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MBA Admissions Interview Primer: Open vs. Invitation-Only Interviews

In this first part of a multi-part series, we’ll unpack the different types of interviews—open, invited, resume-based, application-based, behavioral-based, team-based, etc. 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’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

Also known as open interviews, applicant-initiated interviews are what they sound like. At Dartmouth Tuck and a handful of other schools—Northwestern Kellogg, Emory Goizueta, Duke Fuqua and UNC Kenan-Flagler, 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. Of course, the opportunity to initiate your own interview at Tuck, Goizueta, Fuqua or Kenan-Flagler only lasts until the open-interview period ends 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. “Because collaboration and forming connections is such an important part of the Kellogg culture, we seek to interview as many applicants as possible,” Senior Director of Full-Time MBA Admissions, Steve Thompson, explained in our Admissions Director Q&A.

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.

If a School Offers Open Interviews, You’d Do Well to Sign Up

For schools that do offer open interviews, you’d do well to take them up on it. “There is really no scenario where taking advantage of the open interview policy can hurt a candidate,” says Alex Brown, who worked in admissions at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School for several years. “Obviously the opposite is true,” he continues. “Those who choose to participate in an interview before applying are signaling to the admissions committee that they are fully committed to the process—showing the appropriate initiative and interest in the school.” Schools will evaluate candidates, in part, on fit for the school, so this initiative can dial into that, he adds.

Graham Richmond, cofounder of Clear Admit, concurs. “You should really make the effort to get a spot—after all, you shouldn’t apply if you aren’t excited about the school or wouldn’t be happy to attend,” he says. “I can’t think of a scenario in which you would purposely not sign up, unless geography or work travel gets in the way, in which case you should talk to the Admissions Committee to explain and perhaps seek a solution.”

Both Tuck and Goizueta feature smaller applicant pools than the likes of HBS, Wharton or Stanford, making it more feasible for them to accommodate applicant-initiated interviews. Tuck, for its part, also leans on second-year students to conduct the majority of its interviews, which further increases the resources it has available for interviews.

But at Kellogg, it’s not really possible for every applicant to get an interview, despite the best intentions of the admissions committee. Fine print on the Kellogg website reveals, “Due to the high demand for interviews and the limited availability of interviewers, you may receive an interview waiver. If your interview is waived, the admissions committee may contact you if further information is needed to make a decision on your candidacy.”

It pays to apply to Kellogg as soon as you are ready in hopes of securing an interview spot while they last, Richmond advises. At the same time, don’t be overly concerned if there aren’t any left by the time you apply, he adds, saying, “Candidates who are competitive will ultimately be invited.”

On the other hand, if you are a weaker candidate or have an issue in your file—like low test scores, for example—it’s prudent to get your application in as soon as possible and get a spot, Richmond counsels. “This is especially true in the case of applicants who think they will do well in person and that an interview might push their candidacy over the hump,” he says.

Interviews by Invitation

The interview allows MBA admissions committees to move beyond the restraints of the written application and letters of recommendation to focus on things they can only learn about a person when they meet them—oral communication skills, emotional intelligence, maturity, presence and self-awareness, for starters. Most admissions committees at leading business schools agree that to make a fully informed admission decision without the greater insight into a candidate that an interview provides is difficult—if not impossible.

This is why all leading business schools require an interview as part of the application process. Few leading programs can support an open interview policy, which has led most other top business school programs to offer interviews by invitation only.

See the next post in our series, which takes a closer look at the different interview formats these various schools employ, here.

If you’re gearing up for an interview at a leading business school, don’t miss Clear Admit’s Interview Guide Series. Featuring school-specific interview prep strategy, evaluation of how the adcom weighs the interview, in-depth analysis of the most frequently asked questions by that school and more, these are a valuable resource to help you prepare and are available for 21 different schools. There’s also our Interview Report Archive, where applicants share their personal experiences interviewing at a range of schools and learn from those of others. And don’t forget, you can share where you are in the process—and keep tabs on your peers—via Clear Admit’s MBA LiveWire

See the other parts in our MBA Admissions Interview Primer series:

MBA Admissions Academy

Episode 20: Interviews I: The Basics