Why and how of MBA admissions interview


Prof. R.K. Gupta
Sobhagya Consultancy & Marketing Services
E-mail: rkgupta@rkgupta.in / cityju@rediffmail.com

The academic background, a common entrance test performance and GD/PI are normal routines in MBA admissions.

In fact some B-schools don't call for PI at all or keep it optional. While Wharton may round it up quickly, some schools like MIT Sloan, Stanford or IIM-A may pull it for 15 to 50 minutes.

In India the disparity in academic qualification especially in non-technical courses is high and general standard of education in Indian university is highly unsatisfactory. By observations for years we have seen that the academic, communication and general awareness of students having even 60-65 % marks is poor. Several universities have very poor teaching and examination systems. PI also cross checks the authenticity of candidates' academic credentials and other details. There have been occasions where candidates have submitted fabricated mark sheets with high marks and even the wrong age and work experience certificates. With copying and cheating in exams many candidates secure First division which does not reflect their actual performance.

Hence for higher degree professional courses like MBA one needs comparative and moderating selection tools like common admission tests and PI. These explore different parts of student's mental faculties and personality traits including communication and interpersonal skills besides validation of their biodata and documents.

In fact the academic qualification matters the least since only cut off candidates are called and also as students come from vastly different set ups in India having variations in evaluations and education standards that are falling every year.

Suggestions for admission evaluation plan:

Academic Qualifications: 30% weightage

Criterion: <60% to 50% - 50/100, >60 <75%-70/100 75 and above- 80/100: 20/100 reserved for technical/professional degrees/diplomas like BE, B Tech, BBA etc.

Entrance test: 20% weightage: Develop a formula depending on cut off and type of test prescribed.

Work experience 20% weightage

<1 year 50/100 up to 3 year 60/100 and above 3 years 100/100

GD/PI 30 % and as per components planned by the B-school.

The PI should also have a cut off acceptability level and in case of major deficiency/discrepancy found the candidate should be rejected as ineligible.

If PI is not held like in many B schools it is okay
. But once it is planned it should be taken seriously as it is a two way process of finding best available candidates and for marketing B school and its program to candidates. The process also gives invaluable feedback from candidates about school.

Too short an interview or casual process may prove damaging to institute's credibility about entire process and its image as professional institution.

The experience shows that putting the candidate at ease in informal style and slowly opening up the candidate gives best results to explore and help her give appropriate replies. Interviews should never be rushed through. It is also one important function of interview to sell the USPs of school and satisfy candidates about their worries and doubts. It is important to assess the motivations of the candidates and their employability levels, which may include their professional background, work background, family background and overall personality.

In B schools it is also important to read indicators of candidates having been active and capable to work long hours for studies and career.

In any case in interviews, the Panel is relatively grading the candidates of the day to find the best amongst them.

We have also seen it over a long period of time that casual interview process and casual handling of candidate on the venue including their concerns for various facilities, hostels and town etc leave them confused or undecided. The very purpose of holding PI at campus is defeated.

Today as almost 1200 B schools are functioning in India and more than 1.2 lac seats are available in various programs and combinations, the interview and GD have become a joke since almost every aspirant for MBA gets a seat somewhere.

Selection of right candidates is also crucial for B school as it reflects on over all environment created in school and on final placements of the candidates over long term. But unfortunately quantity and not quality is the norm today. The B School managements are well advised to upgrade their admission system setting aside immediate profit motives and goal of just filling seats. B schools should take initiatives of long term to improve the quality and infrastructure to attain high AS to Enrolment ratio: The number of application forms sold to number of candidates depositing fees. This ratio reflects what image and ranking B school carries amongst the potential candidates in market. Ratio should not be too high or too low.

An article prepared for Best B schools in USA is reproduced here after some editing, about their interview objectives and guidelines candidates to give replies and ask questions:

It would be worthwhile for the interviewers of B- schools as well as the candidates to read below write up :


Business School Interviews

Once you submit your application to business school, the admissions committee will conduct a preliminary screening based upon your undergraduate GPA and GMAT scores. If you meet a predetermined "academic cutoff," you will likely be invited for a personal interview to further probe your suitability for business school. The personal interview is a critical step in the admissions process and should not be taken lightly; most Ivy League MBA programs will not accept a candidate without meeting him/her in person. Their motivation is threefold:

a) To assess the overall "marketability" of each candidate
b) To aggressively recruit the truly outstanding candidates away from competitive schools
c) To market and promote their own programs

Those who are invited for a personal visit can be assured that they are "in the running" for admission, having demonstrated the academic prowess that is required for business school. The interview allows the school to determine whether your interpersonal skills are as stellar as your academic ones.

Some Ivy League schools don't issue invitations for interviews, but leave it to the applicant's discretion. Many candidates wonder if it's worth the time. We know for certain that it is. In fact, in many cases, it's your best opportunity to persuade the committee that you are a superior candidate.

Why do they require an interview? The applicant pool for selective MBA programs is filled with thousands of candidates who all look great on paper. They have perfect grades and GMAT scores, along with a few years experience in a professional setting. We know that most of them can handle the program and build a successful career after graduation.

