Best MBA Programs

How to do a great MBA admissions interview

Canada‘s Best MBA Programs 2017
MBA candidate fielding questions

(Illustration by Adam James Turnbull)

If you’ve put together a great MBA application, the admissions committee may ask you to do an interview in person or, increasingly, by video conference. This is not a given; most MBA programs offer interviews only to candidates they consider to be potentially admissable.

Sharon Irwin-Foulon, director of career management at Western University’s Ivey Business School, says the interview is a great way to assess the elements of a candidate that aren’t immediately obvious on paper. Those often relate to what she says are the two things some consider to be liabilities on an MBA application: youth and a low GMAT score. (For what it’s worth, Irwin-Foulon thinks it’s a myth that you need a stellar score and grey hair to get in.) “An interview gives you an opportunity to demonstrate maturity in terms of recognizing what you’re bringing to the table and what you want as an objective at the end,” she says.

Irwin-Foulon also notes that if you are invited to an interview, make sure you have a good response—one that’s both thoughtful and honest—to the question: “Why do you want an MBA?” She’s found that some applicants come in and say they’re doing it because their parents think it’s a good idea or because they dislike their current job and want a “break.” Such weak responses will do little to assure an admission committee that you’re a qualified applicant, says Irwin-Foulon. “You want to demonstrate you’re a mature candidate. Even if it’s the truth [that you’re applying to the program because you’re unhappy in your current job], you should reframe your response as: ‘I’ve had this great run at this organization, this is what I’ve learned. This is what I loved, this is what I didn’t love, and the MBA is where I can pivot.’ That’s a rock star answer,” she says.

Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business also treats the MBA interview as a chance to find out what isn’t immediately obvious on paper. “We might ask someone to come in for an interview because we just want to ask the candidate more questions and make sure that they’re ready, and that they’re very serious and committed to doing their MBA,” says Cynthia Law, John Molson’s manager of graduate admissions and student academic services. She adds that sometimes a decision about an applicant can be made immediately after reviewing the application, if the person is a very strong candidate for the program. If not, or if there are any questions, an interview might be required.

If you are called into an interview, remember that it’s a two-way street. You should be evaluating the school as much as the admissions committee is evaluating you. Arrive prepared with a list of questions. They’re looking to see that you’re really interested in the program and not choosing it arbitrarily. “So many people get caught up in the idea of being under scrutiny instead of being a discerning buyer,” says Ivey’s Irwin-Foulon. She recalls one applicant asking the admissions committee how the school would support her if she failed to achieve her goal. “The goal was very specific; it was about a specific industry, and we had a great conversation,” Irwin-Foulon says. “Ask the questions that are really on your mind.”

Make sure you’re asking questions during the interview that are tailored to the school and its MBA; it’ll show the interviewer that you did your research on the program.

Video Applications: A growing trend

Several graduate business schools in Canada have added a video component to their application processes, but the role this plays varies. Rotman is using the video component as a replacement for two of the essays it previously required; this is meant to give candidates an opportunity to show their personalities, values and interests in a medium other than the written word. It works like this: Once you’re in front of a camera, the school’s video app will ask you to answer two randomized questions in real time. The finished video, which runs two minutes, is submitted with your Rotman application. (Camera shy? Don’t worry: You get an opportunity to shoot a practice video first.)

Similar to Rotman, Sauder is employing video as a supplement to the written portion of its application. However, they give a bit more time to prepare your video. The school asks applicants to answer a predetermined question in a 60- to 90-second video, then to upload it to either YouTube or Vimeo.

The point of the exercise isn’t to evaluate your on-screen appeal: Schools are looking at the content of the video and the candidate’s enthusiasm, not the production quality. “You can tell if someone actually put in effort and whether or not they’ve thought about the message and the location where they choose to film themselves,” says one school administrator.

At Queen’s, the graduate business school is using video in lieu of written essays; however, you need to be invited to complete the video portion. If, after submitting your application online, you’re considered qualified—based on your transcripts, references, work experience, GMAT score and, if necessary, English proficiency test, you’ll be asked to complete three randomized behavioural and situational questions on video. (Sample questions: “Tell us what being a professional means to you,” and “What is a global issue that’s important to you, and why?”) You then have 60 to 90 seconds to answer each question. You get a 20-second practice question, but once you start the video essay, the questions roll without pause.

Queen’s School of Business opted to replace all its written essays with video questions in 2013 because the school started to receive essays that were written by consultants. “I would say that, especially for our international candidates, it’s been extremely effective to match the candidate with the interview,” says Teresa Pires, assistant director of recruitment and admissions at Queen’s. “Once a candidate has been asked to complete the video essay, then we’ll look at the entire application, and make a determination.” The video essays also provide a sense of an applicant’s personality and verbal capabilities, Pires adds.

When preparing to film the video portion of your MBA application, especially if it’s filmed in real-time, remember that it is still part of your MBA application, not an informal YouTube moment. “We see people in a professional setting and suited up as if they were coming to an interview, which is fantastic,” says U of T’s Gauthier.

While it’s important to be professional in your video, it helps to add a bit of creativity and personality, too. One memorable Rotman candidate hung a customized U of T jersey in the background of his video shoot, which both hinted at his personal interests and suggested enthusiasm for the school.