MBA Interviews 2010 #2 - The Absolute Basics: Develop a Strategy, Answer Directly, Provide an Example
DEVELOP A STRATEGY It still surprises me how many people sweat and babble through their MBA interviews without a strategy. I consider them victims, at the mercy of the interviewer. However, strategic applicants, those who know their best stories and can deploy them to maximum effect, gain control over the content and direction of the interview. A good strategy is vital because it allows you to approach the MBA interview pro-actively. If you know the topics you want to cover, you can look for or create opportunities to tell your best stories. With a good strategy, you won't be caught unprepared when an interviewer asks, "Is there anything else you would like to tell me?" Also, a checklist of “must-tell” stories serves as a “scorecard” to judge your performance and make improvements for future interviews.
A good strategy is based on good essays; if they are developed properly, then they should already provide a comprehensive profile of you that covers the typical interview questions. By “properly” I mean that individual essays are structured and detailed enough to withstand the probing of a dubious interviewer, and that your essays are consistent and integrated as a whole.
The first step to developing a strategy then is to review your essays, along with your resume and even your LOR (depending on your access), to identify the 10-15 most important topics you want to cover. I think a good list should include the following: 1) Self-introduction 2) Short-term goals 3) Long-term goals 4) Why MBA? 5) Why School X? 6) Accomplishments 7) Personal life 8) Strengths 9) Weaknesses 10) Contributions 11) Questions for the interviewer 12-15) Other topics that express your unique experiences/qualities
For most of my clients, these topics have been well developed by the time of the interview, so identifying them is easy. The difficulty is presenting a topic both individually and strategically. Doing that starts with Introducing Yourself, which I will cover in my next post.
ANSWER DIRECTLY & PROVIDE AN EXAMPLE
The importance of these points will become more clear later in this series, but for now keep in mind that you never know how long an interview will last, so the first words out of your mouth should be a direct answer to whatever question you were asked. By doing so, you will signal the interviewer that you heard and understood the question, which is especially important for international applicants or other non-native English speakers. After answering, you can give the necessary background information to understand the full import of your story. Many applicants take the opposite approach, i.e., they start with a long "wind up" of background information, risking the loss of the interviewer's attention before they arrive at the all-important "pitch". Get the answer out of the way first. It's just better communication practice.
You should always be thinking about examples you can introduce to support your answers. Always, always, always. Nothing is more frustrating from an interviewer's perspective than to have someone claim they are a great leader or team player without providing proof. This is an MBA interview. Everyone says they are a great leader and team player. Only your examples will distinguish you from the crowd. The imperative of providing examples is another reason you need to develop your strategy in advance. Expressing your examples clearly and concisely will be the subject of several future posts.