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Understanding the MBA Admissions Interview – Part I

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With Harvard Business School (HBS) issuing its Round 1 interview invitations last week, the MBA admissions world is buzzing about one thing: INTERVIEWS. HBS, of course, is not alone. At Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, which features applicant-initiated interviews, hopeful candidates have been traipsing back and forth to Hanover already for several weeks.

With so much interview anxiety in the air—and knowing that it only stands to build from here—we’ve decided to devote this week at Clear Admit to all things interview, introducing a series we ran during the last two admissions cycles. We’re getting the ball rolling with the first part of a multi-part series, which we like to think of as an MBA Admissions Interview Primer of sorts. In it, we’ll unpack the different types of interviews—open, invited, blind, non-blind,  resume-based, behavioral-based, team-based, etc.—and take a look at why particular schools choose the interview variations they do. Along the way, we’ll offer some tips for how best to prepare for each and explore a few of the more interesting wrinkles in the world of MBA interviews.

When all is said and done, you still may not feel fully ready to ace that HBS interview, but you’ll have a much firmer grasp on the MBA interview landscape as a whole, which we hope will better prepare you for interviews at all of your target schools.


Open Interviews Versus Invited Interviews

We mentioned in the intro that Tuck has something called applicant-initiated interviews. Also known as open interviews, they are what they sound like. At Tuck and a handful of other schools—Kellogg’s Northwestern School of Management, Emory’s Goizuieta School, Duke’s Fuqua School and UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, for example—applicants do indeed get to choose to interview. There’s no need to wait—or stress over—receiving an interview invitation. Just schedule a date, pack your bags and go.

“At Tuck every applicant has the opportunity to visit campus, not only for an interview but to sit in on a class with a current student, attend an information session with an admissions officer, take a student-led tour and have lunch with current students,” says Tuck Admissions Director Dawna Clarke. “We want to make Tuck accessible to all applicants who are interested in seeing it firsthand.”

Other schools also make their campuses, classrooms and students accessible to prospective applicants who want a firsthand glimpse. But far fewer schools offer the opportunity to interview to any prospective applicant who so chooses.

Of course, the opportunity to initiate your own interview at Tuck, Goizueta, Fuqua or Kenan-Flagler only lasts until the open-interview period ends at a given school or capacity is met. Each school then switches to invitation-only interviews, in which selected candidates are invited to interview.

At Kellogg, offering interviews to any applicant who wants one has been a longstanding philosophy, says Beth Tidmarsh, director of admissions for full-time MBA programs. “We really want to evaluate the whole person, and the application process is holistic. We still seek to interview everyone who applies—as many as we can,” she says. Acknowledging that not all candidates can travel to Evanston for on-campus interviews. Tidmarsh adds that her team also uses alumni interviewers around the world. “We will match candidates in their home locations to conduct interviews with alumni.”

It is interesting to note that Kellogg’s open invitation offer is only for those who do apply. The other schools mentioned in fact allow anyone to interview, even before submitting an application. The latter policy allows schools to potentially cast an even wider net in the applicant pool, although it is obviously more resource intensive, especially given that some of those who interview may ultimately not decide to apply.