I recently had an enlightening conversation with one of my clients as we were preparing for his MBA interviews. We were discussing the merits of scheduling an in-person versus a virtual interview, and my client shared his strong preference for virtual interviews because he could control his environment and keep some notes in the background on his computer screen. His comment surprised me, as I can recall how applicants used to find virtual interviews intimidating.
However, since the COVID-19 pandemic created a massive shift to remote work and provided everyone with a MasterClass in working virtually, virtual interviews may actually be the preferred option for many MBA applicants. While some MBA programs are now back to offering in-person interviews, the virtual interview is here to stay. There is also a new twist to virtual interviewing this year: Texas McCombs has implemented a new video assessment component, whereby all candidates must respond to a set of questions without the involvement of a live interviewer.
Although the basics of interviewing remain the same whether interviews are conducted in person or virtually, here are six tips to keep in mind when participating in a remote interview.
1. Practice makes perfect.
Familiarize yourself with the virtual interview format before your interview. Have a trusted advisor or colleague conduct a mock interview in advance, with you sitting in the location where you will conduct your virtual interview—ideally at the same time of day as your real interview—and wearing the same outfit you plan to wear in the interview. By practicing at the same time of day, you can see if there will be any lighting issues and find solutions beforehand. There are a few key skills to master for the virtual interview, such as looking into the camera rather than at the screen to build eye contact with your interviewer. One advantage of the virtual interview is that you can tape a few note cards above your screen to remind you of the three key reasons why you want to attend the school or the three key ways you can add value to this particular program. However, be careful not to rely on your notes too much; you don’t want to appear to be reading notes, as that will not make a good impression. Record your mock interview session so you can watch your performance later and make adjustments before your actual interview.
2. Pay attention to what is behind you.
Ideally, select a neutral background such as a white wall or a tidy bookcase or office area. Always use a computer and not a handheld device for your interview. I once interviewed a candidate who had a very bold black and white tapestry behind him and was also using his cell phone. It was quite distracting and made me feel like I had entered a psychedelic disco scene, as the video image moved along with the candidate’s hand motions while he spoke. Avoid using virtual backgrounds; they place additional stress on your Internet connection, and parts of your body might appear and disappear throughout the interview! Make sure whatever is behind you looks tidy and orderly. Seeing dirty dishes in your sink, an unmade bed, or Heaven forbid, a bed with someone sleeping in it in the background—yes, this has happened!—is an absolute no-go. Beds in general are too personal and should not be visible in the background. If you live in tight quarters where a bedroom is your only option, focus your computer on a part of the room where the bed is not in the background.
3. Prep smart and be early.
Be prepared in case your interviewer logs on a few minutes early. Check your video and audio connections before the call. If a Zoom update needs to be installed, make sure to do this well in advance of your interview. Look at your video image before you sign on to ensure that your background looks clear and that your hair and clothing are in good form. Another reason to log on a bit early is that you want to spend those last few minutes reviewing the key points you would like to make during the interview, not scrambling to fix Internet problems or audio/visual connections. Make sure you have a strong Internet connection to avoid technical issues. Confirm your meeting link in advance, and have a phone number or email address available in case you need to communicate technical difficulties to your interview contact.
4. Dress for success.
Although it is true that no one will see if you are wearing pajama bottoms, you will project more confidence and professionalism if you wear the same thing you would wear in a face-to-face interview. Dressing and grooming professionally tells your interviewer that you are excited about the opportunity to engage with them.
5. Avoid distractions.
Ask your roommates or family not to stream Netflix or compete with you for Internet bandwidth during your interview session. If you have a dog that could bark unexpectedly, find someone who can walk or keep your pet during this time. Put a “Do not disturb” sign on the outside of your closed door so that no one unexpectedly interrupts you during your interview.
You would be surprised how a big smile can set the tone for a relaxed, collaborative conversation. When candidates smile, it makes the interviewer feel more relaxed as well. A genuine smile is a great way to demonstrate charisma and confidence in your MBA interview and your professional presence in general.
Our Stratus counselors are a great resource to help you prepare for your MBA interviews. All of our counselors have been through this process, as all hold an MBA from a top program. In addition, many members of our team previously served as admissions committee members or alumni or student interviewers at top MBA programs, where they interviewed and evaluated MBA applicants. To learn more about our MBA interview preparation services, reach out to us for a free consultation.