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Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

October 30, 2009

MIT Sloan MBA Interviews

My analysis of MIT Sloan's MBA essays can be found here.
 This post has remained relatively unchanged from the one I put up last year.  

My colleague, Steve Green, has put together a list of common MIT Sloan interview questions, it can be found here.

Before reading the rest of this post, I strongly suggest downloading a copy of MIT's  guide to behavioral interviews, The MIT Sloan Interview Guide, because reading it first will maximize the value of my comments below.

The behavioral interview method is not old:

In fact, the STAR technique outlined in MIT’s guide was developed by Byham as THE WAY to answer behavioral questions:

In addition to the MIT SLOAN Guide, I suggest also taking a look at the slightly different guide to the Star Technique that MIT Career Services provides.

The STAR technique is really the core method you need to use for answering behavioral questions in MIT essays. It is simply this (taken from the MIT Sloan Guide):

• Situation: define the situation or “set the stage.”
• Task: identify the task/project performed.
• Action: describe the action you took.
• Result: summarize the outcome

Just keep in mind that you need to be introspective as well, so in an interview say what you thought as well as what you did. Don’t just present “the facts” but actively interpret your actions. There is really nothing overly complicated about this as long as you understand that you need to tell a DETAILED story. Pure abstractions disconnected from a concrete set of action steps are highly likely to result in a weak answer. Similarly, grand actions not told in any depth are also likely to be weak. Identify specific actions that contributed to the result so as to establish a clear link between cause and effect.

As when answering any kind of question, another important consideration is to think very critically about what your story selection, understanding of the task, actions taken, and results say about you. Keep in mind that the whole point of asking behavioral questions is to determine how someone acts and thinks as a basis for selecting or rejecting that person. It is obviously critical to be aware of your own message. Specifically think of examples you can use to highlight your intelligence, creativity, leadership skills, interpersonal communication skills, and conflict resolution skills.

Since your interviewer will know your file well, you need to have alternative stories for answering behavioral questions. Unlike MIT's behavioral essays, you need not limit your answers to topics from the last three years. My suggestion is to have a mix of stories ready to deliver from different times in your life.

Please see my more recent post which consists of common MIT interview questions You can find behavioral questions in the interview reports found at accepted.com and clearadmit.com. In addition, the list of behavioral questions found at MIT Career Services site is actually quite good for preparing for answers to wide variety of questions.

Beyond answering, behavioral questions, you need to know your own application completely as you will likely be asked about content in it.
Re-read your essays and consider what your interviewer might ask you to explain more thoroughly.

You need to be prepared to answer routine MBA questions as well. While the answers may be analyzed using behavioral analysis, don't be surprised if you get asked questions like "What do you want to after your MBA?" or "Why Sloan." See my previous post on basic MBA interview strategy.

The interviewers, all admissions staff, are generally reported to be friendly. They are the only ones who conduct interviews.

Based on reports, interview length could be from 30 to 60 minutes with 45 minutes to 60 minutes being most common.

For more insight into MIT, please see here.

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."
-Adam Markus
アダム マーカス

ビジネススクール カウンセリング コンサルティング MBA留学 インタビュー 面接

Columbia Business School Alumni Interviews

This is updated from last year.  No major changes. You can find my analysis of Columbia's essays for Fall 2010 here. 

Columbia Business School offers only one flavor of admissions interview: "Columbia Business School Ambassador" alumni invitation-only interviews.
You will get to select from multiple interviewers, so try to figure out who they are first before contacting them. I suggest using Google searches, LinkedIn, and perhaps your own network to do so. Select someone who you think you will be compatible with.  Think about this strategically.

While this interview is certainly important, it is not unheard of for Linda Meehan to admit someone the alumni did not recommend or ding someone the interviewer did recommend. She and her team have ultimate discretion over this issue and clearly see the interview as only one factor for determining the ultimate result. That said, the interview is certainly quite important. In my experience, clients who report not having a great Columbia interview rarely are admitted, so you as an applicant should assume that like with any interview, it is very important to do well.

Columbia alumni seem to be particularly effective gatekeepers for the program. They are well known for relentlessly determining whether Columbia really is the applicant's first choice. They are clearly told to do this as it is a consistent feature of interview reports. Not only should you be able to explain why Columbia is your first choice, but you had better explain why HBS, Stanford, and/or Wharton is not. Less then clear answers to the why is CBS your first choice question can prove fatal. Beyond that, I think alumni are really looking to make sure that you possess sufficient mental strength, personal drive (aggression), and career focus to become a part of their "club."

