Category Archives: Interviews

Weekend Round-up: The Latest MBA Admissions News

Here is some recommended reading from the world of MBA admissions this past week (please click on colored article titles):

1. Oliver Ashby, Senior Manager of Recruitments and Admissions at London Business School, discusses a number of topics from job hunting to career goals to the GMAT IR in this detailed interview with PaGaLGuY:

Despite tough UK visa rules, you can wriggle out 8 months for job hunting after London Business School MBA

2. Garth Saloner, Dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, talks about the value of a Stanford education at Poets & Quants:

An Interview With Stanford Dean Garth Saloner

3. BloombergBusinessweek offers some tips on how to get through the group MBA interview which the University of Michigan, Wharton and IMD have been conducting:

How to Stand Out in an MBA Group Interview

4. US News & World Report has some tips on how to get more financial aid from graduate school, and your efforts should continue even after you have enrolled:

4 Tips for Getting More Graduate School Financial Aid

And finally, a couple of links that are not directly related to admissions but perhaps could be of interest to you:

The Choices for Japanese Youth – Recommendations for this generation of young Japanese, by London Business School’s Professor of Management Practice Lynda Gratton

The Top 10 Motivational Books of All Time Inc.‘s Geoffrey James lists the top 1o books “that drive readers to change their lives, improve their lot, and build better careers.”

Happy reading and have a good weekend!


Weekend Round-up: The Latest MBA Admissions News

I’ll try and post weekly round-ups of useful MBA admissions news that I find on the web. I post stories regularly via Twitter and Facebook, but in case you don’t subscribe or would simply like your news in one place, just check in here on the weekends.

To read the articles simply click on the orange titles below:


1) Here’s an analysis of the recent drop in application volume at b-schools, including a thorough chart listing the acceptance rates of a number of programs:

Poets and Quants

Top B-Schools Much Less Selective

2) Useful for Asian applicants – some discussion on the cultural differences between Asian values and western admissions values:

Clear Admit

Clear Admit’s Kevin Chen Gives Advice to Asian MBA Applicants


1) The University of Chicago admissions blog offers some advice for those considering applying in Round 3. This advice can apply to other MBA programs as well.

University of Chicago Booth School of Business

Preparing for Round Three

2) From Bloomberg Businessweek, a summary of the admissions notification status at 10 top business schools:

Bloomberg Businessweek

MBA Admissions Decisions Coming Down to the Wire


1) Purdue Krannert’s Director of Admissions offers some personal advice on the biggest mistakes applicants can make in their admission interviews. Again, these tips are useful whether or not you are interviewing with Krannert.

I’d like to add some follow-up to his advice though:

a)  Regarding the use of “I” in an interview, he means to be careful about claiming too much credit for group achievements and trying too hard to sound impressive. Ultimately, you do need to talk about what YOU’VE done since you are the one applying to business school, not your team at work. However, if an achievement was made possible through group effort, then you need to make that clear. A mix of “I” and “we” is always good to show that you can make contributions but work cooperatively as part of a group also.

b)   Not asking about financial aid. If finances are an issue, you have every right to ask about it. However, just make sure that it is not the only thing you ask. You want to show genuine interest in the school and not just in the costs. An alternative option is to save your financial aid questions for the financial aid office, and not the admissions interviewer. (See link below on how to ask appropriate questions in an MBA interview.)

Purdue University Krannert School of Management

3 Ways to Ruin Your MBA Interview 

2) This is a great post for anyone who’s ever felt unsure about how to ask good questions at the end of an interview:

Bloomberg Businessweek

Questions to Ask in Your MBA Admissions Interview

Enjoy your reading and your weekend!




Common Interview Mistakes

Interviews are often the final hurdle to cross before the application process is completed. Contrary to what many people think, interviews are typically not “make or break” events – that is, the final outcome of your candidacy does not rest entirely on your performance during the interview. Most nice and interesting applicants will simply be confirming the admissions committee’s initial impressions of their paper applications. The applicants who stand out will be those who do particularly well or particularly poorly (i.e., who present some issue of concern such as insufficient English or communication skill, an unpleasant personality, or lack of interest in the school).

Below are some common mistakes that I have found in my past experience interviewing international candidates for the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and in our collective experience training applicants for their interviews:

1. Sounding memorized and rehearsed

It is very obvious when an applicant has overly rehearsed his answers. Usually, the responses sound like the recitation of an essay: the English is smooth, the language is formal, and the answer is long.

Why this is bad: It gives the impression that you are unable to think and speak spontaneously. As the interviewer will be judging communication skills, the ability to speak naturally will be important. Also, having prepared answers will prevent you from being flexible enough to respond to questions that are phrased slightly differently from the ones you had memorized (e.g., An applicant memorizes a response for “What are your short- and long-term goals?” but instead gets asked “What do you see yourself doing 10 years from now?”).

