Learning how to prepare for your MBA interview is possibly the most crucial step to take in your application process. In the interview, you will get to present yourself, not just as a set of numbers, but as a person.
You got top marks in classes, composed your MBA resume, got as much experience as you could, and wrote a dynamite MBA personal statement – great. You have your introduction to your top-choice MBA program, but without an impeccable interview, an introduction is all you will get. This bears repeating: you will not succeed at getting in without a stellar interview performance. Since you’ve already put an immense amount of effort into getting here, so being rejected at this phase is watching your hard work in applying burn to the ground; if you don’t bother planning and that’s the reason your interview is unsuccessful, you’re the one holding the match.
Benjamin Franklin was perfectly correct when he said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” If you don't prepare, you are still setting your future in place – it just isn’t the one you want.
Continue reading for why MBA interviews are important, how to prepare for your interview, how to conduct yourself during the interview, and what to do afterward.
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How Competitive is MBA?
MBA programs are highly competitive, especially at the top-tier schools. According to the latest data regarding the top business schools in the world, none of them have an acceptance rate of over one-third of applicants. The lowest acceptance rate was 5.78% from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. In a word: yes. MBA programs are very competitive.
*Insead does not release its admission rate.
The students who are invited to interviews at these institutions meet the high GPA and GMAT score requirements, not to mention, submit amazing MBA statements of purpose, essays and C.V.s that are impeccable. Whether your application is being considered based on high scores, a great essay, or both, your interview performance is what will determine whether you get accepted: this is why you must figure out how to prepare for your MBA interview well in advance.
Why Are MBA Interviews Important?
Picture yourself as the admissions committee, reviewing applicants for an MBA program. What you are looking at (C.V.s, MBA resume, essays, test scores, and so forth) may appear all good and well on paper, but who is the person behind them? Grades and scores mean something, but they don’t mean everything, and it is necessary to go deeper.
Just because somebody knows how to answer an essay question doesn’t mean they would be an excellent student or businessperson. In fact, a person with some of the most stellar grades and well-written essays may lack verbal communication skills or professional etiquette, which means that their chances for admission are compromised if they do not work to improve and prepare.
Check out common MBA interview question types:
Here are two key reasons why you need to learn how to prepare for your MBA interview:
- MBA interviews are important to the interviewing body because it gives them a chance to get to know the real you and how you will fit with the program. For you, this means the opportunity to be memorable. You have a chance in an interview to stand out and be memorable in ways that your paperwork never would.
- The interview also gives you a chance to ask direct questions about the institution you’re going to and see what it’s like there, what those in charge of the program are like, and how it works.
- MBA acceptance rates increase significantly post interview! In other words, students who get invited to an interview and do well have over 50% chance of acceptance! In some programs, this chance goes up to 75%!
Essentially, it boils down to this: your MBA interview is your only chance to impress the admissions committee after you submit the application. Your MBA application is the first step, but your interview performance is what will affect the final decision. Failure in the interview will mean rejection, and success will mean an offer of admission.
How to Prepare for your MBA Interview: a Step-by-Step Guide
Now knowing how much importance is placed on the interview, and knowing how much rides on your interview going well (better than well – superb), you will want to take a lot of time to prepare. Most of these steps should be part of your interview prep even before you get the invite because you want to make sure you have enough time.
Step 1: Research the School
Spend some time researching the school where you are having the interview once your applications are submitted. Basic facts are a good place to start, and might be handy to know. Being able to bring up trivia, like the year it was founded, is probably not necessary, but knowing something about their job placement rates is.
Critical information to find out would be who teaches at this particular school. Knowing of the professors, instructors, and leaders in a program will tell you a lot about what kind of a program it will be. Faculty and administration are key to understanding your choice school’s pros and cons, as well as what kinds of topics you might want to talk about in the interview.
Knowing who will be conducting your interview would help as well (if this information is available). What are the backgrounds of the interviewers on the board? What are their biggest accomplishments?
Every school has a set of values, a mission, that they ascribe to. What are these? If the mission and values of a program align with yours and your objectives, you are more likely to get the most out of the school. Learning the school's mission and values will also help you brainstorm answers to interview questions you will inevitably practice with.
Not all programs are built the same, and a school might not have all the courses you are looking for. Check the curriculum they use and the classes offered to make sure you will get what you need from the program.
Employment is ultimately what you’re going for. Certain schools and programs offer more opportunity for internships and job placement. This needs to be a priority for you, too.
