Vince’s best interview tips

CONGRATULATIONS!

You have been invited to an MBA interview.

Now what?

First of all, do not delay your response. Some schools ask the interviewer to indicate how quickly you responded to the invitation. A delay could signal a lack of interest on your part.

Second, start developing your story portfolio. What do you want to show them? You can begin by considering their criteria. What are they looking for? How will your interviewer evaluate you?

Most interviewers are looking to confirm the following seven points

1. English Ability

  • Comprehension

  • Conversational Ability

2. Interpersonal Skills

  • Maturity

  • Team Skills

  • Communication Skills

  • Listening Skills

3. Impact on Student Life

4. Career Progression

5. Career Focus

6. Intellectual Ability

7. Leadership Potential

Therefore, when preparing for interviews, you absolutely need to develop concise and interesting stories about your

  • leadership

  • teamwork

  • biggest weakness (that you continue to address)

  • cross-cultural story

  • outside of work story

  • analytic ability story

  • ethics story

Beyond that, the customized three areas for each school are

  • why this school

  • contributions

  • questions for your interviewer

A few things to remember. First, interviews are mostly about fit. They are assessing

  • Do you have a well thought out idea of what you want to do and why?

  • Do you know why you want to come to school X?

  • Are you a normal personable individual who could "carry" the schools name?

Second, most school interviews are blind. That means your interviewer will only have your resume.

Therefore, most blind interviews begin with, "Tell me about yourself", or "Walk me through your resume".

Here are some tips for how to answer both styles of self-introduction.

"Walk me through your resume." (WMTYR)

Some interviewers start the conversation by saying, "Walk me through your resume." Others say, "Please summarize your professional life since graduating from university."

The best strategy for this type of self-introduction question is to show each period of your career as a choice. For example, "I joined my company because I wanted to work in an international setting and believed that the ABC industry would provide me with the best chances to use my XYZ skills. I joined the Finance Department in order to learn accounting and profit-based decision-making. Later, I moved to (another department) in order to learn (another set of skills)...."

Try creating an (invisible) "why" column on your resume. Show your motivation for each choice.

What skill/knowledge did you hope to gain by choosing your university major?

What interested you in your industry?

Why did you choose your particular company?

What skill did you hope to acquire in your first / second / current position?

You might also want to create a macro analysis / summary of your career to date. For example, " I have worked in two different functions. First, I learned sales skills since I knew they would be useful in any business situation. After earning the top sales award in 2007, I was promoted to my current position in corporate planning."

VINCE'S NOTE: Clients have asked me if you should give this answer in chronological order. Absolutely! In other words, if your resume lists professional experience above educational experience (as I suggest) you are actually walking your interviewer UP your resume from college graduation up to your current position.

"Tell me about yourself" (TMAY)

Another common way for an interviewer to start the conversation (after small-talk / ice-breakers) is to say, "Tell me about yourself". In this case, your interview wants you to present a quick summary of your professional and personal achievements and interests.

Vince's TEMPLATE

Professionally, I…

  • One macro sentence (# of years / functions / skills)

  • One recent accomplishment or highlight, such as being awarded company sponsorship or completing an important project

Personally, I…(list 2 to 3 interests)

  • 1st hobby / interest (perhaps showing how you use your "mind", such as studying history, a science, or third language)

  • 2nd hobby / interest (perhaps showing how you use your "body", such as sports)

  • 3rd hobby / interest (perhaps showing how you use your "spirit", such as the music, visual arts, or cultural activities)

VINCE'S NOTE: Some clients ask if you should only mention current / ongoing interest. Not necessarily. I personally would talk about music even though I am not currently in a band. I enjoy strumming my guitar to make my son laugh. And I certainly take every opportunity to listen to live and recorded music. Most of all, some of my best lifelong friends are those I have made through music. So I would mention it as my first personal interest.

Goals

Interviewers often inquire about your future career plans by asking one or more of the following questions:

  • What is your ideal post-MBA position and why?

  • What are your (short and/or long-term) goals? (Strategy: practice answering if asked in general about your goals w/o the interviewer specifying short or long-term)

  • Why do you need an MBA? (Strategy: give three reasons, balancing hard and soft skills)

They also ask, "Why now?"

