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Columbia MBA Admissions Interview Questions: Round 2 / Alumnus / Off-campus

The interview was at the alum’s place of employment. I was dressed formally and prepared fairly diligently by using personal resources as well as some of the posts found here. When I was given my choice of interviewers, I found that all of the alum offered were recent graduates. My alum was more or less of my age. We ran through some of the typical talking points:

  • Walk me through your resume.
  • Why B-school.
  • Why Columbia.
  • What I will add to Columbia.
  • Backup plan if I don’t get in (I’m an entrepreneur and this question was stressed big time).
  • Am I applying to other schools, and specifically, to what other schools am I applying?

I went through each of the questions and felt fairly prepared for each response. I felt comfortable, but tried to not let my guard down too much. I think that balance is key in these “casual” interview situations.

I would advise candidates to be on guard for alum interviews with a hyper-competitive tone. Although the interview was supposed to be “pretty casual” and indeed my interviewer seemed nice at the outset, the conversation quickly turned into a constant comparison of my profile with that of my interviewer and her friends. As an example, after asking which schools I had applied to, I was given a comparison of some higher-ranked schools that she considered and where her friends had attended. My interviewer proceeded to implicitly justify her decision to go to CBS by saying that since she was staying in NY, she just wanted to go to the “best school in New York”. (She seemed to imply that otherwise, she would have attended schools with her “friends in Massachusetts and California”). Kind of interesting to see an alum put their school below H/S but I played it cool thinking she was just trying to ruffle my feathers and/or gauge my response.

Professional goals were also on the table. As an entrepreneur, I was asked about back-up plans and “why an MBA”, especially given that my interviewer’s friends/contacts did not need an MBA to pursue their entrepreneurial goals. Again, I tried to calmly re-state my case for CBS by emphasizing courses, profs and resources that would accelerate goals. Also mentioned that CBS was a real dream school for me and I mentioned ways in which I was committed to contributing to the community.

One last thing: about 40 minutes into the interview, I felt my throat getting dry while speaking. Although I wasn’t offered water at the beginning of the interview, I felt it might be a little strange to ask my interviewer to get me some water. Eventually I did so (as politely as possible), but on a very basic level, I still find it pretty odd.

We closed by talking about how CBS helped her in her field and how it was necessary to achieve her goals. She seemed to think that although the skills gained didn’t apply directly to what she was doing, they did help to give her more insight into the managerial process. At this time, she had an upbeat tone when talking about the school.

Post-interview summary: I’m not really sure what to make of the interview/interviewer. I have friends currently in CBS and who’ve graduated and all of them are pretty cool and friendly. Maybe the school asked her to be tough? I think the interview went well in the sense that I smoothly handled perhaps one of the more awkward, if not competitive, interview experiences I’ve ever had. I’ll keep my fingers crossed!

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