As an MBA applicant, you need to be aware of the different interview formats preferred by business schools nowadays.
The interview is certainly one of the most important steps in the admissions process to your dream programme and in many cases it can be the decisive factor in an application for admission, as well as scholarships. So what should you expect when it comes to the most recent innovations in the MBA interview process – the format, the interviewers and the topic of discussion?
The most common format, as well as the one preferred by most business schools, is the face-to-face interview. The advantage of meeting in person is that both admissions directors and applicants can converse without any digital barrier between them and without the awkwardness that can come with phone calls or video calls.
However, the video interview format is increasingly gaining popularity in the world of MBA admissions as well. Video interviews can be offered as an alternative to face-to-face interviews when the applicant is an international located far away from the business school campus. For example, some schools such as ESCP Europe specifically state that they may conduct the interview over Skype if the applicant resides outside Europe.
Of course, this is a convenient option since applicants can simply stay at home for the interview or choose another familiar location where they feel comfortable. If you are worried whether the Internet connection will be good enough so that both parties see and hear each other well, be sure to check this out beforehand. Get some help from a friend or colleague and test the Internet connection and the quality of the video call several days in advance. Finally, it goes without saying that you should ensure a tidy background and an environment without any distractions for the duration of the interview. Be presentable and natural!
Interviews with MBA alumni
Whether your interview takes place in-person, on the phone or via video connection, the specific role of the interviewer can vary. Although this is mainly the job of admissions directors and recruiters, many universities choose to have at least one of their interview rounds conducted by MBA alumni. According to BusinessBecause,
MBA interviews with second-year students or recent alumni are increasingly common with top business schools.
Talking to someone who has been in your shoes and knows what you are going through as an applicant certainly has its benefits. For many young business professionals this option seems less stressful and intimidating than having to meet with an admissions or programme director, or faculty members. However, being interviewed by MBA alumni does not mean you should invest any less effort in your preparation. Whoever turns out to be your interviewer, they will be interested to know more about your professional and educational background and career aspirations. Do not underestimate the interview process and make the most out of the opportunity to discuss your professional growth with someone who has followed a similar path. As HEC Paris (France) highlights,
We find that [alumni of the HEC Paris MBA programme] truly understand what makes a strong MBA candidate and what it takes to succeed in our programme.
Check out: 8 Challenging MBA Interview Questions
Interviews “on the road”
So what happens if you live abroad but you prefer to have a face-to-face interview rather than one conducted over Skype or another video chat platform? As you might already know, MBA admissions directors travel quite often as they attend various MBA-related events around the world to promote their business school offerings. In such cases, a personal interview can be arranged in a city the business school representative will pass through while travelling for work. For example, Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University (US) offers “interviews in other cities where we are travelling, by invitation only” and advises candidates to consult the university’s travel calendar for suitable dates.
This is an excellent opportunity for international applicants who find it inconvenient to reach a university campus located in a different country or on a different continent. Just be sure to check the specific conditions when it comes to the interview process of a particular B-school.
Specific topic discussions
Needless to say, preparation is crucial if you wish to make a good impression during the interview and succeed in your MBA application. You need to have a clear idea of why you have chosen to apply to that particular business school as well as to be able to talk in depth about your career goals and interests. These are standard conversation topics that are typically addressed during MBA interview rounds. However, some schools incorporate additional elements or topics of discussion during the interviews they conduct. The University of St. Gallen (Switzerland) sends out an individual business case to every MBA applicant that is invited for an interview:
You will receive your business case via email three days before the interview takes place. […] You will be expected to discuss how you perceived and prioritised the main issues in the case, and how you arrived at the solution. It is a chance to demonstrate your business acumen, ethics, and creativity.
Another option is for the B-school to ask you to present an argument or topic of your choice during the interview. The admissions committee at HEC Paris has incorporated this element in the form of a 10-minute oral presentation to be prepared by interviewees. At first glance, choosing your own topic may seem like the easier alternative – you have the freedom to talk about what you are most passionate about and you can rely on your expertise. However, many candidates will find it less challenging to prepare for a case study or a topic that has been chosen for them.
Switzerland’s IMD takes the interview experience further by organising a complete campus visit dedicated to your application – the “Assessment Day”. During your visit you will get to know the school and the programme from the inside by attending classes while the MBA admissions directors will also get to know you in more detail. Next to a personal interview, IMD’s applicants also go through a presentation round and a case study discussion.
Of course, we all have our individual preferences for topics of discussion, interview formats or communication channels. Although applicants rarely have any influence over these factors and over the MBA admissions process as a whole, doing some research into the requirements of your business schools shortlist will help you prepare for any unfamiliar interview format.
Check out: What to Expect During the MBA Interview