The admissions interview — Adam Markus

This article is the second in a series of columns addressing our most frequently asked questions from veterans regarding their applications. Have a question specific to veteran admissions?

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MBA Admissions Interviewing: Understanding Prior Interview Experience

As Round 2 interview invitations begin coming out, there is no better time for ambassadors and applicants to begin the process of preparing for interviews. It may seem early, but as I will suggest, factoring in past interview experience, and doing so early in the process, is something worth knowing well in advance of those interview invites.

Setting the Stage

The Applicant: You are an MBA applicant beginning your interview training. You have a mock session. You find yourself becoming nervous during the session and/or you are given feedback that your performance was a bit off. Or, maybe you feel completely comfortable with your interview abilities. Either way, the Interview Experience Self-Assessment can still be of great value.

The Mock Interviewer (Service to School MBA Ambassador): You are conducting a session with applicant and may think to yourself, “Why is this applicant getting so nervous?”

The Interview Experience Self-Assessment

Handling stress is one of the great strengths of the active military and/or veteran clients that I have had the opportunity to coach as an MBA admissions consultant. However, not all applicants handle MBA interviewing effectively and stress is just one consideration. The list of issues I have encountered with my clients (all kinds of clients, not just veteran clients) since 2001 include interview anxiety, negative self-talk, poor presentation skills, poor listening skills, appearing too cold, and other personality issues (egotism, narcissism, aggression, passivity). Often these issues do not emerge until I began interview practice with a client and often it is too late to do much about it. In 2016, I began systematically asking my clients about their prior interview experience and attitudes towards interviewing. Fortunately, most of clients, who are applicants to top US and international MBA programs, have positive attitudes about the process. But many had concerns and some had serious problems. I began to have my clients fill-out an Interview Experience Self-Assessment, which I review and give brief feedback sometimes just right before, but more ideally weeks or months before doing interview practice.

Applicants who are reading this post, feel free to assess yourself using the Interview Experience Self-Assessment and let your MBA Ambassador or anyone else you do mock interviewing with know about any issues you discovered .

For MBA Ambassadors, feel free to use or modify the assessment. In my experience, just asking a client the following can help you to better understand their prior experiences:

What do you like best about being interviewed? Knowing someone’s strengths is critical to the interview coaching process because you want to give advice that leverages someone’s perceived strengths. Your time coaching them is limited so give them advice that takes advantage of what they are good at.

What do you like least about being interviewed? I find this the single most useful question to ask because it helps me understand not only self-perceived weaknesses, but also a client’s concerns and fears about certain kinds of questions, which impacts the way I conduct interview training. Frequently clients reveal the kind of questions they don’t like to answer, and it is often these questions that an MBA admissions interviewee has to be prepared to answer. For some applicants, it might be questions about strengths and weaknesses, while for others it might be behavioral interview questions (e.g., “Tell me about a time you led a team”). For other applicants, what they like least is a particular type of interviewer, usually someone who is neutral or, very understandably, aggressive or hostile. Knowing this, I can help a client understand what to expect from an MBA admissions interviewer (most are either friendly or neutral).

Have you ever been an interviewer? In general, those with experience conducting interviews are better at interviewing because they have been on the other side of the process and can think about it more systematically. In fact, one exercise I can recommend for any applicant who has never conducted an interview is to be an interviewer with a friend. Doing so should help the applicant understand that being an interviewer has its own cognitive challenges (maintaining a conversation while evaluating an applicant and possibly also taking notes at the same time) and also help them consider how they might evaluate an effective performance.

Is there anything else you think I should know about your interview experience? Sometimes my clients have nothing else to add but sometimes just asking an open-ended question results in clients telling me about a concern or issue that is useful to know.

Closing Thoughts

Knowing about such issues enabled me to better handle situations like the following:

-A male applicant from Europe, an entrepreneur and veteran from his country’s special forces, was told by others that he was too aggressive. He specifically mentioned that female colleagues had told him this. He was preparing for an HBS interview, where almost all the interviewers are female. He had been rejected after an interview with HBS before. In addition to helping modify his message, I referred him to a female colleague. Together we could help him change his approach and win entry to HBS.

-An American female client expressed immense levels of negativity about herself. As a coach, my job was to focus on her positives and motivate her. From a content perspective, we worked systematically at altering her message.

These interventions on my part were made efficient and feasible to address because I had collected information about their past interview experience. If I had waited until a first interview session, it would have been too late. That is why my practice now is to send the interview experience document to clients early in the process of working with me. Sometimes clients don’t view it as a priority, but I know early intervention can lead to better admissions outcomes. Try it and see what happens.

Service to School is a 501c(3) non-profit committed to helping our nation’s veterans earn admission to highly selective colleges and universities. Our mission is to help every transitioning military veteran win admission to the best college or graduate school possible. Are you a transitioning veteran thinking about applying to college to earn your undergraduate or bachelor’s degree? Sign up for help from Service to School.

Adam Markus has been a graduate admissions consultant and coach since 2001. He is based in Japan and works with clients worldwide. He has been actively blogging on MBA and other graduate admissions consulting issues for over ten years. He recently completed his Executive Masters in Consulting and Coaching for Change at INSEAD.