Nearly every interview, whether it’s a job interview or a school admissions interview, has the following (loose) tripartite structure:
Step 1. Someone says, “Hi, you must be [NAME]. Thanks for coming in today.”
Step 2. (Some stuff is discussed.)
Step 3. Someone says, “Well, thanks for coming in. We’ll definitely let you know.”
Step 2 is generally what people are most interested in, and rightfully so. Accordingly, I tracked down several folks who have been accepted to some top business schools (Harvard, Stanford, and Columbia), and asked them about their personal experiences during Step 2.
Do your homework
Many interviewers will leave a few minutes at the end to see if you have any questions. This is not a casual invitation. It is a measurable gauge of how enthusiastic you are about attending this particular school. A response of “No, I don’t really have any questions” or “Yeah, I got a question – where’s the bathroom?” will not be received favorably.
Additionally, do some research about the person interviewing you. Is she an admissions officer? Is he an unaffiliated alumnus of the school? Does she work for a company that is of interest to you? Erring on the side of being prepared (while not revealing so much data as to come off as a cyber-stalker, of course) is a good thing.
Everything is fair game
Beyond mentioning the formalities (showing up on time, dressing appropriately, knowing how to shake hands, and the all-important “etc.”), everyone noted that you should be prepared to “defend” literally everything that you mention on your resume.
“[Interviewers] can smell bull**** a mile away,” one of the interviewees said. “So don’t have any for them to smell.”
One applicant listed hiking under his personal interests, and he was caught off guard when an interviewer grilled him on where he likes to hike, the names of his favorite trails, why he goes hiking, etc. If it’s important enough for you to list, then you shouldn’t be a charlatan. If the school senses that you’re inflating yourself a bit too much, they may ask you to, ahem, take a hike.
Your Interviewer is pretty smart too
Another interviewee shared a similar story, in which he mentioned that he was currently reading a certain novel because he enjoys postmodern literature. The interviewer proceeded to ask him about Pynchon and DeLillo, which authors write similar books, which ones he likes and doesn’t like, and why. The lesson: don’t fall prey to the mistaken belief that a line on your resume is so esoteric that no interviewer would dare tread into that territory.
Identify your vulnerable spots
Did you get a C in a statistics class? Did you leave a job after three months? Did you amass $4,000 in unpaid parking tickets?
“Note any weaknesses in your application and know how you will respond when the interviewer asks you about them,” one gent told me, “because he/she will ask.”
Get down to business
Treat the interview like it is a sales pitch, applicants have said. The only difference is that you’re not selling a product; you’re selling yourself.
If you were selling a new type of vacuum cleaner, you wouldn’t spend ten minutes discussing how it can clean a floor. Vacuums already do that. Instead, you would focus on the fact that your vacuum is quieter or more efficient or able to run on children’s laughter. Ask yourself: what are the two or three elements in your product (you) that would make a customer (MBA program) want to buy (admit you)?
Cite your sources
One question that several folks said they were not expecting was “Where do you get your news?” There’s clearly no right or wrong answer to this question, but it’s not a bad idea to have something intelligent to say. Current events could easily come up in your interview. You don’t want the interviewer to mention some huge merger, while you haven’t even heard of the parties involved.