Interviewing for a Top Business School? Here's My Advice

Nancy Blyth Piacentini

1. Do your homework.

Check out the school and the programme curriculum on the website and be prepared to explain why you chose INSEAD, why this programme interests you, and how it can help you to achieve your career goals.

Make a checklist of key features and dates so you don’t get it mixed up with another institution and end up talking to Stanford about INSEAD’s campus in Singapore!

Choose the information you will post on your own social media profile wisely. You have checked out their website, chances are they will check out your profile too.

It's like a first date: you google each other.

2. Practice makes perfect.

Practise delivering your answer to potential questions. The more you speak aloud the more natural it will become and besides, what are friends for?

Record yourself on your smartphone to see where you could improve. Check your facial expressions: no need to look like the sky is falling or you have won the lottery; simply try to be your enthusiastic happy self, not your crazy, nervous, sweating bullets self.

3. Mind your body language.

What you are saying without speaking is just as important as your words. Pay attention to your non-verbal expression: Do you convey what you want to say with your hands, eyes, posture?

In other words, don’t get so nervous you cross your arms, curve your back and let your head sink into your shoulders like a distraught turtle under attack.

Easier said than done?

Before your interview, listen to your favourite song and sing it out loud: it will warm up your voice, put you in a good mood and relax your shoulders

4. Be prepared to talk about anything you included on your CV.

Be able to explain your internships and what you learned from them. What was the impact of your work: how did your manager/the company use what you did?

You may be asked why you chose your academic path or why you changed from one orientation to another.

How can you transpose to the business world, things you learned from playing sports, creating a club, competitions, hobbies, passions?

Your CV is your ammunition: Do not give the interviewer a reason to shoot you down by providing information that you are not prepared to discuss or explain well. I remember an interview where a candidate went blank on a question about the IT industry: surprisingly enough, he had indicated IT companies on his CV as a strong interest/hobby!

5. Be yourself.

Do not tell us what you think we want to hear but rather take this opportunity to show your personality. INSEAD is all about diversity: we don’t want everyone in the class to be the same so let your difference shine!

Do not recite your text or read from sticky notes posted all around your screen. I have actually seen these notes come unstuck during the interview and watched the candidate go several shades of red and lose their train of thought.

We are checking the programme fit for you, so we need to get to know you better, not “”.

6. Dress for success.

The keyword in "business school application" is “business”. That is how you need to dress, as if you were going to the office for an important meeting; however, do not overdo it! It’s not the New York Fashion Week either.

Pick out your clothes and shoes (yes, people look at your shoes) a week in advance. Make sure they are wrinkle-free, fresh and stain-free. If you cannot wear your favourite shirt because of the tomato sauce stain from Gordon Ramsey’s take-out chicken meatball pasta, you will have wished you had thought ahead!

Dress sharp but comfortable. Nothing too tight or too itchy is going to help you look and feel on top of your game.

7. The art of video interviewing: technology, timing, and tenacity

A reliable internet connection is vital. Headphones with a built-in microphone can make your message come through clearer. Position your webcam so that you have a neutral background that is free from distractions and hide any mess with a big white sheet or tablecloth. No one wants to see your laundry hanging off the door.

Choose a calm environment: no sleeping roommates in the background, no noisy common rooms and not a good time for Mom to pick up your laundry.

Another source of distraction can come from a jealous pet that you need to keep out of your work area while you record your interview. Sometimes funny for us - not so much for you!

Timing is everything: at INSEAD, each video question lasts one minute – you have 45 seconds to think about your answer – and one minute to record your answer. My advice? Practice with a timer on your smartphone to get a feel for what one minute actually feels like when you deliver your answer and check your facial expressions.

Just because it is a video interview, it does not mean you can wear a comfy sweatshirt. From the waist up you need to be in business attire - even if the weather is very warm where you are and you actually wearing shorts. Just don’t stand up before you cut the recording!

Lastly: don't panic! Take a deep breath. You are literally talking to yourself while you are recording your answers so there is absolutely no reason to be nervous! Practice will make all the difference (see tip number two!).

I hope you find these tips helpful and just remember: in case of doubt, reach out!