MBA Interviews: Gauging Client Attitudes and Experiences About Interviewing


May, 25, 2016


Categories: Admissions Consulting | Advice | Executive Education | INSEAD | Interview Analysis

Below is an edited version of a paper I wrote for INSEAD’s Executive Masters in Consulting and Coaching for Change (For more about my experience at INSEAD, please here). I believe that it will be of interest to those who are  applying for MBA programs and for other MBA admissions coaches.  I explain why I think understanding a client’s prior experiences at interviewing is extremely useful for tailoring training to meet a particular client’s needs.  Hopefully, it will also be helpful for anyone who wants to understand a bit more about the interview coaching methods I use and to get an admissions coach’s perspective on helping a client overcome some personal challenges. I want to again thank all the clients from 2015-2016 who participated in this study and agreed to me utilizing this information publically.  Except for clients’ results, gender, and in some cases, nationality, all other potentially identifying elements have been removed.

 

Executive Master in Consulting and Coaching for Change

Adam Markus

Practicum 3

An Early Intervention in MBA Admissions Interview Coaching: Gauging Client Attitudes and Experiences About Interviewing at an Early Stage

 

 Originally Presented  in November 2015

Edited & Updated in May 2016

 

Intervention Background: My work as an MBA admissions consultant and coach consists of working with applicants on their applications and then preparing them for interviews at top tier schools. A critical part of the MBA application process is the interview. At top US MBA programs (like Harvard Business School, Wharton, Stanford), which provide a high degree of transparency on their admissions numbers (By contrast INSEAD and most other non-US programs don’t make their admissions data public), the acceptance rate amongst those invited for an interview is approximately 50%. Getting an invite dramatically increases chances of admission. In the standard process for preparing applicants for MBA admission to programs in the US and worldwide, the interview is handled last. Most top tier US MBA programs (Duke, Kellogg, and Tuck are the exceptions) and all top tier international MBA programs do interviews by invitation only after the submission of the application. Most applicants don’t often start preparing for interviews until after they have submitted an application and maybe not until after they receive an interview invitation. Once an invite is received, depending on the school, interviewees may have a few days to over a month  to prepare, but 1-2 weeks is the most common.  For those who are good at interviewing 1-2 weeks presents no significant challenge.  For those with English language issues, some will do extensive preparation even prior to invitations to try to overcome the language challenge. However, applicants will face a variety of challenges that cut across nationality, profession, educational background, and English ability, which include interview anxiety, negative self-talk, poor presentation skills, poor listening skills, low affect, and narcissism. For years, I have encountered these behaviors but, usually, when I do become aware of these issues there is not so much I can do in a short time.  Instead of waiting for interview practice, which would typically begin in October, I contacted my clients in early July while they were preparing Round 1 applications (Due from September 9th for HBS through early October for other top US schools and INSEAD and LBS) and made the following offer:

 

“As you may know, I am a student in INSEAD’s Executive Masters in Consulting and Coaching for Change, a program that focuses on clinical and organizational psychology, organizational behavior, coaching, and leadership development.  As part of my program, I required to prepare and execute a client intervention based on what I have learned in the program.  In addition, I am required to eventually write a thesis. My intervention and thesis will be focused on MBA interviews. I would like your participation in my research in exchange for some value added services to you at no additional cost:  I would like to ask your cooperation for participating in the client intervention.  The intervention consists of an Interview Experience Self-Assessment, which then becomes the basis for a free 30-minute counseling session focused on creating an individual MBA interview preparation plan.”

 

I sent this email to 28 clients and 19 ultimately fully participated in the process. All participants were assigned codes based on when they responded and will be referred to throughout this paper as 1501-1519.  Rather than focus on all participants, I will use examples primarily related to 1516- a European male who applied to HBS, Wharton, and Stanford in Round 1- so that the reader can follow how the intervention worked with a single client.