What about the lifestyles of the students? Campus culture matters, even if you won’t be staying on campus while earning your MBA. The student body affects your learning experience almost as much as the faculty, so definitely make sure it is a place that is welcoming and filled with opportunities.
Essentially, you are trying to learn everything you can about the programs where you might interview. This will not only help you make a great impression, but start you on your interview prep and get you into the right mindset.
Step 2: Research the Most Common MBA Interview Questions
Admissions interviews tend to follow similar patterns, and MBA interviews are no different. The point of an interview is to get to know you and your personal connections to your chosen career and why you are going ahead with your MBA. Certain questions will bring that out, and you should be aware of them. Review common MBA interview questions and start noticing patterns.
Some Common Questions:
This research is all part of the pre-invite preparations, so take your time and review tricky MBA interview questions to you can start preparing your answers.
Step 3: Prepare Your Answers
As you research the schools and common MBA interview questions, start brainstorming answers to these common questions. For example, if you are preparing for an interview at Harvard Business School, your interview answers might focus on leadership, dedication to lifelong learning, and other qualities they openly promote via their mission statement. Reflect on what strengths will be most impressive for Harvard; reflect on examples of your leadership and consider how they can be used in an interview response. Mission statement and values are a great source of inspiration for your responses.
Before you even get the interview invite, you should brainstorm. Why? Some MBA interview invites are sent out just a few days before the interview date. You may not have enough time to research and brainstorm your answers then. That's why you should do this as soon as your application is submitted.
Step 4: Practice with a Mock Interview
Once you get your interview invite, the heat is on and you need to start to really practice your answers. Until now, you probably did a few runs through potential answers to common interview questions like "tell me about yourself" or "why are you pursuing an MBA program?", but now it's time to really polish off your answers and work on your interview behavior.
The ultimate way to prepare for your interview is with an MBA mock interview. Think of a theatre company doing a dress rehearsal for a show. Before letting the audience in for the real thing, they run it through and smooth over any mistakes or hiccoughs that take place, and plan for any possible day-of problems that could arise. You should do the same thing when you prepare for your MBA interview.
Mock interviews are led by professional MBA admissions consulting experts and allow you to practice your communication skills and interview behavior. Moreover, you get to practice your answers in a realistic simulation of your interview format, whether it’s traditional, MMI, or panel. By getting feedback from admissions professionals, you will improve your interview skills and behavior!
Most people have the jitters walking into an interview, especially one as important as an MBA program admissions interview. Mock interviews will eliminate the element of the “unknown” and you will be able to walk into your interview with total confidence.
Step 5: Prepare Questions for the Interviewer
You are almost always given an opportunity to ask questions yourself. Having a couple of good questions can give the impression of somebody who is eager to join the program, and who cares enough to find out more. When those questions are specific to the school, insightful about the specific program you are applying for, it shows the interviewers that you have an interest in their program specifically. A candidate who knows a school well and can ask appropriate question will be sure to impress the admissions committee. You want to be this candidate, so put some thought into these questions.
You don’t have to have a whole barrage of questions prepared, but having a few in your pocket will show off some savvy. Have 2 or 3 questions ready.
In addition to the questions below, keep a pen and notepad at hand during the interview to jot down anything that occurs to you while the admissions interview is going on.
Some of the best questions to ask would be:
On the Day of Interview
Your two guiding principles when it comes to choosing your attire will be professionalism and what makes you feel comfortable.
For men, we recommend wearing a suit. It’s probably best to avoid garish colors (like canary yellow) or solid black or white. Go with grays or subtle or muted colors.
Women can also go with a suit. Paired with pants or a skirt, a suit-style ensemble will send the right image. The color range should still avoid anything too gaudy.
Avoid perfume, if for no other reason than some people are allergic, or become easily overwhelmed by scents. Don’t cause a member of your interviewing panel an allergic reaction.
Your general appearance should be well-groomed and clean. Facial hair should be tidied.
Makeup should be subtle.
Jewelry should be minimal.
Show Up Early
If you try to hit your interview time too close to the mark, you might wind up late. Don’t take that risk. Nothing looks less professional or less serious than tardiness.
Plan your route so you know how long it takes. You might want to plan an alternate route – just in case. Estimate your arrival at least a half an hour beforehand. Most of the time you won’t be going in early, but at least this way you won’t be late. Use the extra time to go over your interview notes and try to relax a little bit, so when you enter the room, you are equally prepared and confident.
Greetings and Goodbyes
Make sure to greet the interviewer(s) politely when you enter the room, and introduce yourself.
