MBA Interviews 2010 #7 - One Sentence Stories

Good essays are structured around detailed examples. The same can be said for good interviews. You can spend five minutes telling your interviewer repeatedly that you are a leader, or you can show it in one minute with a good example. With many interviews limited to about 30 minutes, the best choice is clear. However, many MBA applicants (particularly international or non-native English speakers) have difficulty addressing concisely standard interview topics like leadership, teamwork, failures and personal accomplishments. They often resort to word-for-word recitations of their essays, which are guaranteed to be too long and reflect poorly on their real-time communication skills. In journalistic terms, these applicants can’t “kill their babies”, i.e., they can’t imagine telling their beloved stories in a different way. I’m here to tell you that you have to be merciless in shortening your stories in order to have an effective interview. The following will hopefully give you some ideas for how to do so.

Journalists do it every day, when they write the first sentence in a breaking news story. Done well, that sentence should convey the importance and broad outline of an entire story, to be then filled in with supporting details. Transferring this technique to the world of MBA interviews, one-sentence stories can look like this:

“During a recent M&A transaction between two leading snack food companies, I successfully managed my overly-demanding client while fostering my subordinates’ growth by giving them unusual responsibilities, leading to a successful deal worth $100,000,000.”

“For ethical reasons, I gave up an enormous deal that could have been worth $1 Bln. because I knew the aircraft could not be delivered to the client on time.”

“After our merger, I had to rescue our technology integration talks through strong diplomacy, creative negotiations, and confident decision-making.”

“I had always been a lead rower on my college crew team, but after my injury I still wanted to contribute so I became a team manager, which taught me the difficulties and joys of playing a supporting role.”

These one-sentence stories should leave the interviewer hungry to know more, like a good movie preview. As an interviewee, you can have confidence that you’ve expressed your main points, before adding a few important details to round out your answer.

Even if you can't squeeze an entire story into one sentence, the ability to pare it down to its key elements is an essential communication skill for the interview, in business, and in life. To find these essential elements, try asking yourself:

1) What is the heart of the story?

2) What actions did I take to solve the biggest problems?

3) What were the results?

The more you can master this technique, the more prepared you will be for all aspects of the interview. With some practice, you can even apply the one-sentence technique to your self-introduction and to your goals.

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