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 Kellogg, and schools that allow applicants to proactively sign up for interviews, such as Tuck and Duke. 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 (though currently virtual) 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 five 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 Darden, which asks you to spend 10–15 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.
2. Don’t forget to listen.
Avoid being the candidate who starts talking and never quite stops. An interview is not a monologue, and there is a limited amount of time for an interviewer to ask what they want to ask. You can set yourself up for success by targeting an answer between two and three minutes, and then listen for the next question. Watch for non-verbal cues telling you that you have discussed a point thoroughly enough.
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. We know students often find new opportunities and change paths while at school. So, you might ask, “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.
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 the resources at their school and how they will help you in 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 for a school. Before interview day, know the school inside and out, and be prepared to explain what unique classes, clubs, culture, or experiential learning aspects of that school 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. After all, an MBA should be a transformational experience.
6. Don’t ignore your surroundings or forget to test your tech.
In our world of virtual interviewing, you can unintentionally share more of you than you anticipate. 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. If you cannot control what’s behind you, use a virtual background—and not a beach scene or a picture of your dog! Find something simple that won’t distract your interviewer during your conversation. If you do use a virtual background, don’t wear green (it disappears on screen!) and try out your professional outfit on camera ahead of time. Blurring your background is an option, but check out what is visible. A pile of laundry on a bed behind you will likely still look unprofessional.
7. Don’t assume that if you practice in your head, your mouth will cooperate on the day of the interview.
You have an internal “filter” that can affect a fantastic-sounding answer when it travels from your brain to your mouth. It takes practice to articulate your stories in a concise way that can showcase your achievements. Consider using the STAR (situation, task, action, result) method to help you shape your story. Don’t try to memorize your stories or 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.
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 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 you prepare 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!