Wharton’s Interview Questions For Applicants Leak

by John A. Byrne on

Several prominent MBA admissions consultants, with access to inside information on the web, are coaching their clients for forthcoming applicant interviews with the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, Poets&Quants has learned.

What makes the practice especially noteworthy is that this year Wharton has launched a new process that requires all applicants to answer three of six “behavioral” questions. So knowledge of the questions would allow applicants time to prepare thoughtful answers and score well. Applicants unaware of the new format and the questions would be facing this interview process totally unprepared.

The consultants have gained access to an audio slideshow presentation intended to train Wharton alumni who conduct the interviews. The slideshow includes all six questions, suggestions for follow-ups, as well as detailed guidelines for how to grade the applicants’ answers. The upshot: applicants willing to pay for help are gaining inside information that makes it far more likely they will do well in the crucial interview session that is the last hurdle to an acceptance.

Like most schools, Wharton is in the midst of interviewing first-round applicants. An estimated 900 applicants have been invited to interviews so far, through Wharton will likely interview as many as 2,700 of some 7,000 expected applicants to the Class of 2013. Wharton says that roughly 500 Wharton alums have been enlisted to conduct the sessions. Second-year MBA students and admissions staff also will do some of the interviews.

The leaking of Wharton’s questions and grading framework coincides with a boom in the MBA admissions consulting business. As many as half of all applicants to Harvard, Stanford and Wharton are thought to be using consultants to gain an edge in getting into a prestige school. In some cases, applicants are paying well in excess of $5,000 for coaching on how to fill out their application forms, write their admission essays, and prepare for interviews. Many of the consultants are either alumni of or former admissions officials at many of the world’s top business schools.

“While anything is possible, I sincerely doubt that any of our consultants would be engaging in this sort of behavior,” says Graham Richmond, co-founder of Clear Admit, who like his partner, Eliot Ingram, are Wharton alums. “Unlike most firms in the space, we are not a loose network of independent contractors, but rather a tight-knit group of full-time employees. If the allegation is that we have ‘insider’ information of some kind, then it’s false – unless you consider field reports from current applicants who have interviewed with the school to be insider information.”

Richmond and others note that some questions have leaked out in online discussion forums at BusinessWeek, GMAT Club and Clear Admit, along with blog posts by applicants who have been invited to the interview and are reporting back the results of their sessions in detail. Nonetheless, the more important ethical question concerns the access that allows some applicants who pay for consulting help to better prepare for their interviews due to the leak.

80% OF WHARTON APPLICANTS ARE QUALIFIED FOR ADMISSION.

The 25-minute presentation, which Poets&Quants has obtained from a simple website link without a password, is given by Ankur Kumar, deputy director of MBA admissions at Wharton. She counsels alumni on how to conduct the newly introduced behavioral interviews and grade the answers on a scale of one to four. She says that 80% of Wharton’s applicants are qualified for admission so that the interviews are intended to give the admissions office better information to winnow down the competition.

Some alums, however, with connections to admission consultants have shared the link into the website that carries the presentation. These consultants are using that inside information to help their clients prepare for the interview sessions.

Wharton does not appear all that concerned about the leaks. “Our admissions team is quite confident in the interview process, anticipating full well the possibility of questions being leaked through various sources and interviewees using admission consultants to prep,” says Malini Doddamani, a Wharton spokesperson, in an email response. “Knowing those situations, the team believes the benefits far outweigh the risks for us and for all our peers that also have this problem.”

Wharton also believes that the answers from applicants will be varied enough to make better judgments. “Whether one uses a consultant or not,” adds Doddamani, “the key to success is in the manner of answering and the ability to navigate through the turns of the interaction. Questions just serve as a ‘starter.’”

“Wharton seems to be taking its damage control cues from BP (British Petroleum,” says Sanford Kreisberg, a Boston-based admissions consultant known as HBSGuru. “First, they were in denial about leaks. When the leaks become undeniable, they started saying they don’t matter. In reality, the unprepared applicants are forced to commit to a story, often the first thing that comes to mind, on the spot, while the prepared kids are building Potemkin Village answer sets. Being prepared versus coming into this cold is a huge disadvantage.” Kreisberg has written an open letter to Wharton, urging the school to publish the questions in fairness because of the leaks.

