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The Who, Why, What and How of the Business School Interview Process:  Part III, What

This is part III of a four-part series about the business school interview process.

In the first two articles of this series we covered some of the basics – who will be interviewing you for your place on an MBA program, and why they are doing it.  For the last two articles – the what and the how – we get a bit more practical.  That starts here.  What will they ask you in your MBA interview?

I’d love to give you all the answers – or, in this case, all the questions – but I’m not going to.  It’s not that I don’t want to, but rather because I can’t, and that really comes back to what I discussed in Part I of this series, where we looked at who will be interviewing you.  The answer to that, you might remember, is that it could be an alumnus, or it could be an Admissions Committee member, and it could be one person, or a panel, and you might be interviewed alone, or with other MBA applicants.  Your interviewer might have studied your file, but then again he or she might not have even looked at it.  In short, the situation you will find yourself in for your interview is as varied as an MBA classroom itself.  And the questions you are asked all depend on who is asking them, for there are probably as many different types of interview as there are interviewers.

The good news is that you will be able to find out with some degree of certainty what format of interview you’ll be facing.  A good admissions consultant will know whether it is alumnus or Admissions Committee, single interviewer or panel, solo or group for each of the schools you’re applying to, but even if you don’t go down the admissions consultant route a bit of digging online, or questions asked of recent alumni should give you the answers you need regarding format.  The bad news is that it still might not even matter.  Interviews for MBA programs can really go in any direction.

Motivations, and outcomes

If that is making you feel a little insecure, then I have a little more good news.  There are a couple of tactics to ensure you are on track to answer anything that is thrown at you.  The first is to think a bit about who your interviewer is to see what they might be most interested in.  You won’t always get it right, but if you look at the motivations that will likely dictate the interviewer’s actions, you’ll be in the ballpark, questions-wise at least.  And, broadly speaking, the motivators for each category, and what they will therefore ask you, is as follows:

Admissions Committee members are obsessed with fit, and heavily motivated to ensure they get it right.  I’ve touched on it in a couple of previous articles, but it’s always worth repeating: getting fit wrong makes what is on paper a good candidate an unhappy one, and that is bad news not just for that individual, but for the affected study group and wider class as well.  Admissions Committee members will also have a deep understanding of who you are – or at least the “you” that you have put across in your application – and will want to probe any areas that they see as red flags.  They will also be more likely to have a clear, and often competency-based structure around the interview than other types of interviewer, and will stick to that.  So, if you are scheduled to be interviewed by an Admissions Committee member, be prepared to answer questions about why you have followed your career path so far, what you want to do next, why you want to do that, and how you will make it happen.  Also make sure you know what parts of your application might be a red flag – whether experience, education, logistics – whatever – and have a ready answer that will ease their concerns.  Finally, be prepared to answer questions on all the things Admissions Committees see as important in assessing candidates, usually your education, academic abilities, work experience, career objectives, school knowledge (and how the school will help you achieve your objectives), team skills, self awareness, and logistics.  You’ll need to be able to address questions on most, if not all, of these topics.

Alumni see themselves as more than just gatekeepers.  They see themselves as brand protectors.  It’s probably a fair bet that they see their school as more exclusive than it actually is; after all, the quality of the brand of the school they are associated with mirrors their own perception of themselves.  The other thing that is pretty consistent with alumni is that they expect all applicants to jump through as many hoops as they did to get onto a program – if not more.  It’s not unusual for an alumnus who questioned the need for a GMAT score when they were applying to be adamant that the candidate they are interviewing now must have a score of 7oo+.  What often happens with alumni is that they will centre their questions on the things that they see as important, and they almost always centre on one question: would I have wanted this person in the classroom with me?  You should, therefore, expect questions that are more conversational, more reflective of the kind of bonding that goes on in an MBA classroom.  They will also want to test you on how engaged and knowledgeable you are about your industry or sector; what kind of information you bring to the classroom and how good you are at sharing it.  They’ll want you to have an opinion and a purpose, but they’ll also want you to be likeable.  Also, remember that admissions teams often assign interviewer to interviewee based on industry.  You’ll likely be interviewed by someone from your own industry, and they will almost certainly have opinions of their own that they will bring to the conversation.

Let’s talk about my favourite topic: me

So, the line of questioning could go in any direction, especially if it is an alumnus facing you across the table.  This is where I return to a point made in last week’s article on why you are being interviewed, and this point is the second strategy for success in the MBA interview: remember that the interview is all about you.  It might seem like the interviewer is driving things and they will certainly be leading the dance, but you should always come into an interview with a planned key message, a clear, set view of success, and some stories or evidence-based points that back this up.  And you should know how to seamlessly bridge from the question being asked of you to the answer that you want to give: the one that supports your overall message.

And what is that overall message?  Well, each one is different because each person’s drive and purpose is their own.  But you should always start with that drive and purpose.  These will influence what your career objectives are.  Think about what pillars this view of success stands on – what supports it, and then, what evidence supports them.  And then finally, how your values, which are the foundation that this message stands on, have allowed you to build this view of the future.  And that’s really what it comes down to – your future.  No matter who is interviewing you, they’ll always want to hear about that.

Find out more about how Inner Circle MBA can help you get your story straight. If you are interested in applying to an MBA program, we’ll help you get there.

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