Mission Admission: Handling “Tough” Interviews

Mission Admission is a series of MBA admission tips; a new one is posted each Tuesday.

With interview decisions continuing to arrive, we thought now would be a good time to discuss challenging interview situations. Most business school interviews are straightforward opportunities for an interviewer to learn more about an MBA candidate’s personal/professional background, goals, reasons for selecting a specific school and leadership/team experiences, yet interviews can vary dramatically and sometimes include some peculiarities. So, what constitutes a “tough” interview?

Stoic interviewer: Some interviewers can be unemotional, refusing to give the candidate any indication as to whether he or she is making a positive impression or not. Of course, when a candidate is under intense pressure, this perceived lack of approval can be misunderstood as a sign of disapproval. The key in managing such an interview is to tune out the interviewer’s lack of emotion. Focus on thinking of answers and do your best to not be distracted by anything about the interviewer besides the questions he/she is posing. “Reading” the interviewer in real time can be challenging, and candidates should instead concentrate on showcasing their strengths.

Philosophical questions:  Most candidates are ready to discuss their experiences and accomplishments, but many are not prepared to discuss their values and philosophy on life. HBS in particular likes to understand candidates’ motivations and will ask questions like “What is your motivation to succeed?,”  “What drives you?” and “What gives you purpose in life?” The key to answering these sorts of questions is pretty simple: expect and prepare for them in advance (after all, you are being warned right now).  You can’t assume that all questions will be experiential.

Persistent questioning: Sometimes a tough interviewer will continuously delve deeper into a subject, such as by repeatedly asking, “Can you be more specific about [the topic under discussion]?” after posing an initial question. These kinds of unusual pressure tactics can be disconcerting, but the key is to simply stay on topic. No matter how persistent, the interviewer is always essentially asking you about a subject that you know quite well—you! So, again, by avoiding the distraction of the tactic and sticking to your agenda, you should be fine.

At mbaMission, we offer more interview advice in our Interview Guide and through targeted mock interview sessions.

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