MBA Interview Nice-To-Know #5: Your Interviewer

Click here to download your copy of How to Ace Your MBA Interviews!“MBA Interview Nice-To-Know #5: Your Interviewer” is excerpted from the special report, How to Ace Your MBA Interviews. To download the entire free special report, click here

In the words of a Columbia applicant who was asked “was there something you wish you had known ahead of time?”:

Yes – I wish I had known more about the interviewer: what company she worked for, her role in the organization, her seniority, etc. That would have helped me mentally prepare for the kind of person I would be speaking to and be able to relate to her better.

If you have your interviewer’s name, Google him or her and try to glean a little information about this person so you can connect better on an interpersonal level. If you don’t know your interviewer’s name or simply can’t find it on the Internet, don’t sweat it. It isn’t a must.

Nationally recognized career coach Dr. Lois Frankel advises job applicants before a job interview to remember that, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” I am a firm believer in that adage.

Tips to help you ace those MBA interviews! Helping You Write Your Best

Related Resources:

• Preparing for Behavioral and General Interview Questions, a short video.
• Seven Tips for MBA Interview Prep
• MBA Admissions According to an Expert

MBA Interview Questions: Walk Me Through Your Resume

Click here to download your free guide to Preparing for Your Business School Interviews.

Your interviewer already knows what you’ve done. Now she wants to know why.

Reason for asking the question:

1. This question (or some version of it) is very often the first question asked in an MBA interview, since it should be a fairly easy question to answer and provides a foundation for the rest of the interview. Can the candidate remain focused on answering the question? Is he or she especially nervous? Can the candidate summarize his or her work accomplishments succinctly while at the same time providing a narrative about career progression? All of this information is helpful to manage the interview.

2. The interviewer has already had the chance to look at your resume, but wants to understand the “why” of it. The responsibility of the candidate is to highlight some career accomplishments, but primarily to explain the reasoning and motivation for the most significant career moves made.

How to prepare:

The answer to this question should be 2-3 minutes long, so once you have chosen the things you would like to highlight, practice your answer several times to make sure you can fit it into that timeframe. The point is not to summarize everything you have done at every job, but to briefly discuss accomplishments and the circumstances surrounding moves from one role to another. The logical starting point is your graduation from college. Summarize the degree you received and how it made sense to pursue the career you did based on your education. From there, look closely at your jobs. In one-two sentences, how would you discuss your time in that role? What was the motivating factor to move from that role to the next one? For your current job, lay out your current responsibilities. While it may be tempting to continue on and also answer “why an MBA” when you get there, just wait until that question is asked.

How to highlight particular circumstances:

Situation 1: Worked two years at a consulting firm, then switched to work in marketing at a pharmaceutical company.

“While at XX Consulting I had an extended engagement with a major pharma company. Working there made me realize the growth and potential of the industry, and I no longer wanted to be an outsider looking in. I wanted to XYZ.”

Situation 2: Worked in operations at a manufacturer, then switched to finance.

“During my time in operations I worked closely with the finance group in preparing our supply chain forecast. Through that experience I came to realize that I really loved numbers, and finance more closely fit with where I saw my career going. I made the case to senior management, and after recognizing my capabilities in the area they found a spot for me.”

Situation 3: Moved up in the organization from analyst to senior analyst to associate.

“I was fortunate to be involved in projects that gave me a lot of responsibility early on and had supportive mentors along the way. This allowed me to be recognized for my contributions and move up in the organization.” [In this type of situation, mentioning a few details of the projects would be appropriate.]

Important things to remember:

1. Do not rehash everything on your resume. Remember, the interviewer will have already read through it, and seen several details. They want to understand WHY you have done what you have in your career thus far.

2. Stay focused. Don’t get bogged down in details that the interviewer doesn’t need or want to know. HIGHLIGHT and move on.

Additional things to consider:

It’s possible the interviewer might ask “Tell me about yourself” instead. In this case, it is still appropriate to give the details about your work experience, but also to give some background on you. Possible things to share: Where you grew up, interesting information about your childhood/schooling, why you chose to go to the university you did, and why you chose to study what you did. Essentially, by wording the question this way, the interviewer is encouraging you to include more personal details about your life, both current and from the past.

Tips to help you ace those MBA interviews!

Jennifer Weld worked as an admissions consultant and Former Asst. Dir. of Admissions at Cornell’s EMBA program (4 years) prior to joining She has an additional 10 years of experience in higher ed and corporate marketing.

Related Resources:

• MBA Interview Formats Series
The 10 Commandments of MBA Interviews
• MBA Interview Must-Know #2: You

MBA Interview Must-Know #4: The Interview Type

Click here to download your copy of Ace the MBA!

Be prepared to address your weaknesses.

“MBA Interview Must-Know #4: The Interview Type” is excerpted from the special report, How to Ace Your MBA Interviews To download the entire free special report, click here

The Interview Type. Is it blind (where the interviewer knows only what’s on your resume and what you tell him or her)? Or is it informed with an interviewer who has gone thoroughly through your file. Is it a case presentation?

