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Resume- vs. Application-Based MBA Admissions Interviews

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This is the second installment of our four-part MBA Admissions Interview Primer. You can view the other parts in this series here:

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 resume- versus application-based interviews, you ask? Some schools believe strongly in the notion of résumé-based interviews, which means that your interviewer will know nothing about you in advance of the interview other than what appears on the résumé 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 context-free, meaning the interviewer will not have read or reviewed either your application or your résumé. “Your interviewer will not have read or reviewed your application or résumé. It is our policy to conduct anonymous interviews, so there is no need to send in your résumé for the interview,” reads the Darden website. In general, though, most business schools who conduct resume-based interviews intend that to mean that the interviewer has access to a résumé and nothing more.

“Our interviews are “blind,” meaning that the interviewer has reviewed your resume, but has not seen the rest of your application. The idea is for this input to be as independent of the other reviews as possible,” says Yale SOM’s Bruce Delmonico, who leads admission for the New Haven school.

Résumé-based interviews offer applicants both advantages and disadvantages, admissions experts say. “I’ve always liked résumé-based interviews because the applicant gets a bit of clean slate,” says Clear Admit Co-Founder Graham Richmond. “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 résumé-based 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, résumé-based interviews also make it feasible to draw from a larger group of interviewers—including alumni and second-year students. A résumé-based 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 résumé-based interviews as “additive” in that they represent an additional data point like essays or recommendation letters. Application-based interviews, in contrast, Brown views as “iterative.” “These give the adcom the opportunity to dive deeper into the applicant,” he says.

Résumé-Based MBA Admissions Interviews: The Basics

Often for résumé-based interviews, an interviewer will ask you to walk him/her/them through your résumé, leaving it to you to highlight what you deem most important.

Richmond offers some cogent tips for approaching a résumé-based interview, beginning with knowing your résumé well enough that you don’t need to look at it constantly. “Practice the résumé walk-through extensively,” he advises.

“It’s easy to think you know your story and then find yourself rambling through it in the interview—wasting valuable minutes that could be devoted to more in-depth conversation,” he says. Strong candidates can falter when walking through the résumé, taking too long, losing the interviewer in jargon and the like. Don’t let this be you.

While a little late in the game for applicants who have already submitted their résumés as part of their application, Richmond also offers some guidance on how to prepare a résumé that best lends itself to a résumé-based interview. “In essence, your résumé should be a really compelling and concise summary of your experience to date, which for 99 percent of candidates will mean a single page,” he says. (Consult Clear Admit’s Resume Guide for more details and best practices.)

Of course, the résumé you submit as part of your application needs to be well crafted no matter what kind of interview you might have since it’s a key component of your overall file, Richmond points out. “That said, for the interview, the résumé you send or bring to your interviewer doesn’t have to be identical to the one you submitted with your application,” he adds. “If there are new developments you wish to include or minor improvements you wish to make in advance of the interview, that’s fine,” Richmond counsels.

Brown adds, “When I was interviewing at Wharton, I always appreciated the candidate who had her professional summary and long-term goals articulated at the beginning of the résumé. It can help guide the interviewer through the rest of the résumé.”

Application-Based MBA Admissions Interviews at Harvard Business School, MIT Sloan

Unlike Yale SOM, Chicago Booth and, in large part, Stanford GSB, some schools prefer that their MBA admissions interviews be conducted by someone who is already quite familiar with a candidate’s complete file. Harvard Business School (HBS) and MIT Sloan School of Management come to mind immediately in this area.

The HBS website reads: “Interviews are 30 minutes and are conducted by an MBA Admissions Board member who has reviewed your application. Your interview will be tailored to you and is designed for us to learn more about you in the context of a conversation.”

This supports both Brown’s point that application-based interviews are “iterative” and Richmond’s suggestion that they can sometimes lead to more in-depth conversations.

“It’s a question of whether a school is seeking a broad and consistent view of the applicant via all the ‘media’ the school offers in the application process, or whether the school is seeking to delve more deeply into specific areas, once the other aspects of the application are submitted,” Brown adds. “Quite frankly, it is easier for a school to use a resume-based interview, but that does not mean it is always the best method.”

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