What to do: Instead of reading and memorizing your essays in preparation for your interviews, jot down notes or short phrases (as in a short outline). Use the notes as triggers and practice thinking and speaking spontaneously.

2. Not being convincing enough about your interest in the school

Among applicants who speak English fluently, this is often the biggest mistake they make.

How does one show insufficient interest in a school? This can include providing generic reasons for wanting to attend (e.g., “Your school is strong in general management and has a diverse student body.”), showing lack of effort in researching about the school, and being unable to name any students or alumni that they have spoken to. Of course, you do not need to volunteer information about how you researched the school or which students or alumni you spoke to. However, if you are asked these questions, you should be able to answer them in some detail.

Why this is bad: No school wants to admit an applicant who doesn’t want to attend. It makes their yield (the number of applicants who accept their admission offers) look bad and it simply feels offensive to the interviewer.

What to do: Do plenty of research on the school. When you know about the program and why it fits you, your explanation of why you want to attend should flow out naturally. And what if you are applying to your safety school? Even if it is a school that is at the bottom of your list, it should still be a school where you think you’d be happy if you had to attend. If it becomes difficult to find reasons for wanting to attend that school, then that is a sign that you should not apply.

3. Not smiling, not sounding natural

This applies to those individuals who may have a more “serious” personality or who come from cultures where emotional restraint is valued.

In America in particular, outgoing personalities and warmth are valued, particularly in extroverted environments like business school. And how that is conveyed is, first and foremost, through smiling. Secondly, one conveys that through natural conversation. What I sometimes see in mock interviews are Asian applicants who do not smile, do not engage in small talk, and only recite answers as if they are giving mini-speeches.

Why this is bad: You may inadvertently give an impression that you are cold, unfriendly and overly formal.

What to do: Simply smile when you greet the interviewer. This shows the interviewer that you are happy to meet her and to conduct this interview. Engage in a little bit of small talk if there is time (follow your interviewer’s lead). Small talk is designed to put both interviewer and interviewee at ease before the meeting starts. Close your interview with a gracious thank you and handshake. In between, try to sound and appear professionally relaxed. You can smile or laugh when appropriate, you can move your hands or legs when appropriate, and you can engage in back-and-forth conversation when appropriate. You still have to be professional, but my point is you do not need to be stiff and overly formal.

Just bear in mind that at the interview stage, the interviewer will be looking to see if you are the kind of person that classmates and faculty would enjoy spending time with. They will have your paper application to learn about your achievements and leadership potential. In the interview, they are mainly interested in seeing if you have good communication skills and are a likable person.

HEC Paris Information Session (July 23, 2011)

This is the third in a series of information session reports written by our correspondent during his attendance at the MBA Tour’s July 23rd event in New York City. (Cecilia Wu Tanaka’s note: My apologies for the delay uploading this post…)

The HEC Paris representative, Marie-Laurence Lemaire, Development Manager, started off her presentation with a bit of history. HEC Paris was established two centuries ago and is ranked the #1 business school in Europe (I would later look this up; according to the website the source is The Financial Times.) The school is actually not located in Paris; they moved out because the students were too "distracted" (this drew a few chuckles from the audience.) This was good for getting to know each other anyway, the representative said (and the campus is not that far from Paris, about 18 kilometers.)

The student body is diverse: 85% is not French. There are 150 students in the September intake. Students are divided into working groups that rotate every few months. They also make sure a student is the only one of his or her nationality. HEC Paris wants students to get out of their comfort zone. Just when you get comfortable, your surroundings change. While other schools may do this, I like that this is something articulated explicitly, as change helps one grow.

Some general information:

Language. You don’t need to learn French as the program is conducted in English but if you don’t know French  you’ll study the language. Those who already speak two languages will study a third. A language is not just language but  about the culture.

Essay. Very important. Have people read your essays.

Recommendations. These can be from clients. Job titles of the writer are not important; choose people who know you, your work, and your personality.

GMAT (average: 690) is very important. If you have a low GMAT score then another part of your application must be strong. If you have a low quantitative score the admissions committee will look more closely at transcripts and calculus courses you’ve taken.

Interview. You will also be asked to give a 10 minute oral presentation in the subject of your choice. This presentation is very important.

Work experience. If you have more than 10 years of experience you’ll be rerouted into the executive MBA program. The school does not feel that less than 3 years of work experience constitute enough experiences to share.

Early November Catch-up: MBA Interviews

I’m back, after an extremely intense month of back-to-back R1 deadlines. R1 has been great and we have been receiving a number of interview invitations and even one admission offer already. I’ll soon continue with more essay question analyses but for my first catch-up post I thought I’d talk a bit about interviews.


