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# Don’ts at an MBA admissions interview

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The journey that started with writing tests, applying to and winning calls from business schools and competing in group discussions reaches its final milepost — a face-to-face interview with the representatives of the school of your choice. This is the hour of reckoning –- an opportunity to make that final impression that pushes you past the finish line. Students have been asking me, for several years now, if I can tell them what the panel looks for in a candidate. It is a tough question to answer as panels are not homogeneous masses of predictable people. Every interviewer has his or her own perspective and every B–school has its own set of requirements. At a conceptual level, however, the panel is assessing your fitment as a part of the B-school family for the next couple of years (especially for a residential school). So, the question is, would the panel members want you to be a part of their family? Do they like you enough?
Here’s a checklist to make sure you avoid the following ‘don’ts’ when facing an interview:

1. Not paying adequate attention to application form-filling:
This is done prior to the interview – sometimes several months earlier – but I thought I would start here for the benefit of those who still have some forms to fill. Before the panel meets you, your application form defines who you are. Also, when you are interviewed, it is largely on the basis of what you have filled-in. Need one say more? Take adequate care to ensure that you come across as a clear-thinking, focussed individual.

2. Not knowing what is there on your application form: This is a common phenomenon. As discussed, your application forms the basis of your interview, at least in the early stages. Your responses in the interview must tally with the content of the application form; else you come across as an unsure, unfocussed person. It is therefore mandatory that you are completely familiar with the filled-in form before you appear before the panel.

3. Being careless and/ or casual about your appearance: The interview is a formal interaction; you have applied for admission to a business management education, which will hopefully help you establish a successful corporate career. The least that is expected of you is that you will take adequate care to present yourself as a well-groomed person. T-shirts, jeans, untidy or crumpled clothes, outlandish hair styles, etc. suggest that the candidate has not taken the process seriously enough.

4. Showing up without adequate preparation: Nothing irritates a panel more than a candidate who has not taken the trouble of preparing for the interview. You have to be prepared with answers to questions pertaining to your own self, life and goals, as well as to academics and work. Preparation builds confidence –- and confidence (or a lack of it) shows. I would further explode this into the following ‘don’ts’:

a) Not being prepared for questions regarding self: Some of the most difficult questions to answer in an interview have to do, surprisingly, with someone you are expected to know quite well –- yourself. Candidates rarely give good answers to questions like ‘tell us something about yourself,’ ‘why do you want to pursue an MBA?’, ‘what career goals do you have over the next seven-year period?’, etc.

b) Neglecting academics: Remember that you have applied to an academic institution; your objective in joining a b-school could simply be to get a good job, but the faculty members of a good b-school take academics seriously. It’s time to go back to your course books and strengthen your fundamentals –- chances are that the questions will test your understanding of concepts and not your memory.

c) Unveiling a lack of general awareness: Business is conducted in the real world and a good manager needs to be aware of and sensitive to the micro and macro environment around him/ her. You need to demonstrate an interest in and a good knowledge of what is happening around the world.d) Not knowing enough about the school you have applied to: This is a cardinal sin. If you have not researched the school, you are in for trouble — you cannot blame the panel for making the assumption that you are not really serious about joining.

5. Not listening: Listening skills are perhaps the most important part of your repertoire. You need to listen actively to not only the words but also the tone and the body language that accompany the words. Allow the interviewer to complete the question; clarify if you have not understood the question; try to understand why it has been asked before you start answering.

6. Hurrying into your answers: This is in some sense related to the earlier point. Even if you think you have a very good answer to a question, take your time to give your response. Slowing down the pace a little allows you time to think and structure a better answer; also, the answer is less likely to appear rehearsed.

7. Not answering the questions asked: This sounds trivial, but you will be surprised how often candidates fail to answer the question asked. This is partly due to something we have already discussed –- poor listening means you probably don’t even realise what is asked of you; partly, however, it is due to habit. For example, the answer to ‘how many siblings do you have?’ has to be a number — 0 being one of the options! We rarely restrict ourselves to answering precisely; in an interview you need to demonstrate this ability.

