How the MBA Admissions Interview Process Really Works

While many business school applicants view the MBA admissions interview as the last hurdle to clear, when they’re only 50 yards from the finish line, that’s not exactly how it works. Every year we hear from applicants who look at the previous season’s admissions statistics and think something like this: “Well, they normally admit 600 students, and I hear that about 800 interview invitations go out every year, so all I have to do is not be in the bottom quarter of interviewees and I’m set!”

This line of thinking assumes that the admissions process is a perfectly linear one in which the committee cuts down the applicant pool and then starts fresh with the remaining applicants, forgetting everything they already know about them as they go into the interview. In reality, however, the admissions office right away knows that it won’t admit a large number of applicants (for whatever reason: lack of fit with the program, underwhelming grades, no evidence of leadership potential, etc.), so it makes sense for them to just cut those applicants out of the process right away, since interviewing everyone just isn’t practical. So, they cut down the pool to a more manageable number before sending out invites.

But, as interview invites go out, they already have well-formed opinions about the remaining applicants: “John has terrific leadership experience but we wonder about his quant skills… Mary has very interesting career goals but we’re just not sure if an MBA is right for her… Tony brings it all to the table and looks like a very promising candidate.” They go into the interview with these opinions and questions, and in large part the purpose of the interview is to help them confirm what they know and find out what they don’t know.

Then — and here’s the important thing to remember — they then feed that information back into your entire candidacy, and they then decide on what to do with you. You could walk into the interview with them already loving you, and do just okay in the interview, and still get in. You could go into the interview with the admissions committee having lots of questions about your fit with the school, and you could earn rave reviews from your interviewer, but ultimately be rejected because of those questions that were raised before you ever walked in the door.

Both types of examples are very common among applicants. Every year we hear from applicants who say, “I thought I bombed the interview, but I still got in!” and “I was AMAZING in the interview, and my interviewer even said so. So how could they have rejected me?” It’s because the interview is just one part of the process, and it’s compared against everything else in your application before a decision is made. Every part of your application matters right up until the moment when a decision is rendered.

What does this mean for you? It may mean that you are already well on your way to being admitted, although you probably won’t know it. Or, it could mean that your odds aren’t great, but at least the school saw enough in you to give you an interviewer, so your odd aren’t great, but you’re still in the game. If you fall in the latter camp, the interview will obviously matter more. Since you don’t know which camp you’re in, you need to prepare for the interview like it matters a ton. But know that everything in your application — your GMAT score, your essays, your letters of recommendation, your undergraduate work, and your work history — still matter a lot.

Finally, we should note that not every school works exactly the same way when it comes to interviews. Many top schools conduct interviews blind, meaning that the interviewer hasn’t extensively reviewed you application. And other schools allow everyone to interview, rather than conducting them by invite only. However, this “the process isn’t perfectly linear” lesson still applies. It all gets fed into the final decision.

For more news and advice on getting into Ross and other world-class business schools, be sure to subscribe to this blog and to follow us on Twitter!

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