Not-So-Standard Interview Questions

Clear Admit is a great resource for reviewing potential interview questions that you may encounter during your business school admissions interviews. However, in spite of my preparation for my four interviews at Fuqua, Kellogg, SOM, and Johnson, there were still a few questions that caught me a bit off-guard.

‘lo and behold, here are the few questions that I hadn’t encountered before (online) until I was asked by the interviewer. The last one listed here had me scrambling for a meaningful answer for what felt like an eternity. (Fortunately, the interviewer had smiled and said a lot of her interviewees did not expect that question and that they had also taken a few moments to think of an answer).

Hopefully these questions will be of some assistance for anyone reading who is preparing for an MBA interview!

If you had one minute to present your case in front of the admissions board, what would you say? Go.

If I were to call your supervisor right now, how would he describe you and your quality of work?

Give me an example of a time you acted out of character.

Accepted! :D

I’ve spent so much time in the past year imagining this – the anticipation, the phone call, the acceptance offer, the moment when I could stop dreaming and actually plan for the months ahead – but I never imagined that when the moment finally arrived that I would just stand there quietly in awe.

Even as I write this blog post, I’m struggling to some degree as to what to write. Feeling jubilant, relieved, appreciative, thrilled. I feel as if my brain has been wired for months, at the helm, ready to learn business fundamentals, network, and charge ahead. The switch has finally been flipped.

Here’s how it went down for me:

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Returning to my cell block

To say that the last two months have been stressful would be putting it lightly. I received admissions decisions for 50% of my submitted applications and I’m essentially stuck in the same mudpit as I was back in December. This is not an ideal scenario by any stretch of the imagination.

Believe me when I tell you how thrilled I was to see many of my fellow MBA prospective applicants receiving admittance offers to various top business schools – I know how many hours of hard work and focus that were poured into the process! But I wouldn’t be honest with you or myself if I said that watching my fellow applicants jump off the sinking ship into their respective lifeboats wasn’t a tad bittersweet (okayy… a biiiitt of an overdramatic analogy there, I know). It’s just that I badly wished to be joining my brothas and sistas to MBALand, not watching them leave for it without me.

I imagine it’s akin to warming up to your cellmate in prison (oh herro fellow MBA applicant!), befriending him over the years (infosessions & forums), fending off the crazies (GMAT) cornering you in the showers, working out a deal with the gang members (recommenders) together, overcoming the interview with the warden (admissions committee), and then finally learning of his release date (acceptance offer) and congratulating him – you’re genuinely happy and elated for him, but the fact remains you’re still returning to your cell block (ding-land). Wouldn’t it be a hundred times more awesome if, say, the two of you were released together? Alas, I have some more waiting to do.

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NYU Stern’s Open House Event

I just wanted to write a short post (this ended up being longer than I thought), commenting on NYU Stern’s Full-time MBA Admissions Open House event. The event was held on a Saturday morning, and even though my R2 application to Stern isn’t guaranteed, what else would I be doing at 10AM on a Saturday? Sign me up.

In short, if you’re within the general vicinity of NYC or can somehow arrange to attend a future Open House event, I highly encourage it. Although the majority of the event was your standard run-of-the-mill information session complete with student speakers and PowerPoint presentation slides, the admissions committee capped the event with a very interesting, unique approach that I’ll touch on later.

The four student speakers NYU Stern elected to speak at the event were a diverse panel of speakers (a former Googler who spent his past summer at Sony working on strategy for a Harry Potter product, an investment banker, an intern at Bayer Consumer Care, etc.) I felt that Stern touched more upon the diversity and strength and influence of its faculty more than most other schools. (Obviously  being located in the heart of Manhattan has a lot to do with the strength of its professors.) Highlights they touched upon included the renowned Corporate Finance class taught by Professor Aswath Damodaran or the connections another professor has with the Cannes Film Festival which allows him to bring 25 students each year, often meeting with executives of various film companies or conglomerates.

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the application process – not as simple as it seems

Surprise, surprise. I can’t stop thinking about business school. I’ve officially been brainwashed. So here goes another blog post about business school. This one’s for anyone reading this blog that is casually considering applying to business school in the future.