8. Making unnecessary use of jargon: Interviewers are impressed with your understanding of concepts, not your demonstrated knowledge of jargon. More often than not, the use of jargon appears forced –- an attempt to impress. The panel could dig deeper and reveal gaps in your understanding as well. I would suggest you keep your answers simple and to the point.

9. Giving long–winded, convoluted answers: This is where you need to practice structuring your thoughts and hence your answers. We already know that you need to answer the specific question asked; you also need to develop the skill to make your answers simple, clear and well-structured. Do not leave it to the panellists to pluck the answer out of a cloud of complex sentences –- do the thinking for them and present your response in an easily understandable form. This approach will encourage you to think before you speak — always a good idea! I must add here, though, that very short, mono-syllabic answers are as perilous as long-winded ones.

10. Portraying a lack of enthusiasm and energy: You are supposed to be keen on securing admission to the school; your demeanour should reflect that enthusiasm. I am not asking you to be over the top (as some candidates are), but as a part of the panel I would like to see a candidate who is hungry for an admission and who feels that this school fits in well with his/her career plans.

11. Underestimating the quality of the panel: This is a common phenomenon — and something that never fails to amuse me. However smart you may think you may be, make the safe assumption that panellists are at least as smart. Also, the combined depth of knowledge that they will have and the breadth of subjects they will cover is likely to be quite significant. Remember this before you start giving ‘creative’ answers.

12. Believing that the interview is a one-way process: While it’s true that you are on the wrong side of the table, do not go with the notion that you are a mere ‘victim’. You can have considerable influence on the direction an interview takes. The way you structure your responses determines the areas in which you are quizzed further; be aware of this and look for opportunities to steer the interview in a direction that enables you to demonstrate your strengths.

13. Getting into an argument with the interviewer(s): Indians are argumentative by nature (were you surprised by the title of Amartya Sen’s book?). Regardless of how right you think you are, an interviewer may continue to refute you. It is a good idea not to stretch an argument beyond a reasonable point –- you may tend to get emotional and end up saying something that you regret later. Also, the ability to agree to disagree is a sign of maturity.

14. Badmouthing former associations: Another common phenomenon, and something that puts off the panel completely. Trashing organisations/ jobs that you have worked in or subjects that you have studied implies that you do not own up to events in your own life and cast the blame on others. It also suggests that you may trash the b-school in future if your career does not go the way you want it to.

15. Not having an opinion: You are expected to analyse significant events and situations and form opinions. If you come across as someone who does not have an opinion, the panel is likely to believe that you are either uninformed or uninterested. You, of course, need to back your opinion with your analysis — that is exactly what the panel is seeking.

16.Being closed-minded and/ or judgemental: While we just discussed that it is good to have an opinion, being intolerant of other points of view is a sign of a closed person. If you judge others and fail to accommodate their way of looking at things, chances are that you will fail as a team player (and later as a team leader). Your answers should therefore reveal an appreciation of the fact that other, valid perspectives do exist.

17. Yielding to stress: The panel is quite capable of subjecting you to stressful situations to assess your ability to handle stress. You need to pass this test; ensure that you retain your composure and not get emotional or aggressive. Keep your focus on the question(s) asked and don’t let the situation overpower you.

18. Exposing your disregard for ethics: The panel often conjures up circumstances that face you with ethical dilemmas. This is tricky. Candidates who pick what they term ‘practical’ (essentially unethical) options are perceived as people who will take short-cuts to success. Remember, some principles in life are absolute and independent of the circumstances. Handle such situations with consistency across examples in an assertive manner.

19. Not having a couple of good questions to ask: Towards the end of the interview, the candidate is usually given the opportunity to ask a few questions of the panel. It is profitable to have a couple of good questions ready –- these would typically have to do with certain aspects of the institute and its curriculum and should portray, a sound knowledge of the school; asking no questions is of course a better option than asking stupid questions. ‘How have I fared in the interview?’ is a very stupid question, but ‘Have I made it?’ is stupider!

