Preparing for your interview?
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Interviews, interviews, interviews…it’s all anyone seems to be talking about these days, and with good reason. Harvard Business School, Michigan Ross and Chicago Booth have already sent out their Round 1 interview invitations. Stanford GSB starts rolling out invites this week and UPenn / Wharton is also scheduled to release all its invites this week.
Instead of driving yourself crazy with worry, why not buckle down and perfect your answers to the questions you are most likely to be asked? To help you prepare, we’ve scoured our Interview Guides and Interview Archive to compile our very own Top Five list of the questions that most often make their way into MBA admissions interviews at leading schools.
While these refer primarily to questions asked as part of blind interviews, they can certainly also come up as part of non-blind interviews. In those cases, you’ll want to be prepared to go deeper into some of the specific experiences you shared in your application. (Check out our quick refresher on the difference between blind and non-blind interviews.)
For detailed insights into each school’s interview process, the questions they ask, and how to tackle those questions, access Clear Admit’s Interview Guides.
Walk me through your résumé.
The real trick with answering this open-ended question is to gauge how much detail is too much. Imposing a structure can help. “It’s best to err on the side of brevity,” says Alex Brown, who asked this very question of many hopeful Wharton applicants during his time working in admissions at the Philadelphia school. “Think of this résumé walk-through as simply laying the groundwork for deeper discussion of your background and accomplishments.” A good idea is to develop a two- to three-minute run-through, beginning with where you grew up and went to college, what you studied and perhaps something you enjoy outside of work. Then move into a concise overview of your work experience, beginning with your first job and continuing to present day, making sure to explain why you made the choices you did and what you learned in each major role. “This kind of high-level overview gives your interviewer the perfect opportunity to ask for more detail about specific points if she wants it,” Brown says. If you have a gap of three or more months due to unemployment or some other cause, you should be prepared to address it, Brown warns, although in a short résumé question as part of the interview, it may not come up.
What are your career goals?
With any luck, you will already have a well-honed response to this question, developed and refined as part of the process of writing your application essays. “If you are looking to shift industry or function, this is your chance to explain your reasoning and that you have carefully thought through what may be involved in successfully making the transition,” Brown says. Keep in mind why the adcom is asking this question, Brown suggests. “They want to know how focused you are on the MBA and whether you are in a position to take advantage of the resources business school offers or at risk of getting overwhelmed,” he says. Present a very clear post-MBA goal, Brown recommends. “Schools prefer to admit students who can explain exactly what kind of job they want to pursue beyond graduation and articulate how it will set them up to obtain their long-term career objectives,” he says. Schools are also looking, with this question, to see if your goals make sense and are feasible in light of your past experiences; are you able to articulate a clear path and plan?
Why X school?
Here, schools want to see if you have really done your research on their program and whether you are a good fit with their culture. So, do your research. “I recommend a three-pronged approach to make a truly compelling case for your interest in a given school,” Brown says. Start with academics, he says, naming specific courses and professors that you are interested in. “Remember, your interviewer wants to see that you have really researched the school.” Second, mention specific clubs, conferences and other special programs that will help position you for your career goals. “Even better, show how you would contribute to the school community, such as by organizing an event to share specific knowledge you bring with your future classmates,” Brown suggests. Third, show that you have a good understanding of the school’s community, culture, class size and location and have thought about how these fit with your personality, goals and background. “If you have visited campus or talked with current students or alumni—definitely say so, lead with this.” Brown stresses. “Beyond showing that you’ve invested time in getting to know the school, this also helps your interviewer have a mental picture of you on campus.” he says.
Give us an example of a time you took a leadership role.
The way interviewers ask this question can vary—sometimes you’ll be asked directly about your most notable leadership experience and other times you’ll be invited to describe your general leadership style. “It’s important to keep a few basic principles about leadership in mind,” Brown says. “A leader is someone who has a strong vision or point of view and is able to see things others are not,” he continues. A leader must also have excellent communication skills. Choose an example that demonstrates these points. An ideal leadership example will describe a time when you negotiated with and persuaded key stakeholders, such as clients or a supervisor, to buy into your vision and then delegated the work and managed colleagues or juniors. “If you encountered obstacles along the way, share how you dealt with them,” Brown says. “If possible, you should also show success through quantified results,” he adds. As important as a successful outcome is demonstrating how you drew on the help of others where necessary. “No one is successful on their own,” Brown says. Show that you understand that strong leadership means teamwork and playing well with others, he says.
Tell us about a time you failed.
As tempting as it may be to say that you’ve never failed at anything…that is not what that adcom is looking for here. “In fact, this is a favorite question for those who appear to be ‘rock stars’ on paper,” Brown says. But rock stars make mistakes, and having an example in your back pocket of a time things did not go according to plan can show humility as well as your capacity to learn and grow. “The best answer to this type of question ends with a more recent experience where you took the lesson you learned from the failure and put it into play, affecting a better outcome.” he says.
These five questions certainly don’t cover everything your interviewer is likely to ask you, but they do touch upon some of the things you’re most likely to be called upon to share as part of your MBA admissions interview. You can take some of the anxiety out of the interview process by giving each one some thought, drawing on some relevant experiences from your past, and practicing the responses you would give. Don’t practice too much so that you appear overly rehearsed—since it’s important to seem both authentic and genuine—but prepare enough so that you’ll be ready to truly put your best self forward.
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