How should you talk about your experiences in an MBA interview? How should you frame your accomplishments? In a recent MBA interview preparation class, the participants and I were talking about this subject, and in this blog post, I would like to share with you some information that can help you to succeed in your MBA interviews.
One of the common frameworks that you can use to talk about your accomplishments is the STAR or CAR framework. The participants in the MBA interview preparation class were already familiar with this framework, and I expect that you know it, too, because it is widely used in essay writing as well as in interview responses. As a quick reminder, the parts of the STAR are Situation, Task, Action, and Result. The CAR stands for Challenge, Action, and Result. When the listeners hear your “challenge,” you want them to respond with “Wow!” When the listeners hear your “action,” you want them to say, “Amazing!” Finally, when the listeners hear the absolutely incredible “result” that you achieved, you want them to cry out, “Incredible!” You also want them to applaud loudly (at least in their minds).
POWERS OF PERSUASION
In the words of the famous business guru, Tom Peters, how do you get your listeners to the point of “Wow”? One of the things that we talked about in the MBA interview preparation class was Aristotle’s powers of persuasion: ethos, logos, pathos. I used to teach these powers of persuasion to the students in my communication courses at Sony. These powers are used often in advertising and promotional campaigns. Since you are promoting yourself in your MBA interviews, these powers can help you as well.
ETHOS (or CREDIBILITY)
Ethos refers to credibility. In other words, you may be asked about your future goals in an interview. What do you plan to do after you get an MBA? Do you have evidence that you can do what you say you will do? For example, are you being sponsored by your company to achieve your future goals? Do you have a specific schedule in mind? Are all of the steps in your plan feasible? As I listened to the participants tell their stories in the MBA interview preparation class, I asked myself how believable these stories were. If I listened to your stories, do you think that I would believe you?
PATHOS (or EMOTION)
Pathos refers to emotion. When I worked in the financial services industry, I was taught that clients make decisions for emotional reasons, and I was taught to ask clients, “What is important about money to you?” So let me ask you the following question: “What is important about getting an MBA to you?” Do you feel excited about getting an MBA? Why? Do you feel excited about the school? Why? Are you excited about interacting with your classmates? Why? What makes you excited about your future? What are your dreams, and how does the MBA experience fit into those dreams? I hope that you feel excited because you need to project that passion in your interview. Are you able to make me share your excitement about attending the MBA program and achieving your goals?
LOGOS (or LOGIC)
Logos refers to logic. Why do you need an MBA? Why do you need it now? Do you have evidence for what you say? A good example of using “logic” appears in a crowdfunding campaign in which a company was seeking 50 thousand dollars to make the world’s first 9 dollar computer. The company needed the money to buy components in large quantities to make a computer for a low cost. (That is logical.) The company raised over 2 million dollars by using the three powers of persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos. The company’s financial supporters believed that the company could build the 9 dollar computer because they saw a working model (i.e., ethos). They were excited about what the company was attempting to do and shared the dream of building an inexpensive computer (pathos), and they were given a good reason for providing financial support (logos).
Think about how the powers of persuasion apply to you. In addition, keep in mind that the interviewer may be thinking about whether you have the communication skills to succeed in the MBA program for which you are applying. What kind of communication skills am I talking about? In the MBA program, you will be expected to work in learning teams with other students to prepare for class discussions about business cases. Will you be able to read and analyze the case materials and interact smoothly and confidently with your professors and peers inside and outside of the classroom? In addition, will you be able to socialize effectively? By socializing, I do not mean for business networking purposes only. You need to make friends because your friends can be your allies in many different situations at school. In the interview, you need to show that you have the necessary communication skills to do all of these things.
Good luck with your MBA interview preparation, and be sure to use the three powers of persuasion. Are you ready to improve your performance? Attend a class, and make appointments with consultants. I look forward to meeting with you soon!
A Hidden Gem for Resume Writing
There are many excellent on and offline resources that guide you through the art of resume writing. No doubt you will utilize many of these to help develop ideas and draft your resume.
But in searching for “how to craft a winning resume” you may have overlooked one key resource that could provide you with that extra edge in targeting your desired degree program.
The online professional network, LinkedIn, is a hidden in plain sight gem for resume writing.
First, you can browse a countless number of resumes. Try this: Place yourself in the position of an Admissions Officer and look through several resumes for 60 seconds each. After, you will have a better idea of which ones leave an impression and those that are forgettable.
Second, you can direct your search to find some of the online profiles of students and alumni from the universities that you are applying to. Frequently, you will find that their resumes have been copied to their LinkedIn profile. Use this as a reference to gain a better understanding of what a successful applicant’s resume could potentially look like.
