This post is kind of in the category of “informative but potentially useless” (hmm, how many of our posts are in that category??? we, of course, write them to be useful, but do you actually use them? The ‘Snark ponders).
Knowing that there are downsides to going through an alumni interview for your MBA application, as compared to an interview conducted by a student, or best yet, by an MBA admissions representative, could potentially only serve to stress you out. After all, it’s not like you have any control over the way your target MBA program conducts its interviews.
If we sit here today and tell you that it’s not ideal to have an alum interviewing you, and you have exactly that sort of interviewing coming up next week, what are you supposed to do with that information? It’s not like you can call the admissions office up and say “Hey this isn’t gonna work, can you assign someone better to interview me?”
Over the years we’ve been doing this, a handful of schools have moved away from alumni interviews, and the reason for that is very basic:
Alumni tend to be kind of lame at the interviewing function.
Wharton, for example, started experimenting with the interview process in 2011. For years and years, interviews were all done the same there: You got your interview invite, and you got hooked up with a Wharton alum in your city, who conducted the interview with you and then reported his or her findings back to admissions. Many schools still do things this way. It’s efficient in terms of time and resources, particularly with such big schools like Columbia and Kellogg that interview a lot of candidates.
The downsides to this though are quality control – the admissions office often is unable to do much training, nor do they have much oversight over their alums. It creates a nonstandard experience for the candidates, and the post-interview reports submitted back into admissions have a lot of variability.
Wharton and Columbia and Booth have tried to counter that by integrating standard questions into their interviews, and Wharton even made an attempt to change those standard questions regularly, like every round. But that doesn’t work, for obvious reasons: Immediately after they interview, lots of candidates run straight to their computers to post about their experiences on those applicant forums you spend too much time on. They spill the beans pretty much immediately. Oftentimes, the alumni don’t get with the program and ask the current version of questions anyway.
In 2011, Wharton made a big step of pulling in their interviews. They took the task off the shoulders of their alumni and instead moved to a more closely-managed process where only adcom members and — mostly — current students do them. UCLA has done the same, where they don’t have alumni doing the interviews anymore. For its part-time Evening & Weekends program, Berkeley Haas has even replaced in-person interviews completely with video questions (that seems a little drastic and they are now sacrificing the personal experience for candidates, which would be the subject of a separate post). Other schools encourage candidates to come to campus to interview, Yale and Darden and Tuck among them. That means that specially-trained second-year students are doing the interview, and the admissions office can centrally manage the process. Plus, what a great opportunity for students to build important skills in interviewing.
Pro Tip: A good interviewer does not happen by accident. A good interviewer has trained and practiced to get good at it.
And oh hey! That’s true for you the interviewee too! The best advice we can offer to anyone lucky enough to be interviewing for their schools is to PRACTICE. Our MBA Interviewing Guide offers plenty more suggestions than that, but if you take away nothing from today’s post except you must practice for your interview then we will be satisfied that we have accomplished our objective today.
We’ve long felt that alumni are not the best interviewers unless the process is managed very carefully, as it’s done at London Business School, for example. We were happy to see Wharton relieve their alum from these interviewing duties way back when. (Sometimes Lauder alumni still perform interviews for that program but it’s more unusual.) We keep hoping that other schools will find a way to do this as well, but we appreciate the challenges, when a school is interviewing vast numbers of applicants all over the world, like Kellogg is.
So what do you do if you get an alumni interviewing you? Well, we do discuss this in that MBA Interviewing Guide but just briefly, so you don’t feel cheated to have read a 600-word post and not gotten anything out of it: You need to practice and you need to be flexible An alum might go in who-knows-how-many different directions. These interviews tend to be somewhat less predictable than what you would face in a by-student interview at the school. (A by-adcom interview is sort of a different animal, and we definitely suggest that you enlist our custom interview questions service to prepare for that.)
Some alumnus/a are actually the easiest interviews in the world. They’re totally laid back and they mostly are willing to rubber-stamp you. How valuable that will be for the admissions committee is a separate conversation (hint: not much, probably) but the interview experience itself may be chill.
Some alumnus/a have a chip on their shoulder, and seem to think their job is to serve as gatekeeper, and test you. Those can be grueling and emotionally a lot of no-fun.
In either case: You need to be prepared.
If the laid-back interviewer seems not to be asking you questions that let you share how awesome you are professionally, then see if you can insert such examples of awesome in somewhere anyway. They often may ask “Anything else you want to share?” and that’s your opportunity.
The best way to prepare for a hard-nosed interviewer is to be ultra prepared.
So the answer to the question of how to deal with a not-so-great interviewer is the same in both cases. No matter which extreme end of the spectrum you get.
And of course, if you end up with a great interviewer, who knows how to interview, who’s able to put you at ease and ask good questions that let you share yourself authentically…. well, obviously you need to be prepared, in order to maximize that opportunity, too!
So, apparently there is usefulness here. If you’re interviewing, PLEASE BE PREPARED! Just because you’re going to be asked questions about you, your career, why MBA, and just because you answered those questions a month ago when submitting your essays, doe NOT mean you’re ready to answer those questions verbally when you’re put on the spot and feeling tongue-tied and nervous. Please practice, BSer! It’s super important for