As interview invitations from business schools roll out, do your best to remain calm and let the admissions committees do their work. Although becoming a little apprehensive is natural if you have not yet received an invitation, you will certainly not increase your chances of receiving one by calling the Admissions Office and asking if the school does indeed have all your files or if an interview decision has been made. In fact, such calls can actually have a negative effect on your candidacy, inadvertently making you seem pushy or even belligerent.
Admissions Offices are increasingly transparent and should be taken at their word. If they say they are still releasing decisions, then they are in fact still doing so. If they say that the timing of your interview decision does not signify an order of preference, then it does not. Unless something has changed materially in your candidacy, all you can really do—as painful as it may be—is wait patiently and try not to think about the decision or second-guess your status.
As the 2023–2024 MBA application season approaches Round 2, we thought now would be a good time to discuss some challenging interview situations you might encounter. Most business school interviews are straightforward opportunities for an interviewer to learn more about a candidate’s personal and professional background, goals, reasons for selecting a specific school, and leadership/team experiences. Yet interviews can vary dramatically from school to school, and they sometimes include a few peculiarities. So, what constitutes a “tough” interview, and how can you best navigate one?
Stoic interviewer: Some interviewers can be unemotional, refusing to give you any indication as to whether you are making a positive impression or not. And amid the intense pressure of an interview, you may perceive this lack of clear positive response as a sign of disapproval. The key to managing such a situation is to tune out the interviewer’s lack of emotion. Focus on your answers and do your best to not be distracted by anything about the interviewer, ignoring everything except the questions they are posing. “Reading” the interviewer in real time can be challenging, so concentrate instead on showcasing your 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. Harvard Business School, in particular, likes to understand applicants’ 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). Do not assume that all the questions you will receive during your interview 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 they are, interviewers are always essentially asking you about a subject you know quite well—you! So, again, by avoiding the distraction of the tactic and sticking to your agenda, you should be fine.
mbaMission offers even more interview advice in our free Interview Guides, which are available for 18 top-ranked business schools.