Some of the most common question topics you would encounter in a Columbia interview (Based on my own information and a review of reports at at accepted.com and clearadmit.com):

-Why MBA? Why now?

-What are you goals? Why do you need an MBA for them?

-Leadership related questions focused directly on your experience or perhaps stated more generally.

-Team focused questions about leading a team, contributing to a team, and/or overcoming team conflict are all common.

-Why Columbia? Where else are you applying? What clubs or activities would you join at Columbia? What can you contribute to Columbia?

-Either walk me through your resume or questions that amount to the same thing are always asked. Expect to be asked one way or another about how you standout professionally. Be honest, but very direct and sell your experience emphasizing your ability to make an impact. A common question is "What improvements have you made at work?"

- Ethical dilemma questions, especially related to work experiences are common. So lets go over them briefly here. Ethical dilemma questions are all about decision making and learning:
1. Define the situation, such that it involves clearly identifiable options that are in conflict.
2. The options have to be real. They each have to have clear "goods" associated with them.
3. Justify the basis for the decision you made.
4. If your decision was right, focus on the result.
5. If your decision was wrong, focus on what you learned and hopefully applied to a more recent situation.

-Be ready to ask questions to the alum. Prepare them ahead of time. Assume that unless the alum is a very recent graduate, they should not be asked about recent developments on the campus. This is a good opportunity to ask them about their Columbia experience and about the alumni network.

-If there is anything you wanted to mention that was not covered in your application that you want to bring to the admission committee's attention, you will possibly have the opportunity to do so because interviewers frequently ask about this.

You probably will not be asked any weird hypothetical questions, but rather expect to cover some variation of the above questions in a great deal of depth.

Reported interview length is typically 60-75 minutes, but some interviews are shorter and some go for 90 minutes.

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 recent post on "Why I don't analyze profiles without consulting with the applicant."
-Adam Markus
アダム マーカス

ビジネススクール カウンセリング コンサルティング MBA留学 インタビュー 面接

October 24, 2009

"I'm at Sloan (ft. D-Pain) - MIT Sloan MBA Rap Song"

Take a break between writing essays and studying GMAT:
MIT Sloan MBA Rap Song - Wanna know what life at MIT Sloan is like - check this out.
Directed and Edited by Ash Martin
Lyrics by James Blair and Ash Martin, Song performed by James Blair and Ash Martin Starring Dapo Bakare, James Blair, Ash Martin, and Tyler Spalding

Just another reason to love MIT Sloan. Foul language follows. Rod must be so proud.
These guys are pretty good.
-Adam アダム

October 09, 2009

UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School 日本人受験生向けオンラインチャット(日本語)開催のお知らせ

The Japanese students at UNC Kenan-Flagler asked me to post this notice regarding an online chat that they will be doing for applicants..
-Adam Markus
アダム マーカス

unc kfbs logo black stacked

UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


さてこの度、UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School日本人在校生一同、 インターネットを通じた日本語によるオンライン・ライブチャットを下記の通り開催することといたしました。日本人在校生が、アプリケーション・インタ ビュー・チャペルヒルでの生活や卒業後の進路などについて、広く皆様のご質問にお答えいたします。当校へ出願を検討されている方を対象としておりますが、2010年以降に出願を予定されている方のご参加も大歓迎です。

  1. 日時
    日本時間2009117日(土曜日) 午後11時~午前0
    アメリカ東部時間2009117日(土曜日) 午前9時~午前10
  2. アクセス方法
    1. UNC at CH MBA日本語HPにアクセス
    2. 近日中にアップ予定のチャット専用URL(トップ画面をご参照ください)をクリック
    3. 新しいウインドウが現れ、Please enter your full nameと表示されるので、その下に表示されるブランクに参加者名(ハンドルネームで結構です)を記入
    4. Sign Inボタンをクリック
    5. チャットルームへの入室ができます
    6. チャット画面の下にメッセージボックスがありますので、メッセージを記入の上、Send Messageボタンをクリックし、ご参加ください
    7. 参加後、アンケートにご協力ください
  3. お問い合わせ先  UNC_MBA@hotmail.com
UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

Interview with a Chicago Booth Class of 2010 MBA Student

A former client, a member of the Chicago Booth MBA Class of 2010, was kind enough to answer my questions. 
Adam: So, what did you learn during your first year at Booth?