 

The intervention consisted of the following:

  1. Interview Experience Self-Assessment (IESA) Survey, which clients completed and returned to me.
  2. Pre-Session Attitude Analysis, which provides feedback on the attitude survey in the IESA, was sent to participants before the 30-minute session.
  3. A 30-minute session with me to discuss the questionnaire and to come up with a plan for addressing any concerns they may have. These sessions took place in August to early September.
  4. Feedback on Interview Experience Self-Analysis, which summarized the 30-minute session and focuses on suggestions for an individual MBA interview preparation plan.

 

Note: I hope that three appendices that follow the paper are not necessary to read, but may prove helpful for understanding the intervention more specifically as the above-mentioned documents for 1516 can be found there.)

 

In addition, when applicable I had interview practice sessions with participants that took account of the intervention. In what follows, I will discuss each step of the intervention and evaluate its effectiveness.

 

IESA: The IESA consists of two parts. The first part is an attitudinal survey on characteristics that I would identify as relevant to interview skills. The sample size involved made it impossible to norm the data, so I treated it as an instrument for measuring self-perception and rather than focusing on differences in ratings between participants, I focused on looking at the variation in response by each participant to understand what they perceived as their relative strengths and weaknesses. Inevitably, I compared participants based on overall experience and attitudes but did not share these comparisons with the participants. For example, 1516 rated himself neutral in regards to “I enjoy public speaking,“ but had much more positive feelings in regards to other aspects of communication/interaction related to interviewing. The second part of IESA asks for a lifetime summary of the participant’s interview experiences as well as what they like best and least about interviewing and their best and worst experiences as an interviewee and whether they have had any experience as an interviewer. The summary of his experience shows that 1516 has been very successful at interviewing, but had limited interview experience. He focuses very much on the interviewer in determining what is a good and bad interview. While that seems reasonable enough, his best and worst experiences and what he likes best and least, relate to what interviewers do and not to his own performance. Many other participants had very different answers, which focused on their own performance as well as their treatment by interviewers. From my viewpoint, this indicated that 1516’s ability to perform well was too dependent on the interviewer and not focused sufficiently on his individual performance. I have seen this become a problem for clients, especially when faced with a neutral or aggressive interviewer and it is exactly the kind of thing my intervention was designed to identify. I view both parts of the IESA as useful because it is possible to compare how the participant answers each part. In the case of 1516, someone with neutral feelings about public speaking, the fact that he does not focus on how own performance in the second part of the IESA is rather consistent and something that would, in fact, become an issue when we began his actual interview practice, though I was not aware at the time of the intervention  of how much of an issue it would be.

 

            Pre-Session Attitude Analysis: Just as with other forms of coaching which utilize an attitudinal instrument, prior to having individual sessions with participants, I wanted to give them a document to serve as feedback and for framing the conversation. This document explains the categories used on the attitude assessment and scores them. I am not sure how useful this document was because of the fact that data could not be normed, so I treat the data with extreme skepticism.  At a minimum, it provided an explanation for the attitude survey, but I don’t plan on using it again until such time as I have statistically useful data to work with (Should that ever be possible). In the sessions that I had with respondents and subsequently in their interview practice in October and November, it was the case that the 2nd part of the IESA, which the Pre-Session Attitude Analysis does not cover, provided to be much more valuable. I would surely ask some more attitudinal questions like the ones found in first part, but for my purposes of rolling this out to all my clients (started this in January 2016),  based on what I saw a narrative response/history would prove more useful.

 

            A 30-minute session and Feedback on Interview Experience Self-Analysis: The 30-minute session was an opportunity to confirm and clarify the respondents’ answers to the IESA and to formulate suggestions, as needed, for interview preparation. These suggestions varied greatly depending on the applicant. In the case of 1516 (See Appendix 3), a core issue for 1516 was his need to really believe in what in he was saying and feeling comfortable with the interview environment. As with all the sessions I had with these participants, I tried to use myself as an instrument, for example, I considered how his experiences and behaviors make me feel. 1516 and I share a strong need to believe in what we are saying and have feelings of ambivalence if not outright nervousness about public speaking even though we both have done it. We also both prefer small familiar group settings. I could easily empathize with 1516. However, going beyond empathy, I communicated to 1516 that he had to be prepared to deal with a great range of interviewers (Not just friendly ones, but the most common alternative, neutral interviewers) and to have a more performance rather than interviewer focused strategy to prepare for interviews.

