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Master the MBA Interview as an International Candidate

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Candidates should be familiar with Skype if interviewing for a U.S. school from abroad.

Prospective students should anticipate making some mistakes when speaking English, but shouldn’t expect that to ruin the interview.

Business school admissions interviews can be especially intimidating for non-native English speakers. Candidates from abroad face at least two hurdles that U.S. students often don’t: an unfamiliar language and cultural differences.

“In some cultures, it’s just close to impossible to speak up and talk about your accomplishments. It’s considered very, very rude to do that. Yet in a U.S.-style interview, it’s expected that you sell yourself,” says Marci Armstrong, associate dean for graduate programs at Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business.

“There are other cultures that come across to a U.S. interviewer as being very, very arrogant. They just won’t stop talking about themselves.”

Candidates can gauge how much or how little to talk by understanding the basic format of these interviews. They usually last about 30 minutes and allow prospective students to discuss why they are interested in a particular school, career plans and other related topics. Someone from the admissions staff or an alumnus living in the candidate’s country may conduct it.

Having this conversation in a foreign language or as a part of another culture can be difficult, but it’s an obstacle that many overcome. Here are five recommendations from experts on how to successfully sell yourself as an international candidate for a U.S. MBA program.

[Avoid these MBA interview mistakes.]
1. Practice listening: The first step in alleviating concerns about speaking in English is to, well, start speaking in English, experts say. But it’s important to spend just as much time listening as you do talking.

“You can tape-record yourself, and listen to yourself and how it sounds to another person,” says Katherine Alford, assistant director of admissions at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

2. Get familiar with Skype: In-person interviews are best, but they can sometimes be expensive or impractical for international students, admissions officers say. Speaking with candidates through Skype, an Internet phone service that allows users to see each other, is the second best option for this often-required part of the MBA admissions process.

Candidates should make sure they test out Skype before the interview, Alford says.

“If you haven’t used it before, it can throw you off,” she says. “You don’t want concerns about technology to get in the way of your interview.”
[Get more tips for international applicants to MBA programs.]

Some international students will peek at note cards that have talking points during a Skype session. This is a bad choice, says Alford. Reading from a note card can make students appear rehearsed and unnatural.

“The interview is more of a conversation,” says Alford. “You want to see someone’s ability to present themselves in the moment.”

3. Focus on delivery: Some candidates become so worried about their English that they think too much about using the right words to express themselves. Too little thought is given to how they are speaking.

“They become very monotone and give equal weight to every part of the sentence and every sentence,” says Alex Leventhal, a Harvard Business School graduate and founder of Prep MBA Inc. “Their delivery becomes kind of flat.”Brainstorm Unique Law School Personal Statement TopicsMonday, July 22, 2013 9:00 PM

Spend a considerable amount of time brainstorming and outlining your ideas before you write your law school personal statement.Spend a considerable amount of time brainstorming and outlining your ideas before you write your law school personal statement.

The personal statement is a crucial component of your law school applications. This essay, along with the optional essays, is an invaluable opportunity for you to share the personal experiences that go beyond your resume, GPA and LSAT score.

Law school admissions committees seek a student body with diverse interests, passions and histories and what you write in your personal statement could distinguish you and help you reinforce that you are the best possible candidate for admission.
[Don’t make these 5 law school application essay mistakes.]
After a decade of working with prospective law students at Stratus Prep, I have come to appreciate that one of the most challenging parts of writing a personal statement is selecting a topic or series of interrelated topics.
Once you have identified a subject that demonstrates your unique attributes, it is essential to get your story down on paper or on screen and begin editing. This often feels like a much more manageable task than the Herculean, nerve-racking decision of determining what to write about.
So how do you choose from an abundance of rich life experiences and distinctive attributes? At Stratus Prep, I ask all my clients to fill out an extensive 10-page brainstorming questionnaire and then we discuss in depth their personal, academic and – if relevant – professional lives to identify the best examples of their uniqueness, values and passions.
Below are some guidelines that I review with all my clients.
1. Avoid summarizing your resume: The admissions committee already knows the bullet points included in your resume.
Go beyond the basics and think about experiences in your personal, academic and professional life to share with them that help give context to your accomplishments.
[Follow these six personal statement do’s and don’ts.]
2. Do not simply write what you think a school wants to hear: If you write what you believe will “get you in,” it will likely come across as inauthentic. In addition, readers will have heard those topics repeatedly, since other students will almost certainly act on the same misconception.
Instead of brainstorming topics that you believe admissions committees want to hear about, take the time to reacquaint yourself with the challenges you have overcome, your proudest accomplishments and the experiences that have fundamentally changed your perspective. These typically make for the most personal and compelling essays.
For example, I worked with a student who wanted to study banking law and regulation. After thoroughly brainstorming essay ideas, she decided to write about her experience losing her family’s home to foreclosure
during the recession.
3. Differentiate yourself from similar applicants: Two popular, generic topics that prospective students often choose are study abroad or their experience with the legal system. You may feel that one of these experiences truly best reveals your unique qualities.
One story likely to stand out that of is a student with whom I worked who studied Talmudic law in Israel. He wrote about how this experience shaped his perspective on the relationship between law and morality.
Keep in mind, however, that a personal statement about one of these more common experiences may be a topic about which the admissions committee has already read many times. This may make you less noticeable among those in the applicant pool who share the same general characteristics.
[Discover three sources of law school admissions advice.]
4. Go beyond simply your passion for the law or a particular law school: If an admissions staff member is reviewing your law school application, they already know you are likely passionate about the law and their law school.
You want to go beyond reiterating your interest in the legal field. Instead, expand on your other interests, activities and experiences to demonstrate the distinct perspective you will bring to campus.
Be sure to spend sufficient time brainstorming and outlining your essays – in my decade of admissions experience, these two steps, more than any others, have proven to be the key to essay-writing success. Consider asking for input from teachers, family or friends, as they may have insight into which of the stories from which you are choosing sound the most authentic and compelling.

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