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February 08, 2009

Wharton MBA Admissions Interview Strategy

In this post, I have decided to simply comment on the mostly helpful advice that Wharton provides in Tips on the Wharton MBA Admissions Interview. In addition to my own knowledge of Wharton MBA interviews, I am drawing on the reports found at accepted.com and clearadmit.com.

For those who might be interviewing with J.J. Cutler, the new Director of MBA Admissions & Financial Aid, you should read my earlier post on him as you get can learn about his background, though I can't say that it will provide you with much insight on how he conducts interviews.

I have quoted that entire Wharton Tips text and inserted comments. Wharton's original text is in bold.

Tips on the Wharton MBA Admissions Interview
Invited to an interview? Here are some tips directly from the Admissions Committee to to help prepare you…

Interviews provide additional information about your candidacy that is included in the final reviews of your application. As such interviews, are not the decisive factor in your admissions decision. In most cases, interviews are fairly consistent with the application.

ADAM: At Wharton, interviews are just one factor that goes into the determination to admit, waitlist, or reject. That said, don't take this interview lightly because I think is fair to say that those who don't do a superior interview are unlikely to be admitted or at least waitlisted.

Interviews are blind, which reduces bias as your interviewer will have no preconceived ideas of your ability or personality based on your written application.

ADAM: While it is true that all interviews are blind in the sense that interviewers will not have read your application, if you interview with an admissions officer or alumni you have had previous contact with, the interviewer may very well have preconceived ideas of your ability based on that contact.

Interviews may include behavioral questions. Questions may center on specific examples or detailed descriptions of events, projects or experience that demonstrate how situations you’ve faced in the past have been handled and what you learned from them. Behavioral interviewing assumes that past performance predicts future behavior.
ADAM: Sure, this is possible, but a review of Wharton's interview reports indicates that the behavioral interview method is generally not used at all or used extensively. However, the fact that they have a statement like this means that you should be prepared to answer behavioral questions. See my post on MIT interviews for more about that.

No advance preparation is required. Questions are straightforward and cover topics such as why you seek an MBA, why you feel you are a good fit for Wharton (vice versa), what your career goals are, how you spend your spare time, what you value, about what you are passionate, etc. You will not be asked analyze a case study or demonstrate your mastery of particular subjects.

ADAM: A review of Wharton's interview reports indicates that the questions are almost always straightforward. You should certainly prepare for this interview by becoming comfortable answering the full range of such general MBA questions as well as being able to discuss everything on your resume. See here for more information about how to prepare for such questions. It is particularly important that you be able to express why Wharton is your first choice.

All interviews carry equal weight. There is no advantage to interviewing on-campus or with an admissions staff member. Arrange the type of interview that is most convenient for you.
ADAM: Based on my experience with clients, I can say that I have not ever noticed any real distinction in terms of outcome (admit, ding, waitlist) that was traceable to who the interviewer was. If you do an alumni interview, you will might have a choice of alumni to select from. The one advantage of this is that you can find out about the alums ahead of time. If you have an off-campus option of meeting with an admissions officer, you will be able to learn about him or her as well. Campus interviews are with students or admissions officers, but you will probably not have any information about your interviewer ahead of time. Each option has its inherent advantages and disadvantages. Alums and admissions officers are likely to be more experienced at interviewing, whereas students are more likely to be your peers. My suggestion is to select whoever you will feel the most comfortable with.

Interviews are dialogues or exchange between two people. Steer away from pre-rehearsed speech and over reliance on your résumé. We are interested in getting to know you as an individual, so follow the cues of the interviewer.
ADAM: This is really sound advice regarding the structure of the exchange. Successful Wharton interviews often become conversations rather than simply a question and answer session. Their advice "to follow the cues of the interviewer" is really applicable to any interview, so listen to each question and don't simply blurt out the first thing that comes to your mind. Also try to gauge how long your answers should be based on the conversational style of the interviewer. Instead of making speeches, make certain that you are engaged in a dialogue. One thing to practice is giving short, but very direct initial answers to questions.

The exact length of the interview does not indicate how well the interview went. While we schedule 30 minute interviews, they may vary a bit. Deviations from the schedule are random and unrelated to the candidate.

ADAM: Reported length is typically 30-45 minutes.

Do not expect the interviewer to give you feedback – literally or figuratively. Be careful to avoid any interpretation of verbal or non-verbal communication, as both may mislead you.

ADAM: I think asking for feedback is a particularly odd thing to do because it puts the interviewer in a difficult position. The advice to avoid interpretation of verbal or non-verbal communication is nonsensical and/or simply badly stated. As a human being we cannot avoid such interpretations. More specifically, Wharton has previously suggested following the cues of the interviewer, which is a form of interpretation of both verbal and non-verbal communication. What they probably meant to say was that one should not necessarily assume the absence or presence of positive verbal and/or non-verbal feedback from the interviewer indicates how well your interview is going. This might be true or it might not. It is certainly is the case that whatever way your interviewer acts, you need to stay positive and focused and not over-analyze the interviewer's reactions.

Interviews are not a popularity contest. The interviewer is assessing your fit for the Wharton MBA program, not whether or not the two of you would make good or best friends.The key is to relax, be genuine, and enjoy the opportunity for us to get to know one another.

ADAM: While these interviews may not be popularity contests, your objective is make sure that the interviewer understands why should be a part of the Wharton community. As these interviewers are gatekeepers, convincing them that you belong at Wharton requires that you be well prepared as well as relaxed and genuine. Being both well prepared and genuine requires real practice, so don't focus on one at the cost of the other.

-Adam Markus
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If you are interested in my interview preparation or other graduate admission consulting services, please click here.

Questions? Write comments, but do not send me emails asking me to advise you on your application strategy unless you are interested in my consulting services. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to. Before emailing me questions about your chances for admission or personal profile, please see my post on "Why I don't analyze profiles without consulting with the applicant."

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