20. Making wild, uneducated guesses (or not having the ability to say ‘I don’t know’): However rigorous your preparation, it may happen that you don’t have answers to a couple of questions. Admit to the panel that you don’t know. If you think you may be close but are not sure, tell the panel that you are making an educated guess. If you think you can work out the answer, ask for some thinking time from the interviewers. Do not follow a policy of ‘spray and pray’ –- i.e., make wild guesses and pray that you are somewhere close to the actual answer.

21. Refusing to apply your mind: Intelligent interviewers ask several questions that test the interviewee’s ability to use his/ her analytical ability to ‘work out’ the answer. A candidate who depends solely on knowledge and is not willing to use his/ her thinking cap runs the risk of faring poorly in such situations. Train yourself to think on your feet and not give up easily. Sometimes your answer may not be the ideal one –- but the panel is more interested in understanding your thought process.

22. Underestimating the importance of body language: Your posture, extent of eye-contact (which must sweep the entire panel), use of hands while speaking, etc reveal a lot about you. Shaking your legs, fidgeting with a pen, playing with your hair, tapping your fingers, etc are signs of lack of confidence. It is therefore perilous to not be aware of how you present yourself to the panel.

23. Trying to be someone else: It is essential for you to be comfortable with yourself; candidates sometimes try to present themselves as who they would want to be rather than who they really are. Understand yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, and present yourself as the person you are. If you have some shortcomings, academic or other, own up to them. The fact that you have reached the interview stage implies that you are ready to improve and move forward in life.

24. Being too informal and/ or familiar with the interviewers: While it is good to not be unnecessarily stiff and be comfortable with the panel, candidates sometimes make the mistake of becoming over-familiar with the interviewers. This is an attempt to reduce stress levels, but you have to draw the line firmly between being conversational and being cocky. It is imperative to be formal with and respectful of the panel –- after all they would be your professors in the near future.

25. Lacking consistency in your responses: A smart panel will ask you the same question in several ways. Your answers should reflect a consistent line of thought. For example, your responses to questions like ‘why do you want to pursue an MBA?’, ‘what are your short and long-term career goals? ‘ and ‘where do you see yourself 5/7/10 years from now?’ should be pretty much the same.

26. Making assertions without proper support: As an example, when quizzed about strengths, a majority of candidates mention ‘leadership quality.’ The panel is bound to dig deeper and understand why you think you are blessed with this trait. In such a situation, the inability to support your claim with substantial evidence makes you end up looking a little silly. Be careful when you make such pronouncements –- ask yourself the question –- if the panel asks me the corresponding how’s and why’s, will I be in a position to defend myself?

27. Failing to differentiate yourself: The level of competition for the top schools is fierce; there is an over-supply of good candidates and you need to differentiate yourself. Personal questions give you an opportunity to stand apart; if your best strength is that you are ‘good with people’ then let me tell you that I have not met any candidate in my rather long life as an interviewer who does not think he/ she is ‘good with people’! Is there something you have done that takes being ‘good with people’ to a level beyond having many friends all of whom depend on your wisdom to settle their lives’ problems? Or, do you have a characteristic, supported by examples that demonstrate its existence, which is not so commonplace? Think hard about who you are as an individual and I am sure you will find these differentiators.

28. Coming across as arrogant and/ or irreverent: MBA’s are often perceived as a community of arrogant and presumptuous people, and b-schools are often accused for nurturing this attitude. Professors, almost as a rule, detest students who are supercilious and have over-inflated egos. You need to come across as a dignified, polite and grounded person. If you appreciate the erudition and wisdom of the members of the panel, you will automatically feel humbled.

29. Being in a hurry to end the interview: Candidates often dislike being interviewed. Their discomfort manifests itself in several ways –- one being that they make it obvious that they want the interview (and hence the torture) to end immediately. It is in your interest to prolong the interview, especially if it has not been going your way so far. You never know which one of your answers strikes a chord with the panel. Let the interviewers set the pace –- as a candidate you should be perceived to be in no hurry at all.