But we are seeking only the BEST candidates: those dynamic individuals who possess that rare balance of academic prowess and interpersonal strengths to become an effective leader. We value many traits beyond what is on your application, including integrity, negotiating skills, sensitivity and good judgment. An interview is your opportunity to distinguish yourself from the pack and demonstrate your managerial potential.

Applicants are often stunned to learn that the interview can be weighted as high as 35% in the formula used to rank applicants. Some feel this is unfair because an hour-long interview doesn't adequately reflect their suitability for the field. How can a short meeting be weighed the same as four years of academic achievement? Quite simply, the interview isn't ABOUT academic ability; it's about whether you have the temperamental and psychological strengths required to be a successful leader.

The interview is an opportunity for the school to question you about your application, your autobiographical sketch or any issues on your transcripts or GMAT scores. But it is primarily a tool for the schools to screen out psychological misfits who may not be well suited for top-level management. Your interviewer wants to learn what you are like as a person and how well you respond and communicate. We want to understand your values, how you think and how well you handle yourself under pressure.

The school is committed to admitting students who are able to handle the rigors of business school on an academic, personal, physical and psychological basis. Your interview is your opportunity to convince us that you are up to the challenge.

A Profile of Successful Applicants

Our interview questions are designed to identify your strengths and weaknesses for all of these criteria. We particularly probe the following five areas:

a) Professional experience. We seek students who have been exposed to the reality of business and the exhaustive commitment that is required to succeed in top management. Ideal candidates usually have experience working in a managerial position for at least two years after completing their bachelor's degrees. Be prepared to discuss your experience, including volunteer work, and how it shaped your understanding of business.

b) Knowledge of the field. Be prepared to discuss different specialty areas in business and their responsibilities. Interviewers will also expect you to discuss current issues in business, including the economy, taxation, foreign competition, the role of technology and ethical challenges in the field.

c) Personality. Leaders must communicate clearly, handle complex issues, manage stress and successfully interact with people from all walks of life. Be prepared to demonstrate that you are a happy, healthy, well-adjusted person with a strong commitment to leadership. Also be prepared to discuss your experience working on project teams, including situations, which yielded less-than-optimal results.

d) Motivation. For many years, applicants flooded top MBA programs because they wanted to make the "big bucks." Others applied because they weren't happy with their current job prospects. Sadly, we've interviewed many candidates who could not articulate why they wanted the degree or what they hoped to accomplish in the future. This is an obvious red flag in the admissions process. Top business schools use the interview process to carefully screen out applicants who are fuzzy on their goals. Be prepared to clearly explain why you want/need an MBA, why you are applying now, and why you selected that particular school.

e) Balance. We seek applicants who are well rounded and well adjusted. There's nothing more disheartening than an applicant who looks great on paper who can only talk about his/her grades. There's much more to life and business than memorizing and regurgitating facts. Successful applicants are animated, full of life, with enthusiasm for their family, friends and the world around them. This is reflected through knowledge of current events, sustained interest in hobbies and outside interests and a strong interactive role in their communities.

Interview Preparation

Some schools offer applicants the chance to interview with admissions reps at regional locations throughout the US. The interviewer is usually an admissions committee member who travels throughout the country or alumni of the school who lives nearly. The benefit of a remote interview is that the candidate does not have to invest the time and money in a visit to the school.

A school visit is your best opportunity to see the facility, interact with faculty and students and impress multiple members of an admissions committee. You will see first-hand whether this is the right place for you and whether you will fit in. Being on campus also allows for a natural conversational flow about the program, equipment, class size, resources, etc., that is hard to establish off-site.

Once you have been invited for the interview, here are the important steps to take in preparation:

a) Confirm your interview via telephone and make sure you have proper directions

b) Confirm exactly whom you will be speaking with and their professional titles. This will allow you to research their background and specialty area, which they will likely enjoy talking about. Be prepared for questions about the interviewer's specific area of interest.

Try to identify free blocks of time in your interview schedule to see the library, the computer area and classrooms. The interview is a two-way street, and you should invest every available minute checking out the school to determine if it is the right place for you. Plan to tour the town after the interview to get a feel for housing, recreation and living costs. If you are accepted, you will want to know right away whether this is a good school for you.

c) Arrive at the interview on time and properly dressed. For this occasion, conservative is best. The ONLY acceptable attire is a formal suit for both men and women, well fitted and in a conservative color. Make sure your clothes are clean, neat and pressed and that your grooming is exceptional. For women, this means well-styled hair, no excessive perfume, makeup or jewelry. For men, wear a conservative tie, dress shoes and no jewelry other than a watch and wedding ring.

This may seem obvious, but we have seen many otherwise qualified candidates blow their chance for admission by wearing ridiculous clothing to the interview. We've seen short skirts, purple hair and sandals in the middle of winter. My last applicant had two visible tattoos and several body piercing in places I didn't know could be hygienically pierced. From the moment he walked in the door, regardless of what he had to say, I couldn't get past his own immaturity and poor judgment.

