Category Archives: MBA Admissions

The MBA interview is a 3rd date – time to take it to the next level

We’re in MBA interview season, and its been gratifying to see how many R1 clients have come back with interview invitations so far. So, a few observations, hopefully non-obvious ones, on managing MBA interviews. I’ve written a whole additional chapter in my book (2e, 2010) on MBA interviewing, and I’ll be adding a few more thoughts here in the next few weeks.

The first thing is to be ready, willing, and able to go “to the next level.”

In some of the top-tier programs you can choose to be interviewed, but in most it works the other way. They tell you if they want to talk to you. They are saying: “So far, so good. Let’s go to the next level.” You, the applicant, have to meet them there.

Sometimes (depending on the school’s policy) the interview is “blind,” that is, the interviewer has seen nothing but your resume. This means you have to deal a bit more in background-catchup information. Sometimes they have seen your essays, and sometimes your whole file. The point is, whatever the interviewer knows about you going in, your job is to go beyond it.

If she comes out of it thinking, “this person just told me what was in his essays or just repeated what was on her resume,” then you have failed.

Think of the interview as a third date. (In the analogy, your application was the second date; first date was when you visited the campus or met school promo people at a tour venue.) So now there you are on date three. Things are hotting up. You are wooing them successfully so far; they are clearly interested in you. Would you on date three just say again what you said last time? That would be inviting, like, “hello, who is this dork?”

How do you go beyond? First establish what your interviewer knows. It’s fine to ask if she has seen your essays/file — it’s a perfectly professional question. As far as possible, don’t repeat that stuff. But, more importantly, it is time to go beyond the facts of your bio, career, achievements and get to deepening their understanding of you. Tell stories that shed even more light on you as a person, your motivations, your choices, why your goals matter to you; enhance their understanding of the value you bring to the program; give a motivated sense of how great your future is, which they could be part of … third date stuff.

By the way, they are not ready to dim the lights and go to the bedroom. Nor should you be. They are still checking you out, and you are still checking them out. When they send you an admit package, then let the love-fest begin. Expressing interest is fine, but expressing undying adoration for the program, its professors, its reputation and so on, at this stage would be like taking your clothes off in the restaurant.

MBA Adcom is not a venture capital firm

I’m sometimes asked for the greatest mistakes applicants make in MBA admissions essays, and at some point I’ll pull together my all-time list. But in the meantime, here’s a mistake that I’ve seen a lot of among clients this year so far: muddling up the demands of MBA admissions and a venture capital pitch.

What I mean is, applicants who are on an entrepreneurial track (including social entrepreneurship) and who are therefore talking about a future creating and building a firm, feel they have to make a VC pitch for their proposed venture. They seek to justify themselves in terms of potential market segments, working capital requirements, time to breakeven, and so on.

Now it is always good for MBA admissions to show detailed, careful thinking. And if your “why-an-MBA” is based on a new business, you need to talk about the proposed venture and its industry-market background in a specific and knowledgable way.

But you don’t need to make “the business case.” Adcom is not a VC firm. As long as the idea is not manifestly absurd, they can’t determine if it will actually work, nor are they ever going to try. This is not their skillset, and not their fundamental concern.

Put it this way: A VC firm will “like” a business idea if it thinks it will get out (a investment multiple of) more money than it puts in. If so, the VC will, to quote Dragon’s Den, “make you an offer,” that is, invest cash for a percentage of the business.

MBA Adcoms are not investing cash. They will “like” a business idea enough to make you an offer (an offer of a place in the b-school) if your venture seems broadly plausible, interesting, ambitious, doing something worthwhile in the world, and worthy of an MBA.

So, while you should make a general case for your new product or service, in reality the venture does not have to watertight. You can include the jumps of ambition and enthusiasm that you would have to scrub from a funding pitch.

But there is a wrinkle: Adcom is like a venture capital firm in one way. It is well known that VCs judge two things: the business idea AND the entrepreneur, because they are investing in the person or management team as much as the project. Even a mediocre idea can be a winner, if put in really competent hands. In this sense Adcom mirrors the VC, asking themselves: (whatever the applicant wants to do…) “Can he do it?” Can she pull it off?”