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  • MosliGranola

    I’ll be blunt: Having had 4 interviews so far, including Wharton, I can say as a candidate that Wharton just hit the trifecta of turn-offs for me. Never mind those who were helped by consultants–the way in which Wharton rolled out the process was wholly unfair to those who had the simple misfortune of interviewing early before the dissemination of the questions.

    John just shed light on the second mistake: Simply ignoring their mistake instead of admitting and addressing it. Sandy compares it to BP, but I’m immediately reminded of Monty Python’s Parrot Sketch.

    Here is the coup de grâce, which John did not mention: In some interviews (including mine), Wharton simply hired third-party consultants who never set foot in Wharton, let alone attend the MBA.

    Knowing the questions in advance, I think my interview went fine. But this “trifecta” provided a stark contrast: I felt I was providing a 30 minute “deposition” to a Wharton stenographer, whereas my interview with a Booth alumni was a highly spirited, 90 minute-long conversation which deeply impressed me. I have no doubt Wharton is still a great program and I’d still be thrilled to attend if I get in. But if my options come down to between Wharton and Booth, I’d have to say Wharton would no longer be my top choice.

  • JW

    Get in at any cost. What a shame. This makes everyone invloved with the MBA process (schools, applicants, alumni and consultants) look bad. Looks particularly bad on schools who have recently come to embrace the consultants and their roles with prospective students.

  • Tory

    If it’s unethical for admissions consultants to disseminate Wharton’s interview questions, isn’t it also unethical for this website to publish them?

  • http://poetsandquants.com/members/jbyrne/ John A. Byrne

    Tory,

    It would be an issue if some applicants had an unfair advantage over others because they had the questions and no one else did. The publication of this information merely levels the playing field.

  • Anony

    John, you are unleveling the playing field between those applicants who have already interviewed and those who are about to. It’s not your fault though. Wharton’s stupidity has created an impossible situation for all involved parties.

  • Lim,

    The Interview, the only opportunity or process for adcoms to come in contact and interact with applicants in order to get to know them better and gain rounded information about their personality and characteristics is perverted.

    This new system may create an ‘arms-race’ among applicants to equip themselves with knowledge concerning ‘what the adcom wants to hear’ via multiple channels, rather than presenting themselves candidly and as they are to the adcom, which are the adcom’s intended input.

  • Nathan

    Are there any difference between these and the majority of Behavioural-based Interviewing questions?

    I’ve never heard of Wharton, haven’t considered even doing an MBA and I could still answers those questions. I’d be too young to get in, with no management experience whatsoever, but these aren’t exactly the “Why is a manhole round” style stumpers used elsewhere (I stumbled across this thanks to my interest in interview questions).

  • timothy butler

    Well I don’t really see what the big deal is? All the questions are already listed on http://www.clearadmit.com/wiki/index.php?title=WhartonInterview by applicant who have already interviewed. This is nothing new. In a free market information travels likes this and so is shared amongst all parties. First round applicants had the feedback of applicants from last year or so on. Nothing unfair about the process.

  • Ravishankar

    There really is no big deal.

    Anyone preparing for any interview – be it a consulting interview, or an admissions interview, would always be answering the same set of big questions : What differentiates you ? Why MBA ? Why this particular one ? Show me evidence for your leadership, problem solving and initiative. What makes you tick ? Blah Blah and Blah.

    Wharton’s questions are merely a remix of the basic interview set.

    Almost everyone knows the questions, but everyone’s answers reflect their maturity, experience set, and intellectual bandwidth. Preparation cannot change the result of years of foundation building. Yet everyone, rightly, prepares to smoothen the delivery. Preparing with this or that set of questions cannot make any difference.

  • Pingback: Wharton Interview done | rid around the world()

  • Jagdish Patel

    Does anyone know if these questions are being used in Round 2 interviews this year? Presumably its possible Admissions changed the questions for R2 in light of the leak?

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