            Interview Sessions that Refer Back to the Practice: This is the point at which I utilized the results of the intervention in paid client sessions for interview practice. In the case of 1516, he received an invite from HBS, so we should have had extensive time to prepare as he received his invitation on October 7 and did not interview until November 17. HBS sends out invites earlier than other schools and there is usually two-three times as much time between the invite and the actual interview compared to other schools. After doing some initial self-prep (Something I strongly advocate and provide materials for), 1516 and I had our first practice on October 25. He had previously canceled the week before. What occurred in that session was completely unexpected. Instead of becoming more comfortable with his responses through self-practice, he was extremely unprepared and began struggling for answers. He broke down in the first session, which simply involved going over his answers to typical questions in an open style (not a mock interview). My intervention did not predict this. It was though if an answer was not perfect, he fell completely apart. I had had not understood that 1516 was not only dependent on how the interviewer acted, he had immense anxiety about performance. As with many clients, I suggested he do mock sessions with one of my colleagues in order to get a different experience and a perspective. When someone has performance issues I typically send them to my colleague who is particularly good at the performance aspect of interviewing and who has extensive experience as a professional interviewer. She experienced the same thing with him on November 7th. Her comments confirmed my observations: “He seems like a nice guy and his experience is very interesting, but that was literally one of the worst interview sessions I’ve had in recent memory.” We had 3 subsequent sessions. Normally, one of my standard practices for HBS involves being a very neutral interviewer because this seems to be the worst case interviewer experience for those who have HBS interviews (and from what my respondents told me, no one likes neutral interviewers), however I did not do this with 1516 as it simply would have enhanced his anxiety, since the IESA indicated the extent to which he was focused on the interviewer. Instead, we briefly discussed how to handle this. Prior to EMCCC, I might very well have been that neutral interviewer, but doubling down on someone’s anxiety is just the kind of thing I wanted to avoid. Instead, I tried to create a safe space for him to practice a full range of questions in order for him to feel comfortable with his answers.  Fortunately, his interviewers (there was an observer) were friendly, which is the style I used for our mock sessions.  He reported that, “I left the interview with a very good feeling. I didn’t get stuck on any question and I just went with the flow.” He was admitted.

 

What I learned from my intervention is that gaining a client interview history and understanding their attitudes was useful, but as the example of 1516 shows, I can’t say it or my ability to read the client history was sufficient to predict the anxiety that 1516 had. Going beyond 1516 and to get a sense of the range of respondents, the issues I encountered, and how I have tried to address them, please see the following table:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see, the intervention did not necessarily identify specific issues with everyone who took it and that is a good thing. I was not trying to find problems where I could not perceive them. The intervention was to serve as an early warning system for more serious issues. It did that to a large extent. For those who participated, I think it can be said that they fall into two groups, those that had no specific issues and those that did. What seemed to unite them was (1) a desire to help me and (2) the fact that I was asking them about an area of experience that they probably had not ever analyzed in this way and that is relevant to MBA applications as well as future employment. For those who had serious issues, the intervention made it possible for me to be aware of their issues at an early stage and make sure they were as well. In the cases of 1501, 1506, 1512, and 1513, they all engaged in extremely high levels of interview self-prep from a very early stage.  I do think understanding my client’s interview experiences prior to having an interview session with me is immensely valuable because it helps me place the way they act in a greater context: Their role biography as interviewees (and sometimes interviewers). It becomes another part of the client’s attitudes and experiences that I can draw on when coaching them

 

Finally, I have begun using the intervention in a greatly modified form since January 2016.  I provide a brief questionnaire related to prior interview experience, which I review for free and briefly respond to. It then helps me know what kind of interview preparation to use with a particular client. Based on what I saw with the intervention, having clients report on their prior experience at interviewing is sometimes enough to make the client aware of issues they have. I think it certainly increases my ability to positively intervene.