In theory, it sounds simple enough. The application involves several key components:

– GMAT score
– essays
– recommendations
– miscellaneous application components (fee, transcripts, demographic info, etc.)

That’s it! That’s all there is to it! Sounds pretty good, right?
You might be thinking, how much time could all this possibly take? Maybe I’ll just apply to 8 different schools while I’m at it?

Let’s break it down further.

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Another interview & application complete.

For the second time in a row, Mother Nature reared its ugly head when I put on my Sunday’s best and trotted up to New Haven, CT., this time for my admissions interview with Yale. Mother Nature decided to turn on the faucets and let through a mixture of rain and snow on the one day I scheduled my interview (which was sandwiched by several days of clear, blue skies). If I was fond of New Haven on an overcast day, I wonder what my feedback would’ve been like on a sunny day!

As I had already opted for the campus tour + class visits during my last visit, I decided to forgo those options this time so that I could take my time preparing and arriving on campus for my afternoon interview. The train ride up from Grand Central Terminal (and that’s Grand Central Terminal, not Station, to be technically correct) actually took 2 hours flat. For some strange reason, I thought the train ride was quicker than that, or maybe it just felt quicker last time in September because I was still out of it at 6:30AM? Or maybe I hopped on an express ride last time? Regardless, a school with a 2-hour public ride to one of the greatest cities in the world is a pretty handy option to have.

As I mentioned on the GMATClub forums, my interview started off fairly formulaic but towards the end things were a bit more loose and relaxed (probably a common wavelength for many MBA interviews). The interviewer was super friendly, and none of the questions were really anything you shouldn’t otherwise be already prepared for. He did emphasize though that the interview was only one component of the entire application picture; basically, a weak interview won’t necessarily ding you but acing the interview still doesn’t mean you’re going to get that acceptance letter! (The latter of which is kind of a bummer, since a great interview can create a lot of real positive momentum, all of which can be deflated in an instant with a ding). And yes, I am feeling somewhat of a positive wave of hopefulness. I should probably do my best to clean forget about it entirely however, as its entirely out of my hands now. No point in getting ahead and setting myself up for failure.

In other school news, I finalized my Cornell Johnson applications/essays to officially submit application #3! I am really impressed with the momentum that Cornell has had recently (the strong uptick in the BusinessWeek Business School rankings certainly didn’t hurt) and I really enjoyed their essay prompts. I’m hoping that my creativity in the Table of Contents for My Life Story shines through to the admissions committee.

Once upon a time (sometime in 2002 or 2003) I actually had visited Ithaca as part of a mini-campus tour roadtrip with my folks when I was researching undergraduate colleges. I didn’t take any pictures at that time but I simply remember snow… and that I had really enjoyed the food in the dining hall. I am, however, relatively easy to please when it comes to food (I just want large portions) so I pretty much have no recollection of the campus whatsoever. Perhaps I’ll find time to visit (or better yet, interview) in the near future.

A trip to the Greater Chicago Area

Quick update on things!

First things first, I received an invitation to interview at Yale SOM!!!

To say that I had lost hope would be putting things lightly. I read waves of posts on GMATClub.com’s forums of fellow applicants receiving the good news and being invited to interview at New Haven. Sure, I was very happy for them – but seeing my empty inbox with each passing week  made me want to curl up into a ball or kick a pebble down the street muttering, “Phooey.” I don’t know what it is about Yale SOM that resonated so much with me, but I do know that it sits within my top 2 choices (SOM & Kellogg). My interview is scheduled around the end of this month. One thing I know for certain is that should the interviewer ask, “Why SOM?”, I will probably have to be cut off before I answer the next question because I’ll just keep spewing out words. So anyways, hurray! So close, yet so far!

The e-mail invite came when I was least expecting it. The wheels to the airplane I was on had just touched down in O’Hare and I had just turned on my phone. It definitely amused me to have received the news when all I had been doing for the last several hours is mentally prep myself and focus in on a completely different school: Northwestern Kellogg School of Management!

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Round 1 Final Tally: Two.

