1st in a 4-part series on MBA interviews
Tell me about yourself. It’s a simple question, right? Yet we find several applicants tripping over this interview staple more often than not. And, because it’s usually the first question presented to them by their interviewer, it can set the tone for the whole interview and derail all the planning and preparation you’ve done.
Overall the goal of any interview is to present the best possible version of yourself in a way that is appealing and engaging, not just impressive. It’s important to try and connect with your interviewer, so instead of blinding them with a series of dazzling facts, the aim is for them to get a real snapshot of what kind of person you are. Whoever the interviewer might be, the onus is on you to present yourself quickly, stressing some of the aspects you feel are cornerstones of your personality, events that have been significant in your life, and other vital pieces of yourself, in an articulate and concise way.
So let’s talk about some of the classic pitfalls of this seemingly easy interview ice-breaker and how you can avoid them when you find yourself in an MBA interview.
- Responding to the question in a chronological list detailing everything you’ve ever done academically and professionally may not be the ideal way to begin. Starting your response with, “Well, I was born in Delhi and I went to XX school, and then I did this, and then this, and then this, and I studied this and graduated top of my class from this prestigious college, and then I did this internship…” isn’t a compelling or illustrative way to describe yourself. Think about it – What about your personality does the listener really get from this response?
- Instead of giving your interviewer a timeline of your life, think about a few key events that are really important to you. Is your identity as a Delhi native vital to your sense of self? If so, talking about growing up there should be coupled with an explanation of how that has affected your character. Maybe growing up in a city has gotten you addicted to the fast-paced hustle, or growing up in a quiet village has given you a sense of zen. Maybe you’ve always had the drive to create social change, or decided to take over your family business because you knew you had an idea to improve it, no matter the resistance. You don’t need to start from birth to describe yourself, you should in fact start with what you feel is the best way for someone to get to know you.
- Part of what throws people off about this question is that they don’t have a prepared answer for it. So practice this one, and have a few points you can lean on to use. Think about your essays and the central message you are trying to convey. Are you a problem-solver? A community builder? Have you taken the lead on a lot of projects? Do you prefer to support others and create a strong team? Now, think about your life outside of work. How have you displayed those qualities? Have a few examples on hand, so you can comfortably talk about how you are a great communicator, highlighting your time negotiating with several companies to get the best sponsorship for your college festival. Or discuss how because your parents took you on family vacations, travel has become a significant part of your life and led you to push for more projects abroad with your company.
- If you really get stumped, try asking a few close friends how they would describe you. Ask them what about you stands out, and what they feel someone must really know about you.
Remember, the goal of this question is to break the ice, but it’s also to get the ball rolling. Being able to connect from the beginning of the interview can make the rest of the experience better, not just for the interviewer, but for you as well.
While you’re preparing for your interview, read about how to approach a team-based interview here, find out the difference between admissions committee and alumni interviews here and figure out the best way to thank your interviewer here.
If you require any more guidance, get in touch with us. Good luck preparing!
Tags: business schools, interview prep, mba
My name is ————-
I started writing this essay on a piece of paper, but that’s exactly what I’m not.
Let me introduce myself properly.
I am my parents’ child.
My parents are a driving force in my ambition to make this world a better place. My dream of pioneering my own Ed-Tech start-up first began at my kitchen table, where my parents – an educational strategist and a high-tech executive – would share stories about their work.
My dad, a farmer turned president of a $2B market cap tech company, showed me that determination succeeds in any environment, from the fields to the boardroom. My mom, an education innovator and social justice advocate, impressed upon me the importance of proper and equal education for all. My parents showed me that a profession is more than advancing just yourself or your family – it’s about advancing society.
I am determined to reach and exceed my parents’ achievements, in my own way, by combining the passions born from my life’s biggest influences – education, technology and management.
I’m driven by the desire to use technology and open source principles to improve education in remote and rural areas around the world.
I am a global citizen.
Just before I entered first grade, my father was tapped by a former army commander to work in high tech in Boston. My view morphed from the rolling hills of our town to skyscrapers, the songs of birds replaced by honking taxis.
Two days after arriving in America, I found myself in a public classroom, without a single friend or a word of English to my name.