Finally, this experience of resume and profile viewing is a valuable opportunity to consider whether that specific program’s community is for you, or what you could bring to the table.
With all that being said, don’t forget to be youin both style and content! As with any other resource, use LinkedIn as a reference and not a template. The university doesn’t want a carbon copy of their exiting study body; they want the unique contribution that only you can provide. LinkedIn is an excellent resource to help package and present the best you.
The OPTIONAL Essay – Should I write the optional essay? Do I need to write the optional essay?
The MBA application will almost always provide MBA hopefuls with the “Optional Essay” and many applicants often struggle with whether this essay is truly optional. While some programs clearly state that this essay should be used to address extenuating circumstances, others ask whether there is anything else about your candidacy you would like to share with the admissions committee. Given this prompt, many applicants are tempted to write something.
As a general rule, the optional essay is the last essay that should be written and should be viewed in the context of the whole application. Once the application has been completed, ask yourself if there is something else that you want to convey to the admissions committee that could not be addressed in any other part of the application.
The topics that can be considered in the optional essay are academic weakness, gaps (employment and academic) and major career changes, choice of recommender and information that adds to your application. It is this “information that adds to your application” that tempts applicants to write the optional essay.
The admissions committee may want to know reasons for a C grade or below in the transcript or a weak GMAT. Do not make excuses; instead emphasize improved performance in later university years or in subsequent classes. If you have a new GMAT score, it can be used to demonstrate that the low grade in college was an outlier and not an accurate indication of your abilities.
CAREER GAPS and CHANGES
A several month gap between jobs should be addressed. Did you take the time off to care for an ailing parent? Did you attend school or training programs while you were not employed? If you recently switched careers, you may want to show that it was a well thought through decision and how the MBA program will help you achieve the next career step.
CHOICE OF RECOMMENDER
Business schools typically will ask that a letter of recommendation be written by a current manager because this person is the person is best able to comment on your abilities and skills as they are today. However, not every applicant feels comfortable asking their current supervisor. Reasons vary but it can be due to personality conflict or perhaps they aren’t ready to let their managers know that they might be leaving. Whatever the reason, it should be addressed so that the admissions committee to eliminate doubts about the working relationship with your employer.
INFORMATION THAT ADDS TO YOUR APPLICATION does not mean you have to write something. The worst thing you can do is to re-write an essay for another programs that repackages your strengths. By writing this essay, you are asking the admissions committee to do even more work so make sure the content has not been addressed anywhere else in the application package.
We’re lucky at Agos to have staff with all sorts of experience. In particular, one of our Admissions Consultants, Mengdan Chu, used to work on the other side of the application, as a member of the Admissions Team at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Whilst her views are entirely personal, it can be invaluable to get some insight into the interview from someone who conducted many of them!
- Can you give us a brief perspective on what role the interview plays in the entire application evaluation?
The interview is an important piece of the puzzle. It may tip the weight toward your favor, or break the deal in some cases. Most would say that the interview is an additional perspective on you, or an independent evaluation of your candidacy when the interviewer only gets to see your resume, not your entire application. So, the interview is an additional voice about your application, and an up-close, personal view of you, more dynamic and revealing than just your essays and recommendations on paper. The purpose is to get to know you as a person face-to-face, to get a sense of your fit with the school and the class. Of course, it is also an opportunity to assess your English communication skills, and certainly your overall qualifications such as your experiences and skills, you focus and your goals, your personality and your fit with the program.
- Considering how many interviews you’ve conducted, which candidates were most memorable and why?
The candidates that I remember are the ones who shared with me a unique story, or the ones who convinced me with their focus and plans, who have done thorough research about the program and their fit. The latter is the kind that I can see him/her in class contributing and making the most out of his/her MBA experience. And someone with a unique story can add unique perspectives to the class and to the overall educational experiences of his/her peers.
- Do you have any tips on how to stand out in the interview?
Most candidates or interviewees are reasonably accomplished possessing considerable skills, both hard and soft, to be successful in the program. In that sense, your professional accomplishments can be viewed more as an equalizer to other candidates. For example, the $100 million deal that you sealed is just a $100 million deal. It does not make you stand out by itself. You need to rise above it, or dig down deeper shall we say, to get across the meanings of that deal, the lessons you learned from the process and from the people that you got to know in that process. If you reflect on that and share with the interviewer, you are then effectively sharing a personal story, not some glamourous numbers. It demonstrates your maturity, awareness and thoughtfulness, indications of more potential or further capacity to grow and improve as a person and as a leader. So I would say let your personality shine through the interview, be reflective, thoughtful and passionate. If you leave the interviewer the impression of a vivid person, not just another fairly accomplished applicant, you would more likely stand out among the five or even ten people the interviewer has met for the day.
