Kudos to all of you who successfully got your Round 1 MBA applications in on time!
For some of you, that may have meant some late nights polishing your essays, fumbling through the online applications, and bugging your recommenders. For others, it may have been more of a leisurely stroll to the finish line. In any case, you certainly deserve a high-five and a weekend off—but now it is time to get back to work!
This “work” generally falls into two categories: preparing for your hoped-for MBA interviews and starting Round 2 applications. Today, we will talk about the interviews; next time, we will discuss strategies for Round 2 MBA applications.
There are a few things you should make note of as you start your MBA interview preparation. Interviews are almost always required to gain admission to a top MBA program. The chance of acceptance to a program rises from single digits and teens to about 40%–50% for those who are invited to interview. So, it is now time to sharpen your interview skills. Here are some tips.
1. Know your resume.
At many schools, the only information an interviewer may have about you is your resume, so it likely will be the focus of your discussion. Therefore, you must know your resume inside out and upside down.
In real terms, this means remembering all those small points, random numbers, and overly general descriptions that populate most resumes. Remember how you wrote on your resume that you “cut costs by 30 percent”? Well, guess what? The MBA interview is exactly the place where you will be called upon to answer questions like “How did you calculate that number?”; “Did you do it by yourself?”; and “What role did you play as a leader?” Get ready to talk to even the smallest bullet point on your resume, because that is where most people get tripped up.
2. Get ready to be interesting.
I frequently tell my clients that interesting applicants are those who have a unique story to tell—a story that no one else is telling. Avoid talking about how you ran a marathon, love to travel, or are a “foodie.” The people interviewing before you and after you are probably saying the same things. Instead, focus on a unique piece of your story that may not have come out in other parts of your application. What is your story? Get ready to tell it.
3. Know the school.
An interview is frequently a test to see how you will fit into the business school community, how you will get involved, and how excited you will be to attend. (Note: Admissions committees pass up plenty of well-qualified candidates whom they suspect will not attend if admitted.) In order to properly communicate all of this, you really have to know the MBA program intimately.
Now is the time (and likely your last chance!) to talk to students and alumni, connect with club leaders, and—if you have not done so yet—visit the school. Nothing will impress an interviewer more than you knowing exactly why you want to attend their school; explain how you will contribute and why you are dying to go there. Remember, specificity equals credibility.
4. Know the interview.
As noted above, many MBA programs will have resume-focused interviews, but not all will. Know what kind of interview to expect before you arrive. The Wharton “interview,” for example, is a “Team Based Discussion.” Candidates are asked to prepare a one-minute pitch, which they share with four or five other prospective students. The group then must work together to blend all of the ideas into a single pitch to the admissions committee facilitator—in just 35 minutes. During the 2020–2021 application season, the whole process is taking place online.
The MIT Sloan MBA interview requires an additional essay before the interview. For the Harvard Business School interview, you must submit an additional essay within 24 hours of the interview. So, be prepared for each of these different animals.
Of course, preparing for your MBA interview is only one thing you need to do after hitting the “Submit” button on your application. The other is figuring out what you are going to do for Round 2, which we will discuss next time.