Managing the MBA Interview: What Is the Interviewer’s Approach?

With the release of first-round interview invitations and the subsequent increase in pressure on MBA candidates, we present a five-part series with our friends at Vault to help applicants decompress and thoughtfully manage the MBA interview process. In this second entry in the series, mbaMission founder Jeremy Shinewald describes the two main kinds of business school interviews and explains how you can prepare accordingly and ensure your strongest stories are shared, no matter which approach you encounter at your target school.

Two Interview Types: Blind vs. Comprehensive

Last week, we debunked the myth that your MBA interview will be complicated and cover unfamiliar topics, and established that most business school interviews are in fact casual conversations in which you discuss your life and experiences to date. So, now that we have covered what to expect with regard to the content of your MBA interview, we can address what to expect in terms of the context of the questions you will be asked. MBA interviews fall into two categories, blind and comprehensive. Although their styles vary dramatically, the important thing to keep in mind (as we established in Part I of this series) is that you already have the answers, because the questions will always be about you.

The Blind Interview
In a blind interview, like those conducted at Kellogg, Tuck, Cornell and Duke, your interviewer will not have read your file and will be coming into the meeting with very little information about you beyond, perhaps, what is listed in your résumé. As a result, you can expect to be asked primarily open-ended questions. For example, your interviewer may start with a fairly basic question like “Can you walk me through your resume?” or “Tell me about yourself—who are you?” As you answer this opening question, your interviewer may interject with a few questions along the way in response to certain topics as they arise. Or, he or she may just sit quietly and allow you to finish your response, then follow up with additional questions about why you feel you need to go to business school and why you have chosen this specific school. Later, your interviewer will likely ask you about your leadership and team experiences, both your successes and failures, and may finish with questions about your personal interests and community activities. Blind interviews follow no real standard form. Your interviewer will pose the questions, but you can control a lot of the direction and tone of the interview by selecting the nature and content of your responses, and will thereby be able to reveal your strongest experiences.

The Comprehensive Interview
In a comprehensive interview, like those conducted at Harvard, NYU-Stern and London Business School, the interviewer will have read your entire application file and will already have questions in mind, most often ones that focus on how you make decisions or respond to certain situations. For example, a question for someone who was transferred for a promotion might be “What were the differences culturally between the Los Angeles office and the Boston office—and how did you adjust?” Or, alternatively, someone who gained an early promotion might be asked, “Why do you think ABC Consulting made the choice to promote you ahead of others?” Although such interviews do not tend to follow a predictable path, and you will not be able to control the agenda, as you can more easily do in a blind interview, you will probably not end up feeling “grilled,” but simply challenged. The interviewer is not trying to poke holes in your stories or trip you up in any way, but rather to better understand your choices, motivations and personality by probing into your experiences in more depth.

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Before your interview, find out whether your target school conducts blind interviews or comprehensive ones and prepare accordingly. Last week, we mentioned that you should review your application in full and consider the inflection points in your life as a basic step in your preparation. Now that you have, we hope, refreshed your memory in this way, we strongly suggest that you practice your responses—using a stopwatch! Your answers do not all need to be a specific length, but you do want to be sure you are not taking too long to respond to each query. Two to three minutes per response is a good target. Stand in front of a mirror, sit down with a friend or practice with an mbaMission consultant—regardless of how you choose to rehearse, you should not go into your interview cold. You should understand the types of questions you will face and get comfortable with your responses and stories. As the old saying goes, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”—or in this case, into business school?—“Practice, practice, practice!”

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