 

 

Appendix 1

 

IESA 1516

 

Section 1: A brief attitude survey

For each statement place a  ”Y” in whichever box is most applicable.

Please indicate the extent to which you agree with the following statements

 

AGREE

SOMEWHAT

AGREE

NEUTRAL

SOMEWHAT DISAGREE

DISAGREE

I enjoy public speaking.

Y

I’m a good listener.

 

Y

I am confident when I am an interviewee.

Y

I tend to speak often in groups and classrooms.

Y

People enjoy listening to me talk.

Y

I’m a good storyteller.

Y

I’m good at speaking spontaneously on a wide variety of subjects.

Y

I often lead conversations with others.

Y

Performing well in front of others comes naturally to me. 

Y

I’m good at convincing other people.

Y

 

CONTINUE TO NEXT SECTION

Section 2: Brief Biographical Information

Nationality:

EU

 

Country of Residence:

HIDDEN EUROPE

 

English Ability:  Place a ”Y” in whichever box is most applicable.

Native English Speaker Very Advanced (Extensive Work/ Education Conducted in English) Advanced

(TOEFL 109 or higher)Intermediate (TOEFL 100-108)

Y

 

 

If English is not your native language, what is?

 HIDDEN

 

Gender (Male/Female):

Male

 

Age:

Late 20s

 

Section 3:  Summary of your experience as an interviewee

Provide answers for each category. For any answers not applicable to you, mark “NA.”

INTERVIEW CATEGORIES Number of interviews What is your estimated success rate?  What year was your most recent successful interview? What year was your most recent unsuccessful interview? Percentage of Interviews Conducted in English
Undergraduate and Graduate School Admissions Interview Experience

 

NA

%

 

 

%

Internship Interview Experience (University age or older)

 

6

100%

2011

 

0%

Job Interview Experience (Both Initial positions and internal company transfers)

 

5

80%

2013

 

40%

Other Selective Interview Experience (Scholarships, special educational programs, clubs, organizations, etc.)

NA

%

 

 

%

 

 

Section 4: For the following please write answers of any length.

What do you like best about being interviewed?

When I see that the interviewer:

-       Is passionate about the company and understands its real needs

-       Has a clear vision of what he or she wants from an employee

-       Makes sure that the interviewee knows what to expect (i.e. avoids surprises for the interviewee)

-       Makes the interview a conversation (does not stare into his/her notebook and constantly takes notes, instead actually tries to engage the interviewee)

-       Knows when to pause to give the interviewee time to think his/her answer through

-       Follow-ups and is clear about next steps

 

What do you like least about being interviewed?

When I see that the interviewer:

-       Is not passionate about the company

-       Is disinterested in actually having a conversation with the interviewee and does not make eye contact

-       Is just checking off points on a list

-       Is not actively interested in uncovering the potential of the candidate

 

What was your best interviewee experience like and when was it?

It was my first interview with the company I currently work for, which was actually a series of 6 interviews, each with a different set of 2 interviewers – this took place in 2011. All interviewers were passionate about the company, believed in the values, were actively interested in uncovering the true potential of each candidate, they engaged in conversation and had a clear understanding of the purpose of the job I was interviewing for; they were visibly interested in finding the right balance between raw qualifications, potential and fit with the company values and culture.

 

What was your worst interviewee experience like and when was it?

It was an interview in my home country, in late 2010, with a senior manager of a top global CPG company. The interviewer was completely disengaged, seemed uninterested in the position itself and did not seem too passionate about the company either. All questions were scripted (i.e. read from a list of pre-defined questions), there was no real conversation, apart from a monologue at the beginning of the interview when he unknowingly started reading the resume aloud and comparing his own academic achievements to mine (with no interaction with me).

Overall the interviewer managed to significantly decrease my interest in the company and consequently this led to a very bad interview experience.