You need to directly answer this question, but your answer can be short (two sentences). Think about:

  • Internal factors (pushing you to get an MBA now): I have mastered certain technical, analytical and/or interpersonal skills; I am now ready to develop my skills and knowledge in new (specific) areas as stated above

  • External factors (pulling you to get an MBA now): what makes this the ideal market timing for implementing your great business idea after you earn your MBA from “School X”; try to address existing markets poised for rapid growth or change

Vince's "Why Now" Template for interviews

  • Because I want to achieve [ONE SENTENCE GOAL], I need to build my existing skills [A] and [B] by learning new skills [C] and [D]

  • Externally, now is a good time for me to capture [MARKET OPPORTUNITY X] and also prepare to handle [EXTERNAL THREAT Y]

  • HINT - if your interview is an American emphasize opportunities to show your hope; if your interviewer is Japanese, emphasize threats to show your practical side

In additional to asking future focused questions, your interviewer often wants to learn more about your leadership and teamwork experience. Questions about the past are often referred to as "behavioral" because they relate to what you thought, felt, said, and did in a particular situation. Some schools like MIT have emphasized behavioral questions for years in both their essays and interviews. Other schools like Wharton have recently (2010-2011) changed their interview methods to include mostly (or in some cases exclusively) behavioral questions.


What is BEI?

In the 1980’s, industrial psychologist Dr. Tom Janz introduced a method of interviewing called the “Behavioral Interview.” Research shows that this interviewing style is extremely effective, and MBA adcoms have started using it in interviews as well as essay questions, first at MIT and now, to a lesser extent, Wharton, Stanford, and other programs (depending on the interviewer).


Why do adcoms (and some alumni) use BEI?

The premise is that the best predictor of future behavior is your past behavior. In a behavioral interview you will have to demonstrate your knowledge, skills, and abilities, collectively known as competencies, by giving specific examples from your past experiences. Instead of asking how you would behave in a particular situation, the interviewer will ask you to describe how you did behave. Expect the interviewer to question and probe you for more details about what you thought, felt, said and did. Also, your interviewer will not allow you to theorize or generalize about several events.


How can you prepare for a Behavioral Event-Based Interview?

During a behavioral interview, always listen carefully to the question, ask for clarification if necessary, and make sure you answer the question completely. Your answer should contain these four steps (Situation, Task, Action, Result or "STAR") for optimum success. http://web.mit.edu/career/www/guide/star.html

  1. Situation: give an example of a situation you were involved in that resulted in a positive outcome

  2. Task: describe the tasks involved in that situation

  3. Action: talk about the various actions involved in the situation’s task

  4. Results: what results directly followed because of your actions

Whenever you can, quantify your results. Numbers illustrate your level of authority and responsibility. For example: "I was a shift supervisor." could be "As Shift Supervisor, I trained and evaluated 4 employees."

Example of a STAR Answer

  1. Situation: During my internship last summer, I was responsible for managing various events.

  2. Task: I noticed that attendance at these events had dropped by 30% over the past 3 years and wanted to do something to improve these numbers.

  3. Action: I designed a new promotional packet to go out to the local community businesses. I also included a rating sheet to collect feedback on our events and organized internal round table discussions to raise awareness of the issue with our employees.

  4. Result: We utilized some of the wonderful ideas we received from the community, made our internal systems more efficient and visible and raised attendance by 18% the first year.


Behavioral Interview Example

Question: “Describe a situation where you have had to deal with a difficult person.”

Answer: “I was transferred to a new project at my previous company to replace a beloved member of the team. My new team leader exhibited hostility towards me and I found myself left out of vital communications and meetings. After a few weeks, I was able to talk her into a one on one meeting. When laid out all of the key objectives for the team, the previous employees role in meeting those objectives, and then discussed goals that I could set to make sure I was able to serve as a quality replacement. In our discussion, we also identified a few underlying issues with management that she had been carrying around with her. In uncovering all of these sentiments, she was able to clearly define her situation and achieve an understanding with her supervisors. In the end, the entire team morale improved, I was able to exceed my goals and the company itself became more profitable from our teams increased performance.”


Follow-up questions will test for consistency and determine if you exhibited the desired behavior in that situation:

  • "Can you give me an example?"

  • "What did you do?"

  • "What did you say?"

  • "What were you thinking?"

  • "How did you feel?

  • "What was your role?"

  • "What was the result?"


This sounds harder than it needs to be. Please take a deep breath. Now, let it out and realize that you have many experiences you can share. You just need to organize them. Then, you need to practice using a simple template like PAR.

PAR

PAR stands for Problem-Action-Results; in other words, first you state the problem that existed in your workplace, then you describe what you did about it, and finally you point out the beneficial results.

Here’s an example: “Transformed a disorganized, inefficient warehouse into a smooth-running operation by totally redesigning the layout; this saved the company thousands of dollars in recovered stock.”

