When it comes to business school admissions, candidates almost always have questions about interview prep. They know that an MBA interview is a big deal, and they want to know what they can do to make the most of their opportunity.
The truth is, business schools are not a monolith. They have different brands, different strengths, different teaching approaches. And their admissions committees are looking for very different things when they interview MBA candidates.
The single most important thing you can do to have a successful MBA interview is to understand how your target schools interview. You can’t successfully prepare for MBA interviews “in general” – you have to prepare for the specific interview styles and question types you’ll experience. Here’s how:
1. Learn the school’s interview style
If you want to feel confident when you go in for your interview, you need to know what to expect. Some schools strongly prefer on-campus interviews; some do no interviews on campus. Some schools only use students, or alumni, to conduct interviews; some use only admissions board members. Some want you to walk them through your resume; some do a deep dive into your entire application.
Before you begin preparing for your MBA interviews in earnest, find out everything you can about how your target schools interview: Who conducts the interviews? Where are they held? What kinds of questions do they ask? The more specific you can be, the more effective your preparation will be.
2. Talk to alumni and current students
As a part of your research into the business schools where you’re applying, you should talk to as many alumni and current students as you’re able to get in touch with. Not only is it a great way to learn more about the actual day-to-day experience of the MBA program, it’s also a great way to learn about the MBA interview experience from people who you know have interviewed successfully.
You’ll get the best results by asking for specifics, like “Were there any interview questions that surprised you, or that you felt unprepared for?” or “What kinds of questions did you ask about the school during your interview?” If you just ask people about how their interview went or if they have any interview tips, they’re not likely to remember specifics.
3. Show, don’t tell
Behavioral questions, those anecdote-seeking queries that so often start with, “Tell me about a time when…”, are a staple of most MBA interviews. While it’s impossible to know ahead of time what specific situations the interviewer will ask about, there are certainly some common themes you should consider: a time when you showed initiative, a time when you learned from a mistake, a time when you pushed back against a manager’s request, a time when you made an unpopular decision.
As you think through common scenarios, make a list of specific examples you can share during your MBA interview. Don’t memorize anything – you shouldn’t be delivering monologues during your interview – but do try to remember as many details as possible. You don’t want to just tell your interviewer that you are a strong leader; you want to share examples that clearly demonstrate your leadership abilities.
4. Know your message
For all the intense preparation and hard work that happens before an MBA interview, the event itself is typically over before you know it. It’s easy to get caught up in the stress of the moment, or start wondering whether you have spinach in your teeth, and completely forget about the personal brand that you’re trying to present to the admissions committee.
As you prep for the interview and prepare specific examples to share, keep in mind the message you want your interviewers to walk away with. I’m not advising you to present a fake image; in fact, this is about remembering the truth of your story and presenting an authentic version of yourself. You applied to business school because you are a talented individual who has big career aspirations – use your MBA interview to demonstrate that truth.
5. Sweat the small stuff
Finally, don’t lose sight of the details while you’re focusing on your big truths. You do need to nail the little things if you want to indicate that you’re a professional. That means verifying your interview location, and driving the route beforehand so you won’t get lost. It means giving yourself plenty of time to deal with traffic, locate parking, and calm yourself before the interview. It means checking your teeth for spinach beforehand, so you won’t be distracted thinking about it! And of course dressing the part and showing up at the interview in professional attire (suits for most schools but keep in mind that some schools want a slightly less formal look so go with business casual for schools that recommend that).
If you’re preparing for a phone or Skype interview, make sure that you have a quiet, professional environment with good reception available when you take the call. Check and double check the time zones, so you’ll be ready at the right time.
And once you’re ready to begin, take a deep breath – you’ve got this.
She’s also a former Harvard Business School admissions officer and the author of the Best Business Schools’ Admissions Secrets.