Guide to Interviews
When the time comes for you to interview with your target MBA program(s), you may inevitably find yourself fretting and wondering, “What if I don’t know the answers to my interviewer’s questions?” The good news is that a business school interview bears no resemblance to a TV quiz show. The admissions officer, alumnus/alumna or student who interviews you will not ask you about esoteric topics and will not expect you to answer questions pertaining to management disciplines. The vast majority of the questions you will encounter in your interview will pertain to your life and experiences—in other words, the interviewer will be asking you about you—so you will already have all the answers in hand from the beginning.
As your first step in preparing for your interviews, take time to reacquaint yourself with your own story, especially as you have presented it to the school thus far in your application. Go back and reread your essays, contemplate pivotal moments in your life and consider your major accomplishments and failures. By doing so, you will be sure to have this basic knowledge fresh in your mind so you can perform at your very best during your interview.
While most business school interviews are straightforward opportunities for an admissions representative to learn more about a candidate’s personal and professional background, goals, reasons for selecting a specific school and leadership/team experiences, interviews can vary dramatically from school to school and sometimes include a few peculiarities. So, what constitutes a “tough” interview, and how can you best navigate one?Stoic interviewer:
Some interviewers can be unemotional, refusing to give the candidate any indication as to whether he/she is making a positive impression or not. Of course, when an applicant is under intense pressure, this perceived lack of approval can be misunderstood as a sign of disapproval. The key in managing such an interview is to tune out the interviewer’s lack of emotion. Focus on your answers and do your best to not be distracted by anything about the interviewer, tuning out everything except the questions he/she is posing. “Reading” the interviewer in real time can be challenging—concentrate instead on showcasing your strengths.Philosophical questions:
Most candidates expect to discuss their experiences and accomplishments in their admissions interview, but not their values and philosophy on life. Harvard Business School in particular likes to understand applicants’ motivations and will ask questions like “What is your motivation to succeed?,” “What drives you?” and “What gives you purpose in life?” The key to answering these sorts of questions is pretty simple: expect and prepare for them in advance (after all, you are being warned right now). Do not assume that all the questions you will receive during your interview will be experiential.Persistent questioning:
Sometimes a tough interviewer will continuously delve deeper into a subject, such as by repeatedly asking, “Can you be more specific?” or “Can you tell me more about that?” These kinds of pressure tactics can be disconcerting, but the key is to simply stay on topic. No matter how persistent he/she is, the interviewer is always essentially asking you about a subject that you know quite well—you! Just stick to your agenda, and you will be fine.What about scheduling interviews?
Many schools will give applicants a significant window in which to schedule their interview, so you may wonder whether the date you choose will send some kind of message to the admissions committee. Does scheduling an interview early convey that you are too aggressive and do not have any other irons in the fire, or that you are eager to act and impress the admissions committee? Does scheduling an interview later give the impression that you are less interested in the program, or that you are very serious about your applications and are taking your time to prepare and inform yourself thoroughly before each step of the process?
The reality is that the timing of the meeting does not matter. Neither scheduling early nor choosing a later date confers any advantage or disadvantage (nor does selecting any day in between). The MBA admissions committees recognize that you, like all candidates, are busy and that your schedule is in flux as a result of work, community and personal commitments. The committees focus on the interviews themselves, not on when they are scheduled. So pick a date that works for you—a day and/or time when you know you can be comfortable and relaxed, not distracted—and start preparing!What should I wear?
Always follow any guidelines the school provides on proper interview dress. If “business casual” is specified, wear business casual; if “business attire,” dress in business attire. Jeans, T-shirts and ripped or unclean clothing are never appropriate. If the school does not specify a dress code, wear business attire for any on-campus interviews as well as for an off-campus interview with a member of the admissions staff. Business casual is often best when meeting an alumnus/alumna off campus, though you may consider politely asking the person you are meeting about proper attire in advance. Showing some creativity and style with your clothing is okay, but do not go overboard—remember that your meeting is a professional one, and your first impression is vital.I am meeting my interviewer at a coffee shop. Who pays?
If you are meeting an alumnus/alumna at a café or similar establishment for an interview, you can avoid the awkward “who pays?” scenario by arriving a few minutes early, purchasing your own beverage and then offering to pay for the interviewer’s selection when he/she arrives. If your interviewer arrives before you, you might politely offer to pay for his/her drink, but if the interviewer declines, you should not insist.Should I send a thank you note?
Yes, you should always send a brief thank you note after your interview. Write and send the note as soon as possible after your meeting—the same day or the next is ideal—and be sure to mention specifics from your conversation or your visit. Emailing the thank you is fine. Interviewers usually need to submit their feedback on candidates within 24 hours, so you want your message to be received quickly.If I am not sure how I did, can I ask for feedback?
No! Feeling anxious about how you performed is natural, but do not ask your interviewer for feedback. Doing so will not establish you as professional and mature and will instead leave the impression that you lack good judgment (not to mention confidence). Just be patient and wait for the admissions committee to make its decision!
As interview decisions begin to be released, do your best to remain calm and let the admissions committees do their work. Becoming a little apprehensive is natural if you have not yet received an interview invitation, but you will certainly not increase your chances of receiving one by calling the admissions office and asking if they have all your files or if an interview decision has been made. In fact, such calls can have a negative effect on your candidacy, inadvertently framing you as pushy or even belligerent.
Admissions offices are increasingly transparent and should be taken at their word. If they say they are still releasing decisions, then they are in fact still doing so. If they say that the timing of your interview decision does not signify an order of preference, then it does not. As painful as it is, unless something has changed materially in your candidacy, all you can really do is wait patiently and try not to think about the decision or second-guess your status.mbaMission
offers even more interview advice in our Interview Guide
, as well as through targeted one-on-one mock interview sessions
and group Wharton team-based discussion simulations
, so check those out!
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