Booth2010: First year is mainly getting core classes done (Accounting, Microeconomics, Statistics) to be able to take more advanced classes. Form a study group for each class, and learn to study together - collaborating in a team. 

Time management skill is critical since time flies and there are so many things you need to do. Corporate presentations, mini-presentations at lunch hours (lunch box provided), student groups, lectures of your areas of interest, study group, and social events apart from hours you spend on actually studying the material. MBA is very much about 50% intensive studying and 50% intensive job-hunting. You will need to manage time every minute if not, you will pile up things to do - so it is crucial to prioritize and allocate your time realistically. It helps to know your focus area of interest/industry/job function you want to pursue and keep current with what's going on in other end of recruitment - this year, due to economic hardship, many I-bank jobs were gone, and those who were aiming for I-bank jobs flooded into consulting and corporate finance jobs, while job opportunities itself diminished in number. It is also crucial to develop your network to create a pipeline for a potential position so that people may want to interview you for a position when available.  

Adam: What part of the program have you liked the most? The least?

Booth2010: I liked the fact that the program offered breadth and freedom of choice in courses, yet according to the class requirements, you have certain fixed path until you claim the concentration. Study group is formed in most of the classes. Professors and TAs allocate enough time for office hours. 

There was a program change since 2009: 3  Foundations areas of Accounting, Microeconomics and Statistics remain the same, 6 courses – One course in six of seven categories representing Functions (Finance, Marketing, and Operations), Management (Decisions, People, and Organizations), and the Environment in which firms operate (Macroeconomics and Global Institution and Political Economy) replaces the requirement to take four Breadth requirements and two General Management requirements (A and B).  11 electives, unchanged from the existing curriculum. Leadership requirement now applied to all (Full-time/Part-time/Evening) programs. There are some more changes, so I recommend you to read Booth homepage well and do not depend on past information so much. Basically school added even more flexibility to the program.

About the LEAD program, it is a very much a bond creating, fun program that focuses on your personality and development of team spirit and leadership. When you become 2nd year, you have a chance to become LEAD facilitator for cohort, with which you can develop/demonstrate leadership (and can write on your resume), as well as good presentation practice.  Also, other forms of mentoring/mentee opportunities are abundant.  

Some professors with less experience and low evaluation scores are to be avoided - it makes a difference. I also had to work extra to understand a professor who used slang a lot - but if asked they will listen to your needs/request. 

Adam: How would you describe the culture of Booth?

Booth2010: Supportive-competitive. It is not too individualistic as I imagined before - staff are supportive, and professors will make sure you understand the subject. Social events are abundant and you only need to sign up. Most of the students live in downtown, and it is far from Hyde Park where the school is, and you develop social circle at where you are based at. 

Alumni are very approachable and mostly helpful if contacted. Booth  has presence in major industries but not all - so if you are going for industry like healthcare, you might need to find Alumni to reach out for potential opportunities and inquiries.

Career track and classes you take divide your path - and you never see some faces throughout year, which probably makes Chicago different from other schools with core classes where everyone sits in the same class for the first year.   

Adam: Do you actually have any time for clubs? If so, which ones are you active in?
Booth2010: Clubs activities are mostly during lunch time and I found it difficult to go to those since most of the times there are some sort of lecture during lunch time, or I just wanted to prepare for classes. I am a member of the Healthcare Club in which we share info or organize conferences - also, some cultural group have frequent outings. Occasional communal events help to get back in touch with classmates you rarely see otherwise. 

It is crucial to have a membership and get your resume out in certain club's resume book to increase exposure to firms. Membership fees amounts to a lot, so select wisely.

Adam: Are there any common characteristics you find amongst your classmates?
Booth2010: Hard working, independent self-starters, as most of all MBAs. I find many people have strong finance background  - I found others are a bit of minority. However, we have diverse people of various backgrounds, like advertised at MBA fairs - it is true.  

Very international - many students from India is what I notice at most classes - South Americans are next, East Asia, then rest of Europe, Middle East. International Connection helps especially in times of recruitment.

