How A Top School Screens MBA Applicants

Lynda Paterson, assistant director of MBA admissions


“Me,” says Paterson, who is sitting next to da Silva. “I have Robert. He is 30 years old with six years of work experience. He has a degree in economics from the London School of Economics. He is a U.K. citizen. I interviewed him the other day on Skype, and I gave him a 20 (the highest possible score) on the interview.”

“Oh, you had another great one!” affirms Cruz.

“Yes. I really liked him,” answers Paterson.

“Have you had other 20s?” wonders da Silva.

“Yes. I have had other 20s but he would be the best. He has a 780 GMAT. He is 83% on his quant and 81% for integrative reasoning. His references are highly positive. He is highly collaborative, extremely motivated, operates great with initiative, he’s a valuable team player, a good listener and extremely personable. The only thing is he is currently unemployed.

The red flag is hoisted and the room, completely silent as Paterson described the candidate’s profile, immediately comes alive. The questions from around the table are fired out like bullets from an assault weapon.

“For how long?” asks da Silva.

“Since June.”

“And why?” wonders da Silva. “What’s he doing?”

Several others chime in with similar questions.

“He left his job in asset trading because the firm in Switzerland was taken over and his job was deemed redundant. He did have a job offer but turned it down because he realized he is not going to stay there. He wants to pursue his MBA, and he hopes to do that in Toronto. He just got married a couple of months ago and he and his wife do hope to make Toronto home.”

“Therefore Rotman,” smiles da Silva.

“So that’s Robert,” says Paterson. “I would like to see him get a scholarship. I know he’s not working right now but…”

Da Silva cuts in. “What did he say he was going to do between now and the start of the program?”

“He’s taking French courses right now and he’s speaking with the company that offered him a job about doing some temporary consulting work,” replies Paterson.

“That’s good,” says Cruz.

“We had a similar candidate earlier in the year who you guys probably remember,” says da Silva. “And one of the big decisions was let’s get Leigh’s perspective. She then said that she wants to see how this person would package the story for employers. Does he have presence?”

“He totally has presence,” Paterson offers. “He’s lovely.”

“He’s done the video?” asks da Silva, about the new video portion of the application that Rotman put in as a pilot this year.

“Yes. And I did the Skype interview with him. By the way when he’s finished with the MBA, he wants to get into principal investments in the energy sector.”

“Let’s see the video,” says da Silva. She toys with a mouse on the conference table, clicks on a button and an image of Robert pops up on the large flat screen at the end of the room.

“How would I like my classmates to see me?” he says in a clipped British accent. “As someone who is good to work with. I would like to be seen as someone who questions norms—not asking questions for the sake of it but somebody who doesn’t accept things at face value but tries to understand the real reasons behind decisions. I am quite proud of the fact that I have gotten things done and I would like to share that with people.”

The video clip done, da Silva seems somewhat relieved. “I think he has what the careers folks will hope he has—that sense of confidence—but because it is an atypical situation I would like to bring him to our next conversation.”

“Yes, with a scholarship I am recommending,” adds Paterson.

“Yes,” agrees da Silva. “Any other thoughts?”

“He seems strong,” Dookeran tosses in.

“If it weren’t for the current gap, we probably wouldn’t be having much of a dialogue. That’s an important consideration for us.”

Paterson rushes in to defend her candidate. “It would be different if for the six years he worked he wasn’t strong. He also wants to travel a bit with his wife before he gets into an MBA program and have a bit of a honeymoon.”

“Nice,” says Bailey Daniels, another of the assistant directors.

“I’m sure the career coaches can help him with how to address that gap on the resume,” adds Gumus.

“I think that is half the battle, making sure he is someone who is coachable, who has a story and a skill set and is making valuable use of his time off,” concludes da Silva.

“I like him a lot,” adds Paterson.

“And last but not least,” says da Silva, turning to the only assistant director who has yet to present a candidate.

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