Essential Preparation Tips
Assume the interviewer will be evaluating you and prepare by heeding these suggestions:
“Know thyself.” Review yourand ask yourself, “Why have I chosen to do the things I’ve done?” says Ms. Lannin.
Asking yourself “why?” about each professional move may be the best way to prepare. Be able to articulate your impact on various employers or academic institutions. For example, you should be able to say why you chose to attend your undergraduate school, what you gained from the experience and what contributions you made.
When examining your professional experience, an interviewer might ask why you chose to leave one company for another and the impact you had on these organizations. You won’t be asked, “Where did you go after you left company A?” because that’s on your resume, says Ms. Lannin. “Instead, you’ll be asked, ‘Why did you make the decision to go to Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. after Donaldson, Lufkin, & Jenrette?’ ” she says.
At Iowa, applicants might be asked to “give an example of when you thought you played a successfulrole,” says Ms. Spreen. Working as part of a team is also an important theme at Iowa, and questions in that arena should be expected.
“Sometimes I ask them what accomplishments they’re most proud of and what characteristics they feel a good leader would have,” Ms. Spreen says.
Be informed about the school and its M.B.A. program and why it appeals to you. You might want to tour the school, attend a class or sit in on a group information session to learn about life at the school and why it might be right for you.
“We strongly encourage all of our prospective students to visit campus,” says Michelle Jacobson, director of graduate programs at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. “We want applicants to really feel good about what they might be getting into should they be accepted.”
When visiting Ohio State, candidates tour the facility and sit in on a class before interviewing separately with a student ambassador and a staff member, then lunching with a group of students.
Review the essay questions on your application so you don’t make conflicting statements during the meeting. It’s common for schools to ask actual essay questions during interviews. Each school uses different essay questions. Stanford asks, “What matters most to you, and why?” while Harvard uses, “Describe your three most substantial accomplishments and explain why you view them as such” on its application. Other schools ask, “Why are you interested in getting a graduate degree in business?”
Ms. Spreen says she usually asks open-ended questions that are targeted to key themes. “I usually start off with an easy one like, “Please expand on your interest in an M.B.A. and your choice of Iowa,” she says. “Then I tend to ask pretty open-ended questions like, ‘Who do you admire as a leader and why?’ ”
Practice answering questions related to your essay and other potential interview questions out loud. It’s helpful to actually hear your answers, not just imagine mentally what you’d say, says Ms. Lannin.
MBA Strategies gives clients a list of actual queries from various schools to practice with. One applicant told Ms. Lannin that rehearsing the answers in advance was key to surviving an interview and being accepted at Kellogg.
Ask schools in advance what questions they’ll use during the interview. This information isn’t secret and schools usually want applicants to think about their answers in advance, says Ms. Spreen. “If they can’t find [that information] anyplace else, they can call us and ask,” she says. “We want them to be prepared, so we expect them to have thought about it.”
Silence Isn’t Golden
Some interviews run short because applicants have little to say. This shows a lack of preparedness, says Ms. Spreen. When applicants don’t prepare, they have insufficient or poor questions. After 10 minutes, there’s nothing to say, she says.
An impressive candidate is one who comes armed with an array of intelligent questions. One recent applicant asked questions on topics ranging from job placement based on regions and types of companies to average GMAT scores to the names of the top five employers who recruit from the school. “He clearly knew what he was looking for and had thought out the questions for the areas he was most interested in,” says Ms. Spreen.
“This is very helpful to us in the interview so we know what that particular person is interested in and how we can best provide them with the information they need,” she says. “[It lets us] expand on the areas they’re interested in.”
Ms. Jacobson also encourages interviewees to ask a lot of questions. Ask questions that relate to something unique to that school, such as workload and curriculum issues or recent improvements. Don’t ask about obvious subjects that you could learn by reading the catalog or Web site, such as “What are your core courses?”
“The interview isn’t an opportunity to get smarter on the school,” says Ms. Lannin. “It’s an opportunity to show what you know and express why the school is uniquely positioned to meet your educational objectives.”
Remember that everyone you meet at a school is a potential evaluator. One applicant was eliminated after telling an inappropriate joke to a female student who was taking him to lunch on campus. “I wouldn’t recommend that,” says Ms. Spreen, “Everybody you talk to, if it’s a campus visit, is going to give feedback to the admission committee.”
Some schools try to gauge what interviewees will be like in two years and how on-campus recruiters will perceive them. If your answers don’t impress school interviewers, they won’t impress recruiters, says Ms. Lannin.
“The interview is a really great chance to assess whether this person is going to be of interest to the recruiters,” she says. “It’s basically a preliminary job interview.”