o I’ve already address interview preparation that must be done. But after the waiting game is over, if all works out as planned, you’ll receive the call or email asking for an interview. When you do get the notification allow yourself to be happy – EVEN IF IT IS A DAY BEFORE DECISION DEADLINE. Given the Consortium application that I had to do, I had already done my preliminary interview upfront at Tuck. Then I remember when I got the interview invite for Johnson and how thrilled I was.
I believe I had to actually call the school to schedule the actual interview. I’m going to say that I did that the very next day as I had to figure out the days that I could take off from work. Again, I know that I had it easier than some because on the day that I got the interview invite I told my manager and VP that I had to take a day off within the next couple of weeks to head up to Ithaca. Thankfully for me it was a simple 4 hour bus trip. For others, I know that it’s not that easy. Again, maybe that’s the obstacle that you have to overcome? Hmmm? Food for thought.
In any event, when you do get that invite to interview there are some things that you should do. They may give you a couple of options for your interview:
- interview on campus
- interview via Skype
- interview with an alum in your area
- phone interview
I listed those in a specific order with 1 and 4 being static. If you can interview on campus and you haven’t visited the campus before. INTERVIEW ON CAMPUS! Of course by me saying that, other people will say, “but then I have to take off from work. Potentially fly out. Potentially drive out. Potentially get a hotel room. Potentially... potentially...et. Al.” I can hear people already saying those types of things. Trust me, I understand where you’re coming from but no one ever said that applying to business school was cheap! If you can take off from work...can afford the flight...can afford the hotel room etc. Then it’s a MUST that you do it IF you haven’t visited the campus before. This is the last leg of the race and you want to make sure that you position yourself as best as you can. Plus, you’re going to want to see the campus for yourself. Remember all of the things that I mentioned that you can get out of a business school visit experience? Well just think how you’ll be able to visit the day before or day of your interview and weave those stories into your interview? When people do that in interviews it definitely shows.
Also, if you haven’t visited before you will show the admissions committee that you’re very serious about attending that school. You wouldn’t believe how many people don’t visit schools prior to acceptance. I’m not saying that it will make or break a decision by an admissions committee to admit you, BUT, it CAN give you a leg up. For me the potential for a leg up was all I needed. I also knew that I had to get in front of the admissions committee one more time – face to face. I like to interview given my personality so I knew that I could play to my strengths.
Additionally, I also knew that Ithaca was only 4 hours away from New York City which brings me to my next point. If you are within a 1 day driving distance from a school that gives you an invite to interview – YOU BETTER GO TO THE SCHOOL AND INTERVIEW. I went up a day earlier to my interview because I interviewed in the winter and I didn’t want to get stuck in snow the day of, but it is definitely a trip that people make frequently. So if you’re in NYC and get an interview invite from the following schools, you know what to do: NYU, Columbia, Yale SOM, Johnson at Cornell University, Tuck, HBS, Boston, MIT, Wharton, I’ll even thrown in Georgetown in there.
If you’re flying to interview at a school then you should fly the day before just to make sure that you have time to decompress the next day.
Okay, so once you’ve received the invite. The next thing to do is schedule your time. If you call the admissions office to schedule your interview then try to find out the name of the person who will be interviewing you. If you can find out this information then you should do research on that person via LinkedIn at the very least. I personally, can be kind of a stalker online, so if I knew someone’s name (even a corporate recruiter) I will check LinkedIn to see what their background is. Then I will check to see who we may know in common. From there I may see if we have any Facebook friends in common. This is important for when you get excited and maybe post something about your interview. You don’t know what other people’s privacy settings are so you don’t want something random showing up in someone’s news feed. Anyway, so basically try to do some recon work to see if you can drum up any information about your interviewer.
If you’re interviewing with an AdCom member then there’s probably not much that you can garner online, but you should be following his/her tweets online (ESPECIALLY IF IT’S A SMALL SCHOOL). But I digress, because there will be a whole chapter about social media and the application process.
If you find out that your interviewer is going to be conducted by a current student or an alum then you BETTER do your research. I say this because you should assume that they’re doing the same thing to you. Current students and alums will definitely have a LinkedIn profile at the very least. When I looked at someone’s profile I did one of two things. I either, logged out of my account and then checked their profile as an anonymous user, or I would have a friend do it from his/her account. I personally don’t like people knowing that I’ve checked their profile so I found a way around it haha.
