengths.
Before you begin building your responses to the Fit Questions, I want to encourage you to define each quality on this list carefully because those definitions will help you choose stories that feature these qualities. To give you a head start, let's define each of them quickly now:
Leadership is the ability to rally other people and motivate them to work together to achieve an important shared vision or goal. Some of my clients struggle to distinguish between an individual accomplishment story and a leadership story. Leadership is about achieving your goals by harnessing the energy of others.
A collaborative nature relates to your ability to be a team player and your willingness to contribute to the success of your teammates. It's the opposite of selfishness and self-interest.
Integrity is a big word -- it has to do with honesty, ethics, and morals -- and your sense of right and wrong. It boils down to character -- doing the right thing, building trust with others, and keeping the promises you make to yourself and to other people.
Analytical intelligence has to do with your ability to run the numbers, solve problems, identify patterns in information, and make data-driven decisions
By comparison, emotional intelligence also known as interpersonal intelligence has to do with your aptitude for understanding other people's feelings and your capacity for tapping into emotion as a leader to motivate and inspire your followers to realize a higher degree of success.
Creativity, or I might have called it creative intelligence, has to do with your ability to successfully deal with new and unusual situations by drawing on existing knowledge and skills. It also means seeing the world in your own unique way and developing something that hasn't existed before.
Community Orientation means that you devote energy to serving your community and making it stronger. Your Interviewer may ask about your community service accomplishments because they provide an important signal that you are a giver not a taker. As I discussed when I covered the qualifying questions, the schools are looking for students who will contribute as much as they take.
A Global Viewpoint has to do with life experiences the extend beyond your domestic borders. You can emphasize your cultural and international experience in your stories, and through the global scope of your career goals.
The last of our Fit Qualities, Self-Awareness, relates to your capacity to see yourself objectively, assess your own strengths and weaknesses, and learn from your mistakes, growing beyond existing limitations.
Studying these nine Fit Qualities is an important aspect of understanding the admissions interview and an an excellent starting point for your interview preparation. In the 301 lecture, I'll have much more to say about creating a school specific list of Fit Qualities and using that knowledge to select and shape a set of interview stories that prove you fit.
I've given you examples of some of the qualifying questions and fit questions you are likely to be asked in your interview. Before we conclude this lecture, I want to tell you about a few other question types you might face on interview day so that you can prepare for them as well.
Three categories of questions you'll also want to be ready for are:
--And, finally, the point in the interview when it's your turn to ask the questions
Extemporaneous Questions require you to think on your feet. You could be asked about your thoughts on a current event or a long-standing problem. My advice is that in addition to keeping up with current events you'll want to be well-versed in issues facing the industry you are working in as well the industry you hope to work in following business school.
A Wrap-Up Question is simply when an interviewer asks if there's anything else you'd like to add.
Please don't respond with-- "No, I think that about covers it."
Be ready for a wrap-up question and use it as an opportunity to end on a positive note and reinforce your key themes and message.
This is your chance to make a point you wanted to make or even to tell a specific story you wanted to share but haven't had a chance to. For example: a a community service project that you recently led.
You can also use this open-ended question to express how excited you are about the prospect of joining the program next year and your willingness to provide any additional information your interviewer might need to support your candidacy.
Immediately after the wrap-up questions, most interviewers will ask if you have any questions for them.
Some applicants are caught off-guard when it's their turn to ask the questions.
My advice here is to pose an intelligent question that you have a reasonable expectation that the interviewer will be able to answer. For example, don't ask an alum who graduated 10 years ago questions that only a current student would be able to answer. Also, avoid questions that you could have easily answered on your own by spending a couple of minute's on the school's website.
The best questions will have a bearing on your decision to join the program if accepted. For example, if you want to work in the Private Equity industry after graduation and your interviewer is an alum who works in the field you might ask them about what aspects of the school proved most valuable early in their career. You also could ask them why they chose their school over the alternatives.
At this point, I've covered a number of examples of frequently asked interview questions. If you'd like, you can do some further research on your own to expand your familiarity with the kinds of questions you might be asked. There are a number of resources on-line in which candidates from prior years share their interview experience and even provide transcripts of the questions they were asked.
In just a moment, I'll give you a preview of what's coming up in the 201 lecture, but first let's review some of the key takeaways from this one.
I began the lecture by comparing an admissions interview to a final exam with two primary challenges: Proving you qualify and proving you Fit.
You must prove that you qualify but the secret to earning an acceptance letter is proving you fit.
I offered examples of qualifying questions and told you the criteria for top marks, which are:
-- Distinguished academic performance and career progress
-- Crystal clear career goals that are fueled by passion and purpose
-- Personal and Specific motivations for pursuing an MBA from the school
-- and the Specific and Concrete Contributions you could make to the program if accepted
When it comes to Proving You Fit, we talked about the various types of Fit Questions and I defined nine essential qualities that I believe all the top programs are looking for.
The key thing to remember is if you have these qualities clearly in mind, I think you'll do a better job of choosing stories that feature those qualities, leaving no doubt in your interviewer's mind that you "Fit".
We concluded by talking about extemporaneous and wrap-up questions, and I offered some advice on the do's and don'ts when it's your turn to ask the questions.
Let's spend a moment previewing what's coming up next in the 201 lecture.
In the 201, I'll be sharing the secrets of proving you're qualified for an MBA.
You already know the criteria for scoring top marks with your responses to the qualifying questions.
I'm going to show you the step-by-step process, I use with my clients to help them tackle those qualifying questions. I'll teach you how to build responses that are uniquely your own that score top marks with interviewers. I'll also be providing some sample interview responses that were built using the principles and process I'll be teaching you.
I'd like to conclude this lecture by thank you for joining us. I hope that you now have a much better understanding of the admissions interview. The final exam is still ahead of you, but now you know what you'll be tested on and can focus your preparation on the areas that matter most.
Best of luck from all of us at MBA Prep School and prepare to be accepted!
Reference: Lecture Slides and Speaker Notes
Tool: Interview Preparation Basics