MBA Interview Advice from a Former Admissions Counselor

mba interview advice

After weeks of endless essay editing and resume revamping, all your hard work has paid off because you got an invite for an MBA interview! You’re basically at the finish line… right?

WRONG. While the MBA interview may be one of the final steps on your way to your dream school, it is absolutely crucial. The fight isn’t over, my friend. In fact, it’s time to gear up and start practicing for the critical final round. Fewer essays and shortened word counts means b-schools want you to write less and talk more.

To help you ace the interview, we sat down with a former admissions counselor from a top MBA program and asked her some hard questions about the MBA Interview.

Is the MBA interview really that important?

Yes it is! Do your research! Interviews are the final piece of the puzzle. We have all the numbers, the accolades, the resume, and the recommendations, but what we don’t have is an understanding of you – up close and personal. This interview is your opportunity to convince us that all the information on paper is in sync with the person sitting in front of us.

Universities have different interview protocols, so find out how your interview will be conducted: will it be a series of questions and answers or will it be open ended, i.e. tell us about yourself? How long is the interview? Do I have 30 minutes or an hour? What is the focus of the interview? How much should I know about the school? (A LOT). Do your research and be prepared for anything.

What’s the most important thing to research?

Quite honestly, one of an interviewer’s most annoying pet peeves is applicants walking into an interview unprepared. We expect you to come in having done extensive research into all facets of our school. That knowledge helps you have a comprehensive and cogent discussion with us and gives you the ability to ask intelligent questions. We generally don’t want to answer questions about how many students are there in each class, what clubs we have on campus or how are the winters here. All of that information is on our website — a website you should have memorized prior to stepping into my office.

What makes a great MBA interview?

We interview for many hours each day during interview season, so what ARE we looking for in an applicant? Someone who grabs our attention, who captivates our interest and, truthfully, keeps us from drifting off into thoughts of what we have to do when we get home that day. Walk in with confidence and a purpose, yet be humble and appreciative of the opportunity to interview at the school of your dreams. Show some energy, life, passion and enthusiasm.

You have a very short amount of time to “hook” us so put some time into thinking about what you want to say. What are the main things we need to know about you? We don’t want everyone to be the same and you need not yet have saved the world—we just want you to be articulately authentic, poised and able to weave together a cogent story.

When you say “stories”, what kind of stories are you looking for?

Quite simply, we are looking for insight into the applicant’s character, which is defined as “the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual”. We are evaluating, both subjectively and objectively, how that person will fit into our environment, our classroom and our student body. We are also making note of what he will contribute to our school as both a student and a future alumnus.

Character, eh? That’s pretty deep stuff. What’s the thought process like?

We view the interviewee through the lens of future classmates, professors and colleagues: does he have the brainpower to succeed; the initiative and imagination to be a strong contributor and the personality/character to engender trust and confidence? Schools naturally want all of their students to succeed and not fail or drop out. Will this person fit the bill and be a valued classmate and student? The ability to do the work is imperative, but it must be supported by character.

Do the interviewers always have access to the full application before the interview?

No. Universities have different approaches. Some schools have student interviewers, so they will not have access to the applications, while other schools have interviewers read applications prior to interviewing. In many universities, applications are not to be read prior to interviewing.
As the interviewee, you will be given guidance on the format of the interview and, generally, what the interviewer would like you to discuss.

Remember, strong preparation beforehand will help you be ready for any interview style. The way you spin your story, rather grand or mundane in your mind, is what is important. The links you make throughout your story and the thoughtfulness and authenticity shown are what are important.

What do you love the most about doing an interview?

I love hearing people’s stories. I love learning about lives outside of mine. I love hearing about their travels, their hobbies, their adversities and their courage. Learning new things in every interview challenges me. Through my interviewees, I have traveled the world and walked in their shoes in myriad careers throughout the course of a day. I have gained immeasurable insight into what it takes to be a problem solver, a good teammate, an outstanding manager/boss. I have laughed at all their funny tales and sometimes sad life events. Through it all, I have been grateful for the connections made and inspired by the determination, focus and resolve demonstrated by those I am interviewing. Our time together is short, but the strength of their character has had a lasting effect on my life.

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