Last week, Wharton released its invitations to the MBA interview. The Wharton interview is distinctive among the M7 interview landscape for its Team Based Discussion, and this year continues with Covid Protocols and preparing to collaborate with your unknown teammates in a virtual format over Zoom.
This approach means briefing yourself on what’s expected for your VTBD (Virtual Team Based Discussion) and setting yourself up for success. This dynamic, relational experience is about much more than delivering a strong pitch – Wharton’s admission committee wants to observe how you approach a challenge, present yourself, cohesively work towards solutions in a small group context and think on your feet. While you won’t know how the discussion will play out until you get into the interview room, you can do a lot to prepare for a successful VTBD starting now.
Having spent a decade at the helm of Wharton’s MBA admissions, as well as running my Fortuna Admissions clients through the paces to prepare each TBD season, I’ve become practiced at guiding candidates to bring their best to the table. (Registration is open for Fortuna’s dedicated Wharton Interview Prep sessions and spaces are limited.) Based on the recent experiences of our clients and insights from my Fortuna colleagues, I’m offering our team’s top tips for delivering your standout pitch, along with what success looks like, and how to optimize your performance on video.
VIRTUAL WHARTON TEAM BASED DISCUSSION: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
The Wharton TBD reflects the Learning Teams model at the heart of the Wharton experience, which lauds a real-world approach that hinges on “persuasive rather than positional leadership.” Think of this as your opportunity to showcase your professional presence and what you would bring to your future study group at Wharton.
The virtual format (VTBD) includes five or six candidates (also the sweet spot for Wharton’s Learning Teams). Your discussion will have a prompt and an end goal (see below), and the group will work collectively to propose a tangible outcome. Each team member will share their ideas/reflections on the prompt in 1 minute or less before moving into the group discussion. After this round of brief introductions, your team has a little less than 30 minutes to generate a subject and presentation model that is ultimately shared with the admissions committee observer. Following the VTBD, there will be a one-on-one interview with an admission representative, lasting 10 minutes. Be prepared to speak to why MBA/why Wharton. The time goes very quickly – in fact, that’s the comment we hear most from our clients!
Everyone receives the same question and will be participating from remote locations on video. No one is at an advantage – it’s a question that’s designed to exhibit team building and is not about demonstrating specific knowledge of a subject area.
THE 2021-2022 TBD PROMPT: CREATING AN ARC GAME
This year, Wharton interview candidates are asked to create the next ARC (Alternate Reality Course) for the MBA curriculum as part of the school’s newly launched Wharton Interactive venture, which gamifies the course experience using interactive simulations and the latest pedagogical research. After some substantive context-setting, the invitation specifies:
As a team, decide on the following:
- The name of your course and the Wharton department in which it belongs
- An overview of the business problem and/or scenario of the ARC game
- Two learning objectives (knowledge you will gain in the ARC)
- Two practice objectives (specific experiences you will encounter in the ARC, so that when you see them in the real world, you will know what to do)
Among the existing ARCs is a free, 60–90-minute course called BlueSky Ventures: The Entrepreneurship Mindset, which is a good starting place to understand the nature of these immersive, interactive courses for imagining your own.
In offering this prompt, Wharton is soliciting a strong and well thought out deliverable, as well as the self-awareness necessary to engage with others in a give-and-take around a virtual conference table to reach the final presentation.
5 TOP TIPS FOR DELIVERING YOUR WHARTON TBD PITCH
Present your own ideas with precision and care, as well as keen situational awareness. The observer(s) will greet and provide a reminder of the TBD format, and then start the timer. It’s up to the team to initiate the conversation; expect to be assessed on how well you listen to others and facilitate the group’s dialogue. This experience is less about your own particular answer and presentation, and more about how well you collaborate with others toward a larger objective.
Here are the Fortuna team’s top tips for creating your pitch:
Tip 1: Put your self-intro into a relevant context.
When developing your one-minute pitch for the Wharton TBD, consider introducing yourself briefly in the context of why your idea is resonant with you. This way, you’re not only giving your team a sense of your background but also what it is that compels you to that particular area of interest. Do you have experience with these kinds of simulated programs, either as a designer or participant? Have you been in a low or no-risk learning environment at work or in school? If so – can your experience or expertise help to inform how you want to build your pitch?
Tip 2: Have a deeper level of info at the ready.