 

Have you ever been an interviewer?  When?  How often?  What was it like to be an interviewer?

NA

 

If you experienced any MBA interviews, please discuss how you think they went and what if anything you would do differently the next time you interview.

NA

 

Section 5: OPTIONAL QUESTION

Now that you have answered the above questions is there anything else you think I should know about your interview experience?

Even though my track record might be good, I consider that I have limited interview experience overall and even more so when considering an academic interview.

 

The only interviews I have had in English were for the company I currently work for.

 

THANK YOU FOR COMPLETING THIS DOCUMENT.

NOW PLEASE RETURN IT TO adammarkus@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

APPENDIX 2

Pre-Session Attitude Analysis for IESA 1516

 

Dear Participant,

This document takes the six core indicators (Presentation, Listening, Confidence, Impactful, Spontaneous, Interesting) and uses them as a partial basis for analyzing your past interview experience in order to provide recommendations for enhancing future performance.

This document includes a score report and guide on the Brief Attitude Survey, which we will discuss during the 30-minute counseling session.

After the counseling you will get another report, which includes, a summary of our discussions regarding these indicators, your prior experience at interviewing, and suggestions for enhancing your performance.

 

A Note Regarding Interview Performance Indicators, Evaluation Design, and Value of this Study

The performance indicators I have utilized here are based on my experience doing interview preparation since 2001. There are certainly other ways of looking at the skills, attitudes, and experiences that effect interview performance.  That said, I think the factors I am focused on capture core aspects of the interview process. In the case of a fully develop self-evaluation that you may have encountered previously, such as 360°, statistically valid benchmarking against other participants may have been utilized, but given my sample size and the preliminary nature of this study, that is not possible.

For you as a participant, the value in this kind of study is that it  (1) provides feedback about your self-perceptions, (2) based on that feedback provides advice for improving interview performance in order to gain admission, and (3) hopefully an opportunity to enhance your subsequent performance on interviewing more generally.

For me as an interview coach, this study provides an opportunity (1) to systematize the way I provide advice, (2) attempt to intervene early in the application process in order to maximize positive impact on clients, and (3) further develop my coaching skills by applying a clinical and organizational psychological approach.

 

 

 THE SIX INDICATORS EXPLAINED

 

PRESENTATION Performance Indicator:  While most interviews don’t require making presentations, those who feel comfortable and/or are skilled presenters are often effective at interviewing. In particular, good presenters know how to communicate information, often are good at memorizing stories and data, and can be effective communicators.  Thatsaid, since presentation often relies upon a script or slides, those who consider themselves to be effectiveat presentation, but are not spontaneous, maybe particularly rigid and scripted in the way they interview.

LISTENING Performance Indicator:  An interview is a conversation and hence listening skills are a key measure of performance. Good listeners hear the question being asked to them in all its nuances and are more sensitive to the person they are talking to. Those who rate themselves lower in this area need to consider why that is the case: What behaviors are you in engaging in that reduce your effectiveness as a listener? Note for non-native English speakers:  If English is not your native language and you are factoring this into your self-evaluation, we need to discuss the difference between being a good listener regardless of the language and your ability to listen in English.

 

CONFIDENCE Performance Indicator:  Confidence or its absence can make or break an interview. Lack of confidence, which often is reflected in the voice and body language of an interviewee, can be a serious obstacle to effective performance. Confident interviewees have the capacity to make a strong impression even sometimes when their answersare off target and/or their English skills are not perfect.  That said, those who are over-confident might underestimate the extent to which they need to prepare for interviews that are fast paced or non-standard. The overly confident may also come across as arrogant, especially in the context of a group or team-based interviews.

 

IMPACTFUL Performance Indicator: If you influence or persuade others, your words are impactful.  An impactful interviewee is someone who has the ability to make effective arguments that persuade the interviewer.  If you don’t perceive yourself as impactful, why should anyone believe you or agree with you?  Those that rate themselves as highly impactful can come across as overbearing especially in the context of group or team interviews, especially if they rate themselves as very interesting to others and/or are extremely confident and/or are not good listeners.

