How to crush your MBA interview

Given the amount of information you provide in application materials, there must be something special about face-to-face interaction to make business schools include an interview as part of the MBA admissions process, right? Admissions is a holistic process, so how much does the interview really matter, and how can you make sure you do your best during the face-to-face time?

From a logistics point of view, coordinating any volume of interviews and orchestrating schedules under a short, specific time frame is a challenge most MBA admissions offices would give up if they didn’t add value to the evaluation process. So, the short answer is yes, your MBA interview matters. How much it is weighted is a question each admissions team could answer differently. Be sure to ask if you are curious.  No matter the weight, it is important to do well. 

I have seen MBA applicants who are very strong on paper sink themselves in the interview.

Treat this like you would any other important interview. Even if the school positions it as a casual conversation or just a way to “get to know you,” do not walk in cold. Being prepared in this context is similar to an important job interview. Some additional ideas and points:

  1. Reflect on how you will talk about yourself. Spend some time reflecting on your journey so far especially as it relates to professional goals. Consider what you have accomplished, how you accomplished it, and why it matters. Think about when you’ve demonstrated leadership, how you did it, and why it matters. 
  2. Reflect on how you will talk about the school. What makes you want to go there? How will you contribute to the culture? What makes you and the school a good fit?
  3. Reflect on what questions to ask. This is your opportunity to learn something new you can’t find on the website. Ask something that will provide you more insight to the program. 
  4. Reflect on the impression you want to make. Consider what you will wear and what kind of small talk you will engage in while you wait with others who are interviewing and with the interviewer before and after the formal interview. Be prepared. Bring a resume, business cards, and double check travel times and the address of where you are going.

Now for a couple things about the list above you might not have noticed, but were intentional. Each item started with reflect; you should reflect but not rehearse. Over-preparing or memorizing your answers can impact the interview in a negative way.

Think about why your experience matters and be able to answer an unasked “so what?” Business schools see many candidates with similar backgrounds at similar points in their careers. If you talk about a project you worked on or a cool idea you implemented but you don’t tie it back to your reason for an MBA or future goals, you are missing an opportunity. Every candidate competing for a spot has professional experience and had successes. That isn’t nearly as differentiating as what you learned, how you developed, and how it has informed your future goals and aspirations.

Interviews often are used to gauge “fit.” Before the interview, reflect on the culture of the school and think about how you would fit into that culture and ways you would be an asset to the community. At Goizueta, our classes are small by design and we look to infuse as much diversity as we can into every class. Every member of the community is expected to add value and have an impact. With a small class, everyone is noticed. If you are interviewing with us, we would love to hear about how you will be a contributor and are ready to collaborate with your diverse cohort.

It seems too obvious to even mention, but no MBA admissions committee appreciates someone who makes bad choices. Here is my quick “don’t do” list (and yes, these are all real examples):

  • Don’t “get lost”
  • Don’t be late (if weather or other acts of God impede you, call)
  • Don’t hit on the receptionist or ask the alum interviewer if they would like to continue the conversation over a drink
  • Don’t take your shoes off
  • Don’t tell the interviewer you would really like to go to “School X” but their school is cool too
  • Don’t be surprised by a question about the gap on your resume
  • Don’t swear
  • Don’t be rude

MBA interviews are a part of the application experience, and with preparation, they can help you differentiate yourself and demonstrate your value as an incoming member of a class. 

Melissa Rapp

Melissa Rapp

Melissa Rapp is the Associate Dean of MBA Admissions at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. In this role, she leads the team responsible for the recruitment, evaluation, and matriculation of students across Goizueta’s portfolio of MBA programs. Melissa has worked at both small and large institutions helping to form and implement admissions strategies. Most recently, she was Director of Admissions for Full-Time MBA and MSMS programs at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. She holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Kansas and a masters from Baker University.