The interview has become an essential step in the admissions process at all top business schools. Unlike Harvard, whose admissions staff does virtually all of the applicant interviews, Wharton heavily relies on alumni and second-year MBA students to conduct these sessions with applicants. Admissions staff does a minority of the interviews. In a typical year, Wharton will interview between 30% and 50% of all its applicants—far more than either Harvard or Stanford.
Most schools that enlist alumni to do interviews, including Stanford University and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, suggest questions alums should ask but those interviews are less structured than the new behavioral approach adopted by Wharton this year. The variety of questions in those interviews tends to be open-ended versus the new Wharton model, which dictates that only three of six standardized questions be used. The switch to behavioral interviewing was first disclosed in a Poets&Quants interview with a top admissions consultant earlier this month.
It’s not clear why Wharton chose to go the behavioral route. Some observers speculate that its traditional interview process turned up weaker students than it wanted last year, or that admissions simply believed the process would make it easier to winnow out the large number of applicants the school invites to interview sessions.
In the presentation, Kumar points out that “traditional interviews can be subjective and often end up assessing the candidate’s interviewing capability, rather than their suitability for the MBA program.” Traditional interviews, she adds, also duplicates many of the findings in the application—summarizing professional experience when a school already has a resume and essays that draw out professional goals. As a result, says Kumar, they failed to add new or substantive information to the application.
APPLICANT ‘QUESTIONS ARE NOT EXACTLY STATE SECRETS.’
It isn’t clear how many consultants are using all of this information to coach their clients, but it’s common knowledge that coaching for interviews is done and often based on posts by applicant willing to share their experiences. “The questions typically asked at MBA interviews are not exactly state secrets,” says Linda Abraham, of Accepted.com, a major admissions consulting firm. “The actual questions are posted on applicant blogs and forums and shared in our database and in Clear Admit’s wiki. We definitely use publicly available information in coaching our clients.” Abraham, however, said she is not aware of the leaked presentation. “We are not using any such information.”
THIS YEAR’S SIX KEY QUESTIONS TO WHARTON APPLICANTS.
Wharton alums are being told to ask applicants three questions, selected from six, on three “competencies” identified by students, alumni, recruiters, and faculty as key factors in the success of a Wharton student: “team building,” “facilitative leadership,” and “persuasive communication.”
The questions on “team building” are:
“Describe a time when you have been working toward the completion of an important task, when it has been necessary to consider the opinions and feelings of others.”
“Describe a time when you have worked as part of a team working towards an important goal, when you have addressed conflict between two or more team members.”
The questions on “facilitative leadership” are:
“Describe a time when you have worked with others to complete an important task, when there was no formally appointed group leader.”
“Describe a time when you have ensured an important task has been completed, when you felt others were less focused than you on completing the important task.”
The questions on “persuasive communication” are:
“Describe a time when you have had to persuade others to your way of thinking, when at first they did not buy into your idea.”
“Describe a time when your ideas have been challenged by others, requiring you to defend your opinions.”
HOW WHARTON WANTS ITS INTERVIEWERS TO FOLLOW-UP.
Kumar then suggests follow-up questions that alums are to ask applicants after they give their answers. Under team building, for example, the additional questions are: “What exactly did you do?” “Describe specifically how you did that?” “Talk me through what you did?” Under “facilitative leadership,” the follow-ups are: “How did it work out?” “What was the outcome?” “How did you measure the success of what you did?”