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MBA Job Hunt: The Interview

  1. Ten Biggest Interview Mistakes

    Ten Biggest Interview Mistakes

    Behold the job interview. More than other aspects of the job search, which usually take place at a comfortable distance, the interview is up close and personal, and for MBAs who just shelled out something north of $300,000 for their degrees it can seem a little daunting. Everything is riding on making a good impression. To do well with potential employers, applicants must come off as genuine, professional, and prepared (but not too prepared). Careless mistakes can easily cost you a job offer. Here are 10 of the most common interview faux pas.

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  2. Being a Small-Talk Slacker

    Being a Small-Talk Slacker

    Interviewers are people, too. Building a rapport from the start is the best way to make a good first impression. So look your interviewer in the eye, shake his hand, and say hello. “Take the initiative in the introductions,” says Chris Thomas, global recruiting director for the Experienced Commercial Leadership Program at General Electric (GE) in Fairfield, Conn. “Ask me, ‘How are you?’” Small talk shows that applicants know how to be human and deal with people, including teammates and clients.

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  3. Lacking Refinement

    Lacking Refinement

    While excessive formality can make it difficult to connect with an interviewer, being too casual shows a lack of respect. Applicants should use honorifics, such as Mr. and Mrs., at least until the interviewer tells them otherwise. Be personable, says Sophia Tambouratzis, director of programming at the Career Opportunity Center at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, but avoid acting as though you are “besties” with someone who is levels ahead of you on the job and whom you barely know.

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  4. Dressing Inappropriately

    Dressing Inappropriately

    For most MBA interviews, men should wear a business suit and women should wear either a pantsuit or a suit with a skirt. Muted shades of navy blue, black, or brown are best with crisp, white button-down shirts or an elegant blouse for women. A slightly more casual look is appropriate for Silicon Valley and some startup jobs. Applicants should aim for a polished look, says Ron Peracchio, senior director of the Career Development Office at MIT Sloan School of Management. “Make sure your shoes are shined,” he adds, “and you’re putting your best foot forward.”

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  5. Being Unprepared

    Being Unprepared

    This sounds like a mistake no MBA would make, but it happens. In the crush of on-campus recruiting, applicants sometimes head into interviews without reading the job description for the position and end up embarrassing themselves in the process. “You need to know the requirements of the role very well and be able to speak to those requirements,” says Char Bennington, director of career management at University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Another big mistake: trying to wing it when asked common interview questions. Answers to these questions should be formulated, and practiced, in advance. Some schools, including Booth, make questions available to students for just this reason. “Think in advance how you’ll answer, ‘Why do you want to work for XYZ company?’” says Damian Zikakis, director of career services at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

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  6.  Being Overprepared

    Being Overprepared

    While applicants should practice for the interview, they can end up sounding phony. “Recruiters want to make sure they’re seeing the genuine article and not the rehearsed article,” says Michael Malone, managing director of career management at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. He suggests getting to know the company and doing a few mock interviews but not memorizing answers. Recruiters, he says, often complain that applicants are overprepared and too rehearsed. The interview, says Malone, should still be a conversation with some spontaneity and flow to it.

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  7. Winging It

    Winging It

    Trying to formulate an off-the-cuff answer to even simple questions in a high-stakes interview is sometimes harder than it appears, and doing so can be a recipe for disaster. That’s why many business schools teach MBA students an interview framework called SOAR, for “Situation, Obstacles, Action, Result.” The idea is to answer questions by recounting a particular situation, discussing the obstacles, describing the action one took to overcome the obstacles, and sharing the results. “SOAR helps interviewees organize their thoughts,” says Char Bennington, director of career management at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. One can apply the SOAR formula to nearly any response during a job interview.

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  8. Failing to Toot Your Horn

    Failing to Toot Your Horn

    No one wants to meet an arrogant MBA stereotype, the business school know-it-all. But to get hired, applicants have to show they bring a little something extra to the table. In treading that fine line, career experts say the bigger mistake is downplaying your skills and accomplishments. Telling potential employers one can do something is never enough. “Show them you can do the job,” says Rebecca Joffrey, director of the Career Development Office at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. “A good line is, ‘I’ve done something similar to that. Here’s an example.’" The point is to demonstrate your value and offer hard evidence that you have been effective doing whatever it is the employer needs.

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  9. Sticking to the Script

    Sticking to the Script

    Applicants should never hijack the interview. The interviewer should remain in charge, and he or she should be the one asking the bulk of the questions. But applicants have 30 to 45 minutes to shine and they shouldn’t waste a single one. Brad Aspel, director of career education and advising at Columbia Business School, says applicants should follow the interviewer’s lead and answer every question, but answers can include any relevant information, even if the interviewer didn’t ask for it. “Students say to me, ‘The interviewer never asked the question I wanted to answer,’” Aspel adds. “I say to them, ‘You should have given him the answer you wanted to give.’”

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  10. Being Wishy-Washy

    Being Wishy-Washy

    Almost all job interviews will feature behavioral questions, in which applicants must talk about their experiences and skills. Some interviews, however, include other tests. For instance, those seeking consulting jobs must prepare for the case interview. Interviewers present aspiring consultants with a client dilemma and give them a time frame for coming up with a viable solution. Being unprepared, or failing to bring all your analytical skills to bear on the question, can quickly sink an applicant’s chances. But the biggest mistake applicants can make in a case interview is being indecisive, says Mark Howorth, senior director of global recruiting at the consulting firm Bain & Co. “Some people simply refuse to make a decision or keep changing their mind,” he says. “It’s a proxy of a real-world situation.” No one will hire a wishy-washy consultant, so provide a resolution.

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  11. Being Dull

    Being Dull

    At the end of most interviews, applicants have the chance to ask questions about the company or the job. This is one’s opportunity to show enthusiasm for the job and an interest in what’s happening at the company. Failing to ask a question, asking one that can easily be answered on the company website, or asking how the interview went are all big no-nos. “Have one or two questions that are specific to the role or the company,” says Chris Thomas, global recruiting director for the Experienced Commercial Leadership Program at General Electric (GE) in Fairfield, Conn. Most applicants, while conducting their research and going through the interview process, are wondering about some aspect of the job or a project or experience they would like to have. Keep these things in mind while coming up with questions. And then ask them with confidence.

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