3rd in a 5-part series on MBA interviews
Different institutes conduct interviews in different ways and knowing the format for these interviews beforehand can help you prepare more efficiently. While all interviews aim to learn more about you–your personality, motivations and whether you would thrive in that programme–the style and focus of alumni interviews are often different than those conducted by the admissions team.
For some business schools, including Harvard Business School, MIT Sloan School of Management and Tepper School of Business, a member of the admissions committee (AdCom) leads the interview. For other MBA programmes, such as Columbia Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, The University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Kellogg School of Management, 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 material, including the resume, essays, forms and letters of recommendation. This means they have a strong sense of your 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 material or have industry-specific questions on hand.
Conversely, alumni generally have not reviewed your application before 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; be prepared for the conversation to go in various directions.
One thing to remember is that alumni interviewers volunteer to do this, meaning that they are extremely passionate and proud to be associated with their business school. In these interviews, they are assessing whether you would ‘fit’ into that business school environment and culture. What will it be like interacting with you at 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 seek answers to these questions, they’re additionally trying to understand whether you are ready to manage a rigorous MBA programme and will gauge the experiences you bring to the business school to ensure diversity in the classroom. They want to know if you play well with others, if you have the raw potential to learn from their programme and if you have the vision to carry forward these lessons into the professional space.
While you probably know by now that 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 programme 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 and questions around research or interdisciplinary opportunities not easily understood by a thorough search of their website. Additionally, you can ask more about clubs and organisations that you find interesting and how they work in conjecture with the programme. 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. Understanding the styles and showing up ready will only help you on your MBA journey.
While you’re preparing for your interview, read about how to approach the ‘tell me about yourself’ question here, find out how to prepare for the team-based interview here and figure out the best way to thank your interviewer here. For some general interview tips, read this blog.
If you require any more guidance, get in touch with us. Good luck preparing!