MBA Interviews | Top 5 Tips for Making a Good First Impression

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by: Grayson Leverenz

It’s January, and that means interviewing season enters full swing. MBA applicants dust off their best suits for Admissions committees. First year MBAs gear up for internship interviews, and Second year MBAs continue their pursuit of full time employment in tough economic times. With that in mind, I’d like to introduce a new series to help you master the interviewing process in the USA.

Let’s begin with making a great first impression. Your resume and cover letter, or application as the case may be, helped you get your foot in the door. Now, it’s time to walk through and shine.

1. Your clothes. You want to look good for interviews. Your suit should project a polished, professional image. Conservative suits work best for MBAs, and experts typically recommend black or grey. Formal business attire for women translates to a pant suit or a skirt suit; etiquette calls a skirt suit the most formal.

Personally, the color specifications never quite worked for me. I went shopping for suits twice in B-school, completely intent on buying a black interview suit each time. I left the first time with a cranberry skirt suit and the second with a brown pinstripe pant suit. I tend to need a little color in my life, and professional women are fortunate here. We can veer off the dictated wardrobe path, and still accomplish the polished, professional goal. It might even help an interviewer remember us. The best bet a man has for adding a splash of color is with his tie.

Good business people always pay attention to details. As such, quality shoes that are polished to a shine best complement your suit. Likewise, high quality, minimal accessories finish a woman’s outfit perfectly, and a nice watch makes an impact for both a woman and a man.

2. Your portfolio. A high quality portfolio looks good and helps keep you organized for your interview. Place extra copies of your resume, printed on nice stationery, into the inside pocket, along with your business cards. Leave a couple of pages blank on the inside notepad for two reasons: first, to give yourself space to take notes and second, so the interviewer won’t see your questions for them when you are settling in for the interview.

3. Your approach. This part happens in a flash, but a lot goes into it. Hold your portfolio in your left hand to leave your right hand free for shaking the interviewer’s hand. Stand up tall and straight with your shoulders back projecting confidence and poise. Walk toward the interviewer in long, fluid steps. Meet their gaze, hold eye contact, smile and begin extending your right hand for the introductory shake.

I know this last part is very difficult for many International students, especially those that come from countries where making eye contact is taboo, but it’s very important in the US. Making eye contact and smiling helps establish rapport with the interviewer, and shows your enthusiasm for the interview.

4. Your handshake. Your handshake solidifies the first impression and sets the tone for the entire interview. Your shake should be confident and strong, but not overbearing. Extend your right hand from the shoulder rather than the elbow. Remember, Americans need about an arm’s length of personal space to feel comfortable at first. Grip the interviewer’s entire hand so that your palms touch, and match the strength of their hold. Take one more fluid step after the initial grip, allowing your elbow to bend slightly, and move your hand up and down 2-3 times from the elbow. Continue to smile and make eye contact as you begin your introduction and conclude the handshake.

5. Your introduction. Typically in interview situations, the interviewer will introduce themselves first by saying, “Hi, I’m (insert first and last name).” Then, it’s your turn. With your eye contact and smile still fixed, respond with, “Hi I’m (insert first and last name). It’s nice to meet you.”

Note: International students commonly mix up meet and see during introductions. Use nice to meet you if it is the first time you are meeting an interviewer. If you have met them before, use see (e.g. It’s nice to see you). If you think you’ve met them before, but are unsure, use see.

If the interviewer mispronounces your name, gently help them with it. Interviewers want you both to feel comfortable, and proper name usage is always nice. If your name is difficult for Americans to pronounce, ask an American classmate, friend or Professor to help you figure out the best way to help with pronunciation. The best way may be spelling it, or saying, “It rhymes with ___.” Almost everyone I meet mispronounces Grayson; so I often end up spelling it for people. I look them in the eye and smile as I spell to show I want them to have it right, but it’s not a big deal they didn’t get it on the first try.

After the introduction, follow the interviewer into the interview room, sit down, and get ready to impress them with your brilliant behavioral answers and insightful case evaluations. Believe it or not, that’s about the first minute of an interview, but like the quote says, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Let’s make it a good one.

Author: Grayson Leverenz

Grayson Leverenz founded MBA in the USA® to help international students build networks, find jobs, and have fun in the USA. Hundreds of global professionals have benefited from Grayson’s intercultural workshops, and she has worked with people from Brazil, China, India, South Africa, South Korea, the UK, and the USA to build effective virtual teams and craft brilliant careers.

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  1. I see you say you bought colored suits for your interviews. I have been researching this heavily and cannot come to a conclusion on wether or not that is too risky. This is the suit I’m dying to buy: but everyone keeps saying black, black, black. I think, like you said, it would be memorable. Can you help me out of this dilemma?

  2. Hi Julia, Thanks for your question. I love the suit you are thinking about! It’s professional, yet memorable. My gut says go for it. One day, you may find a black suit that’s right for you. For now, go with what is going to make you feel amazingly confident when you walk into that interview room. Good luck! Please keep me posted on your interviews. All the best, Grayson


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