30. Lying: We started by saying that you are likely to be picked if the panel ‘likes’ you. I thought I would end with perhaps the most decisive ‘don’t.’ The moment the interviewers find out that you have lied to them, you have ruined any chance that you may have had to clear the final stage. No b-school wants to fill its seats up with frauds and liars (there are any way too many such people in the country and the world). Speak the truth; if your poor marks are a result of lack of focus/ work, admit it. If you have a job offer from the campus or have applied to competing schools, tell the panellists if they ask. They are smart enough to figure out who is lying. Remember, you may need to tell many lies to cover one –- all this builds up stress levels as you are constantly trying to create an unreal story. If you stick to the facts, your confidence levels will be higher and you will come across as an honest, earnest individual –- the dream catch for any good institution.
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Last edited by kingb on 16 Feb 2014, 17:05, edited 2 times in total.
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06 Sep 2012, 18:39
nice post!
thank you for the tips.
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12 Sep 2012, 12:45
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Also Economist and Stacy Blackman have put some together: http://www.economist.com/whichmba/appli ... -and-donts

Where should I apply? And to how many programmes?

DO apply to your dream school, even if it is a stretch. This is your only chance, don't leave yourself with any regrets.

DO apply to at least four schools of varying levels of competitiveness to maximise chances of success.

DON'T apply to more than six schools. This is an intense and time-consuming process. Applying to too many schools leads to burn-out and diminishing returns.

DON'T rely on rumour and others' opinions when deciding where to apply (including rankings such as The Economist's). Engage in first-hand research by visiting schools, and speaking with current students and alumni. Only you can decide which school is the right fit for your personality and goals.

GMAT

It is important to take the GMAT exam seriously as this is one aspect of the application that is very much within your control. In a sea of highly qualified candidates, the GMAT is an important screening tool

DO take a class in order to prepare rigorously, with an established study schedule and practice exams in a realistic environment. One basic key to success is familiarity— with question type and the computer-adapted format.

DO plan to take the exam more than once. Fewer nerves and more experience often lead to a higher score the second time around.

DON'T cancel a score, no matter how badly you think you have done. Immediately afterwards you are given the option of not submitting the test. But schools will evaluate your highest score, so don't worry about a low score weighing you down. In any case, it will provide valuable information about your testing strengths and weaknesses. And you may be surprised that a score is not as low as you expected.

DON'T wait until the last minute to take your GMAT. Take care of it early in the year, before you have to juggle the other aspects of the application. Leave time for two rounds of studying and testing.

DO consider the alternative GRE test. Because the GRE isn't reported in class profiles and isn't a factor in b-school rankings, if you struggle with the GMAT but have good grades and other strong credentials, submitting a GRE may make it easier for a school to “take a chance” on you. If you do well on GMAT, submit it. But if you are a poor test-taker, the GRE may be the way to go.

References (letters of recommendation)

DO try your best to secure professional references. An academic reference will not be able to answer the most common recommendation questions. Schools are really looking for insight into your professional performance.

DO use references from your current and most recent jobs. The most recent insights help create a picture of you as you currently are. The admissions committee is not as concerned with how you behaved eight years ago.

DON'T secure a reference from a bigwig who hardly knows you. Make sure your referee can comment on you in a meaningful way.

DO prepare your referees and manage them closely. The references are a small test of your management abilities. If you cannot ensure that your referee submits on time, or follows other directions, what does this say about your skills as a manager?

Essays

See Stacy Blackman's in-depth essay tips here.

The interviews

As with all aspects of this process, it is important to prep for the interviews. The subject matter of the interview will be you, and you will be expected to be the polished expert.

DO practise out loud, rather than just mentally preparing answers. You can have mock interviews with a friend or even speak to yourself in the mirror.

DON'T opt to interview on campus if you will perform better off campus. Set yourself up for success, by choosing the environment where you will be most relaxed.

DO follow up with a thank-you note, via e-mail or post.

