An interview invitation means that all the hard work you have done on your written application has paid off. You are aware from the previous unit that an admissions interview is somewhat different than a typical job interview. In this unit, we provide some best practices to keep in mind before, during, and after your admissions interviews to ensure that you shine on “final exam” day.
- Send a message with your appearance
- Be concise, concrete, and conversational
- Show, don’t tell
- Sell what they are buying
- Know your resume and application up and down
- Know the program backwards and forwards
- Picture yourself “on campus”
- Ask intelligent questions
- Rehearse until you don’t sound rehearsed
- Keep an interview journal
- Send a thank you letter
- Prove You Fit
Send a message with your appearance
You certainly need to “dress for success” for your admissions interview, but you also need to be aware of the non-verbal messages you are sending. Research shows that more than half of the messages conveyed and received in a face-to-face meeting are non-verbal in nature: gesture, physical appearance, and attire can heavily influence your interviewer’s perception of you.
In addition to dressing up and brushing your teeth on interview day, practicing your interview responses in front of a mirror is recommended. Better yet, ask the friends who mock interview you to offer feedback on your non-verbal communications in addition to assessing the content of your interview responses.
During the interview, don’t forget to smile! Too many students we have coached have some truly brilliant answers to the interview questions, but look as if they are being tortured while delivering them.
The best way to keep a smile on your face is to adjust your attitude and intention towards the interview. Candidates who go into the interview with an attitude that it’s an opportunity to share their strengths and put their best foot forward tend to smile more than applicants who view the interview as an interrogation.
Be concise, concrete, and conversational
Limit most of your answers to no more than 60 seconds. While practicing, record and time yourself to see how long it takes you to answer the typical questions you learned about in the previous units. For a multipart question such as “walk me through your resume,” you might get away with a ninety second response, but it’s always better to give a concise answer and allow your interviewer to ask follow-up questions on an aspect of your answer that intrigues them.
Avoid generalities in your answer at all costs. General claims include statements such as:
- I made a real difference as a team leader.
- I learned a ton on that project.
- I really grew from the experience.
- My work helped the client cut costs.
These claims are not convincing or memorable; you need to be concrete and offer specifics, supply examples, and quantify results:
- Explain the difference you made.
- Tell them what you learned.
- Describe a few ways you have grown.
- Quantify how much costs decreased.
Do your best to create a conversational flow – a dialogue not a monologue. If the tone is conversational, you will be perceived more positively. One way to keep the interchange going is to ask for direction or feedback about your answer. For example, if you are asked to tell them about a team you led, and you have two strong stories, one at work and one in community service, ask which one the interviewer might like you to cover. Once you’ve finished an answer you might check-in to see if they’d like to hear more about one of the aspects you mentioned briefly in your story. Use this technique sparingly, however. You don’t want to come off as pandering or insecure.
Show, Don’t Tell
In an interview, sharing your strengths is essential, but don’t just rattle off a list of superlatives and Fit Quality sound bites. Can you imagine an interviewer reporting back to the admissions committee:
“We should accept her because she told me that she is creative, dedicated, and a capable leader.”
A list of empty claims will be dismissed or quickly forgotten. You want the interviewer’s report to read:
“I think we should accept her. I was really impressed by the fact that a non-profit organization she started in college grew to over 100 members and has now delivered over 7,000 hours of volunteer time to hospices in three states. Her achievements show that she’s creative, dedicated, and capable of leading organizations.”
By telling stories, you will demonstrate your strengths to your interviewer in a memorable and compelling way.
Sell What They Are Buying
Keep in mind that an admissions interview is less about testing for skills and more about determining if there’s a fit. Instead of emphasizing technical skills such as building spreadsheet models or calculating manufacturing cycle times, share stories about your leadership and management strengths. As every good salesperson knows, you have to sell what the customer is buying!
Know your resume and application up and down
Commit all the facts on your resume and application to memory. Getting a date wrong on your resume or flubbing a story from your application is not only sloppy, it might raise questions consciously or subconsciously in the interviewer’s mind about the honesty of your written application.
Know the school backwards and forwards
Going to business school is probably one of the biggest investment decisions you have made in life so far. Schools will only admit candidates who take this decision very seriously. If you don’t know the program backwards and forwards, then it raises questions about your potential as a business leader and business decision maker because every major investment decision should be thoroughly researched.
MBA Prep School students often ask if we recommend school visits? We always do. If you have not visited the school, it portrays you as the kind of person who would invest a big chunk of their net worth and spend two years in a place you have never even set foot in.
