Let’s Start With The Takeaway
Whether it’s an admissions interview or a job interview, do not wing it. It’s obvious to anyone who is paying attention. (And why would you want to go to school–or work–at a place where they don’t care that you don’t care?) The application is a sales process, and the interview is your time to close. So practice.
The Aforementioned Terrible Answers
Below is my interview script, along with the worst answers I received for each question. (I don’t mention my graduate school by name in this post; they wouldn’t want this kind of attention. If you’re curious, click here. The script itself is no secret, and similar ones are all over the web.)
I ran a pretty standard interview. There were no questions designed to trip people up. Interviews are stressful enough, and anyone who asks trick questions is an ass.
As the interview began I’d speak for a minute or two so they could gather their thoughts. I’d share what year I graduated, what I do now, and so on. I also told them that I was going to close the interview by asking for 1 or 2 sentences about why the school should admit them.
- 1. “Tell me about yourself.”
- This should be 30 seconds. It’s a marketing statement. I can always ask for more details, but it’s awkward for me to interrupt and ask for less. The average answer was around 2 minutes, which is way too long.
Terrible Answer: One person talked for 27 minutes without interruption. I tried to break in, but he just talked over me. I decided to see how long he’d go, so I answered email and made a grocery list, all while sitting across from him. Periodically he would remind me that the component numbers for his product were “important” and that I should “write this down.”
- 2. “Walk me through your resume.”
- Short answers are best.
Terrible Answer: “I went into medical devices because I wanted to help people.” I did not request platitudes.
Bonus Terrible Answer for Bostonians: Passing off Harvard Extension School as Harvard College.
- 3. “Why do you want an MBA?”
- Terrible Answer: “Because my dad made me apply.” Followed by tears.
- 4. “Why do you want to go to this school?”
- Not-Terrible-But-Still-Pretty-Lousy Answer: “Because it’s ranked highly.” Give me something more compelling than that.
- 5. “What do you want to do after school? How will an MBA help?”
- Terrible Answer: Not Applicable. Even the worst candidates had pretty good answers. Sometimes they were just making things up–especially the consultants getting their tickets punched–but at least they had a story.
- 6. “If you get into every school you applied to, how will you pick? Keep in mind that I don’t want to know where else you’re applying.”
- You’d think that, because I said I didn’t want to know where they were applying, people would respect that. You’d be wrong: over half of the candidates told me. A third gave me their order of preference.
Terrible Answer: Two candidates didn’t rank my school–the place they were interviewing for–as their first choice.
- 7. “If you don’t get into any business school, how will you continue working toward your goals?”
- Most said they’d stay at their current job and reapply in a year or two. That’s a fine answer. Others indicated that waiting another year to get an MBA would throw off the cost-benefit calculation. That’s an even better one.
Terrible Answer: Several candidates were offended by the question and insisted they’d get in. They did not.
- 8. “Tell me about an accomplishment. What did you learn? What would you do differently?”
- I was primarily interested in the follow-up questions. Since business school is a time to reflect upon one’s career to date, I wanted some thoughtfulness about how they could do better.
Terrible Answer: Desperate silence as they realize they had learned nothing.
- 9. “Tell me about working in a team. What role did you take? Can you think of an instance when you played a different role?”
- A lot of work at many business schools is team-driven. If someone can’t switch roles and adapt to a new situation, no one will want to work with that person.
Terrible Answer: “I am the leader. Always.”
- 10. “Tell me your strengths/weaknesses.”
- Terrible Answer: “I work too hard.” Give me a real weakness, and tell me how you’re addressing it.
- 11. “Tell me about an unpleasant decision.”
- I am looking for a time when the candidate made an unpleasant decision, not a bad decision. Perhaps he or she had to lay someone off, or report on a colleague for misconduct, or decide which project to cut.
Terrible Answer: A longwinded story about how the applicant committed voter fraud.
- 12. “Which of the school’s extracurricular programs interest you?”
- Terrible Answer: Not having a clue. Hint: spend 3 minutes skimming the program’s website.
- 13. “What do you do outside of work?”
- Terrible Answer: If one claims to have done something notable–something important enough that dozens of articles have been written about it–it would be more convincing if it were true.
- 14. “Is there anything about your application that you want to further explain?”
- Only one person ever answered this; she acknowledged her horrible GMAT scores. She was also the only person whom I recommended who was not admitted.
Fictional Terrible Answer: “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.”
- 15. “Have you visited the school?”
- Terrible Answer: There isn’t one, although people got panicky if they hadn’t. I used this as an opportunity to suggest that they spend time at every school they were considering. Because fit is critical. (More on this later.)
- 16. “Do you have any questions?”
- Terrible Answer: People think it’s bad not to have questions, but usually they had rambled on so long that we were both itching to leave. Most people asked me why I chose this particular school, and I’d tell them it was all about finding the right fit. (Again, more on this later.)
- 17. “Give me 1 or 2 sentences about why this school should admit you.”
- I warned them that I was going to ask this, but 80% hadn’t thought of anything. Those people did not get in.
Good Answer: Two sentences.
OK Answer: Five sentences.
Bad Answer: Ten sentences.
Terrible Answer: I cut them off after they start to hyperventilate two minutes in.
- Do not call me up in a blind rage if you aren’t admitted. Also, if you’re the kind of person who does stuff like this, you’re not getting in.
- Do not try to flirt with me. Do not repeatedly cross and uncross your legs. Do not play with your hair. Do not lean in as I ask a question, then giggle as you deliver you answer.
- Do not go to a school where you don’t fit. I told candidates that I would be happy to talk with them about their decision, regardless of which programs they were considering. One person was offered admission at my alma mater and our cross-town rival. On paper, he was a much better fit for my school. He called me up and said he felt he belonged at the other place. As far as I was concerned, his choice was clear.
Good luck to the applicants, and my sympathies to the interviewers.