Feeling embarrassed and confused in class led me to spend my afternoons memorizing the ABC’s and scanning books in English. I forced my parents to give me English lessons every night when they returned home from work. After a year, I felt completely at home, and I even mentored new foreign arrivals, preparing them for what to expect at school and helping them to practice English.
We moved back to my town after six years in Boston, but the experience abroad was foundational. Rooting for the Celtics became as much a part of my anatomy as Brazilian asado – Boston added another layer to my identity.
Acclimating to a foreign culture at such a young age opened me in ways that have been essential to my personal and professional growth. Long afternoons of learning made me an independent learner – a skill I use often at work today, mastering new programming languages and conducting in-depth research at my employer’s innovation center.
Overcoming my language barrier at a young age taught me to be patient, to give others the benefit of the doubt, and instilled the value of mentorship. These insights helped me to become a highly cooperative person whom others feel they can trust.
I am a leader.
I first learned to lead as captain of my high school basketball team, leading my team to a national championship against all odds. We had less talent, less experience, and we were (on average) 4 centimeters shorter than our opponents. In the end, our teamwork and friendship prevailed. After winning the championship, I was invited to scrimmage with the national team. I insisted they allow my entire team come.
Becoming national champions showed me the value of persistence and never underestimating you own abilities, or the abilities of your team. This was especially instructive when serving as a paratrooper; I suffered a serious back injury from long treks with heavy equipment. My commanders presented me with two options: take a desk job, or sign an extra year beyond my mandatory service to attend Officers’ School and afterward lead an elite unit for special operations and technology development. Determined to make the most of my service in spite of my injury, I chose the latter.
Just like the basketball team I led, my first project as started as something of a lost cause: I was handed responsibility for developing a $2.8M thermal tracking device alongside a world-leading military contractor. The project was over a year behind schedule, manned by an exhausted, frustrated team.
I never doubted that we would reach the ambitious 8-month goal the army had set. I created a comprehensive Gantt to meet development, finance, logistics, and HR benchmarks. I worked hard toward creating cohesion between army and civilian team members.
When additional product features required more capital to develop, I used my nights off to create marketing campaigns that I pitched to higher-ranking officers – to countless colonels and even a brigadier general. I solicited private donations from dozens of international donors, tailoring each presentation to their cultural preferences and priorities. I raised $1M in capital, we met our deadline, and our unit became the go-to unit for product development and for special tech operations. After the release of the thermal tracking device, I led 7 additional projects with budgets totalling $4M.
I believe that Ed-Tech is the future.
Growing up in an immigrant community, I developed a close understanding of what it meant to live in a poor, remote part of a country. Teaching at-risk teenagers and elementary school orphans in Thailand brought meaning to my mother’s words, “Education is the distance between have and have-not.” Technology is the only way to shorten this distance.
I intend to leverage my technological skills, experience as an educator, and the business acumen I’ll acquire at Harvard to create Ed-Tech products to increase access to education through low-cost applications based on based on collaborative knowledge sharing and big data analytics.
My tech achievements thus far give me the confidence that I am ready to bring my own products to the public.
I developed a start-up company, an online platform for professional development and recruiting. I drew capital for entire project with nothing more than belief in my idea and very convincing power point presentations. Today, My company has thousands of users and is the main professional development platform for several multi-million-dollar tech firms.
Global change begins from local change, and my country is fertile testing-ground. After my MBA, and hopefully following success as a product manager with an Ed-Tech firm, I intend to pilot my own projects in my country’s periphery, targeting underserved populations.
Harvard is my calling.
More than being located in my beloved childhood hometown, Harvard Business School is the place that piqued my interest in management sciences. I had the opportunity to accompany my dad to HBS courses while he was studying with the Advanced Manager’s Program. Sitting in the AMP courses ignited my interest in case-studies (I ended up reading every study in my father’s folder!), and I enjoyed in-depth discussions with professors like Richard Vietor and Guhan Subramanian. I am fortunate to be able to continue my interaction with HBS through reading articles and case studies on the IBM learning portal.
Harvard is the quintessential learning experience. Through innovations in EdTech, I believe the Harvard standard can become a world-wide education standard.
I’m an adventurer, a risk taker, a challenge seeker. I’m an educator, a leader, an entrepreneur and a social innovator.
I’m not just my past, I am my future; and I’m about to embark on a new chapter of my life, with you, at Harvard.