Managing the MBA Interview: Your Interviewer Actually Wants to Know About You!

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 first entry on business school interviews, mbaMission founder Jeremy Shinewald debunks the myth that you will be asked oddball or intentionally perplexing questions, and encourages you to take a step back and think about your story.

“What if I don’t know the answer to a question that I am asked?” This is probably the number one anxiety among business school interviewees. However, this anxiety is an unnecessary one, because your interviewer will always be asking you questions about a topic you actually know very well—you!—not questions that require applied knowledge or research. So, in an MBA interview, you will not need to know how to calculate a discounted cash flow or express your opinion about the U.S. interest rate policy. Instead, you will need to be able to reflect on and discuss your life experience, why you want an MBA, the value you can add to your target program and your need to attend the specific school at which you are interviewing.

When mbaMission spoke with Bruce DelMonico, director of admissions at the Yale School of Management, he was clear that interviewers are not asked to create a “stress interview” for the candidates, explaining that Yale’s interview is instead a “fairly standard behavioral interview.” He added, “The purpose is not to trick you or throw curveballs, but really get a sense of the applicant.”  Echoing these sentiments, Dawna Clarke, director of admissions at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, told mbaMission, “We have interviews that are conducted by our staff as well as alumni and current students, and typically, when someone comes in for an interview, a few minutes are spent just making the person feel at ease. We try to ease people into it. They’re definitely not intended to put someone on a hot seat.”

As you prepare for your interview, you should review your entire application in-depth, paying particular attention to the stories you presented in your essays. Further, be sure to reexamine your reasons for targeting the specific schools you have chosen and get comfortable speaking about your short- and long-term goals and ambitions. In addition, you might take some time to the think about inflection points in your life and how and why you made the particular choices you did at these important times. Finally, consider instances in your life when you have performed as an individual or a team player.

In short, your goal in preparing for your interview should be to have anecdotes that highlight important aspects of your personality, capabilities and experience top of mind and be ready to engage in a thoughtful conversation with someone who is there to listen to and learn about you. We could not sum up our feelings on the interview process any better than did J.J. Cutler, deputy vice dean of MBA admissions, financial aid, and career management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, who suggested that students relax and even enjoy the process. Cutler told mbaMission, “The whole process [comes from] a positive perspective. We’re not looking for reasons to deny someone; we’re looking for reasons to admit someone.”

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