So now you’ve found out that the person interviewing you does have a profile, what types of things are you looking for? Well... just as any other time that you’re making a connection with someone, look for talking points or things that you have in common. The walk from the admissions office to the room you’ll be interviewing in is a great way to build a rapport with someone. I would even weave things into my interview to make a connection with the interviewer. At some schools they pair people up by interests or backgrounds so I bet that you’ll find something that you both have in common.
Remember – you want the interviewer to like you so that he/she gives you a glowing recommendation. Do everything in your power to make sure that he/she likes you. This is especially true at schools where there is a small strong culture. I always tell people that one bad egg in a bunch can throw off the whole dynamic of a small school. By small school I mean <300 students.
So now you’ve gotten to the interview itself. Thankfully you’ve done a lot of interview preparation. How do you interview? Well, the interviewer will ask you questions and then you’ll answer them. Easy as that! Well it’s not really that easy but you should go in feeling well prepared. I know that I went into both interviews that I had feeling very confident but again, I like to interview. I will tell you about both of my experiences interviewing because in hindsight I “bombed” one of them and the other one I “nailed.”
In hindsight, I really analyzed both of them and of course I wouldn’t know why I wasn’t admitted to the one that I “bombed” but because I’ve actually been on the other side of the table as a 2nd year interviewer, I can look back on the things that I did that POTENTIALLY hurt my candidacy.
The One I “Bombed” – I remember sitting in the admissions office not feeling nervous but excited. I was definitely ready for this interview for sure. It’s funny waiting in the admissions office when there are other applicants there because you’re usually making idle conversation with them yet at the same time sizing them up because you know they’re your competition / could be your classmate. I didn’t know who I was interviewing with until he grabbed me from the admissions office. We walked a long way to the room that he was going to interview me in. I can’t remember what we talked about but during that walk but it was just a friendly chit-chat.
When we got to the room he sat down and I sat down diagonally across from him. It was weird haha. But he crossed his legs and then I did too. MISTAKE #1: He crossed his legs so that he could write on his paper without me seeing. I say that because when I interviewed people, I did the same exact thing for the same reason. By me crossing my legs it signals that there’s a barrier up if you think of it in terms of body language. If I was interviewing someone and he/she crossed his/her legs, I would feel weird. Of
course there are caveats all throughout this, but I’m telling you MY experience and how I would feel. This is not to be discounted because I’ve actually interviewed people so if I feel this way then there are others who would feel similarly and you want to be cognizant of the type of person that you MAY get.
In any event, so I had done a lot of research on the school and felt pretty good about all of my answers. Then at the end of the interview my interviewer asked if I had any other questions. MISTAKE #2: I said, “No I don’t, I’ve done so much research on the school that all of my questions had been answered.” At the very least, I should have recycled a question that I already had the answer too and/or asked my interview questions about his experience at the business school. The number of questions and types of questions that you ask an interviewer are very telling. Remember, one goal of the interviewer is to assess how you will interview with a corporate recruiter and when you do that you better have questions to ask.
After the interview finished up, I got his card and of course emailed him a thank-you email as well as a hand-written note that I mailed. The hand-written note could have been overkill but that’s just part of my personality. Everyone who I met at schools, I sent a handwritten note on expensive stationery. So that was it right? I finished the interview and sent the Thank-You email.
Well for most people that would have been the finale, but for me I wasn’t aware that my interviewer then had to fill out a special recommendation form for the Consortium application since I used that interview as my official Consortium interview. MISTAKE #3: I interviewed in November and then found out in December that I had to have him write a separate interview form. So I emailed him in mid-December to try to figure this process out. Imagine, I had interviewed a month prior to me reaching back out to him and now I’m emailing him to ask if he can fill out a different interview form – in December – on his winter break – as a 2nd year! Now that I’ve been through my 2nd year, I can tell you that I wouldn’t have been able to field such a request. I was in Europe on a trek with limited internet access on my Winter Break. I know that he was able to get the interview notes in on time but I know for a fact that there’s no way he remembered everything that we talked about or the little nuances that you forget about someone after a month has gone by. Trust, me... I’ve been there as an interviewer.
So those were the three mistakes that I made for my interview. Again, I’m not sure if they were deal breakers, but they were definitely set-backs.
