Resume- vs. Application-Based MBA Admissions Interviews
This is the second installment of our four-part MBA Admissions Interview Primer. You can view the other parts in this series here:
- Part I: Open Interviews vs Invitation-Only Interviews
- Part III: Group Interviews (e.g. Wharton Team-Based Discussion)
- Part IV: Unusual Interview Practices (e.g. Post-interview Essays, Two Interviewers, Presentations)
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. In his years spent working as an admissions consultant, Richmond recalls seeing strong candidates 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.”
Understanding Behavioral Event Interviews (BEI)
Just as application-based interviews can be more comprehensive and delve deeper into applicants’ candidacies than traditional résumé-based interviews, they also often incorporate questions that stray more from a recap of or drill down into your résumé. These are known as behavior-based or behavioral event interviews (BEI).
Perhaps nowhere is the Behavioral-Event Interview (BEI) more prominent than at MIT Sloan School of Management. At Sloan, interviewers may break the ice with a few questions about your background, but in short order they’ll get down to the business at hand: in-depth behavioral questions designed more to get at your personality and communications skills than to go over points included in your résumé or having to do with your career goals or interest in the MBA. “As part of your interview, you will be asked to provide specific examples of your personal and work behavior, such as how you persuade others, work as part of a team, and demonstrate leadership,” the school website says.
So, what’s the best way to prepare for a behavior-based interview at MIT Sloan—or for behavior-based questions at schools that may otherwise lean more toward résumé-based interviews?
Richmond offers the following tips:
- Know the types of behavioral questions the school typically uses and be sure to select a host of stories or anecdotes to share accordingly.
- Use the STAR or CAR method to outline your responses and stay on track (see below).
- Listen to your interviewer’s follow-on questions and be sure to go with the flow (rather than forcing a rehearsed message).
- Be sure to touch on what you thought, felt, said and did in key instances.
We hope this second in our series of interview pieces helps you have a better sense of what to expect on interview day and how to prepare.
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 MBA LiveWire.
See the other parts in our Understanding the MBA Admissions Interview series:
- Understanding the MBA Admissions Interview—Part I (Open Interviews vs Invitational Interviews)
- Understanding the MBA Admissions Interview—Part III (Group Interviews: Wharton Team-Based Discussion & Ross Team Exercise)
- Understanding the MBA Admissions Interview—Part IV (Unusual Interview Practices: Post-interview Essays, Two Interviewers, Presentations)