Interview Preparation 4: 5 Tips

Five tips for your graduate school interview

You’ve hit your TOEFL/GMAT targets, chased down recommenders and submitted essays. Now it’s time to start preparing for your MBA or LL.M interview. No doubt you’re wondering what’s this all means.

Successful applicants usually receive “an invitation to interview” with either an admissions officer, alumnus or current student. These interviews may be carried out on campus, at a venue off-campus (e.g. a hotel) or via Skype.

For MBA applicants, interviews are a way of checking your communicative ability (and ensuring that your English skills match that of your application essays) and judging how serious you are about applying to business school.

For LL.M candidates, meanwhile, such interviews are usually focused on applicant’s English ability (and thus check that it was indeed you who wrote the application essays).

Here are five useful tips for a successful admissions interview:

  1. Do your homework

Introduce yourself to alumni at school events ahead of the interview so that you have a strong understanding of international study programs, internships and externships. Finally, prepare questions for the interviewer ahead of time.

  1. Check your assumptions

Some interviewees make the mistake of assuming too much of the interviewer. They imagine that an Admissions Officer will have a comprehensive knowledge of a particular field, market, etc. However, not every Admissions Officer conducting an interview will have specialized industry knowledge. Make sure that you provide context for your achievement stories. Similarly, be sure to explain any (unavoidable) jargon which the interviewer may not be familiar with. Finally, listen carefully to each question. Make sure you answer the question being asked, not the one you are expecting.

  1. Detail, Detail, Detail

An appropriate level of detail in your answers is essential. If you don’t offer enough information voluntarily, the interviewer may either ask complex follow-up questions (for which you are unprepared) or lose interest and wind up the interview early (they will be professional, but they are human!). One useful strategy is to make use of the SMART goals acronym (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) to give your goal-related ideas sufficient depth. Another tip is to make sure you identify what future obstacles you or your organization face, and what you plan to do about them.

  1. Don’t be boring

Try to vary the language you use during the interview. Nobody wants to hear the same exact stories or phrases over and over throughout the conversation. For example, when providing a take-away at the end of a story about a successful project, don’t simply say “From this experience, I learned…” Use similar expressions, such as “This changed how I approach…” or “This made me reconsider…” Naturally, not repeating yourself doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use keywords to get your point across.

Be sure to add something that the interviewer hasn’t heard to each answer. For instance, when asked to “walk me through your resume” don’t give a read-through of the document. Your interviewer already has your resume and knows “what” you have done.  Now they need to know “why” you did it. Similarly, don’t refer to the same project in every instance when discussing achievements, teamwork, leadership, failures, etc.

  1. Be consistent

When asked to describe your goals, why you want to study for an MBA, why X school, etc., it is important to be consistent with what is written in your essays and on the application itself. Don’t fundamentally change your goals, even if you found it difficult to explain them in a previous interview.

Bonus tips:

  • It’s better not to memorize your answers. Those candidates that do can speak quickly on familiar topics, but usually run into trouble when asked a question they have not prepared for. Instead, decide on key points and associated stories/examples prior to the interview.
  • Present your ideas logically (even if your interviewer jumps from topic to topic). For example, when asked “Why MBA?”, feel free to first explain your goals.
  • Make eye contact and don’t be distracted by any note taking done by the interviewer.

Remember that the admissions interview, like any other aspect if the admissions process, requires you to tailor your responses to your own experiences and goals. There are no shortcuts or perfect answers other than those that reflect your own career and future plans. To this end, your Agos counsellor can provide more specific guidance on how to “sell yourself” during your interview.


Should I apply early?

As the cherry blossoms, apple blossoms and almost all other blossoms have gone with the wind that stirs up all-too-soon warmth in the air, it becomes inevitable that summer is upon us whether we are prepared or not. So are graduate school application deadlines. The heat is being turned up.

As someone who has applied to US graduate schools as an international student and someone who has both evaluated and consulted numerous applicants, I would venture that three or so months would be a legitimate period of time to prepare your application. That puts the next three summer months at the front line for beating the first round of application deadlines of at least most top business schools.

So, are you mentally prepared to submit your application to your dream schools in September or October? Why do admissions keep pushing their deadlines ahead? What are the pros and cons of applying early, say, first round?

According to my experience, Admissions tend to perceive first or early round applicants as typically more put together, more proactive and more focused. Admission rates are usually higher for first round than later rounds. As a result, it should be no surprise that they would want to compete for those applicants and push their early deadlines to stay ahead of the game.

So clearly there are advantages to applying early. The question becomes whether you would like to get ready, to rise up to the challenge.

Obstacles to applying early can seem insurmountable. Summer is your craziest time at work. Your employer is yet to announce its pick for sponsorship. Family events all happen in this season. Your TOEFL and other scores just aren’t there. Therefore, you need those heated months to get over all the above, and you secretly place your hopes on those last two holiday weeks of the year to catapult you to the second round in early January, to compete in a much bigger pool of applicants.

Understood and understood. Yet the fact of the matter is, if you do not prepare yourself early, if you do not aim for early round, chances are you might not ultimately prepare yourself in the most optimal way regardless of rounds. Or shall we say, if you do not prepare, how would you know whether you are prepared? You do not want your second round to be your test round, do you?

There will always be obligations and obstacles. The only time to lay the foundation of your application to your dream schools is nevertheless now, when things just start to heat up. Reflect on and summarize your experiences and accomplishments, clarify and broaden your professional and personal goals, research and connect with the schools and people, get your resume ready and write and rewrite your essays. And in case all those things are under control, start preparing for your interview! The saying is: it is never too early to start.