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Do You Play Nice With Others? Advice For The Group Or Team-Based Interview

Stacy Blackman is the founder and managing director of Stacy Blackman Consulting

Business schools want to see how candidates interact with peers before anyone’s even admitted, which can be very telling. It’s not actually an interview, per se, because there is no Q&A with participants. Each school conducts the group interview somewhat differently, and this new evaluation model gives candidates the chance to work with a handful of their fellow applicants to solve real-world business scenarios as a team.

The exercise demonstrates how candidates approach and analyze specific situations and interact with other people, two critical components of business schools that have a team-focused learning style. Through observation of each member’s discussions and communication with the group, the admissions team hopes to glean deeper insight into each applicant’s interpersonal skills.

Although it’s a completely organic experience, there are ways you can prepare for the group interview that will increase your comfort level when the big day arrives. Start by speaking out more in groups or meetings at work. Applicants to the Michigan Ross School of Business do not receive any clues about the content of the group interview in advance, but if you’re applying to the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, you’ll receive your team-based discussion prompt prior to the interview.

Wharton recommends that applicants spend about an hour in advance prepping for the discussion. If possible, we suggest that you gather a group of three or four other people and conduct a mock discussion. Record the session and take note of things like your body language, interrupting, or any tendencies to try to control the discussion.

MBA applicants can also practice the “Yes, and…” rule from improv, where you build on whatever your partner tries. In her bestselling memoir Bossypants, Tina Fey writes that “yes, and” is one of her core principles in all aspects of her life, and means “Don’t be afraid to contribute. It’s your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion.” During the interview, seize any opportunities to either build upon or refer to someone else’s point.

Here’s what you don’t want to do during a group interview:

  • Dominate the conversation
  • Cut others off or dismiss someone’s idea entirely
  • Raise your voice
  • Roll your eyes, cross your arms, or display any other kind of negative body language
  • Take out your phone or any other electronic device

Here’s what you should try to accomplish:

  • Demonstrate you’ve done your research (if given a topic in advance)
  • Listen—truly listen—to the others in your group when they speak
  • Put the group’s goal ahead of trying to get airtime
  • Offer to summarize if the conversation has reached a point where the group would benefit from a quick recap

To maximize your experience, stay flexible and focus on how you can propel the group forward and provide value to ensure the best possible outcome for your team. As many MBA applicants are born leaders who are used to taking charge, you’ll need to be conscious of the fact that you might be surrounded by lots of Type A personalities and need to adjust your style accordingly.

However, if you tend to be introverted, don’t let others intimidate you. If no one’s given you the chance to get a word in, you’re going to have to find an appropriate way to join the conversation before it’s too late. For its part, Wharton knows that leaders come in many forms, and the school reassures candidates that the team-based interview is designed to let all types shine, regardless of how outgoing or shy you are. Just be yourself, get a read on the group dynamic, and let the chips fall where they may.

At Michigan Ross, how you manage yourself within the group is the sole focus of the observers, so it doesn’t matter if your fellow participants are “weak”, or whether you’ve landed in a “bad” group. How you interact within the team, and how you interact with people who have different styles than you, will be foremost on the observers’ radar, Soojin Kwon, director of MBA admissions, explained.

Remember, whether they show it or not, everyone participating will be nervous. Even if the team or group exercise is optional at your school, don’t forgo the experience. From our perspective as MBA admissions consultants, you should never pass up the opportunity for face time with the admissions committee. Allowing them to get to know the real you, beyond the version on paper, is critical to your chances of receiving an offer of admission.

If you have been invited to interview with a school that is using the group interview format, you could take advantage of Stacy Blackman’s live group practice session. They have dedicated groups of 3-6 people for Wharton and Ross, with experienced moderators and admissions experience. For more on this new service, click here.