When it comes to interviews, one of the most common mistakes MBA applicants make is to prepare for their MBA interview in the exact same way they prepare for a job interview. If you want to avoid an eye roll after you leave your school’s interview session and potentially being told “thanks but no thanks,” read on…
One of the most obvious difference between b-school interviews and job interviews is the fact that schools aren’t looking for a long term skills contribution. In fact, b-schools know they will actually play a key roll in enhancing and providing skills to their students, and while they certainly want to understand what you can bring to the classroom from your career experience, they also recognize that you will only be contributing in the academic environment for two years. For this reason, you don’t want to risk over-explaining your professional skillset. In fact, I would rely on the interviewer to pull out the professional core-competencies from your past and ask specific questions you can drill into vs. your “selling” your resume’s achievements to them up front. Like a job recruiter, b-schools are treating your potential offer as a marriage, it’s just that the long term version of the relationship for a school has far less to do with your skills and more to do with who you are as a person.
Your goal for any b-school interview is to leave the room with the interviewer knowing you personally, what makes you tick and why/how you made your choices, vs. what you have done.
The what is far more important for the job interview---in fact, many job interviewers are simply checking boxes---can you operate an agile software project, can you work independently without a lot of supervision, will you be able to hit assigned goals. B-schools do just the opposite and want to hear what drives you, what constitutes your passions and what you see as your long-term career vision. An employer realized you may not even be working there long term, so casting a vision for your ultimate career destination is of little interest.
For this reason, make sure you have stories in your repertoire for a b-school interview that cast light into these areas. For example, don’t merely describe your leadership style, but weave it into an anecdote instead which can very practically illustrate in living color why you have valid leadership potential. Human nature can’t help but remember stories. They don’t have to be long or dramatic, but telling a story will inevitably stick to the interviewer’s ribs much longer than a list of adjectives about the things you have done.
Another miss for the average MBA interviewee is to steer clear of what employers consider “illegal questions.”
Employers are generally not allowed to ask you questions which will reveal your age, ethnic origin or religion. B-schools are not allowed to ask these questions either, but these components of your life usually shed a great deal of light on who you are, so work this information into your b-school interview on your own. Just because they aren’t supposed to ask, doesn’t mean they don’t want to know. It’s not illegal for them to discuss it, they are just not allowed to be the one to pose the question. Schools will appreciate your volunteering personal information that provides deep insight into who you are, and if they are not allowed to ask, you could risk leaving some of this valuable information on the table.
The bottom line with b-school interviews vs. job interviews is that you must go well beyond what’s on your resume if you want to make an impression that lasts.
Employers care a great deal more about the what, but you will leave a b-school interview with them feeling like you are one-dimensional if that’s all you give them. Offer up the why and the how, and you will make a much deeper connection with your target schools.