If you were a R1 applicant, you are probably either preparing for your interviews or getting anxious waiting for invitations or both. Each school is different but in general the invitations should start to go out anywhere between 2 weeks after a deadline and the week before the decision notification date. Here are some of my thoughts as someone who had directed the interview program at Harvard Medical School and as someone who has coached MBA applicants through the process.

My friend already received his invitation and I didn’t. Does the timing of when I receive my invitation mean anything?

Generally speaking, I will echo what all the admissions officers are saying: no. I do believe that the order in which committee members read and then make decisions on interview invitations is pretty random. In my experience on the admissions side, staff members would organize the applications, put them into folders, wait for remaining materials to come in, stack the completed applications, and randomly divide them into piles for the various committee readers. One reader might do all his or her reading in one sitting, while another might want to bring them home to read. In this process any number of people could be involved and an admissions office would have to be incredibly organized to maintain any particular order in which invitations go out. If there is anything to be gleaned from my little observation, it would be that the sooner you submit your application, the sooner your file would be set up, and the sooner it will go to committee to be read.

Having said that, you can also imagine that some applicants just jump off the page and that it would take all of 2 seconds for the committee to decide “Invite her!” There might be others that the admissions committee may want to think about and discuss some more.

In sum, I’d say that the process is systematic, random and human all at the same time. But don’t give up hope until the very end. I worked with someone once who did not receive an invitation from Wharton until literally the last day the invitations were going out. And he eventually got accepted, but he turned down the offer to go to Stanford instead. 🙂

 How can I best prepare for my interviews?

It goes without saying that you need actual practice to get ready, and this holds true whether you’re a native English speaker or an international applicant who has never experienced a western style interview.

Before I offer any tips, I should first mention what interviewers are looking for: personality, communication ability, and fit. They may also use the interview as a chance to get further information on something they may have questions or concerns about. But in general you don’t need to prove your leadership or work accomplishments any further since you already did this in your applications. The interview is a chance to get to know you better, to find out the things they can’t see from reading your application.

For that reason you need to practice enough to come across as someone poised and confident. You need to demonstrate that you’re a good fit with the program. This means that, for example, if you’re applying to Tuck, Haas and Kellogg that you seem like a person who loves teamwork and working collaboratively. If you’re applying to HBS, you need to show that you’ve got the confidence to thrive in a fast-paced, assertive 100% case-based environment.

Here are areas of content you should be thoroughly familiar with before you start your interview:

  • You. You should know yourself thoroughly. What motivates you? What experiences have taught, challenged, frustrated, tested, interested, moved, changed, and impacted you the most? Why? How?
  • Your future. What do you see yourself doing in the MBA program? Right after? 5 years after? 10 years after? 20 years after?
  • The target school. What programs would you take? What are some classes you will join? What extracurricular activities will you like to participate in? Which students and/or alumni have you spoken with? What are their names? Do you have intelligent questions to ask the interviewer at the end of the interview?
  • Your application. What is outstanding? What is unique? What makes you a good fit? What are weaknesses? What can you tell the interviewer to alleviate his/her concerns about your weaknesses? Are there any areas of concern that they should know about?

And here are some ways in which you can prepare:

  • Run through sample questions and prepare your responses out loud. Some prep services like post interview reports of former applicants. Find out their experiences and the questions they were asked. Write down notes, but avoid writing down entire answers. Force yourself to speak spontaneously and DO NOT rely on memorized responses.
  • Conduct mock interviews with a professional counselor or other person whom you trust.
  • Record your voice. Do you use a lot of fillers like “uh” or “like”?
  • Videotape yourself. Do you have any distracting habits like looking away excessively or shaking your leg too much?
  • Make a note of things you need to change. Then repeat until you get it right.
  • Know exactly how to get to your interview destination. Do a test drive if you are not sure of the location.
  • Eat well and rest/sleep well before the interview. Put yourself in the optimal physical condition for high level performance.
  • Allow yourself plenty of time to get to your interview. Be prepared for traffic, train breakdowns, etc. I’m currently conducting interviews for my undergraduate alma mater and one of the most annoying things is when an interviewee arrives just in the nick of time or even late (and then doesn’t apologize).

Will my interview make or break my chances of admission?

It could, but it probably won’t. The interview, as they say, is just one piece of the application. However, the stronger you are or the weaker you are, the likelier it is that your performance will have some kind of direct impact on the final decision. Most people do “fine” – they’re nice, they’re pleasant, they’re articulate. This kind of interview will simply confirm an otherwise strong application and neither add nor detract significant value. However, there will be some applicants who will, in the words of one admissions officer I spoke with once, “blow [the interviewer] away” and there will be others who will perform so poorly that they raise new concerns that didn’t exist before.

In my experience, those who performed poorly were those who were too nervous and uncomfortable during an interview and those who couldn’t sound convincing enough as to why they wanted to attend the target school. Both are problems that can be easily remedied with sufficient preparation.