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Admissions Tip: Understanding the MBA Admissions Interview, Part IV

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The following is the final part of our four-part interview series. We’ve tackled open versus invitation-onlyblind versus non-blind and the newer team-based discussion interview.

MBA Admissions Interviews: What’s left to discuss?

In this, our final post in our MBA admissions interview series, we’re going to take a closer look at a few of the anomalies in the interview arena—special approaches thus far embraced by just one or two schools. Of course, the team-based discussion was itself an anomaly not so many years ago, so these could also be harbingers of the next big thing.

HBS and the Post-Interview Reflection

Though it’s been years now since Harvard Business School (HBS) introduced its post-interview reflection, no other top school has yet followed suit. HBS first added this new twist in 2012, inviting those candidates who interviewed to follow up—in 24 hours or less—with an email answer to the following question:  “You’ve just had your HBS interview. Tell us about it. How well did we get to know you?” While the wording of the question may change this year, the intent of the question remains the same, it is a post interview reflection from the candidate.

Soon after the post-interview reflection debuted in 2012, HBS Managing Director of Admissions and Financial Aid at the time, Dee Leopold, took to her blog to elaborate on what she and her team were looking for—and what they weren’t. For starters, this was not an invitation to submit another essay. “We want your response to be much more like an email,” she wrote. She went on to say that the hope behind the new element of the HBS application process was to allow applicants to interact with the HBS admissions staff in more of a real-world scenario than traditional application elements have offered. “In the Real World, it is unlikely that you will be given months and months to craft essays of any sort. It just doesn’t happen,” Leopold wrote. “In the Real World, it is almost a sure thing that you will be asked to write emails summarizing meetings and giving your opinion in a short time frame.”

HBS has kept the format of the post-interview reflection the same each year since its debut. There is no official word limit, it is due within 24 hours of your interview’s conclusion and you are strongly discouraged from producing the reflection before the interview or soliciting or receiving outside assistance with it. Also, the admissions committee states, “We will be much more generous in our reaction to typos and grammatical errors than we will be with pre-packaged responses.”

So, knowing all of this, what’s the best approach? “Answer the prompt, and be gracious,” advises Alex Brown, a Clear Admit consultant who spent years working in MBA admissions at Wharton. “Consider the interview discussion that took place, and share your assessment in terms of how well the conversation revealed your candidacy.” Reiterating HBS’s own instructions, Brown reminded applicants that this is not the time to write an additional essay. Instead, use it to reinforce some of your messaging that was part of the interview dialog.

“Schools know that sometimes an interview does not go well from a candidate’s standpoint, so this additional prompt helps candidates level the playing field in this regard,” Brown says. “I think it is smart on the part of HBS to give its candidates the last word on their application in this way.”

MIT Sloan and the Pre-Interview Essay

MIT Sloan School of Management—perhaps riffing off of HBS’s post-interview reflection—added its own twist. In Sloan’s case, though, it is another essay and it comes before the interview. Clear Admit spoke with Dawna Levenson when the school first announced this newest element. She shared the details she knew then, which were that applicants invited to interview would be asked to provide a written answer to a second essay question in 250 words or less. The question: “The mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and to generate ideas that advance management practice. Please share with us something about your past that aligns with this mission.”

For last year, as part of the congratulatory email letting candidates know they have been invited to interview, Sloan provided a link to a section of its website where it restates the question and asks candidate to upload an answer at least 24 hours before their scheduled interview. “We try to invite people to interview at least one week in advance, so that should give them more than enough time to complete it,” Levenson noted in a conversation with Clear Admit.  The essay can serve as an ice-breaker for the interview, it is often the last thing that is read, by the interviewer, before the interview takes place.

London Business School’s Presentation Component

Across the pond at London Business School (LBS), applicants get their own special challenge in the form of an impromptu five-minute presentation assigned as part of the interview. It’s all part of LBS’s attempt to get a sense of your communication skills. LBS provides its alumni interviewers with a list of topics. According to interview reports, the interviewer usually either chooses one and assigns it or offers the applicant a choice among several.

Though applicants sometimes refer to the presentation portion of the LBS interview as a case, do not confuse it with the “case interview” for a strategy consulting firm, which often involve being given a quite complex problem to solve.  The questions that LBS asks are almost never difficult. Example questions from the past have included “Should employers dismiss an employee for writing damaging criticism on a social networking website?” and “What three items would you put in a time capsule about humanity?”

Really, LBS is just trying to get a sense of how you think and how well you can explain your ideas—as well as your ability to think on your feet. Of course, this makes the presentation a little harder to prepare for than a normal interview question, since you won’t know what topic you will have to address ahead of time. Just keep in mind that there are no right or wrong answers. What counts is laying out a compelling argument supported by evidence.

You’re usually given about five minutes to prepare. “Make sure you use this time wisely,” encourages Clear Admit’s Brown. “Don’t just jump into your reply and risk missing points or jumbling ideas. Start out by identifying and assessing the situation, and then explain how you would approach the issue and why the approach you advocate is the best one.”

It’s also probably wise to avoid taking a particularly controversial stance, since you have no way of knowing who your interviewer is or what might cause him or her to take offence, Brown cautions. “A conservative approach makes the most sense here.”

Brown also adds, “This twist to the LBS interview is that it is hard to prepare ahead of time, which is clearly one of its goals. LBS also tries to match candidates with alumni interviewers whose backgrounds align with the candidate’s career goals. This positions the interviewer to assess how realistic those goals are while also allowing for deeper engagement as part of the interview process.”

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.