Important tip: remember their names when they introduce themselves. Throughout the interview, address them using their titles and names. This not only shows good manners, but also demonstrates your attention to detail. Plus, it’s always better to address people using their names, rather than the pronoun “you”. This will stand out in the interviewers’ memories – and standing out (in a positive way) is one of the best advantages of an interview!
When you leave, make sure to use their names in your goodbyes, and thank them for their time in meeting you. Recency affect is real, so make sure that the first impression you make with your greeting and the last impression you make with your goodbye are polite and pleasant.
Posture, Tone, and Attitude
Everything you remember your parents telling you while going “Out” probably applies again here. Good posture, both while standing and entering the interview, and sitting, will help you look poised and confident.
Be friendly, but not familiar. You should be grateful for the interview and opportunity (and express such) while avoiding groveling.
Eye contact is good (as long as it isn’t an intense stare) as is smiling, or generally being pleasant or kind.
Avoid interrupting or talking over the interviewers, and make sure that, even if you are talking specifically to one member of the admissions board, that you continue to connect with the other members. They’re all here for a reason, so include them.
What to Bring and Leave Behind
You don’t need a lot to bring to the interview. Copies of important documents are a good idea, so you can provide them for anybody that might not have them (they should have your resume, or your transcript, for instance, but on the off-chance that they don’t, it reflects well on you if you have copies yourself).
Remember to turn off your cell-phone.
Bring a notepad and pen (or pencil) so you can take notes during the interview.
Attend any campus tours offered or any other events on interview day. This will help you learn more about the school, meet students, and give you a ground-level look at the program.
Preparing for your MBA interview? Check out these tips:
After the Interview
The first thing you should do after the interview is send a thank-you email to anybody who interviewed you that day. Any person who was directly involved should receive a message of thanks. You can send an email or a written letter, the latter of which might add a personal touch which you want to convey.
The letter need not be overlong – one or two hundred words – but even a small letter will help to remember you to the interviewers.
Stray from a generic “form letter”. If all the letter says is, “Thank you for your time and consideration,” it might look as though you just send copies all over the place. See if you can work in a memorable moment from the interview and say something specific about the school or program you applied to.
The interview is your last chance to show that you are the perfect fit for the program. It allows you to stand out from the crowd of applicants and make yourself personal and unforgettable in the minds of the interviewing panel.
After the interview, there is no do-over; it is a bell rung, and the echoes cannot be recalled.
As such, make sure your bell rings clear. Prepare well!
1. How to prepare for an MBA interview?
The best way to prepare for an MBA interview is to start early and practice your answers and interview behavior via MBA mock interviews. We advise to start MBA interview prep even before you get the interview invite. Start by researching the schools and brainstorming your answers to common MBA interview questions. Once you receive your invitations, begin practicing with MBA mock interviews and prepare insightful questions for your interviewers.
2. How can I practice with MBA mock interviews?
Get MBA admissions consulting to help you out. These professionals will create a realistic interview environment for you and provide you with valuable feedback.
3. What if I cannot come up with an answer to an MBA interview question?
Do mot hesitate to ask for clarifications or pause before you answer. You can always simply say "That's a great question. Please give me a few seconds to reflect." Take your time to come up with a strong answer and then reply. It’s best to clarify or take a pause than to ramble on or give an unrelated answer.
4. Should I follow up after my MBA interview?
Yes. Sending a quick email after your interview thanking the admissions board for their time, for answering your questions, and for considering your candidacy, is a polite way to tie things off and remind the interviewers of your meeting.
5. How do I schedule my MBA interview?
Different schools will have different ways to set up your interview. Some programs will just send you date and time that you need to show up, while others will ask you to schedule the date and time yourself. This should be disclosed to you via email.
6. How to prepare for an MBA interview last minute?
Firstly, never leave your prep to last minute. Even if you don't have the invitation yet, start preparing by researching the schools where you applied and brainstorming your answers to common MBA interview questions. The best way to prepare for your MBA interview in a short period of time is to sign up for mock interviews. MBA admissions experts can help you come up with strong answers, and practice interview skills you need to ace your meeting.
7. What kind of questions should I practice with to prepare for my MBA interview?
Start by practicing with questions like "tell me about yourself", "why MBA?", "what this MBA program?", and so on.
8. What kind of MBA interview formats should I expect?
Different MBA programs use different MBA interview formats: some use traditional one-on-one interviews, some use panel interviews, some may use MMI. Some programs may use open interviews, while others use closed interviews. Make sure to learn your school's interview format before the interview.
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