Friday, July 31, 2009

Interview dilemma (for the uninitiated) & MBA interview tips from my personal experience

I wrote this blog after my MBA interview at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, Canada. The interview went well. But I was so naive at the time I gave the interview. I wish I was better prepared then. Unfortunately, I had no coach or mentor to help me prepare. I am sharing the experience so that you can benefit.

If there is one thing that I wish to tell you about the MBA interview, it is this: DO NOT TAKE IT LIGHTLY! (I did, and that was my mistake!)

I am originally from India and I have never had to go through an interview process in order to get into an University in India. All this interview business was new to me. I had no idea why an interview is conducted. Ofcourse, I did know the basic stuff (I am not stupid, he he :). But what I did not know was how important it is TO SELL YOURSELF in the interview & to MARKET YOURSELF.

Ofcourse I did dress formally, in a suit and tie and was polite during the interview. But my mistake was that I was very casual. I was very humble. I was just being me. But that is NOT what they want to see. What they want to see is how good a salesman you are and how well you can promote yourself! What you SHOW is what is important to them as what you ARE or what you have GOT. You can not blame them (MBA interviewers) too. They have less than 30 minutes to assess you. They assume that you are prepared accordingly. They assume that you already KNOW the whole interview-dance-routine. Little are they expecting a FOB (Fresh Off The Boat) who has no idea of interviews! I wish, atleast in Toronto, they did expect people who are not familiar with the North American interview system. Toronto is the city of immigrants, eh?

This is what I can share with you at this time:-
  • Dress well. Formal clothing, no exceptions
  • Arrive 20 minutes early. Very important. Greet the receptionist, take a seat.
  • First impression - confident walk, good gait, meet your interviewer, exchange pleasantries, talk some general stuff.
  • Rehearse before hand your "sales pitch interview talk". Practice with a friend.
  • Carry a business card. Get one printed, I don't care. You must have one.
  • Don't be fooled by that smile and the warmth of the interviewer. Behind that exterior is a sharp mind and a hawk eye that is assessing your every move - though it may not be obvious to you. (I am not sure if B schools secretly record your conversation or video tape the session - I wouldn't be surprised!) Some B Schools are known to use computer programs to select types of students for a class, so that there is a balance of demographic, left brain & right brain types.
  • Remember, in the interview, you are a lab rat, a guinea pig being tested. You have to be alert and not let your guard down. The interview may sound like a friendly chit-chat, but it is NOT. Don't get fooled. I did... my mistake.
  • If you got it, flaunt it. Show off your talents and skills and your medals and your trophies and track record. This is the place to show the interviewer that you are a gift from God to man kind.
  • Do not hesitate from using technical jargon. Do not think "Oh, the interviewer is not a technical person, he / she may not understand". I don't care. Go ahead, give it all you got. Blow the interviewer's mind off with technical terms. You are there to show him / her that you are a genius. I avoided technical terms and was just being social and friendly. And I am a moron for that.
  • Watch your body language. Sit upright. Don't droop. Don't fidget. Your handshake should be firm. Sometimes, your body language can talk more about you than your verbal language. Do you know that some interviewers are psychology & body language experts? They can make out real vs fake behaviour. They can easily smell the B.S.
  • At the end, the interviewer shall ask you if you have any questions or concerns. Never say "I am ok, I have done my research" (I did this mistake and I am a fool for doing so!). Have some questions prepared beforehand (intelligent ones; If you ask questions about information already available on gthe website, you are an idiot)
  • Very important point: "Name dropping!" You should have researched about the faculty of the specialization you want to do beforehand... Name drop! You should have spoken to / interacted with a few people from the MBA admissions committee already... Name drop! You may have made important connections in the B school already... Name drop! It helps buddy. What else are references for? If you know someone the interviewer knows, that means that you are in the loop and that you must be ok to join the "club". Sad, but true!
  • This is NOT the place to be meek or shy or to think that talking about your achievements means "showing off". No sir! The very reason you are there is to show off! Don't be shy.
  • Don't forget to send a "thank you" Email after the interview. Or even a thank you greeting card. (I had actually bought a nice small gift from India to give after admission - if I was accepted, but heck, I was not selected into U of T!). Remember to thank every single Admission officer who was involved in the process / whom you came in touch with during the interview process.
More later (if anything new pops into my brain). Can not complete this blog in one sitting. I need a coffee break!

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