Home | Cover Story | How to Ace Personal Interviews
 

How to Ace Personal Interviews

 

MBA aspirants often spend too little time preparing for the personal interviews and that is one reason why their performance is often found wanting. Here are some pointers to develop your unique responses.

 
 

While, the short-listing  for an MBA interview depends a lot on your performance in standardised test ranks (CAT / XAT or GMAT scores or percentiles), and past academic records, the final selection depends heavily on how you perform during the Group Discussion (GD) and Personal Interview (PI).

Tell me about yourself.
How do you approach this question? Do you say, “Hi, my name is... and I belong to...?” But, the interview panel has your resume and application, and of course they know your name.  Also, why would the panel be interested in knowing about the place you come from?
Instead, treat this question as an ice-breaker and try to put your strengths and value on the table.  That is the beauty of an open-ended question.  So, use this question to briefly talk about your background, experience, focusing on key accomplishments, and try to highlight some of those if they relate to the B-School/Programme for which you are applying.  Highlight any interesting bit of your background, if you think it differentiates you from other candidates.  Talk about your career goals, and how an MBA will help meeting those objectives.  Limit your response to 2-3 minutes and identify key talking points in advance to avoid digression.

Why an MBA? Why Now?
Most of the MBA aspirants are simply motivated by the lure of high-paying jobs.  But that is not an argument that is going to sink well with the interview panel.  You can find a high paying job without an MBA degree.  So, there must be something else that motivated you to invest 2 years of your life, and large sum of money in pursuing this gruelling degree.  You will do well by identifying the reasons behind your motivation to pursue an MBA. 
One safe way to approach this question is to explain your motivations for pursuing an MBA degree in terms of how it will fill in some of the skills and knowledge gaps that will help you in furthering your career goals.  Talk about the specific skills that you hope to achieve through an MBA, and how the same will apply to your career interest.

Why this B-school/Programme?
To be able to successfully respond to this question, you should do some research on the B-School/ Programme.  Dig deep to find out the key points in the programme that interest you or is going to help you in your learning and/or building your career.  While responding, discuss all those points as reasons that why the B-school/Programme is ideally suited for you.  Talk about any aspects that make the B-school/Programme unique for you, and why that interests you.

Walk me through your resume.
By asking this, the interview panel is interested in listening to your life-story, and no, not about your love affairs, but rather about your career choices, and decisions.  Let your resume tell an interesting story, which reflects connected choices and logical events and shows upward progression.  Think about each line of your resume and discuss why did you go there?  Highlight if you made any transitions.  Discuss your accomplishments and how did you achieve them.

Why should we admit you?
Indeed, there are more than 2 Lakh CAT applicants each year, and with just over 2000 to 3000 seats at the very top, the admission to top IIMs and other top B-schools is extremely competitive. So, why should the interview panel admit you over the other candidate, who has a similar profile to yours – at least on paper?
While you may not know about the other candidate, you most definitely know most about your own profile.  Use this as an opportunity to showcase your accomplishments, highlight your strengths, and reveal how your academic background and work experience will enrich the B-School  Programme.  Tell the interview panel the reasons why you chose to apply to their B-school, and reiterate how your career interests align with the curriculum and the degree will propel your career goals.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Addressing strengths should be fairly easy.  But you must resist the temptation of talking about several!  Pick three strengths, which are most relevant for your future career and are applicable to the enrichment of your peers in an MBA class.  These strengths should set you apart from the competition and you should be able to validate with concrete examples. 
While tackling weaknesses, the MBA aspirants often try to package strengths as weaknesses.  That is silly.  To the interview panel such responses come across as insincere and shows that you have not done any introspection till date.  Identify your critical weakness and work towards reducing  its impact.  If you can also identify a few avenues at the B-School/Programme that could help you achieve that, then you have done a good job!

What is your biggest accomplishment as a leader?
Please understand that you don’t need to be in a leadership position to exhibit leadership.  So, if you think that this question does not apply to you because you have just started working, then you are seriously mistaken.  Also, if you don’t see yourself as a leader, others will also not see you as such.  So, try to understand some of the important dimensions of leadership and connect your characteristics and actions to those dimensions.  Prepare few examples of times when you demonstrated leadership - at work and / or other spheres of your life.  Discuss what initiatives you took and the results you achieved.  Demonstrate how your initiatives impacted the situations.

Do you have any questions for us?
This is likely to be your last question, and by this time the interview panel has already decided your fate.  However, if you draw a blank here, it might negatively impact your candidature. 
So, how do you prepare for this question? You can start by preparing B-School or Programme-related questions in advance while you are researching it.  Once the interview commences, you may also make a mental note of a few new questions that arise based on your discussion and ask those to encourage conversation, both during and after your interview. 
Just try to avoid asking questions that are easily found on the B-school’s website or other marketing materials. Take this opportunity to make one last positive impression, and also enrich your understanding regarding the B-School
/Programme.