The MBA Gatekeeper At Yale SOM

Yale SOM Professor Kelly Shue

We talk about coachable versus non-coachable errors. A single data point might be viewed differently depending on the rest of the overall profile.

What are good questions to ask in an interview?

It shouldn’t be a question that you can find on the website – it shouldn’t be, ‘What’s your class size?’ You want to take it a level deeper and think about what you’re looking for in a program. It should be very easy to come up with two or three or four questions that you really do want to ask, that will help you understand the program and will help you understand if the program is right for you. Look at the website, understand the basics, and formulate your questions based on that research.

What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened in an admissions interview?

This actually didn’t happen to me but one of my colleagues – at one point there was a candidate that was talking and was very nervous and was holding a pencil and it actually flew out of his hand and hit the interviewer. No injury, no lead poisoning, the pencil just literally got away from them.

What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever received in an application package?

We see fewer and fewer and that, with applications being submitted electronically. It used to be more common to receive CDs of someone’s musical performance, or a DVD of someone’s performance, whether theatrical or otherwise.

Occasionally we will get bound books of the applicant, and expressing their desire to come to Yale, and it would include pictures of them at Yale, and in different settings: ‘Here’s me in the cafeteria, here’s me in class’. An applicant superimposed their face on various landmarks.

Oftentimes people will direct us to their website or some aspect of their online presence. We will actually check it out. Make sure it’s not inappropriate for a business school application setting. Some things are maybe not ready for prime time and maybe not appropriate for a business school context, including some things . . . that maybe are offensive or maybe not as culturally sensitive as they should be. Things that maybe are perhaps misogynistic in nature, that might not come across as being fully enlightened, would be something that we have at times seen and it does raise a flag for us.

What book should every Yale SOM applicant have read?

Yale University's Robert Shiller

Yale’s Robert Shiller

My first reaction is to say James Joyce’s Ulysses because if you can get through that book then business school will be a piece of cake.  Thinking more seriously, though, if I were to give a nod to SOM I might say Robert Shiller’s “Finance and the Good Society” or Barry Nalebuff’s “Coopetition,” or Laszlo Bock’s “Work Rules.” More generally, De Soto’s “The Mystery of Capital” is a useful read, as is Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow.”  But then I might veer back away from utility again and go with Stanley Elkin’s “The MacGuffin” or something similar — a quirky, fun, interesting book that has nothing to do with business.  Students will be immersed in management concepts for two full years; taking the time to flex a different mental muscle before that happens can be both refreshing and rewarding.

If someone goes over the essay word limit, what do you do?

Our word limits aren’t hard and fast. It’s not as though you will not be able to type any more if you hit the limits. As a general matter, we are OK if you go a little bit over. If it’s a 500-word essay and you type a thousand words, we know how long that essay should be. If we see it’s well over, again that gets to the self awareness issue. We’ll observe that, we’ll take that in, we’ll try to connect that to other data points, and see if when taken together that rises to the point that it’s an issue, or whether it’s a one-time thing.

Do people still do application stunts?

Sometimes. With the electronic submission as opposed to the paper application there are fewer opportunities to do that. People will sometimes try to catch our attention by writing an essay in maybe a particularly provocative way. We occasionally have people who write essays in verse, so they write poetry. What I tend to say is you will definitely distinguish yourself, but probably not in the way you intended. Another example (is) having a recommender who the applicant feels will sort of impress us, sort of a boldface name, someone they think will catch our attention – it might be sort of high level CEOs, it might be former presidents. Typical these are very short, very generic recommendations – they don’t provide a lot of detail, they don’t provide a lot of insight. It’s kind of neat to see a letter addressed to me from a former U.S. president. But the recommendation itself doesn’t carry much weight in terms of who it’s from: we care more about what the recommendation letter itself says.

On the day of an admission interview, what three things should an applicant do beforehand?

Dress appropriately: you should dress is business attire. This is a business school interview. Most people dress appropriately. We do have some wiggle room. It can be cultural, or just style choices. Men not wearing ties; we’ve had women who were wearing outfits that maybe were more appropriate for going out later as opposed to the business setting. I don’t know if we’ve had anyone wearing flip-flops or anything like that. I think we have had sneakers, which is not always ideal. It gets not to what your taste in clothes is, but again it gets to your self awareness, your situational awareness, and . even if this isn’t the way you would normally dress, you should be able to understand what the expectations are and adjust your behavior accordingly.