Five To Do's for Your MBA Interview

Nov 8, 2016
Tags: Admissions Requirements, Applications, B-School

Jay BryantSubmitted by Jay Bryant, Director of Graduate Recruitment & Admissions, Rady School of Management, University of California San Diego. 

Yes, I know, you've already jumped through so many hoops and over so many hurdles with your graduate school applications. But this is the final test, the last chance to show you are MBA quality… the interview!

I've been reading applications for MBA programs for more than a decade, and through that experience I can assure you that there is no better opportunity to knock the socks off of an admissions committee than to perform really well in an interview.

Through this post, I hope to help give some guidance in what you should expect and what you should do for a successful face-to-face interaction with your interviewer. Consider these five to-do's for your interview. 

1. Dress appropriately. This seems so straightforward and obvious to most of us, but to others… well let’s just say they need to learn the concept of appropriate business dress. I have seen everything from Armani suits to shorts and a ripped t-shirt. Don't be surprised if you are dressed nicer than your interviewer. Your admission representatives interview hundreds of candidates each year and are likely not going to wear a business suit every single day. Wear something that makes you feel confident yet comfortable enough that you will not be distracted. Taking your shoes off because they are uncomfortable is not going to go over well in an interview, for sure! Guys, even if you have spent the last four years going to the office in your beach gear as a laid-back California IT surfer dude – it is time to dig out (and iron) that old suit. Don’t have one? Ask around… someone in your friend or family circle has got to have at least a sports coat that they have worn on professional interviews. Women should choose an outfit appropriate for the event. I recommend a conservative outfit that is neither too flashy nor loud. 

2. Prepare and practice. Nothing is more painful for an interviewer than having to spend 30 minutes in a room with someone who has not prepared at all. Take the time to look up typical interview questions. Practice answering them with your responses. Why did you choose this school particularly? What is it about the specific program that stands out to you? How is this going to fit in your personal career goals? How do you stand out above other typical graduate school applicants? In turn, do not over rehearse your answers. It is obvious to your interviewer when you have memorized answers. It makes you look insecure and unable to carry on a conversation. 

MBA’s have to act on their feet, so do not be surprised when you are asked for some questions that seem to come from left-field. I have had fellow interviewers ask things like “what is your favorite color and why?” to “Tell me six things you can do with a milk jug other than carry milk”. These questions may seem pointless, but they are actually used to catch you off-guard and make you think and communicate at the same time. 

3. Engage in the conversation. Admissions people are people too. When you get out in the business world you are going to have to be comfortable talking with strangers and winning their trust for business transactions. Your admission interviewer knows this too and expects you to be comfortable and engaged. 

Shake hands, be friendly, laugh when appropriate, and smile!  Some schools actually have these very attributes ranked on their interview write-ups.  If you are cold and disinterested in your interview, it will most definitely affect the opinion of the individual evaluating you.

4. Be more than your résumé. I had one good admission officer friend who would have hour long interviews. Se would ask only one question in the entire hour – “Tell me about yourself.” She believed that there was no way to just recite their résumé for a full hour, so they had to get to the more interesting aspects of their work and who they were at their core. Truth is, we have your résumé. We can read it. We typically understand it (if you did it right…) And we are in the interview to learn about you as a full person, not just the one page of highlights and life accomplishments. Do you have specific interests or hobbies? Do you do something worthwhile in your free time?  Maybe you volunteer at the local animal shelter or jump out of airplanes just for the fun of it. This makes you part of who you are – so share it! Some interviewers will be more interested in this than others, so gauge the depth to which you get into this.   

5. Answer the questions. It surprises me how many MBA applicants have a difficulty doing exactly that. Get to the point, answer my questions, and let’s move on.  There are three basic types of individuals when it comes to answering interview questions: those that do, those that don’t, and those that don’t know when to stop.
Those that do go directly to the point of my questions and respond fully and thoroughly. If I have additional clarification questions, we get through them quickly and completely. This puts a huge smile on my face.

Those that don’t… quite obvious what happens here.  I ask a question and the applicant goes off with some answer that has little or no correlation with what I asked. It makes me think they are avoiding something and that is not good. …and those that don’t know when to stop… this type of candidate is your typical rambler. If you have ever been identified as a talker, you may need to watch out for this. If I ask you about your work, it is not time to bring in a conversation about last year’s trip to Cancun or how you once won a contest for a compilation of poetry. Trust me, I will give you the opportunity to share interesting things that I did not ask you about later in the interview.

I do hope these tips have helped you to be a bit more informed and ready for your interviews. Here at Rady we truly believe that interviews are the best part of our jobs. This is when we get to know our applicants face-to-face as we learn about their amazing past successes, their future aspirations, and their current excitement about taking the next step in their professional lives through graduate school study.


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