Adam: How has the financial crisis impacted life at Booth? 
Booth2010: Impact is clear - many companies reduced their booth area or did not even come to Boston Career Forum - many students choose plan B (ex. IB to consulting). School wide, many people are having difficulty securing internship and full-time job. I heared rumor at some point in April  that 50% of 1st years were without internship (should have improved) and 40% of 2nd years without full-time job. (In September, I learned more than 90% had internship, paid and non-paid) Career services have been trying very hard to reach out for Alumni for job opportunities and they have launched a portal specific for that purpose. VC, Investment Managements are now very invisible, and many multinational firms terminated sponsoring visas for internationals. There are some internship opportunities created by school - working for projects. 
Economy seemingly boosted international students intake - as far as I heard from other students, number of acceptance doubled in many international countries - China, Japan, and France - so it should be a good time to apply, for international students, however loan situation is not any better. 
Class of 2011 is the biggest in history, reflecting the economy crisis and choices people made accordingly. While, recruiting is not picking up very quickly. 

Recruitment has been hit by cost cutting - less companies are flying to have session, some just canceled the program. 

Adam: Do you have any specific advice for those considering application to Booth?
Booth2010: Booth is not only finance - also strong in consulting marketing and other areas. If you look at job stats on school website you will verify that.  

Corporate sponsorship helps. They do care about creative essays. Campus visit helps especially if you meet Adcom and make impression. 
Also, especially if you know specific companies you want to target to apply in US, it is good idea to research which schools they target to recruit - some firms target not exactly based on school rankings, but geographic proximity. It impacts your candidacy for the company. 

Some companies recruit at Booth, and not at Kellogg, and some do at Kellogg, and not at Booth. Of course being a student at their target school improves your chance to be hired, since corporate HR's job is also to maintain School-Company relationship. It does make a difference in the end. 

Adam: Anything else you would like to tell us?

Booth2010: Two years are big investment in your life. Choose your school well - considering location, program, etc. It helps to have great friends who can support you.

I want to thank Booth2010 for taking the time to answer my questions.

-Adam Markus
アダム マーカス

MBA留学 , シカゴ、ビジネススクール

October 08, 2009

A Happy Story of HBS Rejection

A Happy Story of HBS Rejection: Reflections on The Snowball by Alice Schroeder 

Once upon a time a slightly odd nineteen year-old with a continuous entrepreneurial track record from early childhood, an odd university history (attended a top East Coast School, but graduated from a public university of little repute outside its home state), and who happened to be the son of a United States Congressman applied to HBS.  He was interviewed by a highly judgmental alumnus who decided on the spot that the young man was not ready for HBS.  He was rejected.

The young man than applied to Columbia Business School because he realized that the author of a book on investing that he considered to be one of the best on the subject taught there.  He applied and was admitted without interview. The author became the young man’s mentor.

From one perspective, it could be said that HBS had made perhaps the worst admissions decision ever as it lost the chance to educate the young man.  But for the young man, his HBS rejection worked out just fine.  Maybe he would of benefited from a case study based education, but maybe not.  One thing is sure, the young man greatly benefited from his association with his CBS mentor.  Finally, it is rather clear that CBS made a great admissions decision. 
The young man was Warren Buffett and his mentor was Ben Graham.   Buffett’s authorized biography, The Snowball,  does not record who the HBS alum was, but clearly the guy did not have an eye for talent. And yet, if one considers the issue of fit, everything about Buffett as a person strikes me as wrong for HBS and right for CBS.

The funny thing is, I am not sure the situation has changed.  While HBS certainly now is taking them rather young, would someone like Buffett even get in?  And more to the point, why would he want to go there?

Buffett applied to HBS because he assumed that is where he would want to learn business, but actually he wanted to master investment theory and company valuation. Studying with Graham gave Buffett the perfect education and network to pursue his dreams of wealth.  Did Buffett really want to master general management or leadership? It would hardly seem to be the case that Buffett was looking for that.  Buffett probably would have been as bored by HBS as he was as an undergraduate at Wharton.  What he really wanted to learn, how to make money, required a practitioner’s instruction.  Graham provided that to him.

Buffett’s authorized biography reveals the extent to which Buffett is a real weird guy, a true non-conformist, and someone who had little in common with the corporate mentality of the 1950s.   Looking from that perspective it is hard to imagine him fitting into the HBS of the 1950s. He was totally immature.  I suppose HBS has room for such people now, but I tend to doubt it based on the clients I have worked with who were admitted there.  Even my client who was just admitted to HBS 2+2 demonstrated social maturity way beyond his or her age. My view is certainly based only on the clients I have worked with and one visit to HBS, but I am inclined to think that HBS is still not the place for true eccentrics who lack a particular concern for sensitivity to group dynamics.    