 

SPONTANEOUS Performance Indicator:  Spontaneity is a key aspect of effective performance in an interview especially when the questions being asked are ones that cannot be easily prepared in advance for.  A spontaneous interviewee has the ability to answer any question even if their answer is not perfect. They don’t freeze up, but can keep their end of the conversation up and don’t create awkward pauses. On the other hand, if an interviewee is spontaneous and not thoughtful in their responses they may very well say something completely inappropriate. Those who lack spontaneity tend to pause, freeze up, and otherwise stumble when they are asked something they are not prepared for.

 

INTERESTING Performance Indicator:  An interesting interviewee is someone who engages and entertains the interviewer.  To be interesting is to not only have something worth saying but the ability to say it in a way that the listener can become excited by. An interesting interviewee is someone whose stories are likely to make a strong impression on the interviewer. The opposite of an interesting interviewee is a boring one. Those that rate themselves as very interesting can come across as overbearing especially in the context of group or team interviews, especially if they also rate themselves as very impactful to others and/or are extremely confident and/or are not good listeners.

SEE NEXT PAGE FOR ATTITUDE REPORT.  In our session together we will discuss the meaning of these scores.

 

IESA1516

Attitude Statements

AGREE

SOMEWHAT AGREE

NEUTRAL

SOMEWHAT DISAGREE

DISAGREE

INDICATOR

5

4

3

2

1

I enjoy public speaking.

Y

  Presentation
I’m a good listener.

Y

Listening

I am confident when I am an interviewee.

Y

Confidence

I tend to speak often in groups and classrooms.

Y

Spontaneous

People enjoy listening to me talk.

Y

Interesting
Spontaneous

I’m a good storyteller.

Y

Interesting

I’m good at speaking spontaneously on a wide variety of subjects.

Y

Spontaneous

I often lead conversations with others.

Y

Impactful

Performing well in front of others comes naturally to me. 

Y

Confidence
Presentation

I’m good at convincing other people.

Y

Impactful
Confidence

Indicator TTL Point Total %
PRESENTATION

10

3

4

7

70

LISTENING

5

5

5

100

CONFIDENCE

15

5

4

4

13

87

IMPACTFUL

10

4

4

8

80

INTERESTING

10

5

4

9

90

SPONTANEOUS

15

5

5

5

15

100

 

 

APPENDIX 3

Feedback on Interview Experience Self-Analysis for IESA 1516

Dear Participant,

This document includes a summary of our discussions regarding your experience in interviews and suggestions for future development.

Suggestions for future development:

You do well speaking in situations where you feel comfortable with the atmosphere. You use listening skills to gauge what is going on before speaking if possible. This works well in small groups when there is time to figure out the atmosphere, but in interview situations you will have to be able to perform without that level of comfort.  This means knowing what you want to say regardless of the atmosphere of those who are present.  If the interviewer does not create an atmosphere you like you still need to have a strategy to perform.  Fortunately, your confidence should not be impacted because interviews will not happen suddenly and are always in small groups.  You should also be able to approach interviews with high impact because I assume you believe and understand your own story.  It is critical that everything you put into the application is something you believe, especially for schools like HBS, where anything you mention in the application can become a basis for an interview question.

 

You need to be as interesting, spontaneous and driven about your own message as you are about any message you deliver at work. The point of preparation is to get you comfortable discussing yourself in as wide a range of topics as possible.

 

If you have a Wharton Team-Based Discussion interview, it is critical that you attend the cocktail party/social gathering for interviewees that occurs before the actual interview at most overseas locations. Don’t do a TBD on campus because it will not give the same opportunity to meet your fellow interview teammates before the team based interview.

 

Finally, I know you are relatively untested in interviews solely conducted by English native speaking interviewers, but based on your English ability, I don’t think this will be much of an issue for you. Mock interviews with me and/or my colleagues will give you a vital opportunity to gain some further experience in this area before having a real interview.

—————–



-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.

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