Tag Archives: Interviews

Weekend Round-up: The Latest MBA Admissions News

Here is some recommended reading from the world of MBA admissions this past week (please click on colored article titles):

1. Oliver Ashby, Senior Manager of Recruitments and Admissions at London Business School, discusses a number of topics from job hunting to career goals to the GMAT IR in this detailed interview with PaGaLGuY:

Despite tough UK visa rules, you can wriggle out 8 months for job hunting after London Business School MBA

2. Garth Saloner, Dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, talks about the value of a Stanford education at Poets & Quants:

An Interview With Stanford Dean Garth Saloner

3. BloombergBusinessweek offers some tips on how to get through the group MBA interview which the University of Michigan, Wharton and IMD have been conducting:

How to Stand Out in an MBA Group Interview

4. US News & World Report has some tips on how to get more financial aid from graduate school, and your efforts should continue even after you have enrolled:

4 Tips for Getting More Graduate School Financial Aid

And finally, a couple of links that are not directly related to admissions but perhaps could be of interest to you:

The Choices for Japanese Youth – Recommendations for this generation of young Japanese, by London Business School’s Professor of Management Practice Lynda Gratton

The Top 10 Motivational Books of All Time Inc.‘s Geoffrey James lists the top 1o books “that drive readers to change their lives, improve their lot, and build better careers.”

Happy reading and have a good weekend!


Weekend Round-up: The Latest MBA Admissions News

I’ll try and post weekly round-ups of useful MBA admissions news that I find on the web. I post stories regularly via Twitter and Facebook, but in case you don’t subscribe or would simply like your news in one place, just check in here on the weekends.

To read the articles simply click on the orange titles below:


1) Here’s an analysis of the recent drop in application volume at b-schools, including a thorough chart listing the acceptance rates of a number of programs:

Poets and Quants

Top B-Schools Much Less Selective

2) Useful for Asian applicants – some discussion on the cultural differences between Asian values and western admissions values:

Clear Admit

Clear Admit’s Kevin Chen Gives Advice to Asian MBA Applicants


1) The University of Chicago admissions blog offers some advice for those considering applying in Round 3. This advice can apply to other MBA programs as well.

University of Chicago Booth School of Business

Preparing for Round Three

2) From Bloomberg Businessweek, a summary of the admissions notification status at 10 top business schools:

Bloomberg Businessweek

MBA Admissions Decisions Coming Down to the Wire


1) Purdue Krannert’s Director of Admissions offers some personal advice on the biggest mistakes applicants can make in their admission interviews. Again, these tips are useful whether or not you are interviewing with Krannert.

I’d like to add some follow-up to his advice though:

a)  Regarding the use of “I” in an interview, he means to be careful about claiming too much credit for group achievements and trying too hard to sound impressive. Ultimately, you do need to talk about what YOU’VE done since you are the one applying to business school, not your team at work. However, if an achievement was made possible through group effort, then you need to make that clear. A mix of “I” and “we” is always good to show that you can make contributions but work cooperatively as part of a group also.

b)   Not asking about financial aid. If finances are an issue, you have every right to ask about it. However, just make sure that it is not the only thing you ask. You want to show genuine interest in the school and not just in the costs. An alternative option is to save your financial aid questions for the financial aid office, and not the admissions interviewer. (See link below on how to ask appropriate questions in an MBA interview.)

Purdue University Krannert School of Management

3 Ways to Ruin Your MBA Interview 

2) This is a great post for anyone who’s ever felt unsure about how to ask good questions at the end of an interview:

Bloomberg Businessweek

Questions to Ask in Your MBA Admissions Interview

Enjoy your reading and your weekend!




Common Interview Mistakes

Interviews are often the final hurdle to cross before the application process is completed. Contrary to what many people think, interviews are typically not “make or break” events – that is, the final outcome of your candidacy does not rest entirely on your performance during the interview. Most nice and interesting applicants will simply be confirming the admissions committee’s initial impressions of their paper applications. The applicants who stand out will be those who do particularly well or particularly poorly (i.e., who present some issue of concern such as insufficient English or communication skill, an unpleasant personality, or lack of interest in the school).