For years now, Buffett has been meeting with MBA students, but I wonder if a Buffet of today would actually get to meet him. To some extent, I think Haas, Columbia, and Chicago would probably be our contemporary hypothetical Buffet’s best shot now.  I am not sure if he could make it to the interview invite round without significant coaching (from a mentor or admissions consultant) for Stanford or MIT as his emotional intelligence and leadership experience might not make it past the present clinical methods those two schools use when analyzing applicants behavior as demonstrated in their behavioral essays. 

Can you imagine our hypothetical Buffet applying to Stanford and writing,  “What matters most to me is becoming rich?”  Would Stanford go for that? I have joked about someone doing that theme, but I still have not worked with anyone who had the right background and perspective (and guts) to try it.   (Please don’t send me your essays where you do unless you are one of my clients!)

I think Buffett’s MBA story is above all, a story of two factors, fit and luck.  He was a good academic fit for CBS, but not for HBS.  He was lucky to be rejected from HBS and lucky not to have to interview for CBS as he might not have survived that one any better than the HBS interview.  Once he failed that HBS interview and figured out that Graham was at Columbia, he apparently wrote a very effective application essay indicating that he wanted to study with Graham. It did not hurt that the Associate Dean in charge of Admissions was David Dodd, Graham’s junior partner.  Still, it can be said that Buffett made his own luck when he applied to CBS.  He knew why he was applying there and did not focus simply on the brand name as had mistakenly done with HBS.  He found fit.

-Adam Markus
アダム マーカス

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com. 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 "Why I don't analyze profiles without consulting with the applicant." If you are interested in my graduate admission consulting services, please click here.

ビジネススクール MBA留学

MBA Application Interview Strategy

This post includes minor updates made in November 2010.

First, I think it useful to contrast two different of ways of preparing interviews. As I will argue, a proactive approach to interviews is a more effective way to prepare for an MBA interview.

Just as the name implies, reactive interview preparation is based on reacting to actions taken by others. It has the following characteristics:

A. Timing: Reactive interview preparation does not begin until all other parts of the application process are completed and in the worst case not until the applicant is actually invited. Interviews are not approached as inherent part of the application process, but something that occurs independently from the rest of the process. For example, the applicant does not think about their resume as an agenda setting device (see below) for an interview, but simply as part of the application. Reactive interview preparation is invariably a scramble for time and often comes too late to have sufficient impact on improving the applicant's performance (An interview is a performance).

B. Approach to answering questions: Reactive interview preparation is always based on reacting to the questions. At its core, reactive interview preparation is based on responding to specific answers to set questions. As result, even those who use this method extensively have to prepare many answers to many questions because that is the only way they can be prepared. The problem, of course, is that when encountering a new question (If you put in charge of the world economy right now, what you do?) in actual interview, the interviewee is often at a loss about how to answer.

C. Reactive interviewing is strategically flawed:  Since you don't know what you will be asked, you set yourself up for failure if you plan a strategy only based on the questions you think you will be asked.  It is a poor excuse to say "I was not prepared for that question" because you actually cannot know exactly what you will be asked.   After all, a good interviewer will tailor questions specifically to you and in the process of doing that, they are likely to ask something you are not prepared for.

Just as the name implies, active interview preparation is based on taking a proactive approach to interview preparation. It has the following characteristics:

A. Timing: Proactive interview preparation begins with making a resume. Consider that for all US MBA program alumni interviews, all US MBA program student interviews, and many US program admissions interviews, the only thing from your application that your interviewer will have is your resume. Hence, it is important that your resume contain only information you are comfortable discussing in an interview. It is, to some extent, an agenda setting document. Hence, you should view interview preparation to begin with the composition of your resume. Proactive interview preparation also involves begin interview preparation sufficiently early to have impact. For some applicants with weak English and/or interview skills, such preparation may require a month or more to have real effect. For some applicants, it might just require a day or two of highly concentrated preparation. Much will depend on your skills as well who is interviewing and from what school.

B. Approach to answering questions: Proactive interview preparation is always based on knowing what you want to say about yourself before you interview. At its core, proactive interview preparation is based on thinking about your message. You must also be aware of potential questions, but the focus should be on knowing what you want to say about yourself, no matter what the question. You should have keywords and stories that can be used to answer a variety of questions.

C. Proactive interviewing offers a comprehensive strategy: Proactive interview preparation is based on the idea that you don't know what you will be asked, but you do know your message. Being ready for the unexpected is thus incorporated into the very method itself.

Interview Strategy Formulation
It is absolutely critical that you have an overall strategy for determining what you want to say about yourself. Just as with your essays, you need to formulate your self-marketing strategy for your interviews. Obviously what you put in your application should be consistent with and supported by your interview. However writing essays and talking for 30 minutes or more are simply not the same.

