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Understanding the MBA Admissions Interview, Part II

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This is the second in a three-part series on the MBA admissions interview. In case you missed it, view Part I here

Okay—now that you’re clear on open interviews and interviews by invitation, let’s get into some of the finer points. What’s this about blind versus non-blind interviews, you ask? Some schools believe strongly in the notion of blind interviews, which means that your interviewer will know nothing about you in advance of the interview other than what appears on the resume you give them.

Schools that fall firmly into this camp include Yale School of Management (SOM), Columbia Business School and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. We should note that at UVA’s Darden School, the MBA admissions interview is truly blind, meaning the interviewer will not have read or reviewed either your application or your resume. “It is our policy to conduct blind interviews, so there is no need to send or bring in your resume for the interview,” reads the Darden website. In general, though, most business schools who conduct blind interviews intend that to mean that the interviewer has access to a resume and nothing more.

“We use blind interviews—that is, based on the resume only, with the interviewer not seeing any other part of the candidate’s application—to allow the interviewer to give us as independent an assessment of the candidate as possible, without being influenced by the academic record, GMAT score, essay, etc.,” says Yale SOM’s Bruce Delmonico, who leads admission for the New Haven school.

Blind interviews offer applicants both advantages and disadvantages, admissions experts say. “I’ve always liked blind interviews because the applicant gets a bit of clean slate,” says Graham Richmond, who co-founded Clear Admit before launching his own consulting firm advising leading business school admissions teams. There’s no bias that might come with the interviewer having seen grades, scores, recommendation letters or the like, he adds.

“That said, this doesn’t mean a blind interview gives candidates open license to reinvent their candidacy,” Richmond cautions. “The interview should be consistent with the written application that is ultimately submitted.”

From the school’s perspective, blind interviews also make it feasible to draw from a larger group of interviewers—including alumni and second-year students. A blind interview doesn’t require that these interviewers be fully versed in a candidate’s full application or be trained to limit biases that could result from having this fuller view before the interview.

Alex Brown, who worked in admissions at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School for many years, views blind interviews as “additive” in that they represent an additional data point like essays or recommendation letters. Non-blind interviews, in contrast, Brown views as “iterative.” “These give the adcom the opportunity to dive deeper into the applicant,” he says.

Stanford GSB Conducts Some Blind, Some Non-Blind Interviews
At Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB), whether your interview will be blind or non-blind depends on who does the interviewing. “The only information about you that your alumni interviewer will have is your resume, which you will send directly to him/her,” writes Stanford GSB Assistant Dean for MBA Admissions Derrick Bolton on the school website. “We will not provide your alumni interviewer with your application, nor will we use your application to identify specific areas for your alumni interviewer to probe,” he continues, adding that Stanford believes the bias that could result from such guidance to alumni could outweigh potential benefit from an evaluation standpoint.

Stanford gives its alumni interviewers a structure and topics to address with applicants, although it trusts the interviewers’ judgment in terms of pursuing topics more deeply that might be of particular relevance for an individual applicant, Bolton continues.

But some interviews at Stanford GSB are conducted by members of the admissions staff, in which case the interviewer will have reviewed a candidate’s complete application before the interview, according to Bolton. “As such, he or she may conduct an interview that reflects this knowledge of your application,” Bolton writes.

Richmond notes that the “clean slate” provided by the blind interview format can actually pose a challenge for some applicants. “A blind interview requires applicants to start from scratch, which is often a difficult task if you’ve just poured your heart and soul into a lengthy application,” he says. The non-blind format can also allow for a more productive—“meaty”—conversation to some extent, he adds.