If blind, then you can use material from your application because that material presents your most impressive experiences, and it will be new to your interviewer, but don’t limit yourself to that material.

If you are interviewed by someone who has gone through your file, prepare to address weaknesses and gaps and also be ready to bring something new to the interviewer’s understanding of you. Know how to go deeper into the stories you have told and prepare to tell additional anecdotes.

Whether blind or informed, make sure to tell your interviewer of important developments that have occurred since you submitted your application – a better GMAT score, an A in a business-related course, a promotion, leadership of a community service initiative… This last step is particularly important if you are interviewing at schools like Harvard and Wharton, which in the past have discouraged or not accepted new information from applicants after the application submission date — even if the information is highly relevant and/or the applicant has sat on the waitlist for months.

MBA Interview Tip #4:
Know the type of interview you will have and prepare accordingly.

Tips to help you ace those MBA interviews! Helping You Write Your Best

Related Resources:

• Tips for Your In-Person Interview with an MBA Student or Alumnus
• Tips for Your In-Person Interview with an Adcom Member
• Seven Tips for MBA Interview Prep

Team-Based Discussion Interviews

Check out our Wharton Zone for info, tips, stats and more.

Make your goal the team’s success, not its adoption of your idea.

Wharton and Ross initiated a new MBA interview format, the team-based discussion (TBD). This type of interview brings a group of applicants together in person to work through a problem together as an organizational team does. This team activity is followed by a short one-to-one talk with an adcom representative (either a second-year student or an adcom member). It is now part of Wharton’s regular mode for interviews. At Ross, it’s not required, and they use traditional methods for their evaluative interviews.

Why adcoms use this method:

• Some adcoms have found traditional interview modes increasingly ineffective as they feel that candidates over-prepare and over-strategize for interviews, thus undercutting authenticity.

• The adcoms want to see the candidates in team action, since students’ success in the program (and in their future career) will rest in part on their teamwork and interpersonal skills.

• This approach gives the adcom insight into the applicants that no other application component provides – how they actually respond to people and situations in real time.

• The post-activity discussion shows your ability to self-reflect and analyze your own role and performance – qualities the adcom values.


Wharton – When you receive an invitation to interview, you’ll go online and select a time and date to attend a 5- or 6-member, approximately 45-minute TBD. Wharton will send you a prompt, which is the topic for the team activity; Wharton advises spending about an hour preparing with this prompt. In the TBD, each person will have a minute to articulate his own idea on the topic, and then the team will work together toward a group decision. After the TBD, you will meet individually with one of the two evaluators for 10-15 minutes to discuss your thoughts on how it went. You and the evaluator may discuss other topics as well.

Ross – Ross sends no prompt. Rather, it’s more like a team-building activity. You’ll receive the invitation to participate when you receive your regular interview invite, and can accept or decline. If you accept, you’ll meet in a group of 4-6. The team is given 2 words, and they first prepare individual presentations connecting these words (10 minutes for this portion). Then the group receives additional random words, and they have 20 minutes to prepare a team presentation that uses the words to address a problem and articulate a solution. The individuals in the team, not the team as a whole, are evaluated either by second-year students or adcom members, who also interview them separately afterward.

Benefits and pitfalls for applicants:

• Benefit: You can showcase your interpersonal, team, and leadership skills more vividly than any essay or individual interview could portray.

• Benefit: You can get a real flavor of the programs’ teamwork dynamic.

• Benefit: You can enjoy meeting peers and potential classmates.

• Drawback: You have less control, as you have to assess and respond to the group dynamics instantly; there is no margin for error.

• Drawback: Logistically it’s complex – always harder to get a group together.

• Drawback: While the adcoms think it gives them a lens on you as a team player, in “real life” you usually have some time to adapt to a new team, and your true teamwork abilities will come out over time as you respond, whereas here there’s no time to grow and adapt with the team, so it’s a somewhat artificial setup.

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’s tips for this interview format.

• For Wharton, prepare and practice your one-minute presentation.

• For Ross, do the word activity with yourself or a friend, to get used to it.

• Think about your inclinations, behaviors, feelings, and approaches when working in a team or group setting, and also ask a colleague or two for some objective feedback. You shouldn’t change your natural approach, but you can certainly play to your strengths and minimize negative tendencies.

• Read online about other applicants’ experiences with the group interview.

•Make your goal the team’s success and ability to complete the assigned task, not its adoption of your idea.

[NOTE: This post is part of a series about MBA interview formats, click here to check out the rest of the posts]

Have a TBD Coming Up? Practice with the pros before your big day! CLICK HERE TO REGISTER FOR A MOCK WHARTON TBD!

Cindy Tokumitsu By , author and co-author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports, including Why MBA and Best MBA Programs: A Guide to Selecting the Right One. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her fifteen years with

Related Resources:

MBA Interview Formats Series
• Seven Tips for MBA Interview Prep
• How to Prep for Your MBA Interviews