MBA Interviews 2010 #3 - Introducing Yourself: The Verbal Resume

NOTE: This is a re-post from last year. As I covered in my last post, 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. Also, a checklist of “must-tell” stories serves as a “scorecard” to judge your performance and make improvements for future interviews.

Executing that strategy begins when you introduce yourself, which is often the first thing an interviewer will ask of you. Most applicants don’t take full advantage of the opportunity. They often give a bland recitation of some school, some work, and some hobby that goes little beyond what’s written on their resume. Your interviewers can read that for themselves. What interviewers need is a way to understand how all the bullet points match up and relate to each other. This is the value-added “verbal resume” you should be providing when you introduce yourself.

From that perspective, the self-introduction is a chance to create a framework for the entire interview, including your reasons for pursuing an MBA and the major accomplishments/strengths you want the interviewer to know about. Since I stress integration and consistency with my clients, many of them have strong themes that run throughout their essays. The self-introduction is a perfect time to introduce those as well. As one of my clients recently and beautifully expressed it, you need to “seed” the self-introduction as a way to move it in the direction you want it to go.

Here is what I consider a strong self-introduction, based on recent interview trainings I’ve conducted.

Me: “Please introduce yourself.”

Client: “Thank you. I would love to. The most important thing to understand about my background is how important international experience has been to both my personal and professional development. I’ve always known that I wanted to work internationally, which is why I enrolled at a university with a strong international focus and why I went overseas during college to conduct research for my thesis on manufacturing in the developing world. It was an amazing experience that led me to volunteer with an international NGO, something I would like to talk more about later.

After graduation, I joined my company where I started in an engineering role, developing hundreds of programs for my company’s leading software product. I also had the rare opportunity as a young staff to lead many software development teams, during which I was able to refine my interpersonal skills.

I experienced a big turning point when I was assigned to lead an implementation project overseas. I managed to solve the inter-cultural issues, as well as bridge the technology and business viewpoints that were necessary for success. After that, I knew I wanted to take a more front line position in my organization so I transferred to a sales department.

In the past few years I’ve become our top salesperson, responsible for 25% of our revenues for our leading product. Now my goals are to combine these experiences to help my organization expand sales internationally, which is a brand new challenge for us. This is actually my short-term goal and I’d be happy to provide more details.

Honestly speaking, however, I don’t feel ready yet to pursue my goals. I need to develop more team management skills since I often work alone as a salesperson, as well as deepen my international business experience and networks. These are the main reasons I applied to your MBA.”

I read this out loud and it comes in under two minutes. But in under two minutes, this person has shown himself to be thoughtful and intelligent, with a firm grasp of what he wants and why he wants it. He has shown himself to be both realistic and ambitious in his career goals, while identifying specifically how an MBA can help him clear the main hurdles he faces. He has also introduced both personal and professional topics that can be developed more fully throughout the interview. Strategically, he has set himself up perfectly to move in several different directions, including expanding on his goals and reasons for an MBA, which is often the next most natural thing for an interviewer to ask.

As with all the techniques I’ll cover, this ambitious approach might not be for everyone or might not fit all interview situations. But I do believe that all applicants can find some benefit from the principles behind it.

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