The bottom line is that you need to do extensive research on the school so that you can build a convincing case to your interviewer about your motivations for applying to their specific program. To hammer home the point we make in the Select Your Schools MBA Prep Step™, generic interview answers like: “I want to go to Wharton because of the great professors and great students” just won’t cut it.
Also, make sure you know about new developments in the program, and, if possible, link those current events to your interests, skills and values. Overall you want to convince the interviewer that you are very passionate about attending their school.
Picture yourself on campus
This isn’t just about the power of positive thinking. Help your interviewer imagine the kind of student you would be if accepted by supplying imagery in your responses that feature the kind of student you will be on campus. For example:
“If I’m accepted by Kellogg, I want to launch a new Kellogg Cares service week during Spring break. I conceived and led a similar service week for employees at the investment bank I work for during the winter holidays.”
Ask Intelligent Questions
When asked if you have any questions, the types of questions you ask and the way you ask them can make a tremendous impression, either positive or negative. Thoughtful questions require advance preparation. The best questions to ask are those that are tailored to your interests and relate to your reasons for wanting to attend business school. The questions you ask reflect the quality of your due diligence. Intelligent, well-constructed questions indicate that you are an effective decision maker. They also are evidence that you have a sincere interest in gathering more information to help you with this major life decision. Be cognizant of what your interviewer may be able to answer before you ask the question; it can be awkward if you stump your interviewer with a question that they don’t have the requisite knowledge to answer.
Rehearse until you sound unrehearsed
At a minimum, you need to practice out loud to perfect your delivery. Even better, recruit friends and/or admissions coaches for three mock interviews in the weeks leading up to the big day.
The first mock interview is about road testing your responses and stories. Don’t worry if your answers are a little rough. The most important thing is to practice your responses out loud in front of an interviewer so that you can figure out what works and what doesn’t. Take notes so that you will remember what answers need to be refined.
The second mock interview is your chance to nail the delivery of your stories. One thing to pay particular attention to at that stage is reducing the brag factor of your responses. There is a fine line between sharing an achievement and bragging about one. To help you minimize the brag factor, your mock interviewer should be looking for places where you cross the line from confidence into arrogance.
The third mock interview is about moving beyond rehearsed text and being so comfortable with your answers that you can relax and deliver your responses in a smooth, unrehearsed way. Paradoxically, the more you rehearse, the less “rehearsed” you will appear. You will reach a point in your preparation where that happens and it’s different for everyone. Keep practicing until you’ve reached that point.
Keep an interview journal
As soon as possible after the interview, write a brief summary of how things went. Make notes on any follow-up action you should take. Also make notes about your attitude and the way you answered the questions. Did you ask intelligent questions? Is there a particular story that needs to be thrown out or refined? Write your impressions down right away so that you won’t forget them so that you can improve upon your delivery in future interviews.
Send a thank you letter
It is common courtesy to send a thank you letter, and it reminds your interviewer of the time the two of you shared together. Your thank you letter should be brief, no more than about 250 words. Restate your skills and how you plan to enrich next year’s class if given the opportunity. Email is acceptable, but following up with a written note will set you apart from others.
Prove You Fit
Because many candidates are qualified, objectively speaking, your goal is to provide evidence to the interviewer that you are a better fit than the competition. You have heard about Fit Qualities throughout this website, but one more reminder won’t hurt. Use your knowledge of the school’s Fit Qualities to choose interview stories that prove you are an amazing fit!
Unit Review: Interview Best Practices
- More than half of the messages communicated in an interview are non-verbal. Perfect your delivery, dress for success, make eye contact, and smile.
- Limit your responses to an average of 60 seconds to invite follow-up questions and to keep the interviewer engaged.
- Avoid vague generalities and offer concrete answers about your achievements.
- Aim to make the interview an interactive conversation not a monologue.
- Don’t just tell them you possess certain strengths; show them that you do by providing evidence of your strengths in action.
- Emphasize leadership and managerial achievements over technical triumphs.
- Know your resume and application up and down and the school backwards and forwards.
- Help your interviewer imagine the kind of student you would be if accepted by supplying imagery of the kind of student you will be on campus.
- Have intelligent questions ready for your interviewer.
- Rehearse until you no longer sound rehearsed.
- Record your interview experiences in an interview journal.
- Send your interviewer a thank you letter to remind him or her of the positive experience you had together.
- Tell stories that prove you fit.