Have your idea fleshed out with sufficient detail so that, if it is selected by your teammates, you’re poised to be the “go-to” person with an additional layer of information. If your idea is chosen, you can anticipate your teammates looking to you for an additional layer of guidance, so be prepared to offer the “next level” of detail in the discussion. In terms of presentation, you’ll want to watch your “ums,” “ahs,” and incomplete ideas.
Tip 3: Notice content and process.
This means giving considered attention not just to what you’re saying but how you’re saying it – Wharton really cares how you present yourself and engage with the team. Especially on video, you’ll want to bring extra awareness to your posture, gestures, eye contact and that of others; it’s harder to read non-verbal cues over video, and there might be a time lag that’s not present in person.
Your ability to share the stage with your colleagues is incredibly important. The ease in which you can pass the conversation from one to the next can be really impactful. Look for ways to “toss the ball” back to your teammates, perhaps by saying their name – or mentioning their idea – to exhibit your ability to draw out the best thinking in others and engage the entire group.
Tip 4: Create the conditions to shine on video.
Turn off your email, WhatsApp, or other notifications and DEFINATELY silence your cell phone – anything that might chirp or ding (note that tablets, cell phones, and use of internet browsers are not allowed during the Zoom). Flawless internet connectivity should go without saying, so be sure to test your connection in advance. Like preparations for any virtual MBA interview (see my related article), make sure the space behind your camera is clear and uncluttered, that your lighting is positioned on your face, and that your sound quality is excellent. As mentioned above, eye contact is very important – while it is tempting to look at yourself on your screen, be mindful to engage the interviewer by looking up at the camera instead. To that end, consider a lavalier mic instead of a headset so you don’t have wires extending from your head.
As Wharton suggests, enter the waiting room 10 minutes early – you may have the opportunity to chat and connect with other participants before go time. Zoom will also give you the benefit of seeing everyone’s names; you may wish to jot them down along with the basics of their plan. If you end up being the “note-taker” for your group throughout the sessions, don’t forget to verbally contribute just as much, if not more, than you are taking the time to annotate the proceedings.
Tip 5: Prepare thoughtful questions for your one-on-one
After the completion of your VTBD, the facilitator will announce the order of one-on-one interviews and then move all group members to the waiting room. The facilitator will invite one person back into the meeting at a time, and each of you will have 10 minutes. Be prepared to speak to ‘Why Wharton’ (this is almost always asked) and “ Why MBA”. This is also your opportunity to highlight specific aspects of your candidacy you want to convey, and to ask thoughtful questions that demonstrate your knowledge of the program. Once you have completed the one-on-one interview, you can leave the Zoom meeting.
WHAT SUCCESS LOOKS LIKE
I get this anxious question a lot: How much does it matter if my idea is chosen? While running with your idea can have its advantages, it’s far more important to showcase your collaborative leadership: the ability to help facilitate a discussion among people who have never met toward a greater end goal and advance an idea in a compelling way within a limited timeframe.
Reflect on the following tactics as you prepare for the Wharton VTBD and move through your own “pitch” experience:
- After each team member has introduced themselves and offered a quick pitch, how might you help facilitate discussion to arrive at a consensus?
- How can you support your teammates and collaborate – even if you have to abandon your own idea – versus solely promoting your own ideas?
- What leadership behaviors will draw out your other team members? How are you able to enhance the discussion by encouraging others to voice their opinions?
- How might you reflect on the discussion taking place while helping advance the deliverables to support the group’s final presentation to the adcom in the room?
Finally, remember that Wharton’s VTBD, like all MBA interview experiences, is an opportunity to bring your unique candidacy to life from a place of authenticity. This means embracing your own style, whether you’re a quiet consensus-builder, extroverted idea person, or on-the-spot synthesizer. (Check out this illuminating related article by Fortuna’s Michael Malone and Brittany Maschal on the 7 Typical Types in a Wharton TBD and how to respond.) Wharton isn’t looking to fill its cohort with one kind of personality type, so don’t try to be someone you’re not. Self and situational awareness can be expressed across the continuum of passionate thinkers and doers, so stay curious and enjoy yourself.
You can also check out our 12-minute video strategy session on Wharton as part of Fortuna’s M7 MBA Interview Series.
Judith Silverman Hodara is a Co-Founder & Director at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and former Wharton acting head of Admissions. Sign up today to reserve your place in one of our Wharton Interview Prep mock sessions with a Fortuna Admissions expert starting Oct. 31, 2021 (note spaces are first come, first serve).