10 Tips on MBA Admissions Interviews and Essays
Now comes the hard part: getting accepted into the program.
So you've done all the research, decided on the MBA program that's right for you, and have your heart set on the perfect business school. Now comes the hard part: getting accepted into the program.
Every school has their own MBA admissions process and culture and will look for different things from their candidates. But there are some universal tips and tricks that can help you get your foot in the door. Here, Hult's Vice President of Enrollment and Strategy, Fernando Mora, gives tips on how to ace your MBA admissions essays and interview.
Fernando started at Hult in 2006 at our Boston campus as an enrollment advisor for Latin American candidates. He then worked as a director on the team for North American candidates before moving to London in 2008 to lead the European team. He has more than ten years' experience interviewing thousands of MBA candidates from all over the world.
We asked Fernando what advice he had for candidates wanting to ace their MBA admissions interviews and essays. Here are Fernando's top ten tips:
Tip 1. Have a clear plan for the future and communicate it clearly
People who perform best in admissions interviews are those who have a clear plan for the future. The first question is always about the background, and most people are confident talking about that, it acts as a nice warm up. Where people stumble is when you ask them about their plan for the future.
"Where people stumble is when you ask them about their plan for the future."
If we don't know what you want to accomplish with your MBA, how can we know if this is the right program for you? It's so important to have thought through before you get to interview what you want to achieve and how your MBA is going to help you achieve it. Even if you have several options, at least show you've thought about it.
Students on a one-year program have to be super focused, super motivated. And this is going to be a lot easier if you have a clear path mapped out from the beginning.
This is especially important if you're applying for scholarships. We make scholarship offers based on a candidate's potential, not just past achievements. So if you don't have a vision, we can't assess your potential.
Tip 2. Sell your vision
Passion is infectious. The more passionate you are about your vision for the future, the more we are going to want to support it, and you. I remember one candidate who really stood out. He had really interesting aspirations for his own business, like many people who come to Hult. What made him different was the way he sold his idea to me like I was an investor. By the end of the interview, he totally had my buy-in for his future plans. In fact, I was cheering him on! And that's all to do with showing passion and conviction in your ideas and selling them to your audience.
Tip 3. Don't make the interviewer work hard
Some candidates have a tendency to wait for us to ask the questions and follow our lead with everything. We have to work really hard to get the information out of them. These are not going to be the standout candidates; they are easily forgettable.
The ones we remember are the ones who make our job easy — they take a question and they run with it, using it to showcase their vision and their talent. Some will turn the tables so they are questioning us, trying to find out how we can support them and effectively leading the interview — there's evidence of leadership potential right there.
An admissions interview works the same as a job interview. You need to persuade the interviewer that you are the right candidate for the role. And we want to be persuaded!
"An admissions interview works the same as a job interview. You need to persuade the interviewer that you are the right candidate for the role."
Tip 4. Have the name of at least one company you want to work for
This is a simple one. But it's something so many candidates struggle with — naming a company they want to work for. If I'm not really understanding what a candidate wants to do with their career, I'll ask them to tell me who they'd like to work for. That way, I can instantly place them — ah, they want to work for an edgy startup, a tech innovator, a big consultancy.
I'm not judging their career aspirations — there's no right or wrong answer here — it's just to help me get a better understanding of who they are and how we can help them.
So have at least one company name up your sleeve that you'd like to be employed by and make sure you can explain why. Because if you can't answer a simple question like that quickly and confidently, it just makes it look like you don't have a clear idea of what you want to do.
"Have at least one company name up your sleeve that you'd like to be employed by and make sure you can explain why."
Tip 5. Show you have an entrepreneurial spirit
Every school is different so make sure you do a little research and look at the kind of qualities they're looking for in a candidate. At Hult, business and adventure go hand in hand and we're looking for people with a similar mindset.
