THE SHORTER ONE-ON-ONE INTERVIEWS VARY IN CONTENT
Once it is over, applicants are given a 15-minute, one-on-one interview with an admissions staffer or second-year MBA who was in the room during the interaction. The “blind interviews” are being conducted without the applicant’s file and in some cases without even a resume, according to several candidates who have gone through them.
Applicants report that these quickie Q&As vary from a structured 15-minutes during which they are asked three behavioral questions, to a more casual and informal session. In the latter, applicants have been asked, “So what do you want to talk about?” “In that case,” adds one, “I had to generate the entire 15-minute session.” During some of the interviews, applicants are initially asked for their own assessment of the team-based discussion.
Given how new and different the exercise has been, the feedback has not been as negative as many expected. “The good news is that the ‘group grope’ turns out to be civil and even mildly interesting according to most candidates I’ve spoken to,” says Sanford Kreisberg of hbsguru.com. “The word is out that this is not talk radio or a Fox panel–hogging the mic, undercutting other speakers. Zingers are all verboten. The discussions are respectful, sometimes painfully so, and, amazingly, if you can have an out-of-body experience, interesting a bit.”
‘SOME PARTICIPANTS ARE OVERDOING IT’
Dan Bauer, managing director and founder of The MBA Exchange, echoes that point of view, though he has had clients report back that some applicants have attempted to dominate the discussion a bit more. “In general, our clients are enjoying this open-ended opportunity to demonstrate their business savvy and interpersonal skills in front of the adcom,” says Bauer. “A few have observed that some participants in their groups were ‘overdoing it’ by trying to dominate the conversation rather than interacting and collaborating as a team.”
Jokes Kreisberg: “The new format is a triple decker sandwich with two pieces of poisonous bread and tasty treat in the middle: to wit, a fear-making set of instructions seemingly written by Big Brother, an interesting actual experience once you get over that, and a surprise: a toxic outcome, as the bottom slice, since, as per Wharton post-interview historical stats, only one of those five or six frenemies in your pal cohort are getting in. So it becomes Survivor-like, although that reckoning is not part of the direct experience.”
Whether the new test helps Wharton bring in a slightly better group of applicants is anyone’s guess. But the experiment is clearly innovative and different. “I think Wharton truly does have a commitment to innovation and they are really trying to do something new here,” says Guido of mbaMission. “They are acknowledging it is an experiment. They aren’t entirely sure how useful the information they get is going to be. But they are willing to be creative. To some extent, they are also trying to give applicants a taste of what it is like to be in business school.”
DISCUSSION WILL ALSO HELP WEED OUT CANDIDATES WHO HAVE A PROBLEM SPEAKING ENGLISH
At a very minimum, the new discussion will help Wharton filter MBA candidates with poor English-speaking skills. “Wharton can weed out those candidates with challenged spoken English which I had heard may have been a problem for Wharton in some cases given alumni interviewing with negative or overly dominant personalities, with static viewpoints, and with shaky public thinking,” explains Alex Leventhal, an admissions consultant at PrepMBA.com and a Harvard MBA.
“For me, one of the greatest skills I learned at HBS was thinking out loud in front of talented classmates,” adds Leventhal. “I am naturally introverted, but business people don’t always have the luxury to work the world out in their heads before they advance the argument. I was forced to do public math and analysis and it forced me to grow as a speaker. Wharton is smart to augment the one-on-one interviewing with this type of group conversation, and the most challenging part is that the group is asked to move towards a consensus on the issue. I suspect ‘there will be blood’ in some of the groups.”
Some consultants believe Wharton’s new test is a way to get past the brouhaha over both the leaking of the school’s behavioral interview questions two years ago and the uneven implementation of those questions by interviewers. “I think that Wharton has really struggled with it,” claims one admissions consultant. “They got terrible feedback. A lot of people were pissed off about the behavioral interview, especially if their interviewers weren’t well trained. So this is in part a reaction to what didn’t go well last time. They hope this will lead to a better experience from applicants. Having run similar exercises, I always thought it was challenging to decide who should be in and who should be out. I have serious doubts that this is going to work for Wharton long term.”
PROMPTS EXPECTED TO CHANGE FOR ROUND TWO CANDIDATES
During a recent online chat by a Wharton admissions officer, the school official said “we are looking for how you interact with a group of your peers to work on a real life business scenario. However, we are not looking for any one specific answer to the prompts—it is more about how you engage with your group and solve the problem together—just as you will do in our classrooms.”
The two early prompts will stay in place for at least all the round one applicants invited to interview, according to the Wharton official, but the topics will likely change for round two. Final decisions on round one are expected to be released on Dec. 20th.
If you’ve taken Wharton’s new team-based discussion test, tell us what the experience was like and whether you think it will give the school an advantage over rivals in crafting the best class.