5 Conversation Plan for MBA Admission Interviews

I did my homework, researched about the Admission Manager, listened to his tunes, and finally made a pre-interview call. The Admission Manager, who was a part-time music director, wasn't interested in the call. I wasn't completely sold on featuring the MBA program in F1GMAT either since the school didn't publish post-MBA salary. The 15-minute call was one of the most awkward conversations I ever had. Mind you - I have been interviewing for 8 years.

I wasn't motivated. My research was peripheral - learning about the hobbies of the person I was interviewing instead of creating a conversation plan. Don’t make the mistakes I made. Follow these 5-conversation plans before the interview:

1) Be Ready with talking Points

Most admission team specifically mentions that the interview is about evaluating your candidacy, and expects the admission officer/alumnus to lead the conversation. I agree. Don’t interrupt or dominate the conversation, but the most awkward part of most conversations is the starting phase. I was prepared to talk about the admission manager’s passion – music, but felt that it would look forced. I waited till the ‘serious’ talk ended. The hesitancy altered the tone of the conversation. It was like one of the blind dates set up by parents. Both didn’t want to be there. Now it is an obligation.

Related: F1GMAT's MBA Admission Interview Guide

When you have done the research and learned about the admission Manager’s passion, achievements or position on Global issues, write down an outline on what you will cover in the first 2 minutes of the interview. Agreeability leaves a far better impression over challenging the admission manager’s worldview. Find common ground and start the conversation or ask questions on topics that you both agree.

Common Talking Points

a) Family – common journey (immigration story)/nationality/brothers/sisters/kids/spouse(partners) with similar jobs/spouse(partners) with similar professional background

b) Hobbies/uniqueness of your names/sports

c) Views on fairness, equality, global warming and changing technological landscape

2) Plan to highlight Traits

Despite the conversational nature of most MBA Admission Interviews, there is always a goal for both the interviewer and the interviewee. For the admission team, they are evaluating your fit for the program while for candidates, the goal is to give the impression that the school would miss out if they don’t select them. Loss Aversion is a great motivator.

List out the traits valued by the school. Apart from Berkeley-Haas, few schools have explicitly mentioned the qualities they value, but the incoming class says a lot about what is valued. If 30-40% of the class is from Humanities, the idea is clear. The school values candidates who look at decisions at a holistic level from both historical and cultural point of view. Stanford has 44% from Humanities/Social Science. Your interaction should demonstrate an understanding of the bigger picture.

If the school prefers Engineers, it shows that the decisions they value are analytical in nature. Some MBA programs like Sloan favor innovators – no matter what the scale of innovation is. Your conversation should be about solutions without dwelling on Jargons. INSEAD has a bias towards candidates who think globally and adapt to diverse cultures. The talking point should be about the time you traveled or solved a problem in a multi-cultural environment under strict deadlines.

Don’t focus only on what is valued instead of answering the question, but while citing examples, you should know the traits to highlight.

3) Direct the Conversation

Introducing a Segue is hard in casual conversations and conversational interviews. Take advantage of the anomaly. When the conversation is about your career progression, you can easily end the sentence with a preview of something that you have achieved professionally. The interviewer is driven by curiosity, and most won’t just segue to a pre-formatted interview question. They will ask the follow-up question on what you have shared. Strategically direct the conversation on topics that highlight your strengths.

Let us say, your academics weren’t that great, but your professional achievements have at least 2 unique projects that incite the curiosity of the interviewer. If the question is about academics, spend only the required amount of time on academics and move quickly to your professional journey, mentioning the jargon-free title of the project as a concluding part of the sentence. Most interviewers will be curious and ask about the project. Depending on which school you are targeting, the context and scope can be altered to create a narrative that fits the mould.

4) What Led to the Interview?

Once the interview call is received, applicants’ focus is on preparation. Rightly so, but spend an hour, listing out your strengths and making an educated guess on why you were shortlisted. If your GMAT and GPA was below the previous class’ median range, your essay had a huge influence on the decision. Read the essay and the resume several times. Be ready with 1 narrative for each point listed in the resume. Essays reflect how you think and communicate. The admission team understands that the way you talk and write will be different. However, repeat at least a few phrases that you used in the essay. Familiarity breeds likeability.

Consistency in sticking to a talking point is best demonstrated by politicians. I know – none of us like them, but they are one of the most effective communicators. They don’t change their narrative depending on the medium.

Repetition -> Familiarity

Familiarity ->  Likeability

5) Covering Ground vs. Covering Strengths

Getting invited to an interview is a big relief for most of you who have worked hard to write essays, edit them, coordinate with recommenders and meet the deadlines. The first mistake that applicants make in essays is the tendency to cover all their strengths in one essay. The trend is similar in interviews too. You will get 15 to 30 minutes – plenty of opportunities to cover professional, social, and personal qualities. Spread out the strengths throughout your interaction. Some form of desperation is good and will translate to passion in the conversation. But look at the conversation as an opportunity and not as a roadblock.

The attitude in itself will make the process enjoyable.

Read: How to Prepare for MBA Admission Interview

MBA Admission Interview Guide

The Guide offers detailed examples and strategies to answer about yourself, career summary, innovation, frequent job switch, managing change, handling conflict, the greatest accomplishment, low grades, difficult boss, backup plan, industry, role and gives you tips on managing first impression, improve likeability and lists the questions that you should ask the MBA Admission interviewer.

The Guide includes commonly asked MBA Admission Interview Questions for:

1) Booth School of Business
2) Columbia Business School
3) Ivey Business School
4) Johnson Graduate School of Management
5) Insead
6) Kellogg School of Management
7) Stanford Graduate School of Business
8) London Business School
9) Harvard Business School
10) MIT Sloan School of Management
11) Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

Download MBA Admission Interview Guide

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