Re-applying

Many schools are friendly towards re-applicants; if you approach the process correctly, a re-applicant can feel cautiously optimistic.

DO be sure to highlight how you have progressed since your previous application. Demonstrate professional and personal advancements. Help the admissions committee to understand how you have evolved and become a better applicant since your last attempt.

DON'T completely overhaul your application. Some schools ask you to submit an entirely new application, but too much change can signal that you are not being honest.

DO apply to new schools in addition to the old ones. If you were unsuccessful the first time, it may be because you applied to the wrong set of schools.

Stacy Blackman is the founder of Stacy Blackman Consulting, an MBA admissions consultancy, and author of “The MBA Application Roadmap: The Essential Guide to Getting Into a Business School” (Firstbooks.com)
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13 Sep 2012, 09:57
Thank you BB for sharing the economist article.
It has some really helpful tips.
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25 Sep 2012, 18:44
What’s a good B-School?

Explore the playing field and choose what's best for you.
Do not judge a B-school at face value.

Choosing the Right B-school
There are thousands of B-schools all over the world, and about half a dozen rankings. In such a scenario, finding the right B-school becomes quite a task. What matters is not obtaining an MBA, but doing a program that is respected and recognized. Once you identify your dream B-school, go all out to make sure that you get in.

What Makes a Good B-school: Parameters for Selection

To get you started, here is a list of a few aspects you need to look at while selecting B-schools and make sure that you are on the right track.
If it does not throw up the best choice, it will at least help you shortlist those that you need to apply to.

Where do you want to study?
First and foremost, you need to decide where do you want to do an MBA from. This can be a choice between doing an MBA from university in your country or abroad. You need to realize that the admission process, eligibility criteria and screening process for both may differ.

For pursuing an MBA , there are several locational factors you will have to consider, such as the proximity of the B-school to business hubs. The location of a B-school greatly influences the level of interaction between a B-school and industry, thus affecting the quality of education and visiting faculty, if any.

What does the B-school offer?
You need to take a look at the school, its learning environment and the programs offered, whether approved and certified ; curriculum, full-time faculty, campus services and the student body. A good infrastructure assures sound technical and logistical support.

What is the balance between faculty and research?
It is a top B-school's ability to attract and retain top-class faculty and its emphasis on the quality of research that separates it from others. Most business schools strive for a balance of both. All top B-schools have a strong focus on research and provide extensive, contextual and relevant study material.

What is the placement record?
Find out the program’s acceptability from the point of view of the list of potential recruiters you have in mind, analyze this through the B-school’s placement statistics of the last three years, the number of students that were picked by top-notch companies and the differential placements of the various B-schools. In this regard, also find out how active is the placement cell and/or the alumni network.

How is a B-school ranked?
In the last few years, there have been various surveys conducted every year that evaluate and compare B-schools using a consistent criteria. The results of these surveys could help you target some of the top B-Schools. Remember to take all of these surveys with a pinch of salt though and not to bother about the exact ranking of 'a' survey, but with the general opinion of a few put together.

Does a B-school provide affiliations and exchange?
B-schools have collaborations with acclaimed international B-schools. For example ISB, Hyderabad offers an International Student Exchange Program, which gives students the opportunity to study for 1-2 terms at leading business schools such as the London Business School (UK) and Kellogg School of Management (USA). IIM Kozikode encourages international student exchange with B-schools such as the European School of Management (ESCP-EAP) in Paris and the European Business School in Frankfurt.

Exchange programs and affiliations encourage a healthy, cosmopolitan learning environment and promote global standards of education. Such programs are optional, even if you do not participate in a program yourself, the experience of interacting with visiting students will also benefit you alot.

Does a B-school offer financial aid?
MBA programs do not come cheap. However, it is quite easy to obtain financial aid for pursuing an MBA, especially if you are doing the MBA from one of the top ten B-schools. Most Indian B-schools do not offer scholarships till you reach the 2nd year and most of these are merit based. However, most banks are willing to give students a loan to pay for their education at extremely nominal rates and these are not required to be repaid till you start working. It is highly recommended that you do not allow financial constraints to stop you from joining a good B-school and to go in for loans. In fact, these loans actually reduce your tax burden once you start drawing those 6-7 figure salaries.

