B-school interviews – the buzz around them is always high in the days after _______ (insert one of the B-school entrance examinations such as CAT, XAT, IIFT, NMAT, et al.). Now that the CAP shortlist has come out recently, and with XAT results coming out just today, there is an added layer of excitement amidst aspirants who had not crossed the sectional cut-off threshold required for a bunch of IIMs and the like. While the sectional requirements for the CAP is lower, there are also B-schools for which sectional cutoffs do not matter. Check the list, here.
Now that there is a genuine reason to give a good shot at the upcoming interviews, it is also worthwhile to remember that the B-school interviews need not always go in the direction you expect it to. That begs the question, “How to salvage a bad interview?”
What are the indicators?
Before you know how to salvage a bad B-school interview, you should sense that the interview is not going well. There are three indicators that give you a hint on the same.
- The interviewers are asking you a series of questions for which you have given “No” as answers.
- You are just underprepared for the interview and the interviewers are able to see it clearly.
- One or more interviewers of the panel are just not interested in what you are saying.
How do you go about salvaging such B-school interviews?
First things first, there is no science behind tackling these scenarios. There are certain aspects you can bank on to make sure the interview does not plummet from an already bad note. Also possible are chances that the interview could turn back to to be favourable one.
1) Smile. Have your wits with you.
An interview is not just about what you answer but also about how you answer. Oftentimes, you answer a “No” and you imagine that the level of difficulty of questions might go down. But the interviewers might want to have a go at you and amp up the difficulty. In that case, the first “No” leads to five other “No”s.
The most important perception mismatch here is between what you think and what is actually happening. You might start feeling, “I do not even know these things” when in reality, the questions are impossible to answer. So, maintain your posture, smile and have your wits with you. And go for the “I do not know. It just seems like I have blanked out on this topic”.
2) Capitalize on packaging the answer in the B-school interviews
You can blurt out “I do not know” two trillion times and the interviewers might still not be convinced. There are subtle but not-so-subtle ways to indicate to them that you might answer other questions from some other topic very well, but this topic is not your forte.
Some of these classic responses are:
- “I do not know. Sorry, I seem to have completely blanked out.”
- “I just do not recall anything about this topic.”
- “I am sorry, but I am clueless here.”
These are good ways to play defensive, and there are reasons this might pay off. On top of the list is the idea that the interviewers could just be poking around to test how you react. The most honest and straightforward answer would help your ship sail smooth.
3) How do you react to “You are underprepared!”?
Again, this might seem like a big blow, and in some cases, it could be a fact that you ARE underprepared. Then again, there is always a way out, is there not?
“I prepared for a range of questions about myself and other things. But I am really nervous now. That is also playing a role. And, I have particularly not thought about this line of question(s). I am having to think on my feet at this moment, and I am also stressed out.”
If you can be honest about the fact that you are nervous and do not have the wherewithal to answer certain things, chances are that the interviewers might divert to a different line of question or might mellow down. This is just a probability but one that you can hope for.
4) Do not tune off
In any case, it is not a great idea to tune off and start thinking about “What will happen in my next interview? This one is already screwed up.” The outcomes of the B-school interviews are not easily guessable. Which is why they are included as a stage in the selection process.
Do not make things worse for yourself, when with some focus and confidence, you can still bring the interview back to your territory.
The progress vs. the outcome
Oftentimes, a “bad interview” in a candidate’s mind need not necessarily be a bad interview as far as the outcome is concerned (select/reject). We have had students coming to us and tell that they had miserable B-school interviews; when the results are announced, however, they shock themselves seeing a favourable result.
When we say an interview did not go well, it almost always means that it did not go as per OUR expectations. Do keep in mind that the interviewers might be evaluating you on different sets of parameters, and keep your subjective self-doubts at bay.
All said and done…
B-school interviews are freakishly stressful experiences. You could have interviews that really go well, and others where you just flunk. The former need not necessarily mean you will end up converting, and the latter does not mandatorily end up in you not converting a call.
Be positive, be pragmatic, stay safe, prepare well and best wishes!
Rajesh Balasubramanian takes the CAT every year and is a 4-time CAT 100 percentiler. He likes few things more than teaching Math and insists to this day that he is a better teacher than exam-taker.
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