Recognizing the Social Cues of MBA Interviewing

Recognizing the social cues of MBA interviewingEffective interviewing requires skill. While a good interview does not guarantee that you will move forward in the process, a bad interview does guarantee that you will stop moving at all. Therefore, learning effective interviewing requires practice. Your job is to invest the time to become effective at interviewing.

All interviews create the same jitters. Whether you are interviewing for the first time in your professional life, or you are a seasoned professional seeking your next challenge in life, there is a nervous energy that must be channeled, prep-time that must be invested, and above all, you must know how to tell your story. If you are interviewing for a job, or interviewing at your #1 business school, there are similarities. There are standard questions that you will get asked, such as:

Three Common MBA Interview Questions:

Walk me through your resume?

What are your short term and long term goals?

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

While these three real world questions are often asked, there are subtle differences that lie within the social cues from the interviewer that determine if these interviews have successful outcomes or fall short of gaining business school admission. Recognizing that social cues in interviewing are absolutely real, social cues are only occasionally discussed and seldom practiced on how to identify them while you are actually being interviewed.

To be on the same page, let’s define social cues. Simply stated, social cues are the verbal or nonverbal, positive or negative signals that people send through body language. While the cues can range from facial expressions, such hand gestures to vocal tone, to those who are new at interviewing, it is not uncommon to miss the cues if the interview is slowly taking a wrong turn. For many applying to business school, your career may still be developing and you might not have had many (more than 10) formal interviews with various corporations to build a solid foundation on what to look for from interviewers.

All interviews begin the moment you walk into the building where the interview will be conducted. At that point, all eyes are on you. It has been documented that a first impression will be made within the first 19 seconds of meeting you! The moment someone says “Hello” to you… it’s game on. The way you respond is your cue on how your first impression will be received.

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Check out our YouTube Video on “How to give the Best Answers for your Strengths & Weaknesses Interview Question.”

The Art of Small Talk

An interview is the evaluation of your soft and hard skills. However, decisions are based on a relationship. As the interviewee, it is your responsibility to establish a rapport with the interviewer. Small talk is important. When your interview begins and you are asked, “How was your commute in?, Did you find parking easy enough?, How are you doing?,” your response must be positive, upbeat, and complimentary to them for making it easy for you to meet with the interviewer; and one word answers such as “Good, Yes, and Fine” are unacceptable. Your ability to make small talk will set the tone and create a positive impression that you are a confident individual. More importantly, the enthusiastic smile on your face, your high energy, and your thorough answers will be the success factors that will dictate your ability to move forward in the interview process.

The Art of the Response

There are multiple ways you can answer any question. However, you need to find one way that is genuine to you in order to have a great answer. As a suggestion, here are a few sample responses to the questions above for you to consider as you practice your answers:

“My commute was great. I knew rush hour traffic would be a challenge, so I gave myself an extra 30 minutes to get here and it worked out well. I actually enjoyed my commute today.”

“Parking was extremely easy. I have heard that parking downtown can be a challenge, but I gave myself plenty of time to get here and I found parking without any problems.”

“My day is going great. I am excited to meet you and I have been looking forward to our conversation this entire week.”

Your enthusiasm will set the tone and perhaps even put the interviewer in a more relaxed, friendlier mood as they will appreciate your positive persona. However, in case you get an interviewer that seems to be more scripted in how they ask you questions, be conscious of their body language as the interview progresses.

Reading Body Language

A common frustration with interviews is when the interviewee is not able to properly read the interviewer’s reaction to your questions. As much as interviewing is a skill, being an interviewer is also a skill and not every person who interviews prospective candidates is a capable interviewer. With that said, you must recognize that they are a gatekeeper and you are responsible to find some common ground. For example, be aware of their eye contact. If your interviewer is glancing around the room, it’s a signal that your responses may be long. Do not be perceived as a rambler. Be concise and prepared to shorten your answers if you see that the interviewer’s attention to your words are drifting.

Vocal tone is an important factor to the successful flow of interviews. If the interviewer begins to say (Ah, Okay, I see) while you are still responding to their question, that is your cue to shorten your response and stop. Be mindful on how they react to your answers. Ultimately, you want to have a positive experience. You want to leave the interview feeling proud. Practice interviewing. Practice responding with succinct answers. Invest the time to become effective and have the courage to interview as much as you can.

Once again, remember that while a good interview does not always move you forward a bad interview will always keep you back. Your first impression is critical, so maintain a positive demeanor. Recognizing the social cues of MBA interviewing is a skill and with the right coaching, this is a skill that you can master!

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Jesse A. Mejia is the Founder & CEO of MBA Catalyst, an MBA admissions consulting firm committed to helping you tell Your Story. Jesse has been quoted by the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and has been a featured guest on National Public Radio. He is a member of the National Speakers Association and is a sought-after speaker on the topic of personal economic empowerment.

Jesse is the author of Dual Track: Graduating from College with Options and is currently writing his second book, ¡Rise Up, Mi Gente! A Roadmap for Latino Young Professionals to Achieve Success in Corporate America. To contact Jesse, email him at

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