Don't worry about the questions, worry about your message!
While you should use the Accepted and Clear Admit sites to learn about the questions, an overemphasis on simply preparing answers to the questions that other applicants were asked is not the main thing you should be doing. Instead, decide what you want to say about yourself.

One way of being proactive is prepare a table like the following:


This table can be used for doing an inventory of your keywords and stories that you will use for interviews. Next, I will consider some specific types of keywords you need to develop.

Strengths/Contributions/Future Potential/Personality
1. One of my key strengths is X. A story that demonstrates this strength is... Another story that does is... This strength will be a contribution at your school because... This strength will contribute to my future goals because...
2. Another of my key strengths is Y. A story that demonstrates this strength is... Another story that does is... This strength will be a contribution at your school because... This strength will contribute to my future goals because...
3. Another of my key strengths is Z. A story that demonstrates this strength is... Another story that does is.. This strength will be a contribution at your school because... This strength will contribute to my future goals because...

For each X, Y, Z insert a keyword describing your strength. Connect keywords to specific stories. If possible, find more than one story that demonstrates the keyword. Next think how this strength could be a contribution when you are student. Next think how this strength will contribute to your goals. By using this method, you will have prepared answers to such common questions as "What are your strengths" and "How will you contribute to our school." Additionally you will be ready to show how your past experience will help you achieve your goals. Additionally when asked questions which are less direct about your strengths, you will already have keywords and stories ready for those questions you can't predict. Keep in mind that your strengths might include particular skills as well as personality characteristics. You should think about strengths in the widest sense. Try to develop about 6-12(or more) keywords and 12-20 (or more) stories that relate to your strengths, contributions, personality, and future potential.

1. One of my weaknesses is X. A story that demonstrates this is... Another story that does is... I want to overcome this weakness by... This weakness resulted in failure when...
2. Another of my weaknesses is Y. A story that demonstrates this is... Another story that does is... I want to overcome this weakness by... This weakness resulted in failure when...
3. Another of my weaknesses is Z. A story that demonstrates this is... Another story that does is... I want to overcome this weakness by... This weakness resulted in failure when...

HAVE AS MANY WEAKNESSES AS POSSIBLE, NOT JUST ONE OR TWO. TRY FOR THREE TO FIVE. Here you be preparing answers to the very common questions that are asked about weakness, but in addition you will need to think about how the MBA program and/or some other aspect of yourself will make it possible for you to overcome this weakness. Weaknesses should be real and not abstract. You should have clear stories that demonstrate your weaknesses, something many applicants initially have a problem with. Additionally knowing how a program will help you overcome your weakness will explain why you want to attend that school. Finally, SOME, BUT NOT All weaknesses make for great failure stories, another very common topic for interviews.

Leadership and Teamwork Skills/Potential
All applicants should have keywords and supporting stories describing their leadership and teamwork skills and potential. Given the very common nature of questions related to both leadership and teamwork, you should also be prepared for the following:
1. My definition of leadership/teamwork is... because... I demonstrated this kind of leadership by...
2. One leader I really admire is... because... I am similar/want to be like this person because...
3. I think I am a good team member because...

Have enough keywords and stories
If you have enough keyword and stories you will have a solid basis for answering the great range of questions that you are likely to be asked about yourself. Don't develop more than you can master, but don't skimp either.

Questions you should be ready to answer
In addition to having keywords and stories, there are certain questions that you should be ready to answer because they are commonly asked in interviews.
Goals/Why MBA?/ Why this school?
You should have outlined answers to the following:
1. I want an MBA now because...
2. I want an MBA from your school because...
3. Your school is my first choice because...
4. After my MBA, I will...
5. My goals are...
6. If I was not able to attend an MBA program next year, I would...

Ethical Dilemma Questions
Another very common question relates to ethical dilemmas. Be ready. Have a story or two ready. If you are having a difficulty formulating ethical dilemma questions, please take a look at the Institute for Global Ethics. Also see Business Ethics Research - Knowledge@Wharton.

Questions for the interviewer

You should be ready to ask questions to your interviewer. What you ask should be governed by the following considerations:
1. Is the answer to the question obvious? If so, don't ask the question.
2. Is the answer to the question really relevant to you? If not, don't ask it. General questions that have no specific connection to you are probably not worth asking.
3. Will the interviewer be able to answer the question? In general avoid asking interviewers questions that they are not really able to answer. Asking an alum who graduated five years ago about what is new at the school would be one such bad question.