My Fuqua essays are almost all but done. I’m putting my finishing touches on the essays and I am amazed at how many small changes I find myself making to each factoid about myself or word usage in the Why Duke essay. Every time I re-read the essay, I change, insert, or shuffle a few words around to make the essay that much sharper. (At least in my eyes… for all I know, I am convoluting my message further or disrupting the flow of the essay! This is where the usage of an admissions consultant might come in handy but eh… perhaps more on that later.)

Unfortunately, I was unable to meet my intended target Round 1 deadline for Northwestern. Truth be told, some of it was partly due to my excessively busy work schedule combined with having two consecutive weekends full of best man duties (coordinating and enjoying the bachelor trip, preparing for the wedding weekend, making sure the groom didn’t run away, delivering a memorable speech, giving rides to and from the after-party, safely escorting the happy drunken couple to their hotel for the night, etc). I did however, feel that I managed my time fairly well, and consequently, the primary reason why I missed the deadline was more of the fact that when I did allocate time to sit down and work on my Kellogg essays, well, nothing came to me. If I haven’t expressed this before, my two greatest weaknesses to my application profile would be undergraduate GPA, and my lack of leadership experiences. The second Kellogg essay completely hinges on this latter weakness. Having a severe case of writer’s block, I made the decision to forgo Round 1 for Northwestern and give myself more time to brainstorm for better content.

Additionally, I have a Northwestern campus visit and interview scheduled in (omg, just) two weeks. After visiting Yale and Duke, I’ve learned that the writing content quality really is night and day before and after visiting the school. I am able to provide more authentic reasons as to why I want to attend that particular program. So I’m planning to do the bulk of my essay writing following my visit to Evanston.

Speaking of Yale, I submitted my SOM application several weeks ago. At the time of submission, I was beaming. I felt that I deftly dealt with the short word count constraints and placed my best foot forward. I was envisioning that interview invite arriving in my inbox and stepping into the interview room days later and walking out with a new best friend.

Fast forward to today, 2 ½ weeks later, and some serious doubt and angst have been eating away at my innards. I re-read my essays.
Did the contributions I highlighted in my second essay come off as too generic?
I’m not seeing any of my passion for SOM conveyed in this essay. Why didn’t I notice this before?
Shouldn’t I have included that college extra-curricular activity in the application, even if it was 5 years ago?
Did I really think Yale would accept a below 3.0 GPA applicant who hasn’t won an Olympic gold medal or Nobel prize?

Yeah, I wasn’t making things better by re-reading them. Best to file those away. Ultimately, I understand that there is nothing left that I can do but focus on my other applications. And that I will do. After submitting my application to Fuqua this week, that pretty much sums up Round 1. (Unless I am able to make swift and significant progress with NYU Stern’s essays).

I made the decision to attend business school at the start of the calendar year, so I am pretty disappointed in myself that I was only able to muster up two applications by this time.

On the other hand, I’ve told myself from day one that I am not approaching business school as a numbers game. I am not planning to apply to seven or eight or ten schools in hopes that at least one won’t ding me. I am not going to apply to a business school located in a remote location that I am not prepared to spend the next two years in. So shuffling one school to a later round is not going to be the end of it all.

Taking a deep breath… hoping for the best… and moving forward.

Carolina blue skies

“Carolina blue skies,” my cousin calls it. I continued staring up at the expansive, blue skies that stretched as far as I could see. North Carolina, as far as I could tell, was very flat and very green. It was sunny, had friendly highways (and I do mean friendly – I saw drivers backed up for half a mile on a 2-lane exit because they didn’t want to skip and merge ahead), and an interesting trifecta of cities known as Research Triangle Park: Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and Durham. I liked it.

Well, I officially have my first business school interview out of the way! In retrospect, I should have probably prepped a bit more, because I am not a natural bullshitter. Though it can be much easier to become conversational when speaking about something from the heart or a specific personal hobby, the admissions team doesn’t want to hear about how much I want to be admitted. They want to know why, and what I will contribute, etc. (The want… is a given.) Answering those questions, well, for me personally, take some planning, writing, and preparation to really nail.

“Just be yourself.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Oh, it’s nothing. It’s so conversational.”
(grinning) “I’m not worried about it at all. I’m just gonna go and talk.”

These are just several reactions I received over the day from various admissions staff and fellow prospective students. Everyone handles their interviews differently, I suggest you find your own way as well!

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