The days are getting shorter, the leaves are changing colors, and there is a faint nip in the air (or if you are here in Chicago, the first flurries of snow are swirling!). These signs can only mean one thing: MBA interview season is upon us.
You have attended what feels like a million information sessions that detail how each MBA program is different, carefully crafted essays bearing your wildest hopes and dreams, politely hounded your recommenders to ensure their letters on your behalf made it in before the deadline, and now, you have earned yourself a coveted interview spot. After the initial excitement subsides, nerves slowly creep back in as you realize this interview is merely something new to prepare for. What now?
Having been in these same shoes not too long ago, and now as a member of the Admissions Fellow team that will conduct all of Booth’s on-campus interviews, I have distilled my wisdom into a simple five-point list to help you relax, impress your interviewer, and potentially earn a spot in the Class of 2022.
This may seem obvious, but when you are in the interview, you might very well forget to breathe. Slower breathing decreases your heart rate, which your brain associates with relaxation. A healthy bit of stress can be good motivation, but being calmer will help you think clearer and be more articulate. As a Massachusetts native, I am a notoriously fast-talker, and remembering to breathe also forces me to slow down my speech, which both makes me easier to understand and gives me an extra beat to think through an answer. Win-win-win.
2. Know thyself
Before your interview, go over your resume and read through your essay questions. Remind yourself of your answers to what I consider the three core MBA questions: Why pursue an MBA? Why now? Why this MBA program? Knowing “your story” will create a sense of credibility around your candidacy. Additionally, it is likely you did not get to share everything about yourself in your application, so think of a few anecdotes in your professional career that you are proud of or that taught you a valuable lesson. The old adage “show, don’t tell” from your elementary school writing class still applies here!
3. Ask not what your [MBA program] can do for you – ask what you can do for your [MBA program]
It is very easy to understand what a candidate stands to gain from obtaining his or her MBA. What is less immediately clear is what said candidate intends to bring to the community to make it, and the overall school, a better place. One of the most common reasons for pursuing an MBA is to expand one’s network; think through how you can positively impact your peers and be a valuable member of the community. It is often helpful to point to ways you have contributed to past communities you have been a part of as a way to show a commitment to bettering your environments. Additionally, at Booth, all interviewers are second-year students, so you want them to be able to picture working alongside you in a group project or grabbing a bite after class.
4. Be the Question Master
Make the interview as interactive as possible, and be sure to prepare a few questions in advance. It is likely you will also think of questions as the interview goes along, and you should feel free to ask those to create a conversational atmosphere. Asking questions demonstrates previous knowledge, proven interest, and engagement, so it would be a missed opportunity if you end the interview without showing your curiosity and finding out everything you want to know. When thinking of questions, try to make sure they do not have answers that are easily available in the school’s marketing materials. For instance, asking the interviewer about his or her experiences is always a safe play.
5. Complete your pre-race checklist
Make things easy on yourself day-of by treating the night before your interview like you would if you were running in a marathon (or maybe a 5K).
– Rest and appropriately fuel yourself: I chose to try Chicago deep-dish for the first time the night before my interview, and you know what? It knocked me out, and then I slept like a baby. Whether carbo-loading is your thing or not, also make sure to eat and drink water before your interview so that your brain is focused on the task at hand and not on your empty stomach. To that end, consume your normal level of caffeine so you do not throw yourself off in either direction.
– Lay out your uniform: Pull what you plan to wear out the night before to make sure everything is ready for primetime (pressed, no deep-dish pizza stains!). This includes shoes.
– Know the course in advance: You do not want to show up 15 minutes late because you were waiting in the wrong room. The night before, look at a floorplan to figure out where you need to be. If you will have to find parking or are taking public transportation, budget in a cushion in case something unexpected happens.
At the end of the day, remember that the interview really is a mutually beneficial tool for both the interviewer and interviewee to assess the latter’s fit with the school. Therefore, the goal is not to trip you up or intimidate you, but rather to give you an opportunity to share more than words on a page, as well as to learn about the school and what makes it unique from the perspective of a current student.
I am sending my best to all candidates interviewing in the coming weeks and hope to have you as a member of the Booth family come next fall!