Who features in the B-school alumni?
If the alumni of the school are in well-respected positions in various industries, it automatically ensures a good standing for the school in the corporate world, which, in turn, implies better placement opportunities.

Today an MBA is no longer limited to marketing, finance and other traditional specializations. Applicants now have various options to choose from. So, if you are interested in a specific filed of study, find out which B-school offers the relevant course and apply to them. There are certain B-schools which are reputed for their specializations;.

The Internet
A quick, vast and updated resource. Websites of the B-schools provide you with detailed information about the faculty, programs offered, facilities they offer and alumni forums that might interest you and help you take your decision.

Counselors
They are updated and trained to offer career guidance. They are aware and in constant touch with the latest happenings in B-schools and the programs that they offer. Once the counselors gauge your aspirations and your level of readiness, they can assist and provide you with proper career guidance. But be sure to meet trained and professional counselors.

Alumni
Get it from the horse’s mouth. Speaking to the alumni gives you a student's perspective into the B-school. Talk to them for information regarding the kind of work you plan to pursue. It will provide you with a very different and highly personalized perspective.
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26 Sep 2012, 23:30
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Every admissions interview is different, but there are some common questions that MBA applicants are often asked. To prepare for your MBA interview, read through these questions and think about how you would answer them.

Why did you decide to apply to this business school?

What makes you stand out among other candidates?

What can you contribute to our program?

What are your expectations of this program?

How do you plan to use your degree?

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Can you walk me through your resume?

Can you give me an example of a time that you demonstrated leadership?

What is your definition of teamwork?

What would you say is your biggest weakness?

How would your colleagues describe you?

To learn more about the specific MBA interview questions that you may have to answer at a particular school, consider speaking with current students or school alumni. They may be able to offer additional insight into the admissions committee or provide you with a list of questions common to your school of interest.
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23 Oct 2012, 13:54
How Not To Blow Your HBS Interview, insightful and tip-filled article (by me!) in Poets and Quants, with sample questions and sample mistakes.
http://poetsandquants.com/2012/10/17/ho ... terview-2/
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23 Oct 2012, 19:32
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At Wharton, I interviewed over 1,500 MBA candidates and there are only a few basic rules to follow:

(1) be yourself
(2) come prepared to discuss your future - especially your career goals and motivations for wanting to obtain a graduate business school degree from that school
(3) answer the question that is being asked -- not the one that you want to answer
(4) first impressions matter so come dressed appropriately and look the part
(5) last impressions matter so have a few winning questions that will leave a lasting impression
(6) do not try to inject too much personal humor into the interview
(7) look at your interviewer in the eyes
(8) be courteous to all people (the receptionist has a lot of power and contributes a lot of opinions)
(9) your interview is not just for the 30 minutes you are speaking with an admissions representative; but it lasts the entire time you are on campus
(10) remember to follow up with a personalized thank you note

Good luck.
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05 Nov 2013, 08:32
Hello from the GMAT Club MBAbot!

Thanks to another GMAT Club member, I have just discovered this valuable topic, yet it had no discussion for over a year. I am now bumping it up - doing my job. I think you may find it valuable (esp those replies with Kudos).

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05 Apr 2015, 01:06
Hello from the GMAT Club MBAbot!

Thanks to another GMAT Club member, I have just discovered this valuable topic, yet it had no discussion for over a year. I am now bumping it up - doing my job. I think you may find it valuable (esp those replies with Kudos).

Want to see all other topics I dig out? Follow me (click follow button on profile). You will receive a summary of all topics I bump in your profile area as well as via email.
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17 Apr 2015, 05:03
nice post!
thank you for the tips.
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agreed
Re: Don’ts at an MBA admissions interview   [#permalink] 17 Apr 2015, 05:03
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