New Mindset for MBA Interview Prep: Be the “Teacher”

We’re very pleased to offer this guest post, written by Pauline Jennett, Master Admissions Consultant with The MBA Exchange. She isan MBA graduate of The Wharton School and former associate director of admissions at Harvard Business School.

Recently, I was talking with a friend who felt extremely stressed while prepping to be interviewed for a full-time job. I suggested that she envision being in a classroom setting in which the student is the interviewer and the teacher is the interviewee. This analogy placed the upcoming interview in a familiar and comfortable context for my friend, and empowered her — as the interviewee — to be an active partner in the discussion rather than the passive target of an interrogation. (Btw, she got the job!)

As I reflect on this analogy, three priorities come to mind, whether you are interviewing for a corporate position or for business school admission:

1. Discover your uniqueness
You are the expert on the topic of "you." The resume and application reflect and highlight importance pieces of yourself, but you are the only one who has actually lived the experiences, feelings and anecdotes of your journey. When an MBA applicant asks, "I went to the same university and worked at the same firm as my peers – so how do I distinguish myself?" I reply that, if they dig deeply into their past, present and future, they will soon realize that they are truly unique. Review the successes, failures, and opportunity areas, and craft them into a cogent narrative about how you will contribute to your targeted school, industry and community in an impactful manner.

2. Embrace your self-knowledge
One of the biggest self-imposed limitations I have seen in some interviewees is an unwillingness to reveal the aspects of their lives in which they have learned and grown the most. When asked a probing question, they try to hide the truth — only to be perceived negatively by the interviewer. So, pause to think about the best way to frame and answer such a question. You want to come across authentically as a 3-dimensional human being who has made mistakes in your life but have learned from them. Highlight the positive aspects of your professional and personal narrative, but don’t shy away from hardships that have made you that special person sitting in the interviewee’s chair. For example, if you are a reapplicant, the soul-searching and critical career changes that you’ve made over the past year become a valuable story of dedication, resilience, and perseverance.

3. Practice, practice, practice
Experts in any discipline — whether English literature, tennis or neuroscience — still practice to hone their skills. Thorough preparation remains essential to achieving interview success. So, review practice questions with a trusted friend, colleague or experienced MBA admissions consultant. Develop your key stories using the STAR format — Situation, Task, Action, and Result — to convey understanding and impact in a concise, concrete manner. At The MBA Exchange, we feature this approach in our mock interviews with MBA applicants. And remember, there is no way to anticipate and prepare for every possible question that an interviewer may ask, but if you pre-determine the key anecdotes to be featured from your professional, academic and personal life, you will feel more poised, confident and relaxed in the actual interview situation.

So, in summary, by discovering your uniqueness, embracing your self-knowledge, and practicing for perfection, you will be well on your way to achieving your goal.