When formulating questions it is obviously important to consider who you will be interviewing with because what you ask an alum is not the same as what you ask an admissions officer or current student.

Behavioral Interviews
Both MIT and, as of 2010, Wharton have behavioral interviews. My post on MIT is comprehensive as this has been their longstanding practice.  Please see here for that analysis.  Regarding the specifics of the Wharton interview, please see here .

Prepare intensively for any category of question that you are especially uncomfortable with.
Many applicants hate answering questions about weakness or failure. Other don't like ethical dilemma. Whatever it is you don't like, master it.

Tell stories that show the range of your experience
Keep in mind that you should use stories from different parts of your life. Don't overemphasize one specific situation. Instead tell stories that showcase the range of your experience. To do so effectively, means preparing a sufficient amount of keywords and stories ahead of time. Many applicants wait until days before an interview to prepare, but actually your interview preparations should ideally begin at least a month before you start interviewing. Why so long? Because you have a lot to do:


I have a very simple and effective method for interview preparation: Over-preparation. The best way to do well in any interview is be prepared for an interview that will be harder than the actual interview. I write this based on my experience. Since 2001, I have been told by grateful clients that my practice interviews were harder than the real thing and as a result they could confidently handle the real thing. I think any highly experienced graduate admissions consultant should be able to provide this kind of practice to their clients. If you don't use an admissions consultant to help you prepare, find someone, a mentor perhaps, who can help you. Whoever you seek advice from, getting actual critical feedback from person who understands the MBA admissions process is critical.

Just as critical is your own preparation. The amount of practice (with someone else and alone) you require will really depend on three variables:

1. Your English ability. For international applicants with low intermediate to high intermediate level ability, expect to focus a significant amount of your time on practicing to speak.

2. Your comfort with interviews. Some people are just really good at interviewing and others are not. If you know that you are weak in the this area, you will really need to practice with another person who can judge your performance.

3. The difficulty of the interview. Some schools simply have difficult interviews (HBS for example), while others do not (Duke for example), so take that into account. A great way to determine the difficulty of a particular school's interviews is to read reports written by applicants (See the links above to the Accepted and Clear Admit interview reports).

Keep it simple and don't recite from memory
Regardless of how complex the topic might be, when you tell a story, keep it simple enough for your listener to follow. The human brain can only absorb a limited amount of information, so when you tell a story make sure that it is something that can be easily followed and delivered very briefly.

For that reason (and others), memorizing long stories and reciting them should be avoided because it will likely result in your interviewer being unable to absorb your story. If the story takes too long to recite, the may also become bored or annoyed. Additionally memorized answers from a non-native speaker of English are a sign that the interviewee's English skills might be weak.

Don't write a script, just a very brief outline
Unless your English speaking ability is very weak, I would strongly recommend that you don't write scripts of your answers, instead prepare a very brief outline and practice telling the story. Tell your stories repeatedly so that you are comfortable doing so, but since you want to come across as polished, but natural, don't memorize it.

Use an audio and/or video recorder
For many people, except for watching yourself on video, nothing is worse than listening to your own voice. However as painful as it maybe, doing so will help you identify weakness in your answers and overall performance. Therefore record and analyze yourself.

Relax and be confident
I know this part can be hard, but the more relaxed and confident you are, the more likely you are to have a good interview. Creating the right impression is as critical as what you actually say. Make your interviewer feel your enthusiasm.

Practice for specific interviews
Finally, don't just practice for any interview, practice for specific interviews. While you may initially need to think about overall strategy and need to prepare your stories, you should focus some of your practice on specific interviews. BOTTOM LINE: If you have mock interviews, make sure they are school specific because a very important aspect of the interview really is about you showing your connection and fit to the school.

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 recent post on "Why I don't analyze profiles without consulting with the applicant."
-Adam Markus
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October 04, 2009

Should you press the apply button?

Feeling rushed?  Uncertain about whether that first round MBA application is really ready? Planning on taking the GMAT again, but feeling an absolute urge to apply round one?   My general advice is to wait. 

If you really think what you have is not nearly as good as it could be because
(1) you don't know enough about the school you are applying to
(2)you don't feel on a gut level like your essays are good enough
(3) the feedback you have received on your essays has been less than enthusiastic
(4) you are not sure whether your essays work as a set
(5) you know you have better stories but just have not had a chance to write them
(6) you suddenly recognize that your choice of recommenders was not as good as it could have been
(7) your recommender has had to produce something that is really rushed and not very good...

