Unvarnished pearls continued (Interviews – Part II)

What to DO:

Before the Interview

Research the school smartly— meaning– you don’t need to go through every webpage and pamphlet and google the school to death. The best method is to talk to someone you know from the school (the more current the better). If you don’t have friends in the school, visit the place for yourself and talk to current students (as many bloggers have done). And if you can’t make the visit, THEN google the school and look for articles that are relevant and interesting to your application specifically (e.g. you are planning to enter the entertainment and media industry post graduation, and you find that there’s an article saying how School X’s on-campus recruiting for jobs in this industry has risen sharply over the past year, etc.) You DON’T need to memorize names of professors (I never talked about classes, really), unless you’re genuinely psyched about taking a particular course.

All this background research shouldn’t take more than an hour (or 2, if you’re really gun-ho about it). Most of the time, it’s just a phone call away. For example, my friend at Wharton told me about her involvement in the “Women at Wharton” organization. And it really appealed to me, the kind of attention Wharton places on women in business, recognizing that women often have a different set of needs, concerns, and motivations. Most schools would have a women in business club, but Wharton shines in this department, and so I was able to speak enthusiastically about this with my interviewer (who is a woman), and my eagerness for participating in this organization was very clear (partly addressing her Q of “why Wharton.”)

Prepare for typical Qs (at most 10 Qs you think are very commonly asked for the school you’re interviewing with; I personally think 5 Qs with well-thought-out answers is sufficient). With the exception of HBS, most schools would ask you “Why MBA, why now, why here.” HBS interviews are non-blind, meaning that the interviewer has read EVERYTHING completed by YOU in your application file (so they do NOT have your recos). This means that their interview style is vastly different from the “tell me your story,” or “walk me through your resume” of the other schools’ interviewers. Unless the interviewer didn’t do their homework (which can happen), he/she will ask you followup Qs to things you wrote in your essays, rather than expect you to regurgitate the same info.

The BW forums, blogs, and Wharton S2S are great places to get lists of interview Qs. In prepraring for the top 10 Qs, keep the school’s “personality” in mind, try to put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes and think about what he/she might want to know about you to determine whether you’re a fit for the school and whether the school’s a fit for you. As you go through the Qs, just as you did in your essays, try to paint a cohesive story. Some interviewers are smooth and ask followup Qs that will naturally connect the dots for you, but some interviewers need you to take hold of the conversation and make all the linkages for them.

I didn’t practice mocks with friends before any of my interviews, but I hear they can be useful. However, I would advise against too much practicing, because it could make you seem too mechanical during the interview, like you’ve memorized your lines or something. I got that reaction from my Stanford interviewer, not because I memorized my speech, but because I’ve been asked the same Qs twice already and the answers just came out automatically, without forethought. He seemed irritated by this and hurried on to the next Qs. In my interview preparation posts, I often talk about watching a DVD or dancing around in the apartment or some other frivolous activity, but seriously, doing something that relaxes you immediately before the interview is helpful. When the time comes, you’ll seem more like a normal, successful individual rather than a desperate applicant.

Get your driving directions down pat. Most of you are probably not directionally-challenged like I am, but if you are, I suggest you drive to the appointed interview location ahead of time one day so you become more familiar with how to get there. And if all else fails, order a taxi.

In terms of how to dress for the interview: you can always ask the interviewer if he/she has a preference. Usually they won’t mind if you go a bit casual. Just don’t go overboard and show up in your sandals and ripped jeans and faded T. Smart casual is probably the minimum that I would feel comfortable going in. If you’re a girl, you have more choices. I personally don’t prefer to wear skirts, because I like the “efficient, no-nonsense” feeling of pantsuits. And I don’t agonize over shoes because my pants mostly cover them up anyway; I always wear boots. If you’re a guy, just be color coordinated and avoid looking like an arrogant smartass. Get your “humble but ambitious and full of potential” outfit on, and you’ll do just fine.

More to come later…