Are you ready for your MBA admissions interview at Wharton?
The Wharton team-based discussion interview is a bit of a departure from the typical MBA admissions interview, and many applicants become very concerned when they read up on the format. It doesn’t have to be scary, though.
Instead, try to think of it as a window into an MBA classroom at a top MBA program. The average MBA curriculum is very collaborative, and the Wharton team-based discussion is designed to give you a preview of that culture.
The Wharton Team-Based Discussion Format
Here’s what you need to know about the Wharton team-based discussion interview format.
- Before you arrive on campus for your MBA interview, you’ll receive a prompt for the team-based discussion.
- You’ll be put in a team of 5-6 applicants who have received the same prompt as you.
- Your team will have 45 minutes to discuss the prompt and develop a short oral presentation to be delivered at the end of the discussion.
- You’ll be observed by Wharton’s Admissions Fellows.
With a substantial amount of time for discussion, you’ll need to research your prompt and prepare well beforehand.
How To Prepare Before the Interview
Wharton suggests that you spend an hour preparing for the team-based discussion after you receive the prompt. To me, this is a bit light. You should accomplish several objectives before arriving for the Wharton team-based discussion, and you might need more than an hour to do so.
Focus your preparation on four broad objectives:
- Researching the prompt– Once you receive your prompt, think about the information you need to analyze the situation you’ve been given and meet your prompt’s objectives. One Wharton candidate reported being asked to identify a lifelong-learning opportunity for Wharton alumni and suggest a mode of implementation. For this question, you could research current lifelong learning opportunities at Wharton, to make sure that your idea has not already been implemented. You could also research industries that are popular with many Wharton alumni, and think about what skills they might need to succeed in those industries.
- Brainstorm– After you’ve done your research, you can begin brainstorming ideas to contribute to the group discussion. Initially, write down any and all ideas that you think of. Then, go back through your list and build out your ideas. Think about short and long-term impacts, as well as implementation strategies.
- Select your topics– Select two or three of your best ideas to bring into the interview. Try to select topics that fit well with your expertise and personal brand. Ideally, your background should give you a unique take on the topic at hand, and provide you with an opportunity to add value that another applicant might not have been able to add.
- Rehearse. Once you have a topic, hold a practice discussion with trusted colleagues or friends. Provide them with the prompt and ask them to work with you in developing a solution. Your practice sessions should involve a lot of give-and-take, constructive criticism and debate. They should also be timed to mimic the 45-minute format of the Wharton team-based discussion.
With this preparation done, you should feel confident going into the Wharton team-based discussion. You’ve done your research, you’ve developed great ideas, and you have practiced. Now, it’s time to execute well.
During the Interview: Be a Great Teammate
The Wharton team-based discussion is not about standing out as an individual. It’s about standing out as a great teammate, one who adds value to the group and helps others realize their potential. Don’t go into the interview thinking of your teammates as your competition.
After all, there’s definitely room for all 5 or 6 of you to get admitted, and odds are at least 2-3 of you will be. Think of them simply as your teammates, and focus on using everyone’s strengths to present the best possible solution.
Here are a few tips and strategies to remember on the day of the interview.
- Arrive about 15 minutes early. This gives you time to chat with your teammates, learn more about their background, and make everyone feel comfortable.
- Be flexible. The discussion might veer off into territory that you didn’t imagine. Your team might not end up using your original idea, and that’s okay. The most important thing is to prove your adaptability and your willingness to listen to and incorporate different points of view.
- Don’t hog the spotlight. When you speak up, don’t ramble. Make your point concisely and then allow someone else to have a turn.
- Listen well. Look the speaker in the eye, sit up straight while they’re talking, and build off of their ideas. Ask intelligent questions to clarify their point, or offer up related suggestions.
- Draw out your teammates. If you notice that one team member is quiet, ask them what their point of view is. Just a simple question will do. You don’t want to call them out for not participating, you just want to give them an opening.
- Be polite. If someone raises a question about your idea or argues about your point, thank them for their input and acknowledge its validity. Then, explore what your two points have in common.
- Don’t be afraid to take the lead. If you feel that the discussion is tapering off, don’t be afraid to step up and help get it back on track. It’s perfectly okay to show that you can be assertive and be a leader. The key is to never lose sight of your teammates’ perspectives and valuable contributions.
- End well. Synthesize key points from your discussion to develop a compelling idea and final presentation. After the presentation, make sure that you say a proper goodbye, thank your teammates for their contributions, and wish them luck.
The two biggest takeaways here are balance and kindness. Aim to balance talking with listening; taking initiative with allowing others to act; and presenting your ideas with discussing others’ thoughts.
You should also aim to be kind. It sounds simple, but prioritizing kindness can be transformative. Take the time to learn about your teammates, smile and joke with them, and wish them well. Be considerate in listening and reviewing their ideas. Be kind when divvying up roles and responsibilities. Remain positive and constructive, no matter what, and remember that your teammates want this to work just as much as you do.
The One-on-One Interview
After your Wharton team-based discussion, you’ll meet one-on-one with an Admissions Fellow or an admissions board member. Applicants report that these conversations focus heavily on the team-based discussion. You should be prepared to quickly analyze your participation and your team’s results. Questions to consider include:
- How do you feel the team-based discussion went?
- Did your behavior in the discussion reflect how you normally operate in the workplace?
- Did the discussion meet your expectations?
- How did your team perform well?
- Was there anything that you think could have gone differently?
Never criticize your teammates or try to discredit them. Even if you had a completely lazy, monosyllabic teammate, you don’t need to focus on that fact. Admissions Fellows were in the room with you and will certainly notice lackluster participation. So, trust the process and focus on your performance.
Try to steer the conversation towards aspects of your personal brand that you want to emphasize, and your own track record as a teammate. Have several examples of successful teamwork and leadership prepared for discussion, and be ready to provide specific information about challenges and results.
The Wharton team-based discussion is a departure from the norm, but it offers a great opportunity to prove your worth as a future MBA student. If you prepare well and have the right attitude going in, it should be an informative and even enjoyable experience.
You’re getting a chance to debate with talented and diverse fellow applicants, in a preview of what your MBA classroom experience will be like. That is a great opportunity, and you should do your best to take full advantage of it.
So, what’s your biggest question about the MBA admissions interview at Wharton?
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