One of the crucial steps towards an MBA is the admissions interview process. Here, I’d like to share some pointers on how to prepare for the interviews and handle yourself when challenged by interviewers.
In simple terms, the objective of the interviews (for the school) is to meet the person whose application they liked. They want to understand qualitatively as to whether this person is genuine, professional, has the right soft skills and if the school is a good fit for his/her aspirations. There is definitely no faking your personality when someone challenges your personal story (and this could happen during an admissions interview). To prepare, there are few simple steps you can take:
Know your story well: It could be a few months since you wrote your resume and essays. So, go over them and reflect upon your accomplishments, goals, beliefs etc. and prepare your reasons for why you want do an MBA, why now and why you chose the school.
Share your story well: In most cases, the interviewer will be a complete stranger to you, so provide him/her with a good overall picture and fill in the specifics whenever asked. If it fits the conversation, add details about the school (courses you plan to take, clubs you plan to join, activities you might take up etc.) The details show commitment. Try to tie this information to how it will help your future career.
Get feedback: Towards the end, ask the interviewer if he/she can provide you some feedback on the path you are envisioning for yourself and your experiences to date. Listen to what he/she has to say. If nothing else, you may get an honest professional perspective on how a stranger perceives you and your story in light of your goals. In fact, I remember feeling refreshed with the honest opinion of how I came off on paper vs. my interview (e.g. one of my interviewers felt I lacked P&L management experience and I know that this is something I will try to add to at some point in my career).
Be yourself and maintain a calm, professional demeanor: As easy as it may sound to talk about yourself, the interview could get progressively challenging. Don’t get discouraged if your interviewer turns out to be particularly tough and challenges you on your story or your intentions. He/she is just testing the depth of your story. So don’t take on new personalities or try to think about what they would like to hear. Continue to be yourself and share your true beliefs and why you believe them. Stick to what you said in your application and draw parallels.
Make sure you eat before the interview: This seems like a no brainer but talking to someone for two hours at dinner time with two nachos in your tummy is not fun. No matter what time you’re interviewing, make sure you refuel beforehand.
Speaking personally, one of my two interviewers, in spite of being very friendly and jovial, challenged me thoroughly on many aspects of my application. For instance, the interviewer challenged me on whether INSEAD was truly the right school for me or whether I was doing it out of geographical convenience (I was living and working in Singapore at the time and had expressed that I would like to start on the Singapore campus). In response, I basically laid out clearly, a list of all the other schools I had researched, what I had found and reasons why I had chosen to go with INSEAD. I also mentioned that while I’d be starting at the Singapore campus, I will be doing the US exchange and Fontainebleau campus exchange as well, so I was in no way tied to Singapore.
Throughout the interview, I did feel like I had been put on the defensive multiple times on several questions, but tried to maintain my cool and enjoy the conversation as much as possible. I remember coming out of the grueling two-hour conversation feeling like I may have lost my chance with INSEAD as there were perhaps many unanswered questions that the admissions team had about my candidacy. However, I was confident that I had done my best as I had reflected my true self at the interview and defended my reasons calmly and professionally. In the end, I was undoubtedly over joyed to receive an admit!
Sweeny Chhabra, Forté Fellow
MBA 2013, INSEAD