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Columbia Business School Interview Questions & Report: Round 1 / Alum / Off-Campus

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My interview was with an alumnus from the batch of 1972. The alumnus was now retired after a very illustrious career where he led business divisions for large conglomerates. I didn’t expect I’ll get a chance to interview with someone as senior, and so when the interview got scheduled I didn’t know what to expect.

I reached out to people I knew in CBS and luckily I was able to get in touch with people who had interviewed with him last year. They instantly put me at ease, their experience had been very pleasant, where the interview genuinely wanted to learn more about their experience and what drives them, instead of trying to trip them over or testing them. They also asked to be super clear on “Why Columbia”, because according to them one of the things Columbia would like to understand is how genuinely are you interested in CBS and if they admit you, will you join.

The interview was at the interviewer’s home. It was a very calm atmosphere. My interviewer walked into the room, greeted me warmly and asked me to please feel free to make myself comfortable. And then the interview went just as I was told. This is what I remember about our conversation –

1. We started with talking about my industry. I worked in an EdTech startup, in one of the emerging market countries. So we discussed my view of how online education will evolve over the next few years, what challenges we faced, why and why don’t people go for online courses and so on. Again very casual discussion. This was followed by a similar discussion on the next company/ industry I worked at.
2. Then Columbia themed questions – Why Columbia. What other schools have I applied to. How do I evaluate CBS next to those schools. If I want to go into technology post MBA and then startup, why do I feel CBS makes sense for me. And so on. I had my thoughts ready on these questions, so I feel I was able to answer them satisfactorily.
3. The discussion then kind of went off into all kinds of topics. From why I was interested in tech startups, why did I get into management after engineering school, what do I want to do after MBA, why I want to come back to my country somewhere down in the line, what I feel about various happenings in the country and in the world, and so on. Again all of this was a very free-wheeling conversion.
4. Around an hour into the interview, he asked me if I had any questions for him. I asked him about his experience – since he was where I am almost 50 years ago, how was CBS then, why did he want to go for a foreign MBA, in what ways does he feel things have changed all this while and what advice would he have for me, etc. That launched us into a conversation/ dialogue into each of these aspects. This lasted for another 20-25 mins.
5. Then as we were drawing near the 90 mins mark, the interview ended. I was pretty happy with the experience. People often talk about how some other schools are more community-driven and warmer – however everyone I have spoken with at CBS from current students, alums, interviewers have been very warm and helpful.

My interviewer submitted my feedback within hours, even before I got a chance to send a thank you email. I received an automated email from CBS saying they will get back within 14 days. 6 days later, I got a call from an adcom member welcoming me to Columbia!

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