Be yourself for the best result

Personal integrity is vital to success when interviewing for a place at business school

If a book was written about you, what would the title be and why? If that one has you tripping over your tongue, it's meant to. "Part of the idea behind these questions is to throw you something you are not prepared for and see what you come up with," says Michael Forde, who successfully applied to a handful of business schools before choosing McGill's Desautels Faculty of Management in Canada.

A personal statement, computer-based assessment and an interview every bit as demanding as a job application – getting into business school can be a full-time effort. Management experience aside, Forde was successful because he knew why he wanted an MBA and didn't attempt to second-guess what schools wanted. "I didn't do a lot of preparation," he explains. "I knew the interview would be the most important part. I focused on what were genuinely my motivations and how best to communicate them. Having worked for 10 years, I had a lot of experiences I could draw from."

Top-tier schools only interview about half or less of all who apply, offering places to roughly half after meeting them in person. Applications – now open for next year – follow an apply-interview-evaluate-offer cycle, and once accepted, candidates are required to commit by paying a deposit. "There are many common mistakes, but the most frequent is most simply rectified," says Professor Amir Sharif, director of MBAs at Brunel Business School. "Tell the truth, explain any career gaps and have a solid story and reason for wanting to do an MBA."

The steps to actually getting face-to-face with an admissions officer are largely within the applicant's control yet sometimes neglected. "More often than not, individuals spend too little time on the application form – [it's] an opportunity to promote yourself, and show you can learn," says Ashley Arnold, director of MBA recruitment at Henley Business School. Prospective candidates sometimes leave their CV to speak for itself, failing to spot gaps and missing a chance to promote strengths. And the personal statement is a handy place to underline this, says Steve Cousins, MBA admissions manager at Cass Business School, which last year interviewed just 40 per cent of applicants. Statements should be jargon-free, clear and concise – Cass expects around two sides of A4, while some schools specify just 500 words – it's not an essay-writing competition. "It's to give a deeper understanding of you as an individual," says Cousins. Get a trusted second opinion, he recommends, and keep clear of irrelevant details, such as unrelated hobbies. "We are looking for people who can engage with abstraction and who write clearly," says Stephan Chambers, MBA director at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. "Candidates should have read a lot, written a lot and thought a lot."

Business schools are adept at spotting a generic essay sent out with multiple applications – and they also don't want an impersonal repetition of their own website blurb. "My advice is to write the personal statement not as a history of your past, but as a history of the future – with the MBA as the starting point for what you could potentially become," says Sharif.

Throughout the entire application process, emphasise your achievements to prove you will eventually make an impressive ambassador, says Heather Baker, managing director of TopLine Communications, who's just graduated with an MBA from London Business School – business schools need respected alumni in a competitive market. "You need to show them that you will become one of those [ambassador] graduates," she says. "Did you get promoted quickly at work? Has your blog attracted a large following? Were you instrumental in helping your company win a major contract?" It pays to play up your strengths rather than project what you think the school is after.

And if you have a spare 50-plus hours or more, then devote them to practising the Graduate Management Admissions Test (Gmat), a computer assessment required by most schools and a source of stress for many applicants. Knowing how it's put together and where your own weaknesses are is crucial – practice improves results. "I did 70 hours prep and practice, but once I'd mastered the time-management aspect, I found I didn't improve beyond about 50 hours," says Forde. An adaptive test, the Gmat comprises four main sections; analytical writing assessment, quantitative, verbal and a new section added this June called integrated reasoning, designed to test candidates' ability to evaluate information in different formats from different sources – in other words, coping with large and varied amounts of data.

Pacing yourself is everything, says Jane Delbene, director of marketing at the Graduate Management Admissions Council (Gmac), which administers the test. On average, allow 1.75 minutes for each verbal question and about two minutes for each quantitative question, she says. Completing the test is one key to a better score, she says; the penalty is severe if you don't. Visit mba.com to schedule a test at a local centre.

Once invited to interview, admissions staff advise that you afford it the same respect as a professional encounter, even though it might come across as an informal chat in a relaxed setting. "I didn't have the sense that I was being interviewed; it was more of a conversation, them getting to know me," remembers Forde. At this stage you will probably have visited the school and ascertained this is where you want to spend your time and money.

Schools such as Saïd in Oxford place more weight on the interview than other portions of the application and will examine thoroughly the areas you are supposed to know about rather than expose weaknesses. "If you work in risk in a large institution, you should expect to be asked to develop an argument about risk – not about leadership," says Chambers. "[It's] to test how you think and argue, how you link large-scale trends to your own experience, how you might engage in class and with your classmates." And – sin of sins – don't ever pretend to know things you don't.

Business schools depend on a dynamic mix of students to appeal to prospective candidates – so second-guessing what they want to hear is largely pointless, as they declare they have no "blueprint" candidate. "Don't worry about all the things you don't yet know," says Chambers. "That's what the course is for."

Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
sport Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
Sport
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
Football Vine shows Suarez writhing in pain before launching counter attack
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents The ad shows Prince Charles attired for his coronation in a crown and fur mantle with his mouth covered by a criss-cross of white duct tape
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sport LIVEFollow the latest news and scores from today's Premier League as Liverpool make a blistering start against Norwich
VIDEO
News
People White House officials refuse to make comment on 275,000 signatures that want Justin Bieber's US visa revoked
News
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLESir Cliff Richard has used a candid appearance on an Australian talk show to address long-running speculation about his sexuality

Sport
Lukas Podolski celebrates one of his two goals in Arsenal's win over Hull

Arsenal strengthened their grip on a top-four finish with a straightforward 3-0 win over Hull City.

Arts & Entertainment
Quentin Tarantino, director
arts + ents Samuel L Jackson and Michael Madsen have taken part in a reading of Quentin Tarantino’s axed follow-up to Django Unchained.
News
The speeding train nearly hit this US politican during a lecture on rail safety
news As the saying goes, you have to practice what you preach
Sport
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain (front) drives ahead of Red Bull Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia during the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International circuit
sport Hamilton captured his third straight Formula One race with ease on Sunday, leading from start to finish to win the Chinese Grand Prix

Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Voices
Clock off: France has had a 35‑hour working week since 1999
voicesThere's no truth to a law banning work emails after 6pm, but that didn’t stop media hysteria
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Life & Style
Lana Del Rey, Alexa Chung and Cara Delevingne each carry their signature bag
fashionMulberry's decision to go for the super-rich backfired dramatically
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Primary Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: KS1 KS2 Crewe Teacher Perm Ch...

Primary Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education is the lea...

Primary Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: KS1 KS2 Teaching Cheshire

Primary Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Long term position in large p...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit