“Immediately after the team discussion, we review the group’s performance with them,” adds Bauer. “We also video record the entire session and provide a confidential link so each participant can see and further analyze both team and individual performance. Finally, we send a written scorecard to each participant grading his or her individual performance on five key dimensions along with our specific comments and suggestions on what he or she did right and which tactics should be improved before the actual team session with Wharton.”
Although initial reaction by applicants to the test has generally been positive, the Wharton discussion has not been without its own controversy. Some applicants say that they have been asked to travel from Asia or Europe at great expense for the test, especially when Wharton’s own schedule of on-campus and off-campus sessions have been unable to accommodate them. “That has rubbed some people the wrong way,” says Guido. “One client was given the option to punt or fly a really long way and she decided not to do it. Wharton was asking her to purchase a really expensive ticket for the group interview and she just said forget it.”
THE CURRENT TEST ASKS APPLICANTS HOW THEY WOULD INVEST $1 MILLION TO SUPPORT ONE OF WHARTON’S THREE INITIATIVES
Currently, round two applicants invited to the sessions are shown a video of Dean Thomas Robertson discussing the school’s three pillars—social impact, global presence, and innovation—and then told about a fictitious donation of $1 million. After each of the six applicants in the session is given one minute for an introduction, they are then asked how they would invest the money in support of one of the pillars. An admissions official observes the session, presumably to assess each candidate’s performance.
Asked if the practice sessions being held by consultants thwart Wharton’s efforts to get a more “unscripted view” of applicants, most of the firms say it was naïve to think they wouldn’t create new ways to help MBA candidates with the test.
“I really like to think that what we designed is actually honoring their intention,” says Guido of mbaMission, “Look, there is tension between ad consultants and admissions committees. They want to see the unpolished candidate and we won’t let them. But we are not trying to get people to change their behavior. If we coach them over and over again on what to say, I can see them taking issue with it. But you can’t train someone out of who they are.”
‘WE CAN ALSO INNOVATE…AND CLEAR WE DO’ IN RESPONSE TO SCHOOL’S NEW ADMISSIONS HURDLES
Adds Abraham of Accepted.com: “The schools should develop ways of evaluating applicants’ qualifications because they seek to create outstandingly talented, diverse classes, not because Accepted or any other consultancy will coach or create a responsive service. We can also innovate. And clearly we do. Accepted started in response to perceived demand for our service in the marketplace. As long as there is a need for consulting and editing or interview coaching, we will innovate in response to the schools’ new methods of meeting potential students.”
Clear Admit, another MBA consulting firm, is taking a different approach from offering applicants a simulation. “We decided that trying to simulate a group interview wasn’t the ideal approach for prepping candidates,” says Stacey Oyler, a consultant with Clear Admit. Instead, the firm’s consultants are helping clients “bring compelling ideas to the table” and setting expectations for the group interview experience by letting applicants know what Wharton is assessing and talking through the types of people they may encounter in the group test.
“We talk with clients about the three pillars and encourage them to come up with great ideas for each one,” adds Oyler. We work with them on fine-tuning their elevator pitch. And we know from our own group interview experience that Wharton is looking for candidates who can showcase strong interpersonal skills and who are able to facilitate the discussion while contributing their own unique ideas and encouraging thoughts from others.”
CLIENTS SAY THE SIMULATIONS HAVE BOOSTED THEIR CONFIDENCE AND COMFORT
The mbaMission service is a Webex-like experience with audio and whiteboards but no video. Two consultants observe the session and offer both group and then individual feedback. “Across the board, people have said it boosted my confidence and comfort in the real thing,” says Guido. “A lot of people have also told us that what it helped them to do is think about their role in the group so that they went in with at least a few ideas of how they would orient themselves to the group. It’s not about the information. It’s about how they communicate their ideas and what happens in the 39 minutes after the introduction when they are thrown in the deep water and have to swim. Having a plan of how to help move the groups forward while not stepping on people’s toes gave them a greater sense of security.”