Paddy already had his note book and pen out on the table when I joined him at the coffee shop, so I knew I was in for a grilling about something. I took my seat, nodded toward the pad and pen, and said, “OK, Paddy, what is it this time?”
“Being interviewed,” he answered.
“What in heaven’s name are you going to be interviewed for?” I asked.
“It’s not me,” he said, “it’s my grandson. He’s decided to go for an MBA, and he’s applied to three different programs. He’s going to be interviewed by them all. I told him I’d see if you have any tips. Have you written anything about being interviewed?”
“I’ve written about being interviewed by the media,” I said, “but I don’t recall having written about interviews generally.”
“But,” Paddy pushed, “you must have some views on the subject; you have views on everything else.”
“Sure,” I conceded, ignoring his jab. “Do you want them in point form or do you want to talk about them?”
“Let’s talk,” he suggested and picked up his pen. “What’s the most important thing he should keep in mind?”
“That’s easy,” I responded, “to be himself, don’t try to pretend he’s something he’s not.”
Paddy jotted that down and then went on, “I’ve heard a lot about body language. How important do you think that is?”
“It’s often over-emphasized,” I answered, “but body language is definitely important.”
“So, does he have to worry about how he crosses his legs?” Paddy asked.
“No,” I assured him, “that’s the kind of over-emphasis I meant. But he does have to be sure that he maintains eye contact, uses a firm handshake, walks and sits straight, and doesn’t fidget.”
Paddy was scribbling furiously, so I sipped some coffee and waited.
His next inquiry was, “What about dressing?”
“When unsure about what to wear, a good general rule-of-thumb is to dress just a little better than the occasion calls for,” I explained. “As there isn’t any standard dress code for an MBA interview that I’m aware of, I’d opt for either smart casual or understated business attire. I think either would be fine.”
I waited for Paddy to again catch up before continuing. “And that reminds me of something else. People should always do some homework before an interview by finding out as much as they can about the organization they’re going to be interviewed by.”
“Like what?” Paddy prodded.
“If it was me,” I said, “I’d try to find a list of professors for each of the three programs to see what they’ve published or might be well-known for. If I could honestly say that I’d like to be in their class, at some point during the interview I’d make that known, as well as my reason.”
“You’ve been talking about do’s,” Paddy observed, “what about don’ts?”
“The main one is don’t talk too much,” I responded. “He needs to avoid long, rambling answers. But he also has to be sure that any simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer is appropriate and doesn’t just sound cocky or curt.”
After some more scribbling Paddy asked, “Any others?”
“Yes,” I said, “don’t be afraid to ask questions. Tell your grandson to politely ask for clarification if he doesn’t understand anything the interviewer says. But if he’s asked a question to which he doesn’t know the answer, he shouldn’t bluff; just say ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t know.’ If there’s a logical reason why he doesn’t know, he should briefly explain. But keep the explanation brief, and be sure it doesn’t sound like an apology, just a fact.”
Paddy was still writing, so again I waited a bit before continuing. “It’s very important that he listen carefully to the interviewer’s questions and to wait until he hears the whole question before formulating an answer. It’s far better to take a few seconds after the question ends to gather his thoughts than to miss the main point of the question.”
“You like those short summaries you call takeaways,” Paddy stated when he finished noting my last comment. “What’s your takeaway for interviews?”
“Be likeable, honest, positive, confident, and brief,” I answered.
Paddy wrote that down and then pocketed his pad and pen, which indicated it was time to move into a normal conversation, which we did.