The most common start to an MBA admissions interview is a friendly, open-ended question: “Tell me about yourself.” It is the only interview question that is so famous as to have its own acronym, TMAYS.
Furthermore, because it is often the very first question, answering it well puts your interviewer in a good mood and paves the way for the rest of your interview to go smoothly.
This article will explain why admissions committees ask this question, some basic mistakes you can avoid, and what you should do if you want to deliver a great answer that helps you to really connect with your interviewer.
The interviewer already has your resume, and at some schools, such as HBS, the interviewer has conducted a detailed review of your entire application package, including your essays, recommendation letters, and more.
Because the interviewer already has this information in front of them, they aren’t looking for you to recap the basic facts. So why are they asking this question?
This is meant to be an easy question — it’s open-ended, and is a totally foreseeable question that you had plenty of time to practice again and again until you got it right.
Your resume shows where you attended college, where you work, and what you do outside of work, but it doesn’t explain why you chose those schools, employers, and activities.
During an MBA, you’ll introduce yourself to hundreds of people — among others, classmates, alumni, employers, and professors. Will you make a good impression during those interactions?
You might notice that none of these reasons have anything to do with understanding the facts of your background.
Although a good answer will always include some facts about your education and work experience, this question is NOT primarily about memorizing the content of your resume, or figuring out a short way to cover every single experience you’ve ever had.
It is about explaining your deeper motivations and making a personal connection with your interviewer.
The first big mistake would be giving a blow-by-blow chronological account of your life:
So, I was born in Los Angeles, where I played football in high school, and eventually attended Notre Dame for college, where I majored in…
By my junior year, I secured an internship with…
Why would this be a mistake? First of all, how many times do you think your interviewer has heard this one before?
For experienced interviewers, it may be hundreds of times.
This type of story can bore the interviewer because every part is so predictable. Nearly every MBA applicant in the world:
You do NOT want to bore your interviewer by giving an answer that is totally predictable, and similar to what hundreds of competing applicants will say.
Second, this type of answer makes it very easy to fall into the trap of giving too much detail.
During mock interviews, some applicants begin by telling me about two or three college internships before they even get to their first full-time job, at which point they’ll start talking about the details of several work projects per job.
And this huge amount of detail leads them right into the second big mistake.
There is a fundamental asymmetry in MBA admissions interviews:
This means that you want to give short, understandable answers, and trust the interviewer to dig for more detail if they want it. This enables the interviewer to get through all of their desired topics.
The average MBA admissions interview lasts 30 or 40 minutes, and your interviewer probably wants to cover your career goals, your fit with the school, and a few examples of your previous experiences in which you succeeded, failed, or worked on teams.
Taking too much time on any one question can prevent your interviewer from covering their full agenda.
If you treat your interviewer as a real human being, and the interview as a conversation — not an interrogation — you’ll do wonderfully with this question.
The right answer should be interesting and memorable, but not too clever or overly engineered.
You should take full advantage of the fact that there’s no prescribed structure, which allows you to frame your profile in exactly the way you want.
We could never give a one-size-fits-all answer, but a few successful openings have looked like:
Both of these examples offer an engaging start, while also getting directly to the practical point of explaining what the applicant does professionally, and setting them up to say more about that.
The way you deliver your answer is equally important as the content — maybe more — and for this reason, Menlo Coaching’s MBA interview preparation service includes spending two hours with our professional actors on communications training.
We make our applicants sing, dance, do impromptu speaking, and embarrass themselves just a little bit, all in the service of making them more relaxed and happy on the day of the real interview.
Watch the video below (wait for it to load) to see how these top business school admits prepared for their MBA interview.
Menlo Coaching helps a limited number of interview-only clients, and we offer school-specific preparation for HBS, Wharton, MIT Sloan, and other unique interview formats.