Congratulations! You worked hard on your applications and just received that coveted e-mail or call inviting you to interview at your top-choice business school. While some schools grant interviews to applicants on request or to those who file their application before a certain date, most competitive schools offer interviews by invitation only. The percentage of candidates who receive an MBA interview invite at one of those schools is low, but if you are one of the lucky few who DO get invited to tell their story, keep in mind that somewhere around half of all interviewed applicants gain admission.
Based on our years of experience, we at Stratus have put together some interview “dos” and “don’ts” with an eye toward helping you tell a story that gets admissions committees excited about you as a future student in their program and moves your application into the “Accepted” pile.
Here are some of the dos:
1. Do be nice to the staff.
Although this may seem obvious, it isn’t always the case. If you call to schedule or change your interview date, be pleasant to the person on the phone. When attending an in-person interview, the same holds true for the receptionist. Staff members are often asked for their impression of candidates.
2. Do walk in (or sit at your computer) with a smile.
You have been invited to interview, which means someone on the admissions committee found something compelling about your application. An interview is a great opportunity to tell your story in a personal way to an audience who actually cares. They already like your story, so smile and show them why they should LOVE you. First impressions matter. Walk into the interview room (or sit in the online waiting room) confidently and with a smile on your face. Show them that you are excited to be there.
3. Do dress to impress.
Follow the school’s instructions. If the school does not specify a dress code, go with business attire. For all intents and purposes, you are meeting school representatives for the first time, so dress accordingly. Before your interview begins, take a moment to look at a mirror to ensure you don’t have remainders of your lunch stuck in your teeth or on your shirt!
4. Do know your resume.
You will almost certainly be asked to “tell your story.” Often, this means “Walk me through your resume.” Your response should be limited to two minutes, so focus on hitting the highlights. Schools are usually interested in inflection points and transitions: why did you change jobs, roles, etc.? So, be sure you know your resume thoroughly—and not just the big stuff (e.g., where you worked), but also the little stuff. If you say you are an “investor,” be prepared to talk about your portfolio, how you do research, and what your returns have been. If you “volunteered” at a school, what did that entail? How many hours a week? You get the idea.
5. Do know what type of interview it is.
Sometimes your interviewer will be an alum, sometimes a student, and sometimes a member of the admissions staff. Sometimes the interviewer has seen your whole application, and sometimes it is a “blind” interview, meaning the only thing they see beforehand is your resume. The person interviewing you and the information they have in advance will directly affect the tone and tenor of the interview. If you are having coffee with an alum who is armed with your resume, the interview is probably focused on fit (Can the interviewer see you at their school?) and is likely to be more low key and conversational. If you are interviewing with a member of the admissions staff who has read your entire application, you may have a tougher conversation ahead.
No matter what, know what you are in for and prepare questions for each different type of interviewer. A staff member won’t necessarily be able to give you personal insights into their experience in the program, and an alum may not be able to give you details on planned new course offerings in finance. Know your audience.
And, of course, a remote interview is a whole different experience entirely. Check out our article on remote interviews to help you prepare.
6. Do talk about the school.
Just like people, schools want to be loved. Be prepared to tell your interviewer why you love the program, why the business school is the perfect place for you, and how you are the perfect fit for it. That said, telling the interviewer that attending XYZ University has been your dream since childhood and that it is your number one choice can sound hollow. Demonstrate to them that you love the school by sharing the research you conducted, and show that you understand how this business school is like no other. In addition, ensure that you know how to pronounce the name of the school and have its “lingo” down. Show them that you love the school and know it would be a good fit for you.
7. Do send a brief thank you note to your interviewer.
A solid thank you note is a final opportunity for you to reiterate your strong interest in the school. If you made a connection with your interviewer, mention it or discuss a class or program that you talked about and are excited to pursue. Keep your note short—four to six sentences max. And e-mail is the way to go if you want to ensure that your interviewer receives your note in a timely fashion.
Although we suggest that you know your resume well, there is also the danger of knowing your resume TOO well. To address this and other issues, stay tuned for our list of interview don’ts in Part 2 of this post.
If you would like our help preparing for your interviews, check out our MBA Interview Prep service.