Imperial College London Entrance

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I am a headhunter; my job is to interview people. How would I cope with the tables turned?

Earlier this year I secured a Skype interview for the Imperial Full-Time MBA. As an arts graduate with a communication-focussed job, I have always felt confident in my interview ability. However, I became conscious of the fact that an MBA interview is about your career potential in relation to the global business landscape; there is no ‘correct answer’ or particular skillset required. The interview became a cavern of time in which I could be asked anything and easily demonstrate a lamentable lack of knowledge.

My fears were allayed by a reality check and a preparation plan. Once at interview stage, you are in a strong position. I recalled my determination to develop my business knowledge in order to further my headhunting role through increased international work or move into another business area such as HR or strategy. Instead of the GMAT after work, it was examples of my teamwork, innovation, leadership, and problem-solving that I was fine-tuning. I leveraged my network to gain interview advice and learn more about careers that I could pursue post-MBA. I explored the differences between HR and talent development, ranging from talent development at a consultancy to a client running HR at a Nigeria-headquartered infrastructure firm. My thinking switched back to the ‘front foot’. Moreover, conversations with contacts presented me as a businesswoman and furthered our relationship as I asked their advice on a personal level.

It was still hard to cope with just one hour to demonstrate my suitability. Logged on to Skype (suitably attired in the block colour I was recommended), I felt that my set piece answers could have been more clearly identified. I particularly noted this regarding the inevitable leadership question. I have not yet led big teams. Leadership clearly means more than people management, but, instead of focussing on an example of where I had led a project, I had noted down multiple ideas. After spotting a recommendation from Stephen Morse, Saïd Business School, I have started reading Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow. He outlines how our intuitive response can be to substitute a hard question for an easy one. I fell into that trap. Instead of identifying a specific example, I prepared for my easier version ‘Tell me all the leadership experience you could possibly talk about’.

A similar point on focused preparation relates to motivation. My mentor, a PhD and MBA herself, suggested I focus on one motivation (build business experience and network so I can open an office in São Paulo). Of course, I have many more uncertainties and ambitions than this; I might switch career. However, her advice streamlined my thinking so that I could communicate clearly in the short interview.

My interview preparation was about moving into proactive mode. The process was stressful, but its challenge drove me to be my best. The MBA itself will do that 100 times more. I can’t wait.

Claudia is a student in our 2016-17 Full-Time MBA class.

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