Below are some common mistakes that I have found in my past experience interviewing international candidates for the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and in our collective experience training applicants for their interviews:

1. Sounding memorized and rehearsed

It is very obvious when an applicant has overly rehearsed his answers. Usually, the responses sound like the recitation of an essay: the English is smooth, the language is formal, and the answer is long.

Why this is bad: It gives the impression that you are unable to think and speak spontaneously. As the interviewer will be judging communication skills, the ability to speak naturally will be important. Also, having prepared answers will prevent you from being flexible enough to respond to questions that are phrased slightly differently from the ones you had memorized (e.g., An applicant memorizes a response for “What are your short- and long-term goals?” but instead gets asked “What do you see yourself doing 10 years from now?”).

What to do: Instead of reading and memorizing your essays in preparation for your interviews, jot down notes or short phrases (as in a short outline). Use the notes as triggers and practice thinking and speaking spontaneously.

2. Not being convincing enough about your interest in the school

Among applicants who speak English fluently, this is often the biggest mistake they make.

How does one show insufficient interest in a school? This can include providing generic reasons for wanting to attend (e.g., “Your school is strong in general management and has a diverse student body.”), showing lack of effort in researching about the school, and being unable to name any students or alumni that they have spoken to. Of course, you do not need to volunteer information about how you researched the school or which students or alumni you spoke to. However, if you are asked these questions, you should be able to answer them in some detail.

Why this is bad: No school wants to admit an applicant who doesn’t want to attend. It makes their yield (the number of applicants who accept their admission offers) look bad and it simply feels offensive to the interviewer.

What to do: Do plenty of research on the school. When you know about the program and why it fits you, your explanation of why you want to attend should flow out naturally. And what if you are applying to your safety school? Even if it is a school that is at the bottom of your list, it should still be a school where you think you’d be happy if you had to attend. If it becomes difficult to find reasons for wanting to attend that school, then that is a sign that you should not apply.

3. Not smiling, not sounding natural

This applies to those individuals who may have a more “serious” personality or who come from cultures where emotional restraint is valued.

In America in particular, outgoing personalities and warmth are valued, particularly in extroverted environments like business school. And how that is conveyed is, first and foremost, through smiling. Secondly, one conveys that through natural conversation. What I sometimes see in mock interviews are Asian applicants who do not smile, do not engage in small talk, and only recite answers as if they are giving mini-speeches.

Why this is bad: You may inadvertently give an impression that you are cold, unfriendly and overly formal.

What to do: Simply smile when you greet the interviewer. This shows the interviewer that you are happy to meet her and to conduct this interview. Engage in a little bit of small talk if there is time (follow your interviewer’s lead). Small talk is designed to put both interviewer and interviewee at ease before the meeting starts. Close your interview with a gracious thank you and handshake. In between, try to sound and appear professionally relaxed. You can smile or laugh when appropriate, you can move your hands or legs when appropriate, and you can engage in back-and-forth conversation when appropriate. You still have to be professional, but my point is you do not need to be stiff and overly formal.

Just bear in mind that at the interview stage, the interviewer will be looking to see if you are the kind of person that classmates and faculty would enjoy spending time with. They will have your paper application to learn about your achievements and leadership potential. In the interview, they are mainly interested in seeing if you have good communication skills and are a likable person.

Cornell Johnson School Information Session (July 23, 2011)

This is the second in a series of information session reports written by our correspondent during his attendance at the MBA Tour’s July 23rd event in New York City.

Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management

Cornell was represented by Christine Sneva, Acting Director of Admissions and Financial Aid.

