Mastering the Interview
With all the pre-work and preparation you’re doing throughout the semester to get ready for your dream job, the actual interview can seem like a final hurdle way off in the distance. While that’s somewhat true, the earlier you start preparing for your interviews, the better off you’ll be. You shouldn’t wait until you have your interviews scheduled to begin preparing, but should begin laying the groundwork far in advance. In this section we’ll review some common interview types and how to prepare for them.
How do companies interview MBAs? MBA-level interview questions fall into three broad types:
Behavioral and Fit Interviews
Behavioral interview questions are meant to give the interviewer an idea of how you would respond to challenges and issues you’re likely to encounter in the job based on how you have responded in the past. They are testing your general competencies, interpersonal skills, problem-solving skills, and sometimes some technical skills.
Fit interview questions can sound a lot like behavioral questions, but they are looking to gauge how you’d fit in the company structure or culture. For example, they might ask you about a time you dealt with a difficult customer to see how you handle stressful situations, and they would be looking for a response that is in line with how they handle it at the company.
Typical behavioral or fit interview questions include:
Tell me about a time you had to gather and analyze data to support an ongoing project. How did that affect the outcome of the overall project?
Describe a situation when you had to deliver bad news to your boss.
What is your biggest weakness? Give an example of how you have dealt with that in the workplace.
What was your proudest moment at work?
Tell me about a time you had to make a quick managerial decision without your boss’s approval.
As we talked about in the resume section, the STAR format is your friend when answering behavioral and fit questions:
S-Situation– what was the context you were operating in? Decreasing sales? Need to streamline a process?
T- Task– what was your role in addressing the situation? What was your ‘to-do?’
A- Action– what did you specifically do to address the situation? Bring in new business? Form a team to solve the problem?
R- Result– the specific, measurable result of your action
A typical answer might span two minutes, and spend the first 20 seconds outlining the Situation and the Task you were faced with. The longest portion of your answer would be the Action part, and this is your chance to shine! You should talk about how you approached the situation and the specific steps you took to solve the problem, which will lead into your conclusion, or the Result.
A common issue we see over and over is that candidates spend too much time setting up the context portion of their answer (Situation and Task) and don’t leave enough time for the Action and Result. Practice quickly communicating the relevant details to set up the Situation and Task, then move swiftly into the main Action portion of your answer. The Result should tie it all together at the end and give the interviewer a sense of what you learned from the experience.
You will want to practice behavioral and fit questions starting now. Go back and review your resume, past job evaluations, and write own notes from your previous jobs while it’s all still fresh in your mind. If you can come up with a story or two to address the common areas of inquiry for behavioral interviews that will give you time to practice them and have several good answers handy for whatever an interviewer might ask you.
Writing out your stories in the STAR format can help you organize your thinking. Don’t worry about scripting answers to every possible question you could receive, but group behavioral questions into buckets or types and come up with examples from your work that address them. That way you’re ready for the different variations of questions that companies might ask you. You can also get a sense for what questions you’re likely to be asked by reviewing online sources or working with alumni, second year students, and your school’s career office.
Case interviews are common for the consulting industry, but are also used in other contexts as well. A case interview simulates a business situation like the ones you might encounter in the job, and tests your ability to analyze a problem with a logical, comprehensive structure. They’re not necessarily looking for you to have all the answers, but for insight into your thought process and how you come across while presenting your findings in a high-pressure situation. An entire industry has grown up around case interviewing, and we’re not going to try to replicate that in this guide. We will give you some general advice as you think about your preparation.
You will want to start practicing case interviews early in the process. Typically students will practice somewhere between 20 and 50 cases before the actual interview day for a consulting role. Given that each practice case will take about an hour to complete start to finish (including time for feedback), that’s a big commitment! You can start out by reading up on frameworks and typical types of cases, then begin practicing them with your classmates and friends. As you become more comfortable with them, there will be other resources at your disposal, from career coaches to outside resources to help you practice.
Victor Cheng has a popular guide for students getting started in case interviewing.There are other resources available online and through your school, and we encourage you to find the ones that you are most comfortable with because you will need to put in a good amount of effort.
Technical interview questions test specific competencies that are key to a role. These are common in investment banking and finance interviews to make sure you have an understanding of financial analysis and principles. Marketing interviews also commonly use technical questions to see how well you understand the terminology and methodology involved in that industry.
Preparing for technical questions happens both in and outside of the classroom. While you’ll get exposure to finance, accounting, marketing, and other concepts that are important, you need to truly stand out from the crowd with your answers, and that often means using outside resources to prepare. Your school can guide you to proprietary resources, and others are available online.
For Investment Banking and Finance interviews, you should be prepared to answer technical questions around:
- DCF (Discount Cash Flow) analysis
- WACC (Weighted average cost of capital)
- Debt vs. Equity financing in buyouts
- LIFO/FIFO accounting and how it affects the business
- Deferred taxes
- Income statement/balance sheet/cash flow statement analysis and how they interact together
- Recent economic news, deals, and market trends
Technical questions for other industries can take many forms, but you want to be prepared with a full understanding and mastery of the material you’re expected to know.
General Interview Tips
Once you’ve prepared your answers and practiced, it’s important to remember some key tips when the time actually comes to sit down and interview.
- Do your homework about who is interviewing you and their background.
- Leave your cell phone outside the interview.
- Dress appropriately, enter with a smile and a firm handshake.
- Come prepared with questions for the interviewer.
- Be yourself!
- Remember that the interviewer doesn’t want you to fail, so stay confident
- After the interview, stay calm and thank them.
- Send a thank you note before the end of the day.
Interviewing is inherently stressful, but with preparation and practice you can maximize your chances of landing your dream job. This outline, while basic, serves as an initial guide to lay out your process for the next few months. There are a lot of people who want you to do well and have crafted lots of resources to help you along the way.