- What kind of ‘red flags’ do you commonly see in interviews?
People who are not prepared, can not answer questions about why MBA why this program, or are just giving very generic and superficial answers. There’s really no excuse for not preparing well. The interviewer would think you might not be serious about the program and he/she would not be thrilled either.
- How do you advise potential interviewees to prepare?
Take the time to reflect on your past and design your future, make sure the MBA program/experience connects in between. You really need the time to lay out the basic blocks first, such as why MBA, why this school, why you, and a few (not just one or two) examples to draw from and illustrate your skills and perspectives on key parameters such as teamwork, leadership, conflict resolution, creativity, perseverance, etc. It might not be a bad idea to write down some key bullet points to help you frame/structure your answers and your stories. AGOS consultants can help coach you how to answer questions in a structured way, providing key details while staying concise and to the point. Overall, lots of practices will pay off, even if you’re a native English speaker. No one is born to be magic story tellers, we all practice and learn.
One of the common, yet challenging, interview topics often focuses on how you would contribute to your chosen school, class, and community. Answering well requires strong knowledge of both your own strengths and unique points and the school’s resources, mission, and opportunities.
Consider your professional career. Could a particular first-hand experience or challenge be useful to share in a case-study discussion?
How about your perspective? Maybe your group could use your legal expertise?
In extracurricular clubs, there are frequent opportunities to both exercise your leadership and benefit your classmates. What could you initiate or improve? Is there a club you’d like to establish yourself?
Could you open up your network for someone looking for a job in your industry or company?
Finally, why would you be a good addition to the community based on your personality? Are you especially innovative? Good at motivating others? Where would this be most useful?
With round 2 deadlines almost here, it’s time to start preparing for interviews! Throughout the application process, you’ve hopefully clarified your post-MBA goals and polished a few representative stories from your career. The next step is to prepare to share these in person, and convince your chosen school that you’re a great fit. It’s not enough to hope that the interviewer asks you the right questions-it’s important that you go in with a strong message about how and why you will add value to next year’s class, and at the same time demonstrate that you have the personality and communication skills to succeed in both the MBA and your future career.
Whilst you prepare for the common interview questions (hint: the Agos MBA Interview Manual and https://www.vinceprep.com/interviews will be very useful here), it’s worth considering some other important questions:
What do I want the interviewer to know about me? What will make me memorable?
What new information can I provide to complement, rather than repeat, my application?
What makes me unique, and how can I leverage this at business school?
As you practice for upcoming interviews, record yourself, and see if you’re including these details or not. Get feedback from your consultant/friends/family/colleagues. How would they summarize your answers? What did they learn about your skills, strengths, and personality? Does this match your intention?
Building confidence in your message will help build your confidence for the interview itself, and hopefully enable you to make an even better impression on your interviewer.
If you were rejected by a business program, it is often very hard to put your doubts aside and reapply. Before you begin the reapplication process, try to under what areas of your original application were weak.
Many re-applicants assume that a business school will reject them again since they rejected them the first time. Every applicant risks a rejection and a re-applicant is no different. However, it is important to understand why you were rejected the first time. There is a better chance of success if weaknesses in the first application are directly addressed. Most MBA programs view the re-application on its own and will generally refer to the previous application if there is a major discrepancy. A re-application may demonstrate commitment to the program; however, re-applying alone will not get you admitted unless the application is strengthened.
The re-applicant is often required to submit the optional essay. The optional essay prompt usually asks for a statement outlining how you have improved your candidacy since your last application. The Admissions Office is looking for substantive change in your qualifications.
If your GMAT scores changed substantially compared to your previous application, it will demonstrate your ability to succeed in the academic environment. If it was a lack of leadership experience, you want to look for ways to demonstrate that you took greater initiative or responsibility at work. Perhaps unexpected personal events have occurred – family death or illness- that have matured you and help clarify your goals.
The schools will be evaluating re-applicants in terms of the school’s hard admissions criteria such as GMAT scores, GPA and the new year’s applicant pool. If your application survives these first two criteria will the Committee begin to ask how your new application differs from the last one.
Therefore, the schools will be interested in developments that occurred in the intervening year – specifically the actions you took, the impact you had and equally important, the lessons you learned and HOW you are applying it today.
