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What not to do at a Personal Interview
Mohit Menon
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January 29, 2007

Most top business schools take into consideration your performance in the written test, Group Discussion, Personal Interview, your academic record, extracurricular activities, and work experience, if any, before selecting you.

A Personal Interview looks at how you react to various situations. It involves thinking on your feet, and helps the interviewer understand your thought process and your attitude.

It carries a weightage of 10-20 per cent in most B-schools. However, most institutes do not reveal the exact weightage accorded to it.

Since the interview is the final step in the selection process, you cannot afford to leave anything to chance. How you perform here could determine whether or not you will be admitted to the institute.

Let's understand the various types of interviews and the etiquette expected of you.

Interview panel

The people who interview you collectively form what is called the interview panel, which normally consists of three interviewers. There could be more than three interviewers too.

These comprise professors who work full-time for institute. Sometimes, the panel may include a psychologist. Of late, some top B-schools are also including an alumnus or industry person in their panel.

Interview duration

It may vary between five and 45 minutes. However, a five-minute interview does not indicate that you have not done well. Similarly, an interview lasting 40 minutes does not indicate that you have done well. What matters is the quality of interaction you have with the panel.

Some management institutes have only one interview; others have two. The first interview is with the panel, and the second, normally with the director or dean of the institute.

Types of interviews

You may face an individual interview or a group interview. This varies from institute to institute. For example, the Mumbai-based SP Jain Institute of Management and Research conducts group interviews.

In an individual interview, you will face a panel and answer the questions put to you. In a group interview, a group of students are interviewed simultaneously by a panel.

In the latter, the questions may be addressed to an individual or to the group as a whole.

Individual interviews can be classified into two types:

The latter proceeds with questions asked in a normal, business-like manner and the candidate is given enough time to answer the questions. In a stress interview, the candidate is deliberately put under a lot of stress by the interviewers.

Interview etiquette

Besides the way you speak, the panel also observes your overall conduct.

~ Dress code

You are expected to dress formally. Men should wear a freshly ironed formal full-sleeved shirt (no party wear, please), trousers, polished formal shoes (black or brown), a belt and a tie (knotted properly). Do not forget to shave. Use a mild deodorant if you feel the need to. Before you go into the interview room, comb your hair.

Women can wear churidar, sari, or a skirt and shirt. If you have long hair, plait or tie up neatly. Formal shoes apply to you too. Sandals meant for formal occasions are fine too.

~ Entry into the interview room

You may be asked by one of the panel members or one of their assistants to enter the room. Before entering, ask for permission: 'May I come in Sir/Madame?.'

Do not be in a hurry and rush to the table. Greet the panel (using the appropriate time of the day) with a smile. On being asked to sit down, thank them.

~ Sitting posture

You may cross your legs if you wish to. Your arms may rest on the armrest of the chair or on your lap. Sit comfortably.

The folder that contains your certificates and other documents should be kept on your lap, and not on the table. The table belongs to the interviewer(s).

Avoid postures that reflect a casual attitude. For instance, avoid rocking the chair or placing one leg horizontally over the other leg.

~ Language to be used

Speak in English only. Some of us have the habit of mixing English with the vernacular. Avoid doing this. Do not use slang. Use short sentences that convey the meaning of what you wish to say. Avoid complicated sentences.

~ Conduct inside the interview room

Listen carefully and attentively to the questions. If you are unable to comprehend the meaning or hear the question, request the panel member to clarify/repeat the question. Always speak in a slow, measured tone, so that everyone in the panel is clearly able to hear and understand what you are trying to say.

There is no need to spit out the answer to the questions asked. Take a few moments to collect your thoughts and then answer. Maintain eye contact with the panel members at all times. Be pleasant to the interviewers, irrespective of the mental state you are in. Lean a little forward to show the panel that you are interested in what they are saying. D o not lean or rest your arms or elbows on the table.

Though you may feel the need to 'project' yourself to the panel, it helps if you keep it natural.

Try to use these pointers as a reference.

Tomorrow: The qualities interviewers look for.

-- Mohit Menon is general manager (marketing) at T.I.M.E, an organisation that prepares candidates for courses like the MBA and the MCA and competitive examinations like CAT, GRE and GMAT.

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