Pre-interview questions are trending in MBA admissions this year. As my Fortuna Admissions colleagues advised on in related articles, Chicago Booth debuted a video question while MIT Sloan added a new question to its pre-interview assignment. The Yale SOM application is unique because it includes both elements. After submitting the application, candidates are required to record real-time answers to three video questions. Then, those invited to interview are asked to reflect on a quote provided by the school and to submit their own quote for the interviewer to consider in advance:
First, please consider this quote from Dean Kerwin Charles, “Preeminent universities disseminate and produce new knowledge, and some of the best ideas are ripe for revising. However, this demands different perspectives, genders, backgrounds, races, orientations, and points of view.”
Second, we ask that you submit a quote that has special meaning or resonates with you. Please submit no later than 48 hours prior to your interview day (or as soon as possible if your interview is in less than two days).
As a Fortuna Admissions coach and former assistant director in the admissions office at Yale SOM, I’m excited to see the school leaning into the overall trend of making the application process a bit more varied and conversational. I’m also happy to see quotes at the center of this assignment. Quotes are powerful because they are tied to a specific person or source, and because they are efficient, eloquent expressions of important ideas and emotions. The best business school applications are similar – they feature a voice that can be attributed to a particular individual, and they have a way of distilling that person’s story into a compact statement that is clear and memorable.
There are several dynamics at play with Yale SOM’s pre-interview assignment:
1. The quote from Dean Charles allows Yale to highlight its ongoing commitment to equity and inclusion. Asking every interviewee to consider the role of diversity in an intellectual/academic context means the idea will be foundational for the incoming class. (Note that this assignment also engages many second-years at SOM who will be interviewing prospective students.)
2. More subtly, it also suggests Yale is embracing disruption, welcoming people who are open-minded and willing to challenge long-held ideas. This aligns nicely with Yale’s tradition of thinking about leadership and management beyond the for-profit business world. The school invites students to explore new perspectives by enrolling in classes across the university.
3. The assignment feels like an attempt by Yale to curb a common interview bias toward people who are quick on their feet. This is a special opportunity for all interviewees – but especially more deliberate thinkers and people who draw extra confidence from being prepared – to know what’s coming and to reflect on a particular idea in depth before the interview.
4. By asking candidates to contribute their own quote, Yale is framing the interview (in part) as an equal exchange of ideas. This reflects a core SOM belief that students have as much to learn from one another as they do from their professors.
So, what is Yale SOM looking for?
Here are five key tips to keep in mind as you prepare for the interview:
1. Keep the assignment in perspective. An exchange about your quote or Dean Charles’ ideas will be just one of several topics your interviewer will plan to cover. You want to be prepared to ace every moment of the conversation but keep in mind that you’re unlikely to be talking about the quotes for more than a few minutes. Don’t get so into the assignment that you forget to prepare for more important questions and topics (e.g., key professional achievements, important personal decisions, your possible futures, etc.).
2. Be prepared to discuss Dean Charles’ quote by considering where you stand with his claim and why. While his core observation is about diverse perspectives, he’s also talking about the role of the university in creating knowledge, and how ideas are evaluated and revised.
3. Search for and unpack moments when your thinking was challenged or changed by someone with a different perspective. Have you ever been the challenger, helping someone else improve their view of the world? In what ways, situations, or areas of life do you most often engage people with different attitudes, values, and experiences? If they ask how you would contribute to the diversity of thought at SOM, you’ll be ready with some ideas.
4. When selecting your quote to share with SOM, the most important thing is that you test its “special meaning or resonance.” My best advice here is to approach it like the SOM extended essay and focus on actions, not words. Yale is always on the lookout for behavioral patterns, so be ready to give specific examples of how the quote has affected your choices. Maybe it’s a simple phrase that has nudged you through hundreds of little choices over the years, or perhaps it is a profound statement that guided you during a particular decision where the stakes were high. If the quote has real meaning for you, it should resonate with points you make in other parts of the interview about your work and your life.
5. This assignment is an invitation for SOM to get a sense of how you reason, how you listen, and how you persuade. Remember that it’s okay to disagree with your interviewer or express a strong opinion, as long as you’re prepared to support your claims and you strike the right tone. Balancing likability and conviction can be tricky, but in an interview I always recommend that candidates err on the side of making a positive connection with their interlocutor.
For more advice on how to prepare for your MBA interview, including a look at the M7 interview landscape, view this definitive article by Fortuna’s head of interview practice, Malvina Miller Complainville.
Zachary White is an Expert Coach at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and former Yale SOM Assistant Director of Admissions. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.