How to knock your MBA interview out of the park

Advice from experts: be yourself, be prepared to answer tough questions—and always, always wear pants

Once you’ve put together a great MBA application, the admissions committee may invite you to do an interview in person or by video conference. It’s not guaranteed—most MBA programs offer interviews only to candidates who meet their minimum requirements.

The interview is an opportunity for the committee to dive deeper into your resumé and hear about career successes and growth, as well as to understand your motivation for pursuing an MBA. They’ll also want to know why you’re looking to enrol at their institution. You’ll need to be able to explain any inconsistencies or gaps in your resumé. “The person conducting the interview is going to probe your application,” says Melissa Judd, assistant dean of students at York’s Schulich School of Business. “So if there are concerns about a period on your resumé or your GPA, obviously prepare to address those.” 

Chris Lynch, senior director of recruitment, admissions and marketing at the Alberta School of Business, recommends presenting your answers through the situation-action-results format (i.e., describe a situation, then the action you took and finally the results), but emphasizes that you should still show your personality through your responses. “It can be pretty obvious when someone is just trying to tell us what they think we want to hear, and that definitely comes through as inauthentic,” he says.

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There’s only so much you can get to know about someone in a 45-to-60-minute interview, but Rodrigo Porto, director of recruitment and admissions at UBC’s Sauder School of Business, says that after reviewing a prospective student’s application multiple times, his team generally feels like they know the applicant. “One of the things that throws us off the most—and it’s a bit of a disappointment to us when we’re doing the interviews—is [when] we’re not able to get to know the person,” says Porto. He encourages applicants to be themselves, really answer the questions and engage with the interviewers. “One of the biggest pieces of advice that I always give and that candidates appear to take to heart is ‘Be prepared, don’t be rehearsed.’ ” he says.

Prepare for the admissions interview as you would for a job interview. The admissions committee wants to see first-hand what a candidate is going to look like when they introduce you to future employers. “We’re going to look at the degree of professionalism and punctuality; we’re going to look at how naturally that person can answer questions on the spot,” says Keum-Yeo Brochet, associate director of recruitment and marketing at McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management. Also, remember to dress appropriately, even if your interview is taking place over Skype or a video conference. Brochet remembers one interview where the prospective student got up and the interviewers realized that the applicant wasn’t wearing any pants. “It actually does happen. It’s a little bit awkward when it does,” she says.

If you’re invited to an interview, remember that the admissions committee might be evaluating you, but you’re also evaluating the school. Make sure to come prepared. “When a candidate is at the interview stage, they should come with their own questions in hand. What do they want to know about the institution? What would be helpful to them in terms of their next steps through the process—either before an admissions decision is rendered or post-decision, to help them prepare for their MBA?” says Schulich’s Judd.

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As you would with a job interview, make sure to follow up with the interviewers afterwards. “We have seen really professional examples of people—as you would in any job interview—following up with a brief email explaining why they enjoyed the process, what they learned in the process, and that they look forward to hearing back,” says Leigh Gauthier, assistant director of recruitment and admissions at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

Tip: Make sure to relate your goals and interests toward specific aspects of a school and its MBA program—things that aren’t immediately obvious or the first thing you can find on their website. It’ll show the admissions committee that you’ve done your research.

Video component

A common component of MBA applications is the video portion, which plays different roles, depending on the school. Many admissions officials say you won’t be asked skill-testing questions, but rather behavioural and situational ones such as: “Tell us about a time when you changed your mind about something.” Queen’s Smith School of Business asks students to answer three random questions using its video technology in lieu of writing a formal essay. Two of the questions will require you to answer by video, and you’ll only have about 15 to 40 seconds to prepare before your computer’s webcam turns on automatically to start recording your response. The third question, usually on a general topic—such as why you want to pursue an MBA—is a timed written response, where you’re expected to pen an approximately 200-word piece. “What [the real-time written response] allows us to do is ensure that we can assess a student’s writing skills and be sure that it’s them writing the piece without any kind of support or guidance from someone else,” says Matthew Reesor, director of the full-time MBA program at the Smith School of Business.

Similar to Smith, Schulich includes video questions and a timed written response in its application, and Judd says having time to prepare isn’t the point of the exercise. “It’s really to understand the candidate from a different perspective, to get a sense of their verbal and presentation skills, to match them to specific competencies, to look at what their written reasoning looks like and what their timed written skills are as well,” she says.

The Sauder School of Business asks for video responses as part of the short answer portion of its application. Sauder’s Porto says a common hiccup for applicants in the video portion is not paying attention to what’s being asked and answering the wrong question. “Really answer the question and be strategic about how you answer it,” he says.

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The video responses are also an opportunity to make your application come alive and show your personality. Until this point, admissions committees may not have met you. “We may have never seen anything except your resumé, your test scores, your essay—and of course you’re so much more than that. So it really puts a 3-D perspective on the applicant,” says Rotman’s Gauthier. “What I would advise against is some students, in trying to stand out and show their passion and enthusiasm, sometimes have props or something behind the screen—a Rotman flag or something like that. While it’s appreciated and you could get marks for creativity, it could also backfire.”

Even though you’re speaking into your computer’s camera, the video submission is still part of your application, so remember who your audience is (the admissions committee), dress professionally and record your responses in a quiet place.

Tip: Don’t worry about trying to cram everything into your application, especially your timed video responses. Instead, think about giving them the headlines about yourself so that when you attend the interview, you can dig deeper into areas of your application. “I always use the analogy that the application, the essays and the video essays are like the trailer to the movie, and the movie is your admissions interview,” says J.D. Clarke, executive director of master’s programs, recruitment and admissions at Western University’s Ivey Business School.

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