When Admissions Interviews Go Wrong

Discover top tips for avoiding the worst admissions interview mistakes

Business school admissions interviews are the key to unlocking an applicant’s personality. It’s one of the ways admissions committees see beyond a person’s vital stats. Some believe talking face-to-face, even if done via video conference, is the best way to determine fit with a program. When you have a conversation, you become more than a number.

But admissions interviews don’t always go as planned. As you might imagine, admissions committee members have plenty of war stories to tell. Reading about the wackier interviews can often reveal what not to do. At the very least, they are good for a laugh. But more than that, they can teach you valuable lessons. Discover admissions interviews gone awry and how you can improve your interview performance:


Take charge

What would you do if the person interviewing you had a severe nose bleed, ran out, and never returned? One applicant experienced this and called the admissions committee to ask for a new interview, says Scott Shrum, president and COO of Veritas Prep in Malibu.

The lesson in this story is you have to make things happen for yourself. In fact, Shrum suggests envisioning the interview beforehand. “You should know exactly what you want to cover regarding your past jobs, education experience, career goals, hobbies, and interest in the school,” says Shrum. “Don’t wait for the interviewer to ask questions that perfectly line up with what you want to talk about. It’s your job to make sure these things are covered.”


Avoid spilling your guts

As a former senior associate director of admissions at MIT Sloan School of Management, Julie Strong has seen it all. “Some of my craziest experiences with interviewees include: an applicant who brought their mother, someone who cried, someone who arrived just after being in a car accident, and an applicant who offered to demonstrate how he levitates (he’s now the CEO of a major company),” says Strong.

Apparently, levitating is a good thing, while bringing mom is not so good. Aside from using common sense, you should avoid getting overly emotional. While crying is extreme, most candidates are at least somewhat anxious going into an admissions interview. They might fidget or talk too much. Strong, who is now a master consultant for the admissions consultancy MBA Exchange, warns candidates about offering up too much information.

“Remember to breathe, pause, and know when you have answered the question. Stop talking, and let the interviewer probe more if he or she wants additional information,” she adds.


The wrong attitude kills your chances

When Natalie Grinblatt Epstein was an admissions director at a top business school, one applicant threatened her life during the interview. This prompted the associate dean to put glass doors on the offices, so everyone could see inside. Usually, interviews don’t get that terrifying. But they still might be awkward.

Another time, Epstein, who is now an admissions consultant at Accepted MBA Admissions, had someone show up 20 minutes late to the interview only to then talk about her devotion to another MBA program. The candidate did not get accepted at that school or any other, and then she returned to beg for a spot in her second or third choice. She was denied, says Epstein.

Indeed, the No. 1 piece of advice Linda Abraham, CEO and founder of Accepted, has for you is to know why you want to attend the interviewing school. Recognize what you bring to the table. And give thought to the experiences and achievements that illustrate those points, says Abraham.


Be prepared but not too prepared

Some schools conduct interviews via video conference, especially if candidates live far away while applying. You might get the wrong impression that you don’t have to be as formal when being interviewed on a service, such as Skype. In reality, a video conference is the same as a face-to-face interview when it comes to how admissions committee members judge you.

When a candidate appeared to have been woken up by her scheduled Skype interview with University of Illinois Urbana Gies College of Business, Director of MBA and Professional Programs, Tad Brinkerhoff, was disappointed. He noticed her bed head, unmade bed in the background, and the Hello Kitty pajamas she was wearing. She had no chance of getting admitted.

Another applicant interviewing with Brinkerhoff took the opposite approach by being overly prepared. He had note cards with him for his videoconference interview. The only problem was he was reading directly from them.

While you need to be dressed appropriately and should give thought to your responses, you can’t come off like a robot. “For me interviews are more like conversations.  I want to get to know the student and want them to get to know me and the school I represent,” says Brinkerhoff.” So be prepared to have a conversation about you – who you are, what you want to do and why. Also, be prepared to ask about me – what do I like about where I work, what kind of students would do well at my school, etc.” 

Francesca Di Meglio

Francesca Di Meglio has written about higher education for two decades. She covered business schools and all aspects of management education for what became Bloomberg Businessweek from May 2004 to December 2013. Di Meglio was the consultant editor for the book Admitted: An Interactive Workbook for Getting into a Top MBA Program (85 Broads Publishing, 2011), which was written by admissions consultant Betsy Massar. In addition, she is a family travel and parenting blogger at the Italian Mamma website

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