Panel: You seem to be timid and submissive. Do people take you seriously?
Candidate (Male): They don’t, till the time I open my mouth. Once I do that, things change.
(Result – Admitted)
Panel: You’re not appropriately dressed for an interview. Do you walk into work this shabbily?
Candidate (Female): I’m overweight. I can’t carry off a skirt, and look bloated in a sari. I wanted to make an impression, and a Patiala suit was best I could come up with to make me look thin.
(Result – Admitted)
Panel: Did you take feedback on your previous application?
Candidate (Heavy Bengali Accent): Yes – they said my communication skills were not up to the mark.
Panel: And what do you feel?
Candidate: Given my background, I cannot speak the Queen’s English. I want to build a career in Engineering. I may not sound impressive, but I can explain drawings better than anyone else.
(Result – Admitted)
Panel: Money or ethics?
Candidate (Female): Money.
Candidate: There is no absolute black or perfect white – all I see around me are different shades of gray. I am not unethical, but I don’t see any saints around me. To move ahead, I need to be smart, and play my cards well.
(Result – Admitted)
These are actual ISB interviews. I know this, because I was sitting in them! For every such success story, I have at least one more of a candidate who was rejected. And after having conducted hundreds of actual interviews, I can assure you that winning candidates have attributes in common. The MBA interview is not designed to be rough (and surely not crazy), and the above questions aren’t the typical questions, but keep in mind that the panel can ask you anything. Also, don’t mislead yourself into believing that these candidates displayed brilliance – they did, but more than that, they displayed authenticity.
The ISB interview will be a panel interview – you will have two to three members who could either be alums or senior staff. Personally, I am not very fond of 3-member panels. I don’t find the process very efficient; there is pressure on candidates and a large panel makes the environment intimidating. Moreover, members could have a tendency to struggle for airtime, which could make the process unproductive. Foreign B-Schools will have one member – a senior staff or an alumnus. In India, most foreign schools will have alum interviews or ‘discussions.’ Harvard interviews, as some of you know, will be conducted by staff.
No matter whom you interview with, the nature of the interview remains fairly common. For most schools, including the ISB, the interview will remain within the realms of your own profile. For the most part, there will be no ‘trick’ questions, and if there are any, they will be from your own function or industry, and will only facilitate a validation of your claims. Alums are instructed to check whether (a) they would want you in their study group and (b) they would want you in their alumni network. This thought has merits. Alums have interest in their school’s reputation. Given that they have been through the journey, they will want to associate with candidates who display potential. Amongst the many strategies out there, here are a few that work.
Approach the interview as a conversation. The interview is not about right or wrong answers. It’s about how you answer and how you substantiate your claim. Be careful while using statistics – they cannot be argued with. Don’t be the smart alec. Alums generally do not like arrogance. Try to gauge the evaluator’s body language, and respond to it. If they want to change course, or ask another question, they will give you signals. Follow their lead!
Answer the question and don’t beat around the bush – request the panel for a minute in case you need to bring structure. Don’t memorize and don’t try and cover everything. The panel can gauge how desperate you are for the MBA, and believe it or not, trying too hard can lead them into believing that you are needy. Confident and high potential candidates come across as deserving but not needy. Often a time displaying interest in a program comes across as neediness. I once interviewed a candidate who went on and on about clubs she wanted to be a part of, the classes she wanted to take, and alums she was in touch with. She didn’t get in. The panel doesn’t want to know how well you researched the program; they want to see whether you are serious about your career, and whether you have taken measures to learn and progress.
While you prepare for your interview, think about examples from your life that left an impression on you, and then try to apply them to various questions. For example, a project you worked on in China or Africa could be relevant to various behavioral questions on handling people, challenging situations or diversity. Stick to examples from your professional life, unless you are committed on a curricular interest. B-Schools are interested in your career, and they know you are not going to throw ball for a living! As an informal rule, 80% of your answers should be from your professional career.
All schools will evaluate you on communication. Communication does not mean fluent English; it means clear thinking and getting the meaning across. Be honest about your shortcomings and do not appear defensive. If you can, position your weaknesses as strengths, or try to display measures you have taken to improve upon them. I once interviewed a candidate who was laid off. He tried to mask his unemployment by talking about how he had become richer as a result of his travels, which his work was not allowing. Again, he went on and on. Ultimately, I had to tell him that an evaluation was only possible if he answered the questions. He didn’t get through, and this was not because he was unemployed. It was because of his judgment – he doubted the panel’s intelligence. If he was honest about his situation and elaborated on his struggles, he would have had a shot.
Read the newspaper. ISB is unlikely to ask you questions around current affairs, but they can ask you deeper questions about your industry or function. You are expected to talk intelligently about matters you have claimed in you application. Having a grip on current matters pertaining to your industry will give you an advantage.
I know some alums and staff who ask puzzles and trick questions. I am not particularly fond of such questions, and they are not the norm, but you may still get them. Take a minute or two, but if you cannot solve the puzzle, don’t waste time. Walk the panel through your thought process and respectfully surrender!
The firm handshake and the ‘thank-you’ note – give me a break (I’m bringing some humor here)! I never found anyone who made an impression with a handshake, let alone get an offer. Staunchness comes across as simulated. I’m not saying don’t shake hands – gauge the environment. If you evaluator asks you to sit, and the table is large, you don’t have to walk all the way around only to greet the panel. Similar is case with the ‘thank you’ note – ditch it, because nobody reads it!
At CollegeStation.in, we have a special interview package in which we go through your application, give you a list of unique questions designed for you, simulate interviews, and give you feedback. If you’d like to learn more, get in touch with us on firstname.lastname@example.org or +918725800159.
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