TL;DR: Just ask yourself, “Would Zach Galifianakis do this in an interview?” If the answer is yes, then you probably shouldn’t do it!
As we head into July, now’s the perfect time to get interviews with MBA alumni and current students on the books. Why? Because they’re one of the best possible ways to research a school you’re interested in! There is nothing more important in the MBA application process than thorough, well thought out, and meaningful research. It’s critical, if you will (see what we did there?).
But just calling up an alum or chatting with a current student isn’t enough! A successful interview starts with an objective in mind, a goal in hand. If that objective is to check off a box and have people to name drop in your application then you are already off to a bad start. Instead, treat every interaction as a glimpse into this $150,000 program you’re about to sign up for. Yeah, this isn’t chump change. Fit is important. Conversations are an amazing way to not only find out about the program, but connect with the type of people the school turns out. These are proxies for your future classmates! This is a really important step in developing an authentic application that demonstrates your fit for a school’s MBA program. Authenticity is arguably one of the most important factors to your application and that can’t be faked or generated with cursory online research.
Conversations are also a great way to gut check your career goals. Let’s say you’re a consultant interested in getting into PE. Some of you might have that goal right now. Well, guess what? That goal is REALLY tough. Not to mention, not all schools are created equal when it comes to enabling that goal. Chatting with people who successfully walked that walk or are doing it right now can be invaluable. For one, you learn the ins and outs of your desired exit industry and probably gets your mental gears running in directions you hadn’t previously considered. That’s important because the more you explore and discover, the stronger and more specific your story becomes. A well researched story carries itself! These chats are also a good way to figure out how the school is positioned to help you. Some of the stuff you learn might be useful in making your decision, some in applying, and some won’t kick in until you’re actually there, boots on the ground. It’s all good stuff though!
So what are some things you can do to make the most of your conversation?
[One] Avoid asking common questions with answers that can be found easily on the school’s website. You can read this on your own and canned questions won’t help you stand out to the person you’re chatting with. More likely, it’ll make the person you’re speaking with feel like you’re wasting their time. Remember – they’re taking time out of their busy schedule to chat with you because they care about the school, its culture, and reputation. Poorly prepping for the meeting isn’t going to go over very well!
[Two] Make your questions personal! Great questions trigger emotional responses and elicit strongly opinionated responses. These questions not only help you determine if the school is a fit for you but also enables deeper dives. So what does this look like in action? Here’s an example:
Not so great question: Why did you attend school x?
Better question: At what point during your time at school x did you realize that you made the right decision in choosing this program?
The latter ties the answer to a particular experience, a memory. That’s powerful! It also provides insight into what makes the person you’re chatting with tick!
[Three] Let the other person talk. We get it – you’re amazing and you have all these grand plans after your MBA. But you know what? People like talking about themselves. So let them! Ask your question and then listen (carefully) to what they have to say. You’re there to learn, not sell yourself unapologetically. Trust us, doing this simple thing will do wonders for what the person walks away thinking about you!
[Four] Lastly, keep it causal. This conversation isn’t an interview for you to get into school so no need to be so formal. Relax and be yourself! Don’t be afraid to ask questions that may seem trivial or silly (keeping #1 in mind). Be transparent about your thoughts about a school and getting an MBA. Have the person you are speaking to sell you on why their program is the best.
So before you start working on your applications, drafting your essays, and prepping your recommenders – go out and talk to people! Use it to short list programs or, if you’ve already done that, to learn more and figure out exactly why it’s so perfect for you.
Once you’ve gone and explored, sign up to chat with us. We can talk about which programs might be best, what you should keep in mind for your story, or how we can help you develop applications that have, at their heart, authentic passion! [Sign up for your free consultation today!]
From all of us, good luck!