The One I Nailed: Okay so when I got my interview invite for Johnson, I was ecstatic beyond belief. I called to schedule my interview and then I think I received a confirmation email with the name of the person who I would be interviewing with. I then sent a couple emails to people in admissions who I had met at previous events – Reaching Out Conference and other MBA Conferences saying how excited I was that I was invited to interview and that I would be up there on a certain date to interview and I wanted to stop by their offices to say hello. Okay, so that’s the backstory of the invite for Johnson.
A couple days before my interview I was told that my interview had been switched to someone else, who also worked in admissions. Under normal circumstances this wouldn’t have been a big deal except for the fact that because I had attended a diversity event at the school 4 months prior, I had already met and spoke to this person. This
was not one of the people who I had kept in touch with after that initial visit but I felt more comfortable interviewing with this person because I had met them. This is why I say it’s important to visit the school! You never know how things may come back full-circle to you and work in your favor. Had I said to myself, “Oh, I can’t take off 1 day from work to travel up to Ithaca for this weekend event.” I definitely would not have met this person who I interviewed with. I can say that this happens frequently. Imagine if you go to an MBA fair or visit the school and leave a positive impression on people who conduct interviews. Now imagine that you actually get one of those people as your interviewer. Do you think that will work for or against you? I’m going to venture out on a limb and say FOR!
By this time I was very comfortable with interviewing because I had done so many mock- interviews and REAL interviews. In hindsight, I say that the interview that I “bombed” was practice/a wake up call for this interview. During this interview I did NOT cross my legs haha. It was a very conversational interview that was supposed to last about 45 minutes. It ended up lasting an hour and 10 minutes. Even though I had done a lot of research on the school and had spoken to more people than the first interview, I still made sure that I asked questions in the interview related to student life and things of that nature. Basically things that I couldn’t find on the website. I was kind of nervous towards the end of the interview because my bus back to NYC was at 11:30 and it was already 11:10 but I also told myself “Oh well, if I miss it then I miss it.” This was definitely more important.
When I left that room I remember exactly where I was when I said to myself, “I just got into Johnson because of that interview.” I just had a feeling in my body. Usually, I’m more conservative and suppress feelings like that, but I was on a high and I could just feel it. Now, because of that feeling I was even more nervous when the decision date was approaching but that’s another story in and of itself.
So those are my two interview experiences from the perspective of an applicant. Now I would like to go through some Do’s and Don’ts for your interview.
DRESS TO IMPRESS: If you are a Male then you should go to your interview in a Suit and a Tie. What I used to do was buy ties that had the colors of the schools in them. Of course I made sure that they matched my suit and all that good stuff, but it was just something extra that made me feel good. If you’re a Female then you should wear a pants suit or a skirt suit. Now, regarding the skirt suit make sure that the skirt is not too short. I’ve seen some people come through the school looking like, well, let’s just say looking like they weren’t going for a business-like interview. Also for females, if you wear heels, make sure that they aren’t incredibly high/fancy.
Now speaking of “fancy”, I heard this next piece of advice some somewhere that I can’t remember. If you have expensive clothes/accessories that’s fine. Don’t wear them to a business school interview. You may not think that this is important but SOME people do notice those types of things. Meaning, don’t walk into a business school interview with a Rolex with lots of diamonds or anything of that nature. For girls, I would also err on the side of not wearing shoe brands that are clearly >$600 (for those of you who wear Louboutins.) Those red bottoms are a giveaway. Yes, I know you buy them for that reason, but save
them for when you’re NOT in an interview.
SMILE: Smiling makes other people feel more comfortable, so long as it’s not a forced smile. When interviewing make sure that you smile because it’s just a good thing to do. People who smile come across as more likeably and friendly. Remember, you’re interviewing and that’s exactly how you want to come across. I mena granted, that’s how you should just be anyway, but make the person interviewing you smile too. Remember, you don’t know what types of notes the person is writing down. I’ve been in interviews and jotted down comments related to how the person made me feel. (Remember the whole leg crossing thing?) Yeah, so smiling is also a major part of body language!
STRENGTH/WEAKNESSES: Depending on the school and the interviewer, you may get the “dreaded”, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” or “Tell me what your greatest strength and weaknesses are.” Something to that effect. The key to this question is to be honest and truthful but a little candor doesn’t hurt either. There are a couple of things related to this topic that I’d like to call out but I’ll talk about the weaknesses component to this because it’s the one that people seem to worry about more so than strengths.