Another example: “Improved an engineering company’s obsolete filing system by developing a simple but sophisticated functional-coding system. This saved time and money by recovering valuable, previously lost, project records.”

Source for above plus other "par" related info here:


Common Behavioral Interview Question Types, by category

Teamwork

  • Tell us about a time that you had to work on a team that did not get along. What happened? What role did you take? What was the result? Based on that example, what would you do if your MBA study team members were not getting along with each other?

  • How do you resolve conflict on a team.

  • Tell me about a time when you experienced cultural conflict and how you handled it.

  • What role do you typically play in teams?

  • Tell me about a time when you contributed to a team.

  • What has been your most difficult teamwork experience?

  • Describe a situation in which you had to arrive at a compromise or help others to compromise. What was your role? What steps did you take? What was the end result?

  • Describe a team experience you found disappointing. What would you have done to prevent this?

  • Tell me about a time when you resolved a conflict in a group.

  • Tell us about the most difficult challenge you faced in trying to work cooperatively with someone who did not share the same ideas? What was your role in achieving the work objective?

  • What is the difficult part of being a member, not leader, of a team? How did you handle this?

  • When is the last time you had a disagreement with a peer? How did you resolve the situation?

  • Tell us about the most difficult or frustrating individual that you’ve ever had to work with, and how you managed to work with them.

  • Have you ever been a member of a group where two of the members did not work well together? What did you do to get them to do so?

  • What is the toughest group that you have had to get cooperation from? Describe how you handled it. What was the outcome?

Leadership

  • What is your leadership style? Give me an example of a time when you displayed that leadership style.

  • Tell me your definition of leadership and give an example.

  • Tell me about a time when you exercised leadership.

  • Tell me about a time when you took initiative.

  • Tell me about a time when you introduced an innovation.

  • Tell me about a time when you solved an important problem.

  • Tell me about a time when you took a position different from the consensus view of your team / organization.

  • How do you show leadership outside of your job?

  • What leadership areas do you wish do develop through your MBA experience? What specifically do you plan to do at School X to develop in these ways?

  • Describe your leadership style and give an example of a situation when you successfully led a group.

  • Have you ever been in a position where you had to lead a group of peers? How did you handle it?

  • Give an example of a time in which you felt you were able to build motivation in your co-workers or subordinates at work.

Accomplishments

  • What is your greatest accomplishment?

  • What impact have your accomplishments had on your organization?

Failure

  • Have you ever failed?

  • How did you recover from this experience & what did you learn about yourself?

  • When have you faced a setback and how did you deal with it?

  • What has been your major work-related disappointment? What happened and what did you do?

Ethics / Integrity

  • Discuss an ethical dilemma you faced at work.

  • Describe a situation where your values, ethics, or morals were challenged. How did you handle the situation? What did you learn about yourself?

Information pulled from various public sources including http://web.mit.edu/career/www/guide/star.html

Strengths and weaknesses

Common Questions Interviews Ask to Elicit Your Strengths and Weaknesses

  • What are your three greatest strengths and three greatest weaknesses?

  • What are your greatest management strengths?

  • What are your greatest management weaknesses?

  • In what ways could your performance improve?

  • If managers were describing you, what would they say?

  • How would your colleagues describe you? What would you add to their description? In other words, what is something that others are surprised to learn about you?

  • What are your personal strengths?

  • What are your personal weaknesses?

  • What is the weakness of your application?

  • What will the admissions committee perceive to be your greatest weakness as an applicant?

  • What areas do you need to develop?

  • What are your development needs?

  • What personality trait would you most like to improve?

  • What is one thing you would like to change about yourself?

  • Tell me about a team experience that was a failure for you.

  • Tell me about a time when you failed to persuade someone of your view.

  • Tell me about a time when you failed to resolve a conflict.

  • Describe a significant failure in your life and what you learned from it.


When brainstorming weakness, consider your:

  • weaknesses as a leader

  • weaknesses as a team member

  • weaknesses working cross-functionally

  • weaknesses working cross-culturally

  • weaknesses managing time

  • weaknesses managing details

  • weaknesses thinking about big picture / abstract issues

  • weaknesses conveying bad news

  • weaknesses confronting others

  • weaknesses beginning new tasks

  • weaknesses maintaining energy mid-project

  • weaknesses being patient

  • weaknesses persuading subordinates

  • weaknesses influencing seniors

  • weaknesses closing projects


Examples from Stanford LoR Rubric:

  • Displays limited range of influence techniques

  • Builds bonds with team members in immediate area of organization

  • Completes assigned tasks; frequently misses opportunities if not identified by others

