Go to a better blog!

You can find a better version of my blog at http://www.adammarkus.com/blog/.

Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

January 12, 2011

Interview Practice is ABOUT SPEAKING!

You should probably read my post,  Overall MBA Application Interview Strategy, before reading this post.

Clients frequently ask me how they should prepare for interviews.  As I suggest in my post on Overall MBA Application Interview Strategy, I believe in a proactive approach to interview preparation based on actual practice of your key stories.  You might not know exactly what questions you will be asked, but you can generally have a pretty good idea about that by reviewing interview reports.

I view any actual writing of notes and scripts as interview preparation, but not as practice.  Some people confuse the two. DON'T SPEND TOO MUCH WRITING NOTES OR READING QUESTIONS AND NOT ENOUGH TIME SPEAKING AND PERFORMING.  I have watched clients crash and burn when trying to deliver their essays or some long monologue that they wrote out because they were too focused on writing.   Speaking is speaking. Writing is writing.  You cannot communicate in the same way in an essay as you would when talking with another person.

I recommend identifying key words and stories that you will use, but I don't necessarily recommend preparing any sort of script. A very simple outline like the following is all I really suggest:

Key Strength Word or Phrase:  Imaginative
Stories:  (1) Undergraduate Thesis prize (2) Recent work story about Project X.

Key Weakness Word or Phrase: Too cautious 
Stories: (1) Failed to see full benefits of using a more aggressive solution for Project X and (2) Too concerned with risk management issues on Project Z

That is the whole basic outline I would suggest you prepare.  The rest is performance.

If you are preparing for MIT or Wharton behavioral interviews, I would suggest making some simple STAR (Situation Task Action Result) outlines.  For example:

Team Story 1: Project X
S:  Harry was not cooperating with the rest of the team on Project X.
T: My job was get the team to work together because Project X really required everyone to participate. Harry was  important because of his technical skills.
A: In order to get Harry to cooperate I..  (ACTION 1) first talked with him privately to better understand his perspective.  Next (ACTION 2) I talked with the rest of team to try and make an adjustment so that Harry would feel more comfortable. Finally (ACTION 3) Established information sharing sessions so that everyone understood what needed to be done and how our work fit together.
R: Project X succeeded.

Now, when you actually practice the above for a behavioral interview, you would need to flesh out the story and provide more details.  If you have outlined a STAR story, you  have not practiced it yet.   The only reason to outline STAR stories is if you cannot systematically turn any spoken story into STAR automatically.  Actually once you start using STAR, chances are that you will not need any outlines.  STAR is actually a highly intuitive way to tell stories and useful for telling stories in any situation. 

Clients often want me to read their interview preparation notes. I usually refuse because I think it is a total waste of their money to have me do that.  I believe such outlines are useful for the person doing the preparation, but all I can really evaluate is their performance.  If I have a client with a TOEFL under 100, I might review their scripts because given that they may lack basic English vocabulary for effectively telling their stories. This is not case with the vast majority of my clients, even those with TOEFL scores at the 100 level. 
An outline is a map, but in the case of an interview it is really lousy map because an interview is all about performance, the territory. You can have the best stories in the world, but if you can't deliver them effectively, you are dead.

Depending on your communication skills, available time, and comfort with interviews you may need days or weeks or months to be at your best. Whatever amount of practice you think you need, try to actually do more than that.  One of my clients who had already been admitted to two top schools, did 50 hours of practice on his own to get ready for HBS.  He was successful because he put in enough time actually speaking the answers  to many common questions that he could feel comfortable and confident.  He did just a couple of hours of interview practice with me and one of my colleagues. He was admitted to HBS. I wish all my clients followed this example of extensive self-practice.  While the exact ratio of counseling hours (strategy sessions focused on developing good answers and mock interviews) to self-study will vary, I think somewhere between a 1:5 and 1:20 ratio is ideal.  I am always depressed when a client only does interview practice during sessions with me and then does no practice by themselves because I know they are not maximizing their performance. 

Like a great musician or actor, you need to internalize your script/notes/outline to perform it effectively. I can best help a client by judging that performance.  Something could look great or horrible on paper, but very much the reverse when actually performed.  

How to practice:
1. Speak.  Doing it in your head is not enough.  Actually perform to the hardest audience you will ever encounter: yourself. 
2. Record yourself and listen and/or view the results. Note problems and practice more.
3. Speak in front of other people who can give you feedback.  Even if you are using a consultant try to practice in front of other people. This will help make you comfortable having an audience.
4. Have school specific mock sessions, either with a admissions consultant or someone who can at least ask you the questions. 

I know that what I am suggesting might be burdensome and time consuming, but so what?  The whole application is like that.  And at least with interview practice, you might actually become better at telling stories (Good for making friends!) and interviewing for jobs.

-Adam Markus

I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.
Real Time Web Analytics