Candidates who see career propositions as possible adventures – full of entrepreneurial spirit, innovation, and growth opportunity — those are the candidates that really excite us. They are looking at the big picture, far beyond the MBA program.
At the end of the day, an MBA is a springboard into the rest of your career, the rest of your life — it's not an "I pay this, I get that" sort of exchange. Candidates who see their MBA as an investment, as an adventure: those are going to be the ones who get the most out of the experience. Open-mindedness, adaptability, and resilience — these are qualities we value highly at Hult.
Tip 6. Concentrate on communicating your ideas, not your grammar
This is particularly relevant for candidates who are interviewing in a language that is not their native tongue but it applies to everyone. What an interviewer cares about is the substance behind what you're saying, not the way you are saying it.
If you are worried about whether or not you are using exactly the correct words or if your grammar is perfect, you are less likely to talk in a compelling and engaging way.
"If you are worrying about whether or not you are using exactly the correct words or if your grammar is perfect, you are less likely to talk in a compelling and engaging way."
I remember one candidate who had excellent test scores for English proficiency and could write excellent English too. When I interviewed him, it was clear his spoken English wasn't perfect. But he wasn't hung up on finding exactly the right word or sentence structure and he could express himself brilliantly. We're not here to mark your grammar; we want to understand your vision.
Tip 7. Interview in person if you can
It's always best to do an admissions interview face-to-face if possible. You're more likely to be able to get your point across clearly and build a rapport with the interviewer. It can be hard if you're based far from the school, but it may be worthwhile making the journey if you can.
If you do have to have to do the interview remotely, a video call like Skype or Google Hangout is the second best option, but make sure you have a good internet connection.
Tip 8. Approach your admissions essay like an executive summary
Different schools have different things they're looking for from an admissions essay. So make sure you do a bit of research so you're clear on the sort of essay you're expected to write.
Hult's MBA admissions process is designed to assess what skills a candidate has that makes them likely to succeed in business, not at university. Our essays are not academic exercises; they are business tools.
We only ask for one basic admissions essay or "personal statement' and we ask it to be short, no more than 500 words. What matters in business is that you can communicate an idea clearly, concisely, and persuasively. And that's what we're looking for in a personal statement — it's like the executive summary to your application.
Tip 9. Use formatting to make your MBA admissions essays easy to read
The enrolment team and the admissions committee read hundreds of essays every application deadline, running into thousands for the year. And they read them quickly. Make your essay as easy to read as possible so we can concentrate on your ideas:
- Break the text up into paragraphs; you'd be amazed at the number of essays we receive that are just one big block of text. That is painful to read and detracts from the substance of what's actually being written about.
- Use bullet points — like this!
- Use subheaders
- Use bold
There's no need to overdo it and make the text look messy and confusing. But using formatting to organize information and highlight important points is basic good practice in business writing because it helps your reader skim the text and still get all the important information.
Tip 10. Use real examples of things you've actually done in your MBA admissions essays
For most Hult scholarships, we require candidates to submit two essays — a personal statement and an additional scholarship essay. Like the personal statement, we ask this to be short at under 500 words, for the same reason that these essays are not intended to be academic, they should be pragmatic.
We have a range of scholarships, such as Global Professional, Social Impact, Women in Business, and Entrepreneurial Impact. Competition is fierce and the question we're asking when we read an MBA scholarship essay is: Why is this candidate worthy of a scholarship? And we're looking for evidence.
Most candidates say they have good ethics, and values, and beliefs. But the only way we can know that's true is if they show it by using real examples of things they have actually done — personally and professionally. Don't talk about what you believe, talk about what you've done that demonstrates those beliefs.
"Don't talk about what you believe, talk about what you've done that demonstrate those beliefs."
Get straight to the point, and connect your past experience with your future plan. If you have an interesting story, it's a bonus, but what matters are the things you've done and the results you've gotten.
Not sure whether a one-year or two year MBA is right for you? This article weighs up the pros and cons of both.