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Face Time: The Growing Importance of the MBA Admissions Interview

MBA Admissions InterviewDo you remember the time when schools didn’t even interview their entire class?
Even Harvard and Stanford fell into this category a decade ago; the MBA interview simply was not as important.

Today, however, most top business schools interview every member of their incoming class.

Over the past ten years, the interview has transformed from an optional add-on to an integral part of the MBA admissions process, perhaps even the most important part.

This July, UPenn’s Wharton MBA program added another dimension to the MBA Admissions interview process: the group interview.

Wharton announced that 2012-2013 MBA applicants will participate in a “team-based discussion” with 5-6 other applicants.

These discussions, based on real business scenarios, are designed to shed light on how candidates approach and solve problems and how well they work in a team. (For more on Wharton admissions, check out their MBA Admissions Blog)

Wharton’s Group Interview a game-changer

In more traditional interview situations, the applicant is the sole focus of the admissions panel during the allotted interview time.

In the new Wharton team-based discussion model, admissions officials must divide their attention between the 5-6 team members, all of whom will be competing for that attention.

The trick, of course, is capturing attention in a positive way. You want to display:

– Leadership without appearing overbearing

– Highlight your intelligence without being boastful

– Teamwork over individual brilliance, productive cooperation over singular productivity.

To succeed in this model, students need to hone and highlight their value as a team member, to translate their on-paper qualifications to real-world assets that would add value to any team.

So, how do you do that?

Draw on past team experiences to define your strengths.

Think of teams that you have worked with in the past, especially in business scenarios. How did you fit into the team dynamic? Were you more of a leader or a follower?

What did your team do well? How could you have improved? What lessons did you learn about teamwork and leadership?

Thinking about these experiences will help you determine what strengths you bring to a team.  

Perhaps you are a born leader willing to take responsibility for the team. Perhaps your excellent interpersonal skills bring team members together and resolve conflict.

Or maybe your superior communication skills make you a great spokesperson. Whatever your strengths, define them in concrete terms and emphasize them throughout the application process.

Prepare for the interview by taking stock of your past teamwork experiences and reflecting on how your strengths helped the team succeed.

In the group interview, anticipate situations where you can highlight your strengths.

This could mean filling a leadership void, creating a cooperative environment, generating ideas for a specific aspect of the task, or articulating overall goals.

Whatever it is, find your role in the team and do everything you can to shine in that role.

Balance leading and following.

Given that you only have one shot at impressing the admissions board, it is tempting to turn the group interview setting into your own personal showcase.

However, giving in to that temptation means losing sight of the central purpose of the group interview.

Admissions officials don’t want to see how great you are by yourself, they want to see how great you are in a team.

So, instead of simply interjecting your own agenda, make sure that you are building upon the ideas and comments offered by others in the interview.

Don’t hesitate to be a leader, but don’t monopolize the leadership role.

The best conversations are not monologues- they are balanced dialogues where each person considers what the other person said and builds upon those comments with their own thoughts.

Successful applicants should be able to achieve that same balance in the group interview.

Let go of competition and focus on the task at hand.

For the duration of the group interview, do not think of the other applicants as your competition, think of them as teammates.

Pretend, for those few minutes, that you have already been admitted to Wharton and that you are simply solving a problem with fellow students.

Let the competitive aspect go- don’t focus on highlighting yourself, out-smarting others, or constantly taking the lead. Simply focus on completing the task at hand as excellently as possible.

Focus on your strengths; on what you can offer the group, and on how your contributions can solve the problem at hand.

If you can develop that focus, everything else will fall into place. Of course, you don’t want to forget that you are in a formal setting.

Remain professional, polite, and aware of the image that you are presenting to your teammates and to observers.

It should be an image of confidence tempered by politeness and self-control, leadership balanced by thoughtful cooperation.

Worried about interview prep?

EXPARTUS will be hosting a webinar the last Tuesday of September that will deal directly with preparing for MBA interviews.

Sign up here and tune in for more great interview tips. You can also sign up for interview preparation with EXPARTUS by emailing us at

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