Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Taming bschool interviews

My experience of business school interviews is limited, but I believe I have a few ideas which can be helpful to some of you. Here's my list of key points which you should be aware of before you shake hands with your business school interviewer.


As cliched as might sound, I have known people to falter just because they were not prepared enough. Preparation to me would mean
a) having a list of probable questions and their answers
b) a handful of stories which you know inside-out
c) structure the story enough to have the ability to articulate coherently the challenge you were facing, the actions YOU took, and the impact your actions had.
d) practise with friends/family/anyone else to ensure that what seems coherent and meaningful to you means the same to them.


There are two parts to this
a) developing the confidence to handle any unexpected curve ball question
b) having a repertoire of stories which you can use for an unexpected question (and being thorough with those stories)

For me, the confidence comes from practicing and reminding myself that no business school interview (or any other interview/exam for that matter) defines what I am gonna be in life. There will be some interviews I will ace, some I will not - but if I am persistent, I know I will reach my goal.


Applicants always wonder, how important is an interview to get an admit ? Can I get an admit if I dont do well ? I had similar questions when I was an applicant, but now when I look back, I realise that those are questions best left aside. Because no one knows the answers, and I am sure if there is one right answer it surely would vary by each school. So relax. And look at the interview as another opportunity to present your best foot forward. I remember an admissions director of a top school telling us that the biggest mistake applicants do is to just focus on essays. Essays are very important, but that doesnt mean we neglect other parts of the application. One doesnt loose out if he does well in every department, right ? Bottomline - interviews are important - make sure you practice enough to do well.


Adcom interviews are known to be structured and predictable. Alum interviews are less structured and many times random. The trick to ace either kind of interview is to look back at points 1 and 2 above. Practice, and be prepared for the unexpected.


Knowing yourself would boil down to knowing your resume, your essays, and other stories very well. The worst an interviewee can do is to be shaky on points on his or her resume or essays. Knowing yourself would also mean having a clear understanding where you want to be, and what path you are going to take to reach there. Knowing the school would mean how the particular school would help you reach your goals, what facilities it provides, what level of alumni access would you have, what are the courses you would want to take, what are the services the staff and student body provides. But that's not all - you should also know why you would fit with the people at the school, the culture of the school (and I now realize that cultures are different between different school despite some obvious similarities - like we all think in millions :-)), the good and bad of the community and how all that fits with the person that is you. Dont neglect these subtle parts, they are important.


Relax! Very important. Stressing out generally does not work for most people. Grab a cup of coffee (you need to be awake and alive), a chocolate or protein bar (you need to be enegetic), and dont stop reading your notes just 5 minutes before the interview.


Relax. Treat the interview as a conversation, it generally is that way. Treat the interviewer as a person, not someone who holds your future in his or her hands.

Smile. A pleasant demeanor cant hurt you, and mostly ends up helping your case. It also makes the interviewer feel that you arent stressing it, an important quality in any wannabe top corporate exec.

Listen and think. Take the time to assimilate the question and formulate a structure for your response. But dont take too long as if you are dreaming. A coherent story which comes a few seconds late is much better than a rambling that begins instantaneously.

Be energetic and enthusiastic. Not overly so though. Energy and enthusiasm is always infectious in the positive way.

Have questions to ask. Intelligent ones. Unique if possible. Remember, each part of the application is an opportunity to differentiate yourself, so go grab that chance you have.

Do not forget to thank the interviewer, irrespective of whether he has been nasty, cold, or lovable.

That's enough advice I think. Time for you to go put advice to action. Now!


MechaniGal said...

Thanks Forrest, that was a really useful post for me since I'm headed for an interview soon.

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Gauri Mathur said...

heyy that's nice..:-))
thanx for sharing such a pleasant experience of urs with us..:-)).
me too an MBA aspirant and il be headed towards interview very soon..though tey all be nxt year,,but my intensity of getting bit nervous has already began:D:D.Hope everythng goes off well!!:))

take care..:-)