Fixing Common Interviewing Mistakes

This post was written by mbaMission resident Career Coach Elissa Harris. To sign up for a free 30-minute career consultation with Elissa, please click here.

In this post, we cover the following:

Follow the “Answer First” Model

As many MBA students are preparing for interviews right now, we at mbaMission are hearing a number of common (yet easy to correct) mistakes in our clients’ answers to sample questions.

A primary issue is taking too long to get to the main point of your story. Doing so is problematic because often, the interviewer will stop paying attention and miss hearing how great you are and how you can help their business.

To help you improve on this, we offer the following “before” and “after” answer examples. Please note that these examples are for illustrative purposes only and should not be repeated verbatim in upcoming interviews.

Prompt: Tell me about yourself.

Before: I am a first-year MBA student at School X, majoring in strategic management. I grew up in the Bay Area and went to college at School Y. I joined Company Z’s leadership rotational program and served across the marketing, operations, and finance functions of the company. After two and a half years and a promotion, I left Company Z to join a start-up, where I did project management and helped scale the company from ten to 200 employees…

Revision Tips: Start with a headline or roadmap for your answer. Before launching into your experiences, try summarizing them into themes such as relevant attributes for the job, specific examples of accomplishments, the rationale for each step in your career, and evidence of a connection to your target role.

After: I am really excited to be here today interviewing for a consulting position with Firm X, because I believe my experiences thus far will enable me to drive impact for your clients. Throughout my personal and professional life, I have chosen opportunities that developed my analytical problem-solving foundation and pushed me to build strong leadership and client engagement capabilities. After attending college at School Y, I decided to join Company Z’s leadership rotational program to apply the business acumen I developed as an undergraduate economics major. Throughout my two and a half years at the company and rotations across four different functions, I frequently collected and analyzed large datasets to form hypotheses and propose potential solutions to senior leadership…

Prompt: Tell me about a time when you convinced someone to adopt a different way of thinking.

Before: I would like to tell you about a time when I disagreed with the senior management of Company X about the company’s marketing strategy. The challenges I faced were…

Revision Tips: Hook the interviewer from the start. Use words from the interviewer’s question in your response, and provide context (e.g., numbers) to help them understand that persuading senior management was a true challenge and that your actions were really impressive and impactful for the organization.

After: I would like to tell you about a time when I convinced the senior director of innovation at Company X, James, to shift from a traditional marketing strategy to a social media–based one. This change led to an eight-X increase in visibility for the firm’s innovation initiatives and three new client contracts worth more than $2M in revenue. In doing this, the challenges I faced were…

With both of these questions, we recommend limiting your answer time to two minutes. No matter how awesome your full story is, the interviewer wants to see how you curate your experiences into a concise narrative.

Be Confident!

Many MBA students tend to get in their own way when interviewing. Although they prepare structured stories to share with their interviewer, they do not end up telling those stories with confidence or energy. Your word choice, tone, and body language are critical for success in your interview.

A lack of confidence manifests in an inability to communicate your experiences as relevant for the position, to build a connection with the interviewer, and to project authority and credibility. This makes the interviewer less confident about your ability to do the job. To improve your performance, we encourage you to reflect, research, and take action.

Reflect: Ask yourself, “What is the root cause of my lack of confidence?” Recall situations in which you felt confident and ones in which you lacked confidence. Can you identify any similarities or common threads between these two types of situations? Uncovering what makes you feel nervous allows you to find remedies for it. Recognize that different tactics work for different candidates, but in the end, be kind to yourself and believe in your abilities.

Tip: Practice reframing exercises; remind yourself that you are the expert on you. Read workplace psychologist Adam Grant’s article about overcoming his fear of public speaking for many useful tips. Listen to upbeat music. Repeat positive mantras.

Research: Analyze the target job description and talk with employees at the firm to identify the most important competencies for the role. Identify details in each of your stories that correspond with those competencies, and focus on numbers that can prove the scope, complexity, and impact of your work.

Tip: Sell your accomplishments. You are expected to highlight specifics about how you helped your previous employers or transformed outcomes for an organization; this information helps the interviewer understand your value.

Take Action: Prepare talking points for your interview. Identify the three or four key ideas you want to communicate about yourself and the three or four reasons you are passionate about the role and company you are interviewing for. Aim to connect with the interviewer, not impress them. Take back some power—you need to like the interviewer (and their company/the target role) just as much as they need to like you!

Tip: Practice interviewing (aloud!). Find friends or—even better—people who do not know you well to conduct a mock interview with you. Record and review your practice sessions, looking to learn from the moments when you appear most (and least) confident.

Remember that the firm selected you for an interview, so your interviewer will be eager to hear how you can help the organization.

Position Yourself for Success in Video Interviews

Even though many employees have returned to the workplace by now, companies continue to engage with job candidates via video conferencing platforms such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Teams. This technology has made managing interview logistics easier for some firms.

To help you successfully stand out in video interviews (or in networking conversations), we offer these easy-to-follow tips:

Pay Attention to Your Setting: Find a quiet, private, well-lit area that is free from potential interruptions or distractions. Position your camera so that you have a neutral background.

Test Your Technology in Advance: Set up and test the software platform prior to the interview start time. Put your phone away; do not let it distract you during the interview.

Wear Appropriate Attire: Dress as you would for an in-person interview, but consider selecting softer colors rather than bright ones, and avoid busy patterns. If you wear glasses, adjust the lighting in the room to reduce glare from the lenses.

Pay Attention to Your Body Language: Look at the camera when you are speaking, and avoid the instinct to look directly at your interviewer. Do not use notes during the conversation; a hiring manager can easily tell when you are reading rather than speaking naturally.

Polish Your Storytelling: Prepare for the standard questions that are typically asked during in-person interviews. Know your value proposition and connect it to the needs of the company and role.

Practice: You want to demonstrate confident body language and a sense of comfort on camera. Your goal is to make the interviewer feel as though you are in the same room with them. Do a trial run by scheduling a mock video interview with an mbaMission Career Coach or with one of your friends.

Remember the bottom line: Prepare and behave exactly the same as you would for an in-person interview. You want to be professional but also let your personality shine through.

To learn other strategies for improving your interview performance, schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation with an mbaMission Career Coach.

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