So, you were lucky enough to receive an invitation to interview at your top-choice MBA program. Congratulations! For most schools, your chances of acceptance have increased to roughly 50%. However, this is less likely to be the case at schools that try to interview most candidates, such as Northwestern Kellogg, and schools that allow applicants to proactively sign up for interviews, such as Dartmouth Tuck and Duke Fuqua. But for schools where an interview is a more exclusive step in the admissions process, this is a big win! In addition, it gives you the opportunity to bring your story to life in a personal way.
Now that you have a great opportunity to cement your candidacy, here are some things to avoid during an interview—as they may just torpedo your chances!
1. Don’t talk about your resume incessantly.
As we noted in our blog post on the top seven things to do in an interview, you must be prepared to walk your interviewer through your resume. But the caveat to this is to take them through it in fewer than five minutes. An interview should really be a conversation. Unless you are interviewing with UVA Darden, which asks you to spend ten to 15 minutes introducing yourself, there will be no time left to talk about the other things the interviewer wants to know if you take 20 minutes to explain your background. Plan an answer that is three to four minutes long. Generally, the best place to start is college, and make sure you highlight the “whys” behind the moves you have made rather than just restating what is already on your resume. The interviewer has already read your resume, so think about how to share new information, like those “whys,” rather than rehashing resume details.
2. Don’t forget to listen.
Avoid being the candidate who starts talking and never quite stops. An interview is not a monologue; there is a limited amount of time for an interviewer to ask what they want to ask, so make sure you are answering the question that was asked. You can set yourself up for success by targeting an answer between two and three minutes and then listening for the next question. Watch for non-verbal cues telling you that you have discussed a point thoroughly enough. If you are concerned that you might be going on too long, you could even ask if you’ve answered the question to the interviewer’s satisfaction. This gives the interviewer a chance to either move on or ask a follow-up question. Be sure to listen for multiple parts to a question. If you are worried that you might have missed a part of the question, don’t just keep talking to hopefully cover your omission—ask!
3. Don’t have an incomplete plan.
You are being interviewed for an MBA program, so you want to be clear about why you want to go to business school, why now is the right time, why this particular MBA program is right for you, and what you hope to do after business school. Students often find new opportunities and change career paths while at school, so you might wonder, “Why do I need to have things figured out?” The admissions committee (and, by extension, your interviewer) wants to know that you can build a logical plan to be successful. By articulating a solid career plan, you are showing that you have the skills to build a new plan should your career path change because of that amazing “Social Impact” class you took.
Although it is okay to go into business school wanting to investigate many career options, in your application and interview, stick to the goal you identified in your application. It can be a red flag to business schools (especially schools that read your entire application, such as HBS, MIT Sloan, and NYU Stern) if you talk about a new goal that was not discussed in your application.
4. Don’t talk about the school in general terms.
One explicit purpose of an MBA interview is to gauge whether you are a fit for the school, and another is to gauge your interest. Are you likely to attend the program? If you start using generalities that would also apply to the business school across town, you will give the impression that you have not taken the time to get to know that school. Schools also want to know that you have invested the time to learn about their resources and how they will help you on your career path. Although all schools will have a Consulting Club, by sharing your knowledge of a particular club’s initiatives or its success in specific case competitions, you can show your genuine interest in a school. Talk with current students involved in clubs of interest to you to learn how you can get involved and add value. Before interview day, know the school inside and out, and be prepared to explain which of its classes, clubs, cultural aspects, or experiential learning opportunities excite you.
5. Don’t blame others.
An interview is not the time to blame someone else for your professional missteps or personal mistakes. Nearly everyone has trouble spots on their resume that need explaining, so explain them in a professional way without pointing the finger. That is what a good teammate does! Take ownership of your areas for development. You can show your ability to be introspective and use life lessons to help identify where you need to grow. After all, an MBA should be a transformational experience.
6. Don’t ignore your surroundings or forget to test your tech.
Most schools now offer the option to interview on campus, but many interviews are still happening virtually. While we’ve gotten quite used to virtual interactions, you can unintentionally share more of you than you anticipate. For a virtual interview, log in ten to 15 minutes before the interview start time to test things out. As a part of testing your technology (don’t download a new version of Zoom or Teams the day before the interview!), look at your surroundings on camera before your interview begins. Ideally, you should have a blank or simple wall behind you. If you cannot control what’s behind you, either blur the background or use a virtual one—and not a beach scene or a picture of your dog! Find something simple that won’t distract your interviewer during your conversation. In addition, try out your professional outfit on camera ahead of time. And if you use a virtual background, don’t wear green—it disappears on screen!
7. Don’t assume that if you practice in your head, your mouth will cooperate on interview day.
We all have an internal “filter” that can affect a fantastic-sounding answer when it travels from our brain to our mouth. It takes practice to articulate your stories in a concise way that showcases your achievements. Consider using the STAR (situation, task, action, result) method to help you shape your story. Don’t try to memorize your stories, as you could come off as over-rehearsed or rigid. Know the points you want to hit, and practice telling those stories to your parent, friend, or trusted advisor. Consider recording your answers so that you can listen to and replay them, or ask a professional advisor like Stratus to do a mock interview to receive feedback on your answers.
We could probably do another whole list of interview “don’ts”—for example, “Don’t ask how you did after the interview” and “Don’t bring your mother to the interview” (true story!). The bottom line is that MBA interviews represent a unique opportunity to help improve your candidacy, and they should be treated as such. Interviews require you to do research, practice your story, get your timing right, and be ready to impress. Because no matter how much time you spend preparing for your GMAT, hounding your recommenders, or writing your essays, the final decision may come down to a 30-minute conversation you have with a stranger. Good luck!
If you would like help from Stratus when preparing for your MBA interviews, sign up for our MBA Interview Prep service!