Tuesday, 29 November 2016

How to crack the MBA interview

Originally Published in The Hindustan Times Education Supplement

Recently my colleague, Vrinda Jalan, wrote some helpful pointers on using the MBA interview as an opportunity to reinforce your personal brand. Since the first round of interview invitations for global MBA programs is upon us, I thought it would be relevant to share some of her tips.

Applicants often underestimate the interview, a crucial step in the MBA admissions process. A powerful component, the interview brings to life all the written application materials and helps admissions committees – 

·         Gauge the sincerity of your goals, stories and recommendations
·         Check your communication skills and executive presence
·         Ascertain your ‘fit’ with a school’s learning environment and ethos
·         Confirm their impressions of you from the written application
·         Learn new facets of your personality
There are many things you can do to be better prepared (and minimize stress)
1.   Know your application inside out: Pay attention to minute details and be prepared to provide detailed examples and instances, to expand on what you may have already shared. Additionally, know your industry well (both current and post-MBA). There still might be a curveball thrown at you, however, MBA applicants are expected to be able to think on their feet.
2.   Communicate your message clearly: Work on providing succinct answers. Rehearsing with family, friends and in front of a camera helps build confidence and improve delivery.
3.   Stay informed. MBA applicants are expected to be up to date with current events. This includes national and global political, social and economic developments as well as school specific news.
4.   Know the interview style and format: Interviews can be in-person or via videoconference and can be conducted by either admissions committee members or alumni. Some interviews are behavioural while some others are resume-based.
5.   Mind your manners and appearance. Dress appropriately and arrive/dial-in on time. Remember the interviewer’s name and don’t forget to send a thank you email. DO NOT text, What’s App or take calls during the interview. Be professional but not too formal. Be confident without being arrogant.

Beyond all of these basics, how do you convey your personal brand?
For example, how would you answer a basic question asked at most interviews, "Tell me about yourself?" Seems like a simple question, right? Most Indian applicants respond with a brief geographical biography of lives. "My name is Rishi. I was born in Delhi and I went to IIT Bombay followed by a summer internship at Shell and then I worked at Bain in Bangalore and now I work at Goldman in Singapore." There is nothing engaging in this answer, nor does it reveal anything about Rishi the interviewer can't find on his resume.

The point of an interview is to understand the applicant on a deeper level. What if Rishi had said, “I grew up in India and have worked in several cities across the country. Two years ago, I made the transition to Singapore, which has given me a new perspective on India, and with that transition was a big job switch, from consulting to finance, which has been challenging but exciting. I discovered I love travelling and I've tried to go to a new country every six months for the last four years.” The interviewer knows a little more about him now, and will probably have follow-up questions, which is essential.

While it's tempting to list prizes, accomplishments and brand names, what is more engaging is talking about experiences, perspectives, and actions. By responding physically to your interviewer - nodding, maintaining eye contact and observing their body movement - you can discover what interests them and respond with interesting stories.

As one of our colleagues who regularly interviews says, “the best interviews are the ones that move away from a stiff Q&A session into an engaging conversation.”


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