How to prepare for graduate school interviews

Interviewer and Interviewee shaking hands

For many people applying for graduate school, the interview is the most daunting part of the application process. The familiar fear of not knowing the right thing to say is enough to make anyone nervous. But for programs at Portland State University’s School of Business, an interview is an opportunity to get to know candidates beyond their application and an opportunity for the candidates to get to know the program even better. 

Currently, The Portland MBA is the only graduate business program to regularly conduct interviews for candidates, and academic director Tichelle Sorensen spoke with me to describe the benefits of the interview and the goals for both the interviewer and the interviewee. 

Tichelle explains, “I would say there are two big advantages. First, interviews help us get to know incoming students and spot trends that may impact the advice we give on how to prepare for the MBA. Second, it also is a great time to do some advising. I’ve had sessions with students where I realized their goals would be a better fit for the Master of Science in Finance or other programs on campus. It’s great to help them learn more early on in the process, so they are confident it’s the right program fit for their future goals.”

Tichelle conducts the majority of MBA applications interviews, which are typically 30 minutes. The typical questions vary, but generally Tichelle is assessing goals, a candidate’s vision for their post MBA career, readiness and some basic business knowledge. The interview process has changed over time. 

“It’s definitely evolved as the program and the candidate profiles have changed,” says Tichelle. “We are really invested in the community, so an example is a set of questions around how the candidate sees themselves contributing uniquely as a member of their cohort and a future alum of The School of Business.”

So what are the keys to a successful graduate school interview? We asked a few experts to offer their insight. 

Advice from an academic director

“Spend some time thinking in advance about how you want to present yourself,” says Tichelle. “Also, make sure to review the material on the website and attend an information session so you are familiar with the program in advance of the interview.”

Advice from admissions staff

Rachel Shelton is the admissions coordinator at The School of Business and offers her advice on a successful interview. “It’s good to be very clear about what your goals are, even if you don’t know exactly what they are or you’re planning on making a big pivot,” says Rachel. “Just understand the way The Portland MBA will help that pivot.”

Advice from an alum

Karen Lowe is a recent Portland MBA alum who recalls her own interview process. “Before your interviews, make sure you are reading plenty of materials about business that interest you,” says Karen, “It’s important not only to have a strong sense of your own professional identity and goals, but to really be literate in current business events. This will set you up for success during the program as well.”

Rick Brody is a Masters in Real Estate Development Candidate and Marketing Assistant at the Portland State University’s School of Business.

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