Many MBA adcoms delegate the interviewing to alumni and students. In this scenario, typically second-year students interview the applicants who come to campus, and alumni interview off-campus – though in some cases, they also will conduct the local interviews.
Why adcoms use method: Among other things, it allows the adcom members to focus their resources on application review and decision making.
• This approach is a way to keep alumni engaged and involved with the school, and it gives students a voice in the admissions process.
• The adcom already sees the application; this approach gives them another set of eyes and ears, another perspective on the applicant – the perspective of someone invested in the program.
• The alumni and student interviewers market the program to you in a way that official admissions representatives, who usually haven’t attended the program, cannot.
In these interviews, you are not making your case directly to a decision maker. However, admissions offices assert that these interviews have as much weight as ones with adcom members.
Blind or not blind: Usually alumni and student interviews are blind, i.e., the interviewer will not read your application before the interview, but probably will review your resume.
Process: Alumni and students usually are trained for the interviews. You meet with an alumnus off campus or a student on campus. The off- campus sites can be anywhere from the interviewer’s office to a coffee shop. The interview is a one-on-one conversation with the interviewer, during which she will ask you questions, usually at least some of which are predetermined and will typically cover basic topics such as goals. While you should be prepared for challenging questions, it’s usually a getting-to-know-you introductory discussion. If you are socially adept, you will not just answer questions but may also facilitate conversation. Afterward, the interviewer will write a report to the adcom on the interview.
NOTE: If you are a non-native English speaker interviewing with an alumnus in your own country, please expect to conduct the interview in English!
Benefits and pitfalls for applicants:
• Benefit: can showcase your strong interpersonal and communication skills by the in-person contact.
• Benefit: often a less formal, more natural conversational ambience than with an adcom member. Usually less stressful.
• Benefit: if a student or alum interview does not go well, it is less likely to be a deciding factor than an adcom interview.
• Benefit: if the interview goes well and you are wait-listed, you may have an ally in the interviewer.
• Pitfall: the interviewer is a third party in-between you and the adcom; with each additional link in the chain comes more chance for misunderstanding, miscommunication, etc.
• Pitfall: you have no control over what the adcom actually sees regarding the interview.
• Pitfall: alumni are often very busy, and schedule changes are not uncommon.
How to make this type of interview work for you (this is in addition to all the common sense advice for good MBA interviews):
• Review on Accepted.com and other websites comments by previous interviewees regarding the likely questions. Your interviewer may have a strict script or may be free to improvise, but usually they have at least some questions specified by the adcom.
• Practice answering these questions and other common interview questions – but don’t over-rehearse or memorize verbatim. The biggest turnoff (IMHO) is the glib, over-practiced applicant.
• Google your interviewer beforehand. Think about how to connect with him or her.
• Use common sense in your dress – most of the time business attire will be appropriate. But if you’re meeting a 28-year-old alumna at Starbucks at 9 AM on Saturday morning, pinstripes and cufflinks would be a little jarring.
• The interviewer will summarize the interview to the adcom; make simple, clear points to increase the chance of a strong and vivid report.
• Send the interviewer a thank-you note, just like your mother used to make you write.
By Cindy Tokumitsu, co-author of The Finance Professional’s Guide to MBA Admissions Success, and author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her last fifteen years with Accepted.com.