By Manami Mallick, iMetiss
Once you hit that submit key on your MBA application, your anticipation begins to rise. Thereafter, when you get an interview call from a B school of your choice, your anticipation grows in leaps and bounds, knowing that the school sees potential in your application, and now you have a small window to make your mark and beat competition. You know you would be scaled against equally capable candidates who would put their best foot forward as well. So, what can you do differently to secure that seat?
Fortunately, or unfortunately, there can’t be a single objective answer to that question. One size doesn’t fit all afterall. Nailing an MBA interview needs a well-crafted and personalized approach, that takes dedicated time and effort. It’s important to plan and prepare in the right direction – from discovering your key unique strengths to using organizational frameworks to answer questions effectively and learning to tell a compelling story that doesn’t seem like a collage of pieces gathered from other peoples’ experiences.
If you are someone who’s just beginning to prepare for MBA interview questions, here are a few things to be kept in mind.
Display your uniqueness as a candidate
When you prepare for your interview, think of ways in which you could possibly add unique value to a class. That’s what the AdCom will try to look for in you to assess if you are a good fit for the class. And you might want to understand the ‘why’ behind it. All the top B schools want a good mix of students in their classroom in terms of educational background, professional experience, social or cultural background, interests and extra-curricular activities, and communication & leadership styles to name a few, in order to avoid groupthink and to create a learning environment that’s rich and diverse. This becomes important in a highly interactive atmosphere wherein you learn a lot from your peers and their experiences through classroom discussions and interactions outside.
So make sure you plan your answers in such a way that they bring out your unique strengths and position you as a strong differentiator. Even simple questions like ‘Why do you want to do an MBA?’ or ‘What do you bring to the table?’ or ‘Tell us about yourself’ throw an opportunity at you to showcase yourself strategically. If you have had a short career or an uneventful one, look beyond your professional journey to find your answers. This may require some deep thinking, self-analysis, and guidance from people you trust, however, do not underestimate the importance of it.
Discover your leadership traits & showcase them in your story
One of the key things that the admissions committee looks for in a candidate is their leadership abilities. Now, you may think that an upward movement in your corporate journey or a hard-earned fancy designation is telling enough of your leadership abilities, but the AdCom is interested in understanding if you come bearing leadership traits like visioning, sensemaking, empathizing and motivating people, creative problem-solving ability, adaptability etc. Even the best of the leaders we know do not have in them all of these traits to perfection, but they often have one or two of these as their key strength areas. You need to identify what are some of your key strengths and showcase that to the AdCom through your stories and answers. While some of you are aware of your key strengths, some of you may need to discover them by reflecting upon and revisiting instances, wherein you might have thought out of the box during a tricky situation or galvanized other people to pursue their goals or worked towards bringing out the best in your colleagues etc. These instances may or may not have led to positive outcomes, however they serve as great examples, as long as you have taken home some learnings from them. So, while you prepare for your interview, you need to create a story bank of such instances and in order to do so, you may want to go beyond your professional journey and look at your personal and social life as well. Trust me, there’s always a good story, it just needs to be discovered and articulated the right way!
Once you do so, you can then tap into these stories during your interview sessions, as and when you are faced with questions on leadership, teamwork, challenges, conflict etc., to demonstrate your leadership skills.
Structure your answers using frameworks
When you answer questions, try to use frameworks to give structure to your thoughts. For example, when you are asked questions like ‘Tell us about a time when you were faced with a challenge at work or give us an example of how you managed a conflict situation or talk about an instance when you led an important project etc.’, you could use a STAR format to put across your thoughts in a structured manner. While answering in the STAR framework, you need to set a context or give description of the situation you are referring to, which is what (S) stands for. Next step is to talk about the responsibility or the task (T) you had at hand followed by the action (A) you took, wherein you explain the steps you took to address the situation. You end with the results (R) of your action. This is one of the well-accepted frameworks across B schools.
Learn about the school to avoid vague answers
Last but not least, know the school well before you go for your interview. Knowing the school includes reading up about the program, the pedagogy, the faculty members, the culture, the clubs and all other relevant activities the school is associated with. This would help you answer questions like ‘What makes you think the school is a good fit for you?’ or ‘How are you a good fit for the school?’ In order to answer both these questions, you need to understand what the school has to offer and how that aligns with what your goals are and what you bring to the table. This research will help you demonstrate to the panel why you actually want to be part of that school without having to sound hollow by saying things like you believe ‘it’s the best school ever’ or that it’s your ‘dream to get into that school’.
Following these tips will help you with directions to start your preparation and get a perspective on things. However, here are a few things you want to take care of as you prepare.
- Take a thorough look at your own profile to discover your strengths
- Sharpen your problem-solving skills and communication skills
- Brush up your industry knowledge
- Make sure you don’t have any blind spots as you go about preparing by practicing before a trusted friend or guide who can offer valuable feedback
(Manami Mallick is an MBA admissions consultant and the founder of iMetiss.com. She is an IIM Bangalore alumnus, a marketing communications expert and an ex-journalist.)