MBA Interview Prep 3: Difference between admissions committee and alumni interviews
3rd in a 4-part series on MBA interviews
Different institutes conduct interviews in different ways, and knowing the format for these interviews beforehand can help you prepare. While all interviews are aimed to learn more about the applicant, in terms of their personality, motivations and whether he or she would thrive in that program, the style and focus of alumni interviews are often different than those conducted by the admissions team.
For some schools, including Harvard Business School, MIT Sloan, and Carnegie Mellon Tepper, a member of the admissions committee (AdCom) leads the interview. For other programs, such as Columbia Business School, Stanford GSB, Chicago Booth, and Northwestern Kellogg, alumni, typically those living in the region, interview potential candidates.
In general, for AdCom interviews, the interviewer has read some or all of your application materials, including the resume, essays, and forms as well as your letters of recommendation. This means they have a strong sense of your application and background prior to the interview and may have prepared structured questions to ask. It’s not uncommon for an AdCom interview to focus on something highly specific within application materials, or have industry-specific questions on hand.
Conversely, alumni generally have not reviewed your application prior to the meeting. In some cases, they may ask you to send across your resume in advance or ask for it when you meet with them. As a result, alumni interviews tend to be more fluid and dynamic, lasting anywhere from 30-minutes to a couple of hours. As alumni interviewers are assigned based on geography, the alumnus could have a similar professional background to you, or they could be from a completely different industry, so you should be prepared for the conversation to go in various directions.
One thing to remember about alumni interviews is that they volunteer to do this, and that means most alumni are extremely passionate and proud to be associated with their school. In these interviews, therefore, they are assessing whether you would ‘fit’ into that school environment and culture. They are wondering what it will be like interacting with you a cocktail party? How would it be to work with you on a project? Start a company with you? Are you someone they would want to meet up with at an alumni event ten years in the future?
While AdCom may also want answers to these questions, they are additionally trying to understand whether you are ready to manage a rigorous MBA program, and gauge the experiences you bring to the school to ensure diversity in the classroom. They want to know if you play well with others, and if you have the raw potential to learn from their program and the vision to carry forward these lessons into the professional space.
While you probably know by now that as an applicant you should be prepared to ask questions at the end of the interview, one thing to keep in mind is that these questions should vary depending on whether you are in front of an AdCom member or an alumnus.
It’s worth asking alumni about their own MBA experience – what was a typical day like during business school? What did they do on the weekends? What you shouldn’t do is ask them statistics, such as the average GMAT score of the class, or questions relating to coursework, or curriculum. For one thing, they might be several years out of the program and things could have changed. For another, a lot of that information is available online, and questions like that make you look lazy.
AdCom members would be better suited to answer more in-depth queries about courses, or if you have questions about research or interdisciplinary opportunities not easily understood through a search of their website. Additionally, you can ask more about clubs and organizations that you find interesting and how they work in conjecture with the program. Remember to be specific and tailor these questions to your own experiences.
It is critical to understand the nuances between these interview formats to be better prepared for your upcoming interviews. Knowing their style well and showing up ready can only help you on your MBA journey.