  • Sometimes lets distractions or setbacks reduce effectiveness

  • Sometimes underestimates or overestimates own capabilities

  • Generally paces work though occasionally must rush to meet deadlines


Please fill out this chart: Strengths (+) and Weaknesses (-)


Keyword

Professional Example 1

Professional Example 2

Personal Example 1

Apply to MBA Life

Apply to Future Career

Strength 1

analytical (mind)







Strength 2

technical (hands)







Strength 3

interpersonal (heart)







Strength 4







Strength 5







Weakness 1


⇒ failure?



how improve through MBA experience?

n/a

Weakness 2






n/a

Weakness 3

as a leader

e.g. delegation

⇒ setback?




n/a

Weakness 4

as a team member

e.g. time management

⇒ interpersonal conflict?




n/a

Weakness 5

as a professional

e.g. overspecialized





n/a

Strengths and Weaknesses Matrix

Her is another version of a Strengths (+) and Weaknesses (-) Chart.


Keyword

Professional Example 1

Professional Example 2

Personal Example 1

Apply to MBA Life

Apply to Future Career

Strength 1: analytical (mind)





contribute to classmates?


Strength 2: technical (hands)







Strength 3: interpersonal (heart)







Strength 4







Strength 5







Weakness 1


⇒ failure?



how improve through MBA experience?

n/a

Weakness 2






n/a

Weakness 3

as a leader

e.g. delegation

⇒ setback?




n/a

Weakness 4

as a team member

e.g. time management

⇒ interpersonal conflict?




n/a

Weakness 5

as a professional

e.g. overspecialized





n/a

Best Tips / Hints / Tools for brainstorming your strengths and weaknesses


Contribution

Interviewers often ask how you plan to contribute to their MBA program. Most of you will claim you have "passion" for this particular MBA program. Talk is cheap. The only way to demonstrate true passion is to do your homework. Actions speak louder than words. Have you contacted alumni and current students? It is not too late!

Q: WHY DO THEY ASK THIS QUESTION?

A: TO SEE CHECK YOUR "FIT" WITH THEIR SCHOOL

Q: WHAT IS FIT?

A: YOUR ABILITY TO BENEFIT FROM AND ADD TO EACH SCHOOL'S UNIQUE STUDENT CULTURE

To quote Lou Gerstner, “Culture isn’t just one aspect of the game - it is the game”. Read more about "fit" here

(found at http://chicagogsb-dsac.blogspot.com/2008/12/school-culture-fit-in-application.html; accessed 11/2010)

The question is - why are you competitive?

  • How much do you understand the student culture at School X?

  • Have your done your homework / due diligence / needs analysis?

  • What do your future classmates need that only you can provide?

    • What needs can you fill? Be as specific as possible.

Vince suggests you fill out this first matrix (Version A) to help clarify how your contributions add value to you and others.


Personality → Contribution Matrix Version A


Example

What skill, quality, personal characteristic, and/or strength are you trying to show with this example?


How does this example imply your ability to contribute to enrich the experience of your peers at school X?

What SPECIFICALLY will you do at "school X" that builds on what you have done in the past?


Why is this unique / special?

How will your actions help you achieve your future goals?

How will your actions benefit others?

Story / example / episode 1








Story / example / episode 2







Story / example / episode 3







Story / example / episode 4







Next, filling in the chart below might help you think about the context of your contributions.

Personality → Contribution Matrix Version B

Aspect

Keywords: Verbs and Adjectives

Professional Example(s)

Personal Example(s)

Application to MBA Life: Daily

Application to MBA Life: Special

Application to MBA Life: Post-MBA (alumnus)

CONTEXT

Where?

When?




  • Class

  • Study group

  • Special Project Team

  • Case Study Competition

  • Business Plan Competition

  • Marketing Competition

  • Event

  • Conference

  • Study Trip

  • Alumni network

  • Recruiting activities for school (school-specific events, MBA Tour, School Panels)

What?

Role




  • Expert / Leader

  • Organizer / Facilitator

  • Enthusiastic Beginner

  • Expert / Leader

  • Organizer / Facilitator

  • Enthusiastic Beginner

  • Expert / Leader

  • Organizer / Facilitator

  • Enthusiastic Beginner

Strengths







analytical (head)





how strength helps you contribute to classmates


technical (hands)







interpersonal (heart)







NOT SURE WHAT TO SAY?

  • Dig deeper into School X's special programs / student clubs and culture to find a specific area where you can help them innovate.

  • You can use SWOT or some other framework to analyze what School X needs and how ONLY YOU can provide it.

BE SURE TO USE MECE LOGIC