The name says it all. Yet, it is important to know some comparative aspects between the Group Discussion and the Personal Interview. In a nutshell, both these rounds have an overarching theme – they examine your persona and how well you are able to fare under different circumstances. The Group Discussion tests some factors in a team setting, while the Personal Interview tests the same at an individual level.
There are three broad buckets into which all the questions that would be asked in a Personal Interview can be put into.
1. HR questions
2. Questions on academics and work experience
3. General knowledge
The questions like, “Why MBA?”, “Tell me about yourself”, “Why would you prefer this campus over another?” etc. fall under this bracket.
This category of questions is often overlooked with the mindset that they can be winged. Not really. These are questions where you can prove to the interview panel you are worthy of a place in the B-school.
This is self-explanatory. Irrespective of what you studied and your level of interest in the course of your study, you should be able to answer a few of the questions on academics during the Personal Interview. This is especially true for freshers and those candidates with a year or two of work experience.
Your work experience matters more than anything else, unless you are a final year student. When it comes to work experience, you should not about your company/companies you worked for, the industry in which they operate, the competitors, the revenue, how the offerings – products or services – are positioned, what differentiates your organization from a competitor, and the like.
This bucket can be divided into two categories – static general knowledge and current affairs.
This is where the facts as permanent as "The Sun rises in the east" are covered. Everything from the history of your hometown to your college, school and state of residence falls under this bracket. Also vital are facts about Civics and Politics.
While it is easy to fall into the abyss of trivia, do not do that. Concentrate on building some knowledge beyond mere numbers.
How 'current' should you prepare for Current Affairs? Check out the list of most important topics to cover in this regard, here.
How to prepare for specific Personal Interview questions?
A lot – in fact, most – of students miss out on this golden lottery ticket to steer the interview in their favour. “Tell me about yourself” is a question that needs to be considered a pitch deck. You are going to sell yourself. Which means, just like in Group Discussion, you cannot afford to ramble during the Personal Interview as well. They can ask you to stop at any point in time; you have to keep it to the point. Remember, rambling does not get you anywhere.
Also, when the question is asked, do not reiterate what the panel can already see/infer from your resume. They have seen your marks, academic prowess and CAT score. Which is the reason you are sitting there. Now, tell them what more you have.
This essentially means you have to present yourself as a human being with traits, values and strengths and weaknesses, and not merely a dataset filled with percentages and ranks.
This question has to be dealt with a degree of caution, care and diligence. There are certain things to keep in mind, specifically for answering this question during your Personal Interview.
a. Do not be cute.
When you are asked what your strengths and weaknesses are during the Personal Interview, do not say things like, “My strength is that I do not have any weakness. And my weakness is that I do not have any strength.” To put it mildly, that is just pure nonsense.
b. Backup your strengths with examples
When you cite a quality or trait as your strength, you must be able to justify and substantiate the same with facts, numbers and some crucial live event. You cannot simple say, “I am a team player” and then have nothing to follow it up with.
c. This is not a confession.
You are not a siner. And this is not a confession. You are in a Personal Interview. If there is a trait that you feel is your strength, say that with a rationale to justify the same. If you have a weakness, it should be a negative that you are working on. Again, mention this as a matter of fact and provide evidences to suggest that you have been working on remedying the weakness(es).
There is no one simple method to go about it. Questions on current affairs are not the same as “Tell me about yourself.” The former requires a lot of scrounging for details and reading a lot, while the latter is more of a self-reflection.
However, there is a broad structure that you can and must follow to ace the questions on current affairs.
a. Facts – get them right
When you are being questioned on an issue – say, the US elections – you must get the facts right first. This is uber-crucial. You should definitely know information that is non-negotiable. For example, in the case of US elections, things like who is the current president, how many presidents have been there before, what are the parties that contest, how does polling work, what is the upper house and lower house, and some more along these lines should be known to you.
Without this, you should not, must not and cannot jump straight to your opinions (unless your opinion is asked for as a question in the first place).
b. Take a stance if needed
Some candidates fear taking sides in a Personal Interview. If it comes to a point where you have to take a stance, do not refrain from doing it. Taking sides is not a problem in itself, as long as you are able to substantiate with proper facts, numbers and rationale.
But if you take sides and come off as someone who does not know the reason behind the stance, it might backfire entirely. Weigh the upsides and downsides of taking sides and decide on what would work for you.
c. Facts followed by opinions
Once you have got the hard facts about a particular topic in place, move on to opinion pieces. Again, there is an important factor to be noted here. When you read opinionated articles, make sure to consider both sides of the argument. Do not restrict yourself to knowing only one side of any issue.
d. The tree structure
Just like a tree starts with the root and stem, and then goes on to branch out, your preparation on a particular topic should start with the basic facts and go further and further. Add more and more questions relevant to that topic to add depth to your knowledge.
This is a question that can throw off even a seasoned candidate. However, with a sense of calmness, you will be able to tackle this question, by using any/all of the following points.
i. Having an MBA will position you and your career better.
ii. An MBA will add invaluable skill sets and knowledge.
iii. People with an MBA tend to have broader/different perspectives.
iv. An MBA will provide better Return on Investment in the long run – over a 10- to 20-year period – if not in the short run (that is, 2- to 4-year period).
If you have a break in your career, there are no ways about the fact that it would be taken seriously during the Personal Interview. Any candidate with a break in career is going to start at a degree of disadvantage. But this does not mean you will not be able to salvage this question.
A combination of conviction and honesty should see you through this question. If you have had a break, make sure you have something to show (other than CAT preparation, that is) – like a volunteering experience, internships, a course you learnt, etc.
If you have not done anything of these sorts, and have dedicated the entire break period to just CAT preparation, admit it honestly with the caveat that you did take a break but you are now ready to take a plunge.