Wharton and Ross have 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 still experimental and not always 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 Accepted.com’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.
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.