How to Ace Your Business Master’s Admissions Interview
With interviews one of, if not the most important part of the business school application, how should candidates prepare, and what should they avoid doing?
They are often nerve-wracking, but interviews are one of the best ways to sell yourself to a Master’s in Management admissions committee. In fact, there’s a strong case for the interview being the most important part of the business school application process. So says Alex Min, CEO of The MBA Exchange, an admissions consulting firm.
“The interview represents the ‘last word’ from the applicant and either confirms, complements or undermines the application,” he says.
“Furthermore, at most business schools, the interview is the only official, formal, one-on-one interaction with adcoms.
“Finally, interviews are a competition exclusively within the subset of applicants already considered as qualified for admission and worthy of a coveted interview slot.”
The business master’s interview: assessing ‘soft skills’
Business schools see admissions interviews as important because they assess candidates’ so-called “soft skills”, such as communication ability. Much of the learning on business master’s programs is through group discussion and team projects, so being able to communicate effectively is vital to the programs’ success.
“It also allows us to assess candidates’ initiative-taking and result-orientation skills,” says Amy Janssen-Brennan, assistant director recruitment and Admissions at the Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands, since interviews generally are based on applicants’ past experiences.
The admissions interview is also critical because it may predict performance in job interviews, according to Claire Garst, associate director of admissions at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in the US. She says: “We have found that performance in job interviews is highly correlated to performance in admissions interviews.”
Whether you’re applying to a Master’s in Management program, or another MA or MSc in a business school, the interview is the second, or often the last round of what is generally a lengthy application process , which involves submitting recommendation letters, acing standardized tests and writing a stellar CV and essays.
How to get selected for an interview
So what makes the admissions committee want to invite someone to interview in the first place?
Janssen-Brennan, at RSM, says: “Applicants are selected to participate in the second selection round based on their grade point average (if they are from the Dutch education system) or their GMAT score. The best 100 applicants are invited to the second round.”
The chances of success once at the interview stage may be higher than at the earlier phases of the application. RSM admits 70 candidates who are interviewed each year, with 30 being put on the “waitlist”, which means admissions teams like your application, but not enough to offer you a place outright, unless someone more desirable drops out.
RSM is one of 32 business schools around the world that offer the CEMS Master in International Management (MiM) program. When students graduate, they will have both the CEMS qualification and in addition, a master’s degree awarded from their chosen business school.
The interview process for this program is usually a 20-minute meeting in person in Rotterdam, for those picking RSM. The interviews are conducted by RSM staff and faculty members in the second selection round, which is held in the first week of March.
RSM uses the STAR interview method—code for ‘situation, task, action, result—which is a behavioral based line of questioning discussing a candidate’s past tasks or actions. “The motivation (cover) letter and CV submitted during the application will be used by the interviewers as preparation material,” says Janssen-Brennan.
Interviews for the Master of Management Studies program at Duke Fuqua are conducted via Skype, as they are short (about 30 minutes) and applicants are from around the globe. Those in North Carolina can choose to interview on campus, though they do not get preferential treatment.
Interviewing via Skype presents its own challenges. “Successful applicants are professionally dressed, maintain strong eye contact, and avoid reading from their resumes or notes,” says Garst.
“We are also always impressed by applicants who prepare thoughtful questions to ask the interviewer that cannot simply be answered by looking on the website.”
The interviews are conducted by either an admissions officer, MMS alumnus or a current full-time MBA student. The questions asked are behavioral — they are based solely on candidates’ past academic and work experiences. The responses should be as conversational as possible, according to Garst.
“The interview is the best opportunity for the Admissions Committee to get a sense of your personality,” she says. “It is also a time for us and you to determine our potential fit for each other.”
Because many interviewers are looking to probe people’s backgrounds, Min advises that interviewees come armed with a set of authentic stories that convey self-awareness and a compelling value proposition.
“Candidates should begin their preparation with a deep dive into the submitted application. Select specific examples that warrant elaboration, explanation or mitigation during the interview,” says Min.
“Reinforcing key selling points and overcoming likely objections are essential interviewing skills to develop.
“Practicing via mock interviews will add confidence, but it’s critical to also maintain spontaneity and enthusiasm.”
Candidates should also avoid arriving late, appearing arrogant, avoiding eye contact, failing to smile when appropriate, having a weak handshake, and requesting immediate feedback on their performance, says Min. With the interview one of, if not the most important part of a business school application, applicants should heed his advice.