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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

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
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