Sneva talked about meat and potato topics like “experiential learning” that goes beyond case studies and immersion programs. And she talked about areas of study including finance (and how Cornell has a trading floor on the premises, which I thought was very neat), sustainability, and entrepreneurship. (At which point she said either you’re an entrepreneur or you’re not, and if you don’t understand that, you’re probably not.) She talked about dual degree programs. And then–


This was only my second information session of the morning and I already was starting a bit of eye rolling. So every school prides itself on academic quality and community. She talked about how the Cornell community is tight knit, that students mingle with faculty in social events. There’s even a place for social gatherings, called Sage Hall. Because Cornell is in Ithaca I just picture people all hanging out locally on campus simply because there’s nowhere else to go. At NYU I imagine students probably have their own friends outside of school and socialize with them. Professors may be working at night (this is speculation on my part.) At Cornell people tend to live and work in one general area. Someone in the audience actually brought this up. He asked why on earth anyone would want to go to school in Ithaca. (OK, those are my words but he basically asked this question, just a bit more diplomatically.) Give credit to Sneva, who was prepared for this question. For one, it’s a beautiful campus. The classes are smaller and Cornell makes it a point to keep classes smaller rather than bigger. Then she launched into her spiel about the vast alumni network of Cornell. I wasn’t wholly satisfied by her answer and wasn’t convinced as to why I would potentially want to spend two years of my life in Ithaca but to her credit, she did not make a hard sell. Ithaca is not for everyone. (Side note: Cornell undergraduate alumni, whom she referred to as “Cornellians,” appear to have an edge in the admissions process because they, like no others, are intimately aware of what it’s like to live and study/work in Cornell.)

What reached me about this information session in a way that NYU did not was how Sneva talked about Cornell looking for leaders that will influence their organizations. If Cornell is successful in enrolling such people, I get the sense that Cornell is not populated with people who just want to make riches. I liked this criterion. And in speaking about alumni, she talked about “passion” and “legacy”–because after graduation these students, now alumni, will represent the Cornell brand. I found this appealing as this should make for a stronger network.

She then went into the application. The resume is very important. The essay is important. Why Cornell Johnson? Why an MBA? This was all quite conventional advice but this tidbit was gold: ONCE YOU MAKE IT TO THE INTERVIEW, 90% OF YOUR DECISION IS BASED ON THE INTERVIEW.

To me this was a bombshell because it would probably encourage me a little and scare the hell out of me a lot. So the weeks and months of preparation and essay writing and GMAT taking have brought me to this place. And the future course of my life boils down to this 45-minute conversation. Wow.

Actually, I think it’s good to know this because then it means, as an applicant, I’m close. She gave more information and advice. The nature of the interview itself is spontaneous, conversational. There are no staged questions. Show enthusiasm. Do your research. Visit the school (especially for New Yorkers, who are at least in the same state.) She mentioned the Cornell Club in midtown and buses that go to Ithaca.

The evaluation covers three areas:

1. Academics

2. Career decision-making and self-efficacy. This means one’s belief in one’s own ability. (She added, to my amusement, that this was probably “through the roof” for the people in this audience.)

3. Leadership and community.

They’re looking for people who are easy to talk to (extroversion/introversion doesn’t matter but outliers are obvious. In a small class, it’s easy to tell who sticks out.) Is the applicant proactive? Connects with people? Has a good sense of the school?

When the Cornell information session ended I felt that I had some sense of the school, and a positive one at that. I’m still not sure I’d want to study in such a remote location but at least now I’d be willing to look into the school, which I previously hadn’t considered before. On that level, at least, I think this session was a very successful one.

New York MBA Conference: How Admissions Decisions are Made

The MBA Tour sponsored an all-day MBA fair in New York city on July 23, and we sent our local correspondent to cover the scene:

I arrived at the Grand Hyatt in Midtown at 8:50AM and there was already a line of about fifteen people waiting to get their name tags. By the time I made my way to the front of the line, checked in, and put the lanyard over my neck the Admissions panel at 9AM had started so I sprinted up the stairs to the big Broadway room, which seated around a hundred people. It was mostly already full.

At the front were a panel of three women; I couldn’t see their names because of where I was seated. They had already started talking about the GMAT. I heard one of them mention mba.com as a resource. One said that the GMAT is a good indicator of how a potential student would fare in the core classes but not necessarily the MBA program as a whole. (After having sat through numerous information sessions later on I get the sense that  the schools really just want to make sure you can handle the quant classes in the core.)