---you should really consider waiting until round two.  

Once we start something it is often very hard to stop doing it.  Especially for highly motivated people, going off the plan and or simply not being among the first can be a very difficult to do.

Don't get me wrong because I like first round for applicants who are ready to go.  I am taking this little blog writing break between working with mostly round one applicants.  I think it is better to apply to R1 if one is ready.  On the other hand, for most schools there really is very little difference between R1 and R2.  I am on record for advocating for MIT and Stanford, but otherwise and in general (and there are always exceptions to any general statement),  I don't think it really impacts outcomes that much.   But beyond that I believe in the "garbage in, garbage out rule."  If you submit garbage, you get garbage.  If you think your stuff is not ready, go with your gut and get it better for round two.


The Duke MBA Fee Reduction Program

Below is an email I received from Duke MBA admissions on Saturday, Oct 3, 2009 at 1:47 PM.  While I think it is great that they are offering an application fee reduction from $200 to $50 to those "who schedule a campus visit through our online scheduling tool and come to Durham or who register for and attend a Duke MBA information session or coffee chat at one of our worldwide locations," I have to wonder if Duke is just doing this out of the kindness of their hearts or is it some attempt to increase applications?
According to US News, their Fall 2008 (Class of 2010) admissions data is as follows:
Number of applicants (full-time) 3,076
Number of acceptances (full-time) 934
Acceptance rate (full-time) 30.4%

Total first-year enrollment (full-time) 434
 YIELD (My calculation): 46%
 The Fuqua website also has data for the Class of 2010, but not the Class of 2011.

So what we have is a scenario where a school that admits 30.4% of its pool and only actually gets 46% of them to attend is now  offering an incentive to apply if you become better informed about their program.    Below, they will state that they are doing it to assist applicants during these tough economic times.  That might very well be true.  At the same time, I assume they are doing this so that they have a bigger pool of applicants to choose from, get more selective, and hopefully find applicants who are better informed and motivated to attend their school.  For applicants interested in Duke, I suggest you save money, become as informed as possible about the school, and apply.  

For those who are somewhat interested in Duke, well, you might as well look into it more, but only apply if it meets your bottom line criteria. A $150 savings is not a good basis for making a life decision.

"A Special Offer from The Duke MBA

Clearly, the world is facing many economic challenges today. At The Duke MBA, we recognize that the MBA application process is an investment of time and money, which can both be in short supply in times like these. We feel strongly that visiting with Duke admissions officers, students, and alumni in person is incredibly helpful in understanding the Team Fuqua culture, and we also understand that traveling to our campus can be difficult. To help alleviate some of the financial stress you may be facing, we are pleased to announce the following Duke MBA Application Fee Reduction Program.
Individuals who schedule a campus visit through our online scheduling tool and come to Durham or who register for and attend a Duke MBA information session or coffee chat at one of our worldwide locations will be able to submit an application for the 2009 – 2010 application year for only $50, instead of the usual $200 fee. In this way, we are able to cover our administrative expenses while minimizing the impact on our applicants.
Please visit our Web site for a complete listing of upcoming information sessions and coffee chats, or access our online scheduling tool to craft your own campus visit (with or without interview) and plan to visit us. We will look forward to seeing you!
Important Information:
The reduced fee information for the Daytime program will not be available on the online application until October 7. If you are applying to the Daytime program in Rounds 1, 2, or 3 and want to take advantage of this offer, please do not submit your application until after October 7.
For those who are planning to apply for our Daytime Early Action deadline (October 6), the fee reduction functionality will not be available on the application by this deadline. However, please send an email to application-processing@fuqua.duke.edu at least 72 hours prior to submitting your application and we will provide you with instructions for activating the fee reduction.
For applicants interested in the Cross Continent, Global Executive, or Weekend Executive MBA programs, the fee reduction function will be available at the end of October. If you will be submitting your application prior to November 1, please contact application-processing@fuqua.duke.edu at least 72 hours prior to submitting your application and we will provide you with instructions for activating the fee reduction.
Choosing the fee reduction on the online application prior to submitting your application is the only way to receive the reduction. The Duke MBA will NOT be able to offer refunds after an application has been submitted.
There are other ways to qualify for an application fee reduction or waiver. Please click here for a complete listing.
Best regards,
The Duke MBA Office of Admissions
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