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3 Essentials for Success in Your Business School Interview

Demonstrate Understanding to Impress the Interviewer


Photo by Johanna Buguet on Unsplash

It is normal to boast about your accomplishments and your intellect in an MBA interview, and we wholeheartedly encourage that. However, a critical element of this kind of boast is how the message is conveyed to the MBA interviewer. Demonstrating understanding and simplifying complex issues yields a maximum benefit.

Admissions teams meet with people from all over the world who have been exposed to a variety of experiences in different fields and job functions. For perspective, consider that HBS’s class of 2020 received about 10,000 applications from 69 countries, eleven (11)  industries and countless job functions for 930 potential seats. They interviewed about 50% more applicants than admitted. It is unreasonable to expect the admissions interviewer understands your industry and job-specific jargon or the technicalities you expose. Therefore, if your job is highly technical, go to the interview prepared to disentangle the complexity of your work. Let your de-mystified description of your achievements set you apart.  

Let Your Experiences Demonstrate Your Intelligence and Not Your Vocabulary

In your MBA interview, we recommend you choose mainstream vocabulary to paint a picture of your work, so the interviewer can understand what it is that you do. Their understanding ensures that the admissions committee can be informed about your achievements. They will have better recognition of the contributions you’ve made to the company and/or industry and have a more unobstructed view of who you are beyond what you’ve already shared in your application material.

If your work involves financial engineering for a Hedge Fund, for example, you want to make the interviewer understand the importance of that role within the structure of the company. Data is a buzzword, and, unless you work with it, the technicalities of what it means to work with data is not often understood by the mainstream. De-mystify how you use data for the interviewer.  Hedge Funds not only focus on the performance of their portfolio but also how they can increase it and provide better returns to meet financial objectives. The validity of your data and your analytic prowess in developing models for added value and meet objectives is more important to interviewers than standard deviations, mean reversions, hurdle rates and the portfolio’s R-Squared. Your role is far greater than the data you use and examine, and don’t neglect to communicate it to the admissions interviewer.

Adapt Storytelling as a Mode of Communication

Good leaders and speakers are also good storytellers. Whether the interviewer wants to hear about your past work experience or discuss a time where your contributions changed the way your company conducts business, storytelling is critical, especially if your job is technical.

Not everyone is a natural storyteller. Keep your shortcomings in mind and prepare accordingly. Put together bullet-points in advance of the interview containing cues to the mode in which you intend to share your stories. Ideally, the newly selected stories speak to the same character values addressed in your application but are different from the stories you’ve shared in your application material.  


Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

Relatability is Key

While you have had great experiences, if your storytelling is so complex and technical that your interviewer cannot relate, they may regard the interview as unsuccessful.

MBA programs seek leaders that can communicate with not only those people who have a similar technical knowledge but also those with different experiences and varied backgrounds. If you cannot convey what you do in a relatable way, the interviewer will view communication as a major weakness in your profile. Top programs seek leaders that can communicate, so do not underestimate the value of demonstrating your communication abilities.

A product developer who designs applications for the mortgage industry, for example, may think that it is perfectly acceptable to describe their prowess in computer programing language, and designing user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) to create a product to increase productivity within the company.  However, the interviewer may not have a tech background and understand what UX and UI mean let alone fathom the laborious hours required to ensure coding accuracy, the instrumentality of both UX and UI to the development of the product, and the other complexities in product development and deployment.  

Instead, tell a story that describes your work in relation to the company’s objective. If you are a product developer for a company that supports the mortgage industry, and the success of your application is a competitive advantage, do not feel your language is too remedial when you share a need to be both analytical and technical as well as creative to develop products. Admissions team want to know that you see yourself as a player in a cause that is larger than yourself. Your ability to design a product that identifies user errors increases loan processing accuracy and improves efficiency leads to the company’s success and ensures happy stakeholders.

Be prepared to share your story with the admissions team using language and storytelling that relates to the masses, regardless of how technical your work is.   

A quote often attributed to Albert Einstein resumes it best, “Genius is making complex ideas simple, not making simple ideas complex.” Keeping these tips in mind as you complete interview preparations should help make the process much more straightforward.

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