The rest of the panel consisted of segments on the essay, letters of recommendation, the resume, and the interview, followed by a Q&A session that I’ve incorporated into their appropriate categories.

The Essay

The members of the panel kept using the refrain “but check with the school” so what they were saying was very general. They offered some basic tips like check the maximum number of words, check your grammar and spelling, and be sure to put the (right) name of the school.

Here’s what I thought was a useful tidbit, on optional essays. You don’t get extra credit so if you don’t have something compelling, skip it. You can, however, also take this opportunity to explain low GMAT scores or tell your personal story. One of the panelists brought up an essay by a student who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. But if you don’t have anything compelling to say, this is just more for them to read.

Letters of Recommendation

Ask for letters as soon as possible. Aside from choosing your writers, you really have little control over this part. Prep your writers–give them your resume. Tell them why you want an MBA. And if your school is asking for a recommendation from your supervisor and you’re uncomfortable with this (as you intend to leave the company), explain this to the admissions office. In terms of whom to ask to write on your behalf, this panel and representatives from the schools whose information sessions I attended later on all echoed the same thing: choose people who know you well, not just people who have a high status and rank. In one example given, one high-ranking executive wrote a one-sentence letter of recommendation (though shame on him, I say.) Another piece of instruction I kept hearing is that the admissions committees want recommendations from people in the workplace. This makes sense; they want to know what you’re like in action. So should you have  professors write letters for you? Only if you’ve worked with them. And what if you’re an entrepreneur? Since you don’t have a supervisor, seek letters from clients, vendors, etc. One last thing they mentioned: If the letters are to be submitted electronically, let your writers now. And make sure they use the (right) name of the school.


Don’t merely provide a listing but really highlight what the school’s interested in. Know the emphasis of the program–what is your target school looking for? Do you have strengths you can offer to the school?–and the profile of the students. Show results. Show special special projects. Show that each year you’ve taken projects out of your comfort zone. Do you have cross functional work experience? Or team oriented projects and collaborative experiences? The more of this you can demonstrate the better.

In college, what did you do in addition to studying? They want to see well-rounded individuals. Include activities. What was meaningful to you? What were one or two that really excited you? And did you work during school to support yourself? If so, include this as it shows maturity and depth. Include interests, outside work, work at non-profits, sports, travel–they want to see the total person.

Other bits of advice:

– Make sure you can explain gaps in employment on chronological resumes.

– If you have different career paths, address them somewhere.

– Check page numbers. If they say two pages, they may automatically throw out your third page.

– Don’t include your high school. No one cares.

And one general takeaway: The admissions committee wants to know if you have strengths that fit the school. Don’t make them have to search to find out what they are. Make it easy for them.

The Interview

So you got an interview. Congratulations!

From the moment you step into the school for the interview until you leave, everything will be fair game for your evaluation. First impressions are important. This includes not just your professional appearance but how you greet the admissions staff upon arrival. Word gets around among schools, so don’t be rude to the receptionist.

How to prepare:

– In terms of research by now you should have done more than just visit the website. Hopefully you’ve spoken with alumni and even visited the school.

– Call ahead to see if the interview is a panel or one on one meeting. If there are other candidates present you will be observed on how you interact with them.

– Review your application before your interview as they are different between schools.

– Be prepared to conduct a conversation.

– Show your intellectual ability about your sector. Be current on recent events in your sector (read The Economist, The Financial Times, etc.)

– Think about what you want to talk about. What can you contribute?

– Don’t repeat what you’ve already written about (in other parts of your application.)

– Be prepared to talk about weak points.

– Show energy and enthusiasm about their school.

– For international students especially, your communication ability is important.

In the following Q&A session questions fell into the above categories so I’ve already incorporated them here. One question of note was when to apply–in round 1, round 2, etc. While of course earlier is better, especially if you’re applying for scholarships, it is less about the rounds than when you are ready. Apply when you have the best application to present yourself.

Will follow up over the coming two weeks with summaries of some of the individual school presentations.