May 15, 2010

How should MBA graduates face corporate interviews and what is expected of them?

What is expected of an MBA graduate ?

An MBA graduate should have the ability to handle uncertainty ! As a manager that is what you are paid for : for the routine stuff, companies have "other ranks" ! So when an MBA graduate walks into an interview the most important arrow in his quiver should be the ability to make sense of an uncertain situation and rapidly formulate a response that is best suited for the occasion.

What can a candidate expect in an interview ?

To begin with one should be prepared to give crisp, clear-cut answers on all aspects of his bio-data : academics, extra-curricular activities, family background, strengths, weaknesses, goals and career aspirations.

How do interviewers evaluate a candidate ?

No two interviewers are the same -- after the basic discussion on educational and family background -- each person will take a different approach. Some will go for theory : they will ask you detailed questions on specific topics of the MBA curriculum -- linear programming, finance, organisational behaviour, strategy or whatever they  themselves are comfortable with. Others will go for the practical approach and here again there are two styles. One style is to evaluate a candidate on the basis of his or demonstrated skills in the management of extra-curricular events, like college fests and the other style is to present a managerial situation -- a small "caselet" -- and ask the candidate to offer a solution or at least an approach to the solution.

Is there a different strategy for each situation ?

The theoretical approach is the easiest to handle. If you know the answer then it is simple but if you do not then you should try to steer the conversation towards an area that you are comfortable with. A good interviewer would try to find out what the candidate knows, not what the candidate does not know. So if you say that finance is not your strong point but you are more comfortable with marketing then there is good probability that the next question will be from marketing and you will be able to answer well. Of course, if you know nothing about anything then you are in trouble with a person who is keen to test your theoretical knowledge. At some point you should honestly admit that you were never the "academic" type and you are more keen about the practical side of things. This may get you some respite in an otherwise embarrassing display of ignorance about subjects that your father has spent a small fortune on to have you taught !

What about those who are not so theory oriented ?

One the practical side of things the only management skills that you, as a fresher, can demonstrate would be through your participation in various college events -- dance club, drama festival, inter college hockey or whatever. Being good at cricket or dance is not important -- unless you are interviewing for an IPL team, what matters is your ability to organise events. So even if you have been within earshot of any meeting that discussed the organisation of any such event then you must talk about it as if  you were chairing the organising committee of the just concluded Olympics.   It is OK to be a bit generous with your own achievements, not because you can fool an experienced interviewer, but because the interviewer is trying to figure out how good you are in convincing others about your managerial skills. After all one of the most important characteristics of a manager is the ability to convince others -- customers or employees --  and then bring them around to your point of view !

What is the most difficult situation ?

The third situation,  where you are asked to interpret a caselet, is the most difficult and if you are in this situation it means that you have an interviewer who really means business. Caselets can span across the entire gamut of managerial scenarios but will generally fall into two categories. In one category the candidate will have two options -- both equally good or equally bad -- and in the other there will be no obvious solution, the candidate will have to devise an original approach.

What should be the strategy in this case ?

In each case, the interviewer will have a preferred solution in mind but the candidate would not know what that is. So the best approach would be to list down the pros and cons of at least two ways of addressing the situation and thus demonstrate that you have an open mind and the ability to explore alternatives -- an essential quality for a good manager. Do not offer one specific solution -- unless you have a clue that this is the solution that the interviewer has in mind -- but in the unlikely event that you are forced to do so, state it, whatever it is, with a fair amount of confidence : do not be hesitant or apologetic about it. State upfront that under the situation this is the solution that seems to be more feasible but should conditions change, one can always take re-look. Decisiveness is an important characteristic of a manager but an equally important characteristic is the ability to adapt.

So to sum up ...

We began with the inevitability of uncertainty and we complete the circle with being able to adapt to it. That is the what competent interviewers are looking for -- so if someone asks you to name the currency of an obscure country on the Black Sea, he is either a fool or he is trying to see how you react to a difficult situation.

an abridged version of this conversation appeared in the Education Times.


Katha said...

To reinforce the same, as an interviewer I would definitely like to evaluate/ measure/ gauge the following:

•A brief/ to the point introduction about the candidate

•The candidate’s understanding of the organization (a brief over view) as a whole as well as the job profile for which s/he is being interviewed

•His/ her ability to relate his/ her academic learning/ extra-curricular activities with the same – i.e. – how s/he thinks what s/he has learnt/ experienced so far can contribute/ be transformed to this job profile

•Why the candidate thinks specifically s/he will be the best fit for the job? Why should I choose him/ her?

•The functional area that interests a candidate most and his knowledge about it

•Situation-specific questions based on the same functional area chosen by the candidate to judge the candidate’s ability to implement theoretical knowledge into practice

•Example of handling a very difficult situation and overcoming the trouble – same as above but as per candidate’s choice

•Example of ability for conflict resolution/ management to understand/ judge the candidate’s people skill

•Strength and weakness

•Goals and aspirations

•Life outside academics/ work

Suggestions for the above:

•Please keep it within academics, projects, internship and extra curricular activities – the interviewer doesn’t need to know what the candidate’s entire clan is up to

•Homework – in today’s date finding out about an organization/ job profile is not difficult, search/ surf/ talk/ discuss with peers/ seniors/ mentors to have an idea and figure out why s/he wants to work for it

•Homework again – Identify basic requirement of the job and divide the same into three areas – Knowledge required for the job, Skills required for the job and Ability required for the job (KSA in short). The next step is to find out the candidate’s USP to relate with the same and come up with the answer

•Sell yourself as a trouble shooter as well as a leader (someone who can come up with an idea/ solution when needed). Period.

•Come prepared.

•Improvise, come up with an original answer and reinforce why you think that is the best

•Prepare one/ two situations before hand

•Same as above – it’s better to not to talk about the fight that you had with your peers and ended up in the hospital with a broken jaw…even if you think that’s the best way to resolve conflict

•Relating the same with work is preferable, the interviewer doesn’t need to know if the candidate has a sweet-tooth (and trust me…a candidate gave me the same answer as his weakness once…)

•Be specific - A candidate needs to point out how s/he is going to contribute towards the organization’s goal as well as how s/he plans to move up

•Whether s/he can balance work and his/ her personal life and how s/he plans to do the same

Calcutta said...

@KK >> thanks for reading and commenting