Saturday, February 04, 2006

Interviewing for MBA schools

So I had to give someone some advice on interviewing for MBA recently. Frankly, I thought I had some material there that I can use in my blog and would hopefully be a little useful too to people. So here it is, what to expect and what to prepare.

MBA interviews are fun... if they go well. Otherwise, you kick yourself and say 'Damn that question was so basic, I can't believe I answered it like that!' Welcome to MBA.

Here are a few tips and things that I found useful.

- THE most important question perhaps is 'Do you have any questions?' The reason is that this question shows a lot of things. With one stroke, you can show curiosity, understanding, maturity, 'readiness' to do MBA, future plans, thinking style and so on. Here is my take on it. Ask day to day stuff. Don't ask about hi-fi things. Ask things like how is the school committed to alumni learning, what is a typical day at Fuqua (one always starts with 'There is no such thing as a typical day at Fuqua', but then talks for 5 mins! :-D), how are the leadership opportunities there, how international is the curriculum and the MBA experience at the school, what is the global recognition of the brand, what are the most active and influential student clubs in the school. Ask these questions enthusiastically and inquisitively. I also think being inquisitive and curious can be very genuine by itself even if you are faking it. You want to join this school, so hell, you are curious about all this basic stuff. In one of my MBA interviews, I asked the alumnus about some new exotic research initiative in the school. Turns out it was too specific and too high-flying and irrelevant a question to ask. I thought I was smart and this question would show my research on school activities, but it doesn't work that way. It essentially had the same meaning and depth as... 'blah'.

Preparation: I would suggest take a small spiral notebook (I say spiral coz. I just so love those!) and write down 4 why mba, 3 why us, 4 strengths, 3 weaknesses, 3 qualities you bring to school (*), 1-2 accomplishments, 1 difficult conversation (this might be important, gave negative feedback in performance appraisal for example), 1-2 motivated people example, 1-2 led people, 1-2 failures, 1 taken risk, 1 disagreed with supervisor, 1 handled a difficult subordinate, 1 had impact somewhere (maybe organization, school, community), 1 took initiative. There is no need to think of so many stories. You can reuse stories, but try not to use same story for more than 2-3 of the above. Writing so many points is painstaking (3 weaknesses, are you kidding me?), but you have to put in the effort. The best part is that you don't have to think of exotic stuff. Be basic about these. Simplicity here will simplify your interview a lot. (Yeah, that was some statement to make!)

(*) What you bring to school. This is very important, don't think hi fi stuff, just tell what you bring from your experience; project management, people relationships, sales insight, leading people, business perspective with strong engineering foundation, ability to identify with engineering and technical people etc. etc. The simpler you keep it, the better.

- Also think of a club you want to start. I personally hate this question coz. I think it can be easily practiced and anyone can fool the interviewer, but if it's out there, it's out there. It could be 'guitar appreciation club' or something. My personal take on this is that it doesn't even have to be a new club. Business schools have too many clubs anyway. You can even say you would organize a music show under the music club in both years and put in a framework so people will do it even after you leave the school. You can give it a name and add a person in the music club cabinet to organize it so it becomes a permanent feature of the school. Now how about that! Use a similar example and you are done. See what I mean when I say it's not really a good question? Anyone can say that and fill airtime.

Be prepared for an estimation question: Estimate the size of the squash ball market in India. You can start from top-down; how many cities, how many squash court clubs, membership in each club, how many balls a week per member etc. etc. If you are fairly analytical, you should be able to handle this. The key is to be systematic and push yourself to make ridiculous assumptions and move on quickly. I was asked a similar question and I got an answer like some 20,000 balls a year! Yeah right! I still got in at the school though! Your assumptions can be wrong, your approach can't be as long as you get the approach. (That was some statement to make again!)

One last big thing, don't lean back on the chair! :-) Not all the time at least. I know I am like that, I like talking comfortably. So you are a top school, I am a confident guy and am here to share my ideas. That's perfectly the attitude (in my not-so-humble-I-guess opinion). But showing enthusiasm is important once you have crossed other hurdles. I have realized that curiosity is a big tool to show enthusiasm. I interviewed for Fuqua sitting on a cane-and-cushion couch at a golf club in Mumbai. The table was a low tea-poy and we were sitting outside looking over at the course. I realized that I was leaning forward because of an orange juice on the table at the time I was asking questions about the school to the interviewer. I am no shrink or mind reader to say what happened, but it somehow makes sense. Or does it? Maybe I'm nuts! Anyway, forget that, take the first statement in this paragraph metaphorically if you want. But just be curious during the interview, like you have already got in and now are deciding whether to select the school or not yourself.

A lot of the above would be based on my personal style I guess and need not apply to many of you. But hopefully it gives you an idea of what to expect in the interview and one way to go about it.


Anonymous said...

Hey Shivesh, have been following your blog for sometime now, but commenting for the first time. Your post couldnt have come at a better time for me - have my Duke interview tom! :-)

That was an awesome post! Thanks for all the sexy gyaan :p BTW, I do agree with ur funda abt not not leaning back on the chair all the time. Its ok if u do it while answering qs - as u said it shows confidence, but its better to lean forward while asking questions urself. It shows curiosity and keenness. Or atleast this what I think :)

Keep up the good work! :)

[v] said...

Hey Shivesh,

that's a great blog. I was looking for some Fuqua specific interview tips and could not ask for more.

I was desperately trying to get some interview tips from simba and other mba students.

thanks a lot

(my interview is scheduled for tomorrow feb 11. hope to meet u there).

Meru SAVARNI said...


Great post! Thoroughly enjoyed it.

Personally i thought the following 2 statements were real gems.

"Your assumptions can be wrong, your approach can't be as long as you get the approach.

I also think being inquisitive and curious can be very genuine by itself even if you are faking it."

;) :)

Personally, i still have not yet made it to any school. But i did notice in my work ex, that there are INDEED patterns to INTERVIEW questions and that either party can take the other for a ride using these...

One example -
I've always found the end result of an interview to be favourable to me if the INTERVIEWER asked a lot of OPEN ENDED questions and I kept answering them with confidence till we reach a point where he asks the " DO you have any questions for me"..and lo and behold...i shoot my prepared BS questionnaire..everytime showing the same body language of an "interested person"..sometimes even taking NOTES ON A.. yeah SPIRAL notebook..trying to look as if i'm going to frame that pieceof paper and display it in my home..:)

But everytime this happened i was selected..mostly in jobs...i think this kind of thing is useful..if not for anything "ground breaking" but atleast to prep up your confidence..:)


Derek said...

Very nnice post