5 MBA interview tips from an admissions expert

The interview is one of the most important steps of the MBA application process – and there are several things you can do to prepare for it. We spoke to MBA admissions expert and founder of My MBA Path Petia Whitmore to hear her top MBA interview tips for candidates.

In short

1. Tell your story

Of all the different stages of the MBA application process, the interview is one of the most intimidating for applicants. As a result, the internet is full of examples of MBA interview questions asked at the top schools. Memorize these questions, rehearse your answers, and everything else should fall into place… Right?

Well, not quite. Petia Whitmore is an MBA admissions expert and in her experience, candidates often approach the interview from the wrong perspective. One of her top MBA interview tips is simple: Tell your own story.

“You have to start with your story. Parts of your story are going to make it into your interview, and those parts are the examples [you should use]. Candidates often agonize over: ‘What questions does Harvard ask?’ [and] ‘What questions does Stanford ask?’ The thing is that it shouldn’t be so intimidating, because the questions are all about you,” she tells MBAGRADSCHOOLS. (01:20)

“It’s about who you are, it’s about your history, they’re not going to ask you a question that was in your history or math book,” she adds. “It’s going to be about you, and you’re a subject that you know really well, right? So that should take some of the pressure off.” (01:53)

2. Show examples of success

Any good story has ups and downs, and yours should be no different. Petia maintains that everyone has an exciting story – but you need to back it up with examples of your success. She believes that by preparing a set of examples that demonstrate your skills and experience, you’ll be ready to answer even the toughest interview questions.

She says, “[The interviewer] wants to see examples of leadership, initiative, resilience, overcoming adversity, teamwork, collaboration….knowing that these are the broad categories, you can think of examples, and you probably need a set of seven to eight that can fall into these categories.” (02:22)

But it’s important to not be too constrained by the examples you come up with. Each one should be as versatile as possible, capable of answering several different questions. Just like in business, you need to be adaptable to be able to overcome any unexpected hurdles.

“You [also] have to think about how to use each of these examples to answer a slightly different question, because the same example can be used to answer a question about leadership or dealing with a very challenging situation,” Petia clarifies. “If you do that, then you’ll have a set of examples that are not going to be matched to a very specific question, and you won’t stumble if a different question to what you envisioned is asked.” (03:09)

3. Demonstrate self-awareness

An interview is a stressful scenario for anyone, particularly for those who don’t feel comfortable with self-promotion. Even though you have to be comfortable talking about yourself, you still need to get the balance right. Petia says she has noticed a trend in recent years that business schools want to hear more about your potential value to society as a whole.

“I think especially in recent years, schools want to see a certain level of self-awareness – you could also call it humility,” she says. “They want to admit people who are going to have an impact on society and not simply on their own career.” (02:32)

This is especially important for those who struggle in interview situations. By taking the focus away from yourself and talking instead about how you want to use your MBA to benefit society, you can take the pressure off yourself and thrive in the interview as a result.

4. Work on your time management skills

An MBA interview is also an exercise in time management. With so much information to pack in, it can be tempting to go into as much detail as possible for every question. Petia’s next MBA interview tip is to give succinct answers. It’s a valuable skill that interviewers are always looking out for.

“Most typically the first question is going to be something like: ‘tell me about yourself’ or ‘walk me through your resume.’ This is where candidates often get in trouble,” Petia tells us. “They go into these long spiels where they try to cram in everything about themselves because they don’t want to leave an important part out.” (04:43)

“But a huge part of that first question is actually judging your ability to time manage yourself and be aware of what the interviewer is asking you,” she explains. “So it’s really important to have prepared for that question by thinking about the two or three key points from your background that you want to communicate.” (05:00)

The benefit of nailing your first question is that it prepares you for the rest of your interview. It helps settle any initial nerves and sets your interview on the right path.

“It’s really important to get that first question right because if you feel that you have, then the rest of your interview has a chance of going more smoothly. If you feel that you rambled on the first question then you get nervous and it gets difficult to continue on a good path,” Petia says. (05:19)

5.Take cues from your interviewer

It can be easy to think of an interview as a battle between you and the interviewer. But Petia, who used to conduct MBA interviews herself, says they are only there to help and guide you through the process.

“You have to take your cues from the interviewer. Most interviewers will give you a sense of how long the interview is going to be, and what they’re trying to get out of it,” she says. (04:10)

“The thing that candidates should know is that an interviewer wants you to succeed,” she emphasizes. “No one who is doing interviews wants to sit there and have a really painful interview where the person is flailing and failing, so they’re going to help you along.” (05:39)

It’s an achievement in itself to be invited to an MBA interview. It shows that the admissions team believes you have the right qualities to succeed in the program. You’re one step away from being accepted, so these expert MBA interview tips could be the final push you need to get into your dream program!

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