As a former Associate Director of a business masters program at Duke who also got his MBA there, I’ve learned over the years what distinguishes an average b-school interviewer from an exceptional one. While most applicants understand that they need to prepare for an interview, it’s how they do so that often leads to less than optimal results.
Here are my 5 P’s to a Perfect B-school Interview:
Applicants often make the mistake of anticipating interview questions and preparing answers for them without first asking themselves, “What’s the purpose of this question?” You must understand why you are being asked the question before you start thinking about what to say – especially with open-ended questions. Applicants who don’t do this tend to ramble a lot. For instance, take a common b-school interview question: “Why do you want to attend School X?” Many applicants tend to launch into how School X has great academics, great job placement, great culture and other generic stuff that gives no insight into them whatsoever. Why? Because they took the question at face value instead of truly understanding the purpose of the question, which is “What specifically about School X will help you achieve your goals?” You will come up with very different answers if you prepare your response based on the reframed second question versus the first one. So make sure you understand the purpose first. Otherwise, you may not be answering the question.
Personalization and Precision
Even when applicants understand a question’s purpose, their responses still tend to be mediocre because their answers are too general and generic instead of personalized and precise. Remember: there are hundreds to thousands of other applicants answering the exact same questions, so the only way to distinguish yourself is to be detail-oriented. For instance, if you say that you want to go to School X because your goal is to become an investment banker and School X is renown for their finance courses, don’t stop there! That’s what every other aspiring investment banker is saying. Get detail-oriented by zooming in from the forest to the trees. Here are other issues to consider discussing in order to paint a more vivid picture of yourself:
- What finance course(s) and/or professors at School X in particular are you interested in and why?
- How specifically would these courses and/or professors help you achieve your goal?
One of the biggest mistakes applicants make is that they don’t do a sufficient job of backing up what they say. In other words, there’s not enough proof.For instance, b-school applicants often say, “I have leadership experience,” name a few examples where they were leaders and then call it day. This is insufficient given that every other applicant will say nearly the same thing. And furthermore, just because you say it doesn’t mean it’s true. You need to assume your interviewers are friendly skeptics. That means you need to be detail-oriented in providing proof. Here are some questions to consider to add meat to your answers:
- What organization or initiative did you lead?
- How long were you a leader for?
- How many people did you lead?
- What was your leadership style?
- And perhaps most important: What results did you achieve as the leader?
Furthermore, try to use examples that directly relate to the industry you’re interested in if possible. So if you want to go into investment banking after you get your MBA, try to discuss examples related to finance.
Finally, many applicants believe that because they’re talking about themselves, they don’t need to practice their responses. After all, who knows them better than themselves? No one. However, there’s a big difference between knowing about yourself and being able to skillfully talk about yourself. Some of the worst responses I’ve heard are when I’ve said to applicants, “Tell me a little bit about yourself.” Their responses tend to be too long and not cohesive enough. I find myself thinking, “What was the point to that response?” Don’t just rehearse your responses in your head. Practicing them out loud over and over is one great way to refine them.