How to prepare for your MBA entrance Personal Interview?

Dear Readers,

At this point of time, most of
you must be preparing for the second stage of b-school entrance tests. These
entrance tests often (or almost always) include a Personal Interview (PI).

Many students are scared of
interviews because they believe that in an interview anything can be asked and
hence, it is impossible to prepare for an interview thoroughly. But, you need
to realize that at the end of the day, the questions that you are asked will be
based purely on your profile. A science graduate will not be asked to quote
Shakespeare and an Arts graduate will not be asked about quantum mechanics. In
the simplest of words, you just need to be well-prepared and confident about
what you have studied/done in your life in order to ace your interview – the interview
panel is going to test you only on these attributes. In this two-part article,
we will break down the mystery of interviews and help you in preparing for them.

What is an Interview?

In its most elementary nature, an
interview is a one-on-one conversation where you have to talk about yourself
and your interests and achievements. A typical interview consists of 2-4 panellists,
most of whom are faculty members and can sometimes include one alumnus or
alumna from the institute. It usually lasts for 10-15 minutes but on some
occasions, it can be as short as 2-3 minutes or as long as 45 minutes.

We will now look at some of the important
and most frequently asked questions in MBA interviews and discuss how to
prepare for them.

Tell me about yourself.

80-90 per cent of interviews start
with this question. To answer this question, you should highlight interesting
aspects of your academic or extra-curricular or professional life and
personality. This is the question for which you are given the longest duration
of time. Typically, a candidate may speak for 1-1.5 minutes, without
interruptions, to provide an answer to this. Your answer to this question also
decides the course of the rest of the interview. You can highlight the
important aspects of your profile/personality and the panel may query about
these in the rest of the interview.

The primary things to mention in
this answer would be your major academic achievements and interests. Any
relevant workshops or academic milestones should be covered as well. Similarly,
do mention your interests. Whether your interest is in physics or movies, do
mention it because this is your one opportunity to steer the conversation
towards your forte. (The immediate follow-up questions could be about how deep
your interest in a particular field is.)

You should also talk about your
skills. Try not to think along the lines of importance or unimportance of them;
even if your skills are as generic as being a determined person or a hard
worker, mention it. Attributes like honesty and punctuality should certainly be
cited.

Once you have figured out all
these details, make a rough draft. Show it to your friends, family members and
even your professors. Try to work on their suggestions and then make a better,
improved answer. The key is to keep on working until you are absolutely satisfied
with your answer and have comprehensively covered the best points in your profile
(i.e. your strongest attributes). When you think you have covered all these
aspects, read out your answer and time it. It should not be very long or very
short.

Core Questions (related to career path):

Why MBA, Why are you switching to management, Why don’t you go for
Masters in your own field (M. Tech/M. Sc./M. A./M. Com. etc.), Where do you see
yourself in five years, etc.

These questions are very common
and appear often in interviews. And, these are the questions that often cause
the greatest difficulty for students.

In order to tackle these
questions, you should understand that these questions only test your maturity
and your thoughtfulness (ability to think rationally). All you need to answer
these questions is to think about your career objectives, think about the
reasons behind your career decisions/choices and simply list them out (write
them down). Also, think about your likely (i.e., most realistic) career
progression and write it down. After this, think about the further questions (subsequent
questions or cross-questioning) that may follow your answer. Prepare answers to
these questions as well. Discuss these answers with your friends, etc. and
fine-tune and polish your answers. This simple exercise will give you the
answer to these questions and will complete your preparation for this type of
questions.

Do note that the ideal answer to
these questions should be realistic and truthful. Students often make the
mistake of trying to give fanciful answers in order to impress the panel. Such
answers often lead to cross-questioning by the panel during which the student
is unable to justify his/her statement. For example, consider the question “Why
are you switching to management?” – many students answer this question by
responding that they wish to start a business of their own. This inevitably
leads to the panel asking questions like “What business do you want to start”,
“What is your business plan”, “Why don’t you start your business immediately
instead of waiting for an MBA”, “Is MBA needed for starting a business”, “Name
5 MBAs who have started successful businesses”. Such questions often lead to
students giving vague answers such as “I don’t know what business I will start.
I want to do my MBA and then work for a few years, come up with some business
idea, and then start some business. ” and so on. Such answers may appear like
daydreams and are not very convincing and do not reflect a well-thought-out
career path. On the other hand, a simple answer such as “I have opted for MBA
since it will give me career growth, better opportunities, will enhance my
chances of promotion to senior levels, etc” indicates a much more
realistic/pragmatic approach.

Along with these questions, students
may sometimes be asked what specialization they want to opt for, why do they
want to opt for that particular specialization, etc. (In some institutes,
candidates are required to choose a specialization at the application
submission stage itself.) Irrespective of which specialization you wish to opt
for, you should do a bit of research about that field, identify typical career progression
(typical job profiles) in that field, identify your desired career path (and
also why you want that particular job profile, etc. This preparation will
enable you to tackle these questions with confidence. (Some students also
handle these questions with an answer like “I will use my learning during the
first year to identify which specialization appeals most to me and so decide
which specialization to go for in my 2nd year”.) 

In the next part of this article, we will look at some more question
types that are common in interviews.

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