Not too long ago, having one’s picture taken was not an everyday occurrence. Camera-phones were still new and photographs were grainy, low-resonance images, and digital cameras didn’t fit in jeans pockets. Facebook, Flickr, and Instagram had yet to be invented. Today, many of us have become more or less comfortable in front of a camera. As such, video essays have become a more common part of MBA applications, and are now considered as fairly straightforward.
The MBA video essay requirement is the current trend and brings together the aspects of live interviews and written essays with the added pressure of time constraints, technology concerns and the most challenging of all, a complete lack of facial cues and real-time feedback. In the video interview, you have no idea if your response resonates with the audience. There is no opportunity to see if your interviewer’s eyes are glazing over and you are on the wrong track or if his/her eyes are lighting up and you have found a point of connection.
However, as with any challenge comes opportunities; it can give the candidate another medium to express themselves. The key to successfully managing the video essay is to PRACTICE. Tape yourself responding to questions. MBA programs that use video essays have sample questions on their website. Other questions that you can use to practice are:
- How would your teammates describe you?
- Who has had the greatest impact on you and why?
- What is your favorite book and why?
- If you have a day to do whatever you want, what would it be and why?
- What are you most passionate about?
- Why are you a great fit for this school?
Practice responding to questions is critical. As you practice, make sure that no sound can be heard other than your responses. Try to sound as natural as possible, and your non-verbal expressions should be consistent with what you would expect of yourself in a live interview. Finally, make sure that your responses are consistent with the narrative in your MBA application, connecting them with the wider themes explored in the essays.
Show your recording to someone you can trust and who understands the application process. Ask them for honest feedback and try to fine-tune your responses with every iteration.
How to ask good questions at school fairs and information sessions?
As someone who once stood by a school table/booth or a podium answering all sorts of questions from applicants, I can’t help asking myself: So do I remember any of those questions, any of those names or faces?
The purpose of those fairs and info sessions is to help the school staff and prospective students to get to know each other face to face, at a personal level. While there’s plenty to say about how much a prospective student might get to know the school and its people, including staff, alumni and perhaps even a couple of current students, how much the school staff or school representative might get to know a certain prospective student, remains dubious in most circumstances.
The good news is that, the outcome of such an encounter depends mostly on you, the prospective student or applicant. Yes, you do go to those events to listen and to ask questions about the school. However, depending on the quality of your questions, there’s also a fantastic opportunity for you to help the school staff remember you, in a positive way, which could go a long way for your application when it comes to be assessed.
So why did I barely remember any of the questions, or faces or names that matched the faces at a fair or an info session? I typically came back to my office with a stack of business cards and another stack of resumes, most if not all of which were recycled. It was a one-way communication, me to you, but rarely both ways, you and me, you to me. My suggestions for avoiding such a lost opportunity are:
- Do not walk up to me with a straight face, with the look of a serious professional from an office meeting, even though you are legitimately tired after a long day of work. Remember I might have just arrived in Tokyo the night before and I’m really tired, too and jet lagged. Your relaxed, smiling face refreshes me in this pretty loud and busy hall.
- Do not simply hand me your business card and your resume right away. I actually do not collect those papers and I’m accepting the ones from those ahead of you mainly as a courtesy. Say hello to me, chat and genuinely ask how I’m doing today. Give me positive feedback if I just gave a presentation by the way. Appreciation goes both ways.
- Do not ask generic simple questions, questions that you can find the answer to on the school’s website, such as what the ratio of international students is, or whether the school has a Japan Club. Unfortunately, lots of prospective students do ask those “dumb” questions. You don’t want to be among one of them, which guarantees a one-way communication.
- Moreover, do not ask me super “intelligent” questions either, questions that I would struggle to answer as well, such as what the future strategy of the school is, or how the school plans on improving its leadership program. There are always one or two people who appear intent on outsmarting the school representative. Remember it’s supposed to be a two-way communication, not a competition. I wouldn’t remember you, and if I do, it’s less likely to be in the way you want.
- So, ask questions that are specific, that demonstrate your research and understanding of the school and its program, and that even better, tie in your interest with the specifics of the school and program. Share your interest, succinctly, with me, and help me see how it is interesting to me and my school. If you do that, chances are I will look at your business card and resume afterwards, and remember you as one of the few outstanding/interesting prospectives that I have met on the road.
Parting message: The key is to do research before you go to any event, ask any questions. Once you’ve done your research and come up with your specific interesting/relevant questions, approach the school representative in a very friendly manner. Go for it.