In the midst of an MBA admissions interview, you think to yourself, "Did I just say that?" Knowing you just made mistake, you ...
(A) ...become flustered and the interview just goes downhill.
(B) ...ignore your bad answer entirely and hope your interviewer does too.
(C)...just decide to directly ask the interviewer if you can expand on your prior answer...
(D) The above all seem like bad options. There must be a better way.
The answer is (D). (B) might be viable, but if you can mitigate a bad answer, that would be better than ignoring it completely. (C) might be viable, but the chances of effectively executing vary too greatly. (A) is obviously not the way to go.
In this post I wanted to present some ways to recovering from a bad answer during an MBA admissions interview.
My prior overall MBA admissions strategy interview posts are here, here, here, and here. My school specific interview posts (At the moment consisting of CBS, Chicago Booth, Cornell, Haas, HBS, INSEAD, Kellogg, Michigan, MIT, Stanford, Tuck, and Wharton) can be found in the "Key Posts" section in the left-hand column.
1. Don't breakdown. The worst thing you can possibly do is become so obviously flustered by a poor answer that you undermine the OVERALL IMPRESSION you make. An interview is about both specific answers and an overall impression. Not every answer has to be perfect to succeed in this process. Some people become stuck when they encounter a question that they have not previously considered. My suggestion is that it is better to give a bad answer with confidence than to give a bad answer without confidence. Don't question yourself too much in the moment. You can beat yourself up after the interview.
2. Don't lose confidence. Related to the previous comment, confidence is always a selling point. If you don't believe in what you are saying, no one else will. Even if what you are saying is highly flawed, if it is conveyed with confidence it can have a positive impact on the interviewer. Sometimes really smart people are much worse at interviewing than others because of their tendency towards introspection. While it is possible that you might encounter an interviewer who really wants to engage with you at a complex analytical level, based on most interview reports from most schools, this is not the case. There are always exceptions, but in general assume an interview is not analytical debate, but a directed conversation with varying degrees of followup from your interviewer.
3. If possible mitigate. If you know you gave a weak answer, try to mitigate the impact by addressing the issue in another context in the conversation. For example, if you gave an answer about a question related to teamwork where you did not actually emphasize your teamwork, try to make that point later in the conversation. Most interviews end with something like "Do you have anything you would like to tell me?" or "Do you have any questions?" You can always use such opportunities to mention your skills at teamwork or a contribution you would like to make as a student based on your teamwork ability. Mitigating works best for those who know their key selling points and stories very well, so that they can easily bring in something that they missed in the initial answer.
4. Go on the next question. Recovering immediately is about simply moving on and not becoming fixated on what happened in the past. Treat each question as a new opportunity to convince your interviewer that you belong at their MBA program.
5. Smile, make eye contact, maintain positive body language. The natural inclination of many people, when giving a weak answer is often reflected in a changed facial expression, altered body language, and/or loss of eye contact. At least this what I have noticed through over ten years of conducting face-to-face mock interviews with clients preparing for MBA interviews. Again, when it comes to making a positive overall impression, those who don't lose their confidence are at a real advantage.
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