First and foremost – Give weaknesses that can be remedied by business school! I heard a story of someone who answered that question with, “I don’t like working in groups.” Well, in business school that’s pretty much a HUGE component of what you’ll be doing. So think of it from the perspective of the interviewer – especially if the interviewer is a current student.
Interviewers thoughts to that response – “Why would I want this person in my school? I wouldn’t want this person on my core team. I’m not getting that warm and fuzzy feeling from this person.”
So right then and there that person has practically removed him/herself from a potential acceptance. I say this all to say that a lot of times it may not happen knowingly and sometimes things come out not how they are intended. If you get a good interviewer then he/she will probe further (asking follow up questions in a round about fashion – or maybe directly) to see if that’s what you truly meant. This is the reason why you want to make sure that you do as many mock interviews as possible. Things like that will inevitably arise during a mock interview and then you can work on how you want to convey what you’re trying to say.
I won’t go through a list of weaknesses (not the one’s that I used and not the one’s that are online) but remember, you’re trying to create a cohesive story, which involves a lot of introspection. Be honest. Your recommenders will be honest. Imagine if you say that your weakness is X and then you and that person are not on the same “page” and that person actually thinks that whatever that X is, is actually a strength in the work environment. Now the admissions committee has a data point where you’re saying that your weakness is X but your recommender is saying that he/she believes that’s a strength of yours. Now it just gets confusing. So be honest.
KNOW YOUR GOALS: Obviously if you’ve gotten to the point of an interview, then you know your goals at least somewhat. I say, “at least somewhat” because
I’ve interviewed (both formally and informally) who cannot convey PROPERLY, why business school or why they even want to pursue a career in a certain industry. Before you go into your interview you should be reviewing your resume and your essays. This way you can not only keep your candidacy consistent, but you can also introduce new pieces of information about yourself to the interviewer. Then when they take their notes back into committee review, there’s even more interesting information about yourself. This is the goal!
DON’T ASSUME: Don’t assume that the interviewer fully understands your background or even your goals. In the interview you need to spell it out for them. Speak in bullet points because it’s tough taking notes while trying to write down what people are trying to say. Use words like, “First”, “Second”, “Next”. This will help them follow your story.
DON’T RAMBLE: This is a big one. You need to be cognizant of how long you’re taking to tell stories pivotal to your candidacy. Again, practice will help with this. Sometimes when I would do mock-interviews with people I would ask them to walk me through their resume and I would just let them speak for as long as they thought was necessary. 10 minutes later he had finished. I didn’t say anything then but when I brought it up to him at the end of the mock interview, I asked, “How long do you think you spent on the walk me through your resume?” He said “3 minutes” He clearly didn’t remember, but when I told him 10 minutes he was shocked. I actually timed it. I’ll do that from time to time. I say all that to remind you that however long you think you’re taking, it’s actually quite longer. There isn’t a time limit on answers but 1:30 – 2 minutes is a good proxy to start with. Of course some questions require more or less time, but if you try to stick to that time table then it will average out over the course of the interview.
ASK GOOD QUESTIONS: So I told you about my story of not asking questions but this section is different. You should have three to four questions for the interviewer that you’ll be able to ask “off the top of your head” at the end of the interview. When I interview people (even mock-interviews) I always say, “Okay, I have 2 more questions for you and then I’ll let you ask me any questions that you may have.” At the end of the interview, I’ll close my notebook, but in no way shape or form am I done with the interview. It does make people more comfortable to see that I’ve stopped taking notes, but I’m still interviewing them. Remember, one goal of the interviewer is to evaluate how the candidate is at interviewing since that’s a big part of business school. The quality of your questions at the end of an interview are very telling.
When you do ask questions make sure that they are NOT questions that can be answered by information on the website. I remember going through the process and hearing this over and over again, but people STILL made this mistake. Imagine being an interview and you complete the interview and ask the candidate if he/she has any questions and you know for a fact that the question that they asked can be found on the website.
Interviewers thoughts to that type of question – “Clearly this person didn’t spend time on your website. Would they do that in a corporate interview where there’s even more information to be had about the company?”
These types of things may not be deal-breakers but the whole purpose of this book is to mitigate the chances of you making this type of simple mistake. I can say simple because I’ve been there and done that and I tend to think that I’m a pretty competent person haha.
