5 Tips to Prepare for an Interview – Inside the Black Box

Applying to business school can be a time consuming process.  Many prospective students wonder about the “black box” of the admissions evaluation process, which often not only includes taking the GMAT, writing essays, and completing various application requirements, but an interview with admissions team members as well. Interviews can be nerve-wracking for prospective students, but as one of the Assistant Directors of Admissions in the Full Time MBA program here at the Opus College of Business, interviews are one of my favorite parts of the job. Why? Meeting applicants in person is an important part of getting to know candidates on a personal level and assessing fit with our MBA program, which overall, is the goal of most admissions interviews. Admissions directors want students to be successful, and meeting applicants in person to learn about what they will uniquely contribute to their MBA program is an important part of the evaluation process.

That said, interviews do not have to be the anxiety-producing event that some applicants believe they are!  From an admissions insider’s view, here are some tips to prepare for – and ace – your MBA admissions interview (p.s.  These tips can also apply to interviews for MBA-level internships or full time positions):

1) Act Professional
This includes not only professional attire, but professional demeanor.  Good eye contact, firm handshake, a warm greeting, and no “slang.”  Try to minimize “ums” and “likes” in your sentences, and speak clearly and calmly (you can practice this!). No matter how casual an interview environment may seem, your best bet is to maintain a demeanor that would make admissions personnel proud to have you representing their university and MBA program.  Remember also that you are “interviewing” with everyone you meet, whether it be during the formal interview process, or a five minute chat with the office manager who greets you when you arrive.

2) Do Your Research
Admissions personnel want to know why you picked their school out of thousands as the place to pursue your MBA and achieve your goals.  If you do not have a solid answer for this question, admissions directors may not be convinced of your interest in and fit for the MBA program at their institution.  Know about the college or university’s mission, program structure, curriculum, student community, and career service offerings and think about how they relate to you and your goals.  Spending time on your research benefits you, and will help to re-confirm your interest in and fit for the schools to which you are applying.  Further, if you understand a school’s values and program structure, you may be able to better anticipate the type of questions you will be asked in an admissions interview.

3) Re-Read Your Application Essays
I often tell applicants that writing, proofreading, and re-reading their application essays is great preparation for their interview.  Application essays commonly focus on topics such as leadership, career goals, community, team work, managing conflict, taking initiative, and of course, “why MBA?.”  These are areas that are typically addressed in admission interviews, and reading through your essays can help to clarify your talking points about each of these items.

4) Use Examples
Be sure to back up your answers with concrete examples from professional or academic experiences.  Supplementing an answer to a question about taking initiative is strengthened and further illustrated by (for example) talking about an idea you had for improving company efficiency which you proposed, implemented, and resulted in 15% greater revenues over four quarters.

When I was interviewing for graduate school, and undergraduate and post-graduate level jobs, I found it helpful to carve out time to write down notes about professional experiences or challenges I could cite to showcase my leadership, communication skills, strengths, self-awareness, etc.  I would then refer to or add to this list during my final interview preparation and it served as a great reminder about accomplishments that showcased my abilities.  Remember, specific examples from your experiences are the “data” of your interview responses, and lend credibility to points you are trying to highlight about your candidacy!

5) Ask Questions
At the end of the interview, prospective students are given the opportunity to ask questions of the admissions team member(s). Take advantage of this opportunity!  Asking questions further illustrates your interest in the MBA program to which you are applying, and you can gain detailed, valuable insight and information from the admissions team that may not be gleaned from a school’s website or a more formal information session presentation. Asking questions of the admissions team will also help you to better understand a particular business school’s culture and highlight differentiating factors that will greatly assist your decision about which MBA program is right for you!