Managing the MBA Interview: View Each Story Through a Different Lens

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 fourth entry in the series, mbaMission founder Jeremy Shinewald explains how to “spin” your stories to fit different interview questions.

Many MBA candidates try to memorize their interview responses in advance and unsurprisingly find themselves fumbling as they struggle to adapt to slightly different iterations of expected questions. We absolutely do not recommend memorizing responses, but instead suggest that you develop a mental list of stories that you feel are important for you to tell and then work to incorporate your strongest stories/strengths into your interview. If, for example, your experience as a youth soccer coach is an important story for you, you could work it into the interview as an example of leadership, teamwork, etc. when such a question is asked or these topics are raised. Your stories are far more flexible than you might realize and can be “spun” if need be.

Think of five to six key points (activities, personality traits, etc.) you absolutely want to be sure you get across during the interview. Then think about possible questions to which you can “hook” those points. For example, if you spend one afternoon a week tutoring inmates for their GED, potential “hook” questions for this activity could be as follows:

Tell me about a time when you demonstrated initiative.

Example: “I wanted to make a difference but wanted to move beyond just helping high school students. So I researched where in my area the biggest need was and found a program that brings volunteers to prisons to … .”

Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond.

Example: “For the past few years, I have been engaged in some meaningful service—teaching GED prep in a local prison. I was surprised to find that inmates were only allowed to attend one hour of extra tutoring per week. Recognizing that my students needed additional help, I devoted extensive time and effort to develop a series of math and vocabulary flash cards for them to use in between sessions. My additional efforts showed them that I truly was committed to their success. Further, the students found them to be extremely helpful—all five of them passed the GED that year!”

Tell me about a time when you had to motivate a reluctant person.

Example: “My best example I believe occurred outside the office, as part of my volunteer work with inmates studying for their GED. Although most of the inmates I tutor are very motivated, once in a while I work with someone who … .”

We must clarify, however, that we are not suggesting that you answer four different questions with the same story, but are merely attempting to illustrate how one important story can be “flexible.” By selecting several key personal stories and examining them from several angles before your interview, you can better ensure that you will find a way to share them during your interview.

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