Am I ready for an MBA?


I am a student in India and keen to study for an MBA. So I'd like to know what exactly interviewers are looking for in an applicant.

Also I get nervous very easily when it comes to giving presentations or addressing gatherings of people. Since management is in part about how you present yourself, I'm worried that this fear could be holding me back.

Also, I feel I lack innovative thinking - I am able to carry out the general activities in the Management Association of my college but when it comes to going for new things I falter. I just am not able think "out of the box".

Satish, Delhi

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Alan Jessop's Answer:

When I interview I look for answers to a number of questions. Here are my top three.

1. What have you done? I need to understand what you have done in your career so far. Most of this is factual and should have been covered in the paperwork but some aspects may not have been, or not enough for me.

These are issues such as reporting lines (to and from), budget responsibility, degree to which you work on your own or in a team, and so on. I may also need to know more of your educational experience than is in the paperwork, though for our applicants (aged about 28+) this will probably not be so important: the degree should speak for itself.

2. As well as these obvious points I need to know if you have the ability to think about (and so learn from) your experiences. I'll ask questions which help me to get a feel about this: what recent mistake have you made and what did you learn from it? is often helpful.

The purpose is for us to have a conversation. The questions, since they are not about facts, are there to provoke you. Sometimes an applicant will not wish to say anything other than that all is fine and no mistake has been made. I would pursue this. Remember that it is the ability to reflect and learn that is the point of this, not to catch you out or see how poorly you may once have performed (we all have).

3. I need to know what you will do for the class while you're here and for the School when you have finished the programme. Most programmes have very diverse cohorts and so your ability to give something to your colleagues is important. It may be that in your job so far you have not had to deal with such a mixed group. Don't worry, this will not count against you, I'll try to assess this aspect of your behaviour some other way.

To help me think about what you might do for us in your life after the programme I'll need to have an idea about your ambitions and your likely success in achieving them.

Don't misunderstand this. I don't necessarily want to hear that your only ambition is to be the next CEO of Toyota, rather that you aspire to excel in ways that are achievable for you: stretch is important but keep it believable.

You write about being nervous when making presentations. It would be nice if we didn't feel like this, but we all do: without the nerves you may not be pushed to perform. Trust the interviewer. He or she will have seen this before and know how to make allowances, though not without limit.

In MBA-land it is sometimes easy to be caught up with buzz words and phrases and "thinking outside the box" is a good example. Just think what this means. You ought to be able to give examples of how you approach problems and their solutions.

Not all problems require earth shattering innovation in their solution, sometimes a well considered intervention which may look more modest to you may be effective. Think about effectiveness rather than trying to dazzle.

Good luck.


About our Expert

Alan Jessop
Alan Jessop

Alan Jessop is Director of the Full-time MBA Programme at Durham Business School in the UK. He teaches and consults in a wide range of applications of quantitative and systems approaches to management problems.