MAKE IT CONVERSATIONAL: This is the key to maintain one’s own sanity. If it’s a conversational interview then you’ll feel that you nailed it. This is better than leaving the interview feeling as though you bombed it because then you’ll just stress yourself out about it. It’s also easier for the interviewer to take notes if it’s conversational. We remember conversations that we have and stories and not just bullet points about one’s professional career (or themselves). To this day, I remember whether or not I had a good conversation with someone and not so much the intricate details about their candidacy. You want to leave a positive impression on someone and if they can say, “I had a great conversation with that person!” Then that goes a long way for you.
ANSWER TRUTHFULLY: Easy, don’t lie about things in your interview. A) One’s body language changes when they lie or feel uncomfortable. Also, you don’t know what notes the person has about you and if you contradict the notes that they may see then that’s an immediate red flag. Admissions committees don’t want to admit someone to their program who is a liar.
ANSWER WHAT OTHER SCHOOLS: Going along with #9, be ready to answer the question – “What other schools did you apply too.” Just be ready for this question. If you’ve truly done your homework as to why you want to attend certain schools, then you should have no problem answering this question. The people I encounter who have trouble answering this questions are those people who strictly look at the rankings. Those people are easy to pick out in an interview when this question comes up.
Applicant: “I’m only applying to this school.”
Interviewers thoughts to this answer – “Does this person really want to go (or
need to go) to business school if he/she only applied to one school?”
Unless you have a REALLY good answer to this question, do not state this as your answer. I do know some people who only applied to one school but if you’re reading this book, then trust me, you may not be the type of person who can get away with that answer. I’ll leave it at that for now.
Applicant: “I applied to a school in Cambridge, MA.”
Interviewers thoughts to this answer – “Why won’t this person just say the school’s name? It’s obviously which 1 of 2 that it could be and they’re both great schools. Why is this person being secretive?”
Everyone in the business school admissions process – actually in the business school industry – knows which schools one may be applying too if you give a city name. There’s no need to act as if it’s a big mystery. Remember, these are your decisions and the interviewer is basically trying to understand your thought process. If you applied to let’s say Insead, HBS, Johnson, Ross, and Stanford
then just state that. Should the interviewer follow up and ask why those schools, then answer confidently, truthfully, and stand by your decision. If you’re thrown off by this “simple” question in an admissions interview then just wait until say Bain asks, “Why not McKinsey?” Going forward, post business school, your life will be filled with seemingly tough questions and you’ll have to have an opinion and will need to stand by your decision. This question is NOTHING in comparison.
To that end, there are some things that you need to keep in mind when answering this question. If you’re interviewing at a small school in a remote location and the small collaborative community is what attracts you to the school: for example; Johnson, Tuck, Yale do not then say that you only applied to Columbia and NYU. This just doesn’t even make sense. If you said that you applied to the small school in a remote location then if you said that you also applied to Duke and Stanford, then that would make sense. Remember, it’s not always about the schools that you say, it’s also very much so about your thought process.
11. SHOW EMOTION: You don’t want to be a robot. Robots are not fun in business school. In your interview if you’re talking about a tough situation that you encountered, you can show frustration or that you were irritated (or you can say that you were). Be yourself.
SEND A THANK-YOU LETTER: Seems obvious (again) but not everyone sends his/her interviewer a thank-you letter. YOU SHOULD! This CAN separate you from others. At some schools, when you send a thank-you letter (either via email or hand written) it goes into your file. Again, this is one more data point that you give the admissions committee to evaluate when your file is in committee review. Now when you send a thank-you letter, it shouldn’t just be a generic one – although it can, and that would still give you a leg up against others. It should re- express your interest in the school. What I used to do was re-hash some of the topics that we talked about during the interview. I did this to jog their memory as to who I was. The best thank-you letters that I received were sent within a day of their interview. Do not wait too long but then again better late than never. I asked some of my classmates who also did admissions interviews and their hit rate on Thank-you letters was higher than mine, but I can assure you that I am not an anomaly or an outlier. The hit-rate on thank-you letters should be 100%! Of course, I’ve given people strong recommendations sans a thank-you letter, but those strong candidates are strong for other reasons – obviously. Again, the goal is to do as many things “right” as possible as to improve your chances.
Write a section about interviewing with a current student or alum... and what you heard about it not being fair to interview with a current student.