How to Approach Different Kinds of MBA Admissions Interviews

Who conducts your MBA admissions interview depends on a few things. Where you’re applying obviously matters a lot: Some schools only have admissions personnel conduct interviews, while others rely on a mix of admissions officers, students, and alumni. Where you live also affects how you’re interviewed — if you’re applying to a school on another continent, that school will normally be more willing do your interview by phone or (increasingly) by Skype.

Every business school’s policy is different, and MBA programs’ policies can change over time. For instance, last year Wharton announced that its alumni would no longer conduct interviews, and that all interviews would instead be conducted by admissions representatives or students. So, as you research your target business schools, make sure you’re preparing with the latest information.

With that in mind, here are a few thoughts on what to expect, based on who conducts your MBA admissions interview:

As interviewers, business school alumni have a reputation for being a little more laid back in terms of how they conduct an interview. They will also have some guidelines for conducting the interview, but tend to be more willing to let it evolve into a natural conversation. Remember, though, that they are still evaluating you. Even more importantly, these are the interviews where you most risk not covering everything that you want to talk about. If there are certain messages that you want to convey and the interviewer just wants to talk about the Yankees, know that the onus is still on you to cover those messages. Also, keep in mind that alumni interviews tend to be the least restrictive in terms of time. Many alumni will let an interview stretch on for well over an hour, if you are both enjoying the conversation. Finally, be prepared for a little more variability in your experience. While most applicants report having great interviews with alumni, there are more than a couple of horror stories of applicants being traumatized by weird, rude, or even harassing interviewers. These types of stories are rare, but know that experiences with alumni interviewers will vary more than those with other kinds of interviewers.

Admissions Officer
These interviews often are the most formal, and the most specific in terms of what the interviewer is looking for. Admissions personnel will usually have a form from which they work, and will make an effort to cover each area before the interview is over. Beware, though, that if the admissions officer doesn’t cover everything in the allotted time and some questions go unanswered, it will be considered your fault. Your main line of defense against this problem is making sure that you don’t ramble. Later on, we will discuss how you can make sure to cover the most important parts of your story.

Some schools, such as Wharton and Kellogg, train their students to conduct interviews. These students will typically work off of the same forms that admissions officers use. While you may hit it off with some students and end up having an informal conversation, many students tend to conduct interviews “by the book” even more so than admissions officers. Schools tend to use the interview feedback they get from students in the same way as the feedback they get from admissions officers. So, you should treat an interview with a student the same as an interview with an admissions officer.

Faculty Member
While having a faculty member interview you is extremely uncommon, there are some schools (INSEAD is one example) that might have you interview with a professor. These interviews generally feel like a discussion with an admission officer, but tend to be more academic in nature. Therefore, you should go into the discussion having a good understanding of the academic choices you’ve made in addition to being able to articulate what you want to get out of the curriculum.

So, knowing all of this, how should you prepare for your admissions interview? Although the meat of your preparation will be the same no matter who interviews you, be aware that there will be some subtle differences in your experience depending on who conducts the interview. Again, your preparation will barely be affected, but it helps to know what to expect going in. If you go into a formal interview expecting just that, then you will likely be well prepared and not be rattled by the formality.

For more business school admissions advice, take a look at our book, Your MBA Game Plan, now in its 3rd edition. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!


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