Your job at the interview is to convince a seasoned group of business school professors that you are a future member of their ranks. Step one is looking the part and respecting the professional dress code. Bear in mind, corporations that recruit from Ivy League MBA programs have strict rules for behavior and conduct. Candidates who don't have the sense to try to fit in before they are admitted don't have a chance of surviving the rigid training program.

d) Review as much information as possible on your formal application. Your interviewers will review your file before speaking with you and jot down notes for possible interview questions. Re-familiarize yourself with your grades, essays and research topics so they will be fresh in your mind before the interview. At the very least, be prepared to discuss your three most significant:

i) Accomplishments and what they mean to you
ii) personal attributes of which you are most proud
iii) abilities that will make you an excellent leader

Whenever possible, incorporate these strengths into your answers. Also be prepared to discuss your weaknesses. Most applicants naively think that they don't have any shortcomings and are blindsided by these questions. Although it's difficult to talk about possible deficiencies, your job at the interview is to recognize questionable points in your background and to discuss them confidently and directly.

e) Learn as much as possible about the particular business school and its program. The more information you have, the better you can anticipate typical questions and ask intelligent ones yourself. Be ready for the inevitable questions about why you want to attend that particular business school. Don't say something lame like its location or low tuition; you'll sound limited and shallow. Focus instead on the school's excellent faculty and their reputation for finance. Know what areas of research they are famous for and the companies that employ their graduates. Read every bit of material you can find about the particular school and be prepared to customize your answers to reflect its strengths.

What You'll Be Asked

You should be prepared for these potential areas of questioning:

* Your childhood, personality, family, college life, hobbies, sports and outside interests
* your professional and leadership experience
* your career goals, political views and breadth of business knowledge
* your motivation to obtain an MBA; why now, why our school

Be prepared for a wide range of questions, from casual inquiries about your family to probing questions about ethical/legal issues
. Also be prepared for general questions about current events and items of interest in popular culture. Nothing is more disheartening than interviewing an "academic genius" who doesn't know who the Vice-President is.

Tips to Asking & Answering Questions Effectively

1) Keep your answers short, but informative. Be prepared to offer a 4 to 6 line answer to every question. This is enough to share a few thoughts and to stimulate further discussion if the interviewer desires. Try to avoid simple yes and no answers or responding in monosyllables. Show interest in the questions and sincere thought in your responses.

2) Avoid sounding self-centered. Cite your achievements, but demonstrate an appropriate level of humility. When discussing professional accomplishments, acknowledge the help and support of your teammates, mentors, teachers and role models.

3) Don't reveal insecurities. Accentuate the positive and don't dwell on the weaknesses in your background or application. Don't give any indication that you aren't willing and able to meet the rigors of business school. Your job on the interview is to convince them you are the right candidate: they won't believe it if you don't sound sure of yourself.

4) Watch your tone. You'll certainly be asked a few stressor questions that are designed to test your ability to handle conflict. Don't get defensive. Your tone can be revealed in both the words you choose and your voice. Practice responding to difficult questions with a friend before the big day. It will help.

5) Listen carefully to the interviewer, no matter how nervous you are. Too many candidates ask questions at the end of their interviews on topics that we've already covered. Although you'll be stressed during the interview, this isn't acceptable. It simply confirms that you weren't listening, which is the kiss of death for a business school applicant.

Questions You Should Ask the Interviewer

Successful candidates always ask questions at their interviews. In fact, the questions you ask reveal more about your suitability for business school than anything else. Here's what your questions tell us:

a) How seriously you are thinking about the pragmatics of business school and how well you understand the school's expectations
b) What is important to you: your own expectations
c) Your ability to connect general information to the school's particular reality
d) How much research you did about the particular school
e) Your common sense and intellectual curiosity
f) Your energy level and communication skills
g) How well prepared you are (and will be in the future) for a business meeting
h) Your maturity level

Conclusions: Our Best Tips for Interview Success

1) Prepare for the interview extensively: review your application, learn about the school, and prepare answers for the typical questions

2) Practice answering questions aloud before the interview until you can handle all types of questions confidently

3) Walk into the interview with an air of confidence and professionalism. Offer a firm handshake and a professional demeanor

4) Listen carefully to the interviewer's questions and answer accordingly. Don't babble incessantly about a related topic or answer the question you wish he had asked

5) Be your-self. If your answers are ambiguous or inconsistent, the interviewer will likely consider you a poor candidate. Don't send out any unnecessary warning signs.

Your success will ultimately depend on your ability to sell yourself to the interviewer who is seeking the following traits:

Maturity                  Communication Skills     Honesty                Motivation

High Energy Level     Confidence                   Pride                    Initiative

Listening Skills          Sense of Humor            Analytical Skills      Leadership Potential

If you have them, flaunt them! They will open the door to a wonderfully challenging, yet satisfying business career.

Acknowledgements: IvyLeagueAdmission.com

Prof. R.K. Gupta
Sobhagya Consultancy & Marketing Services
E-mail: rkgupta@rkgupta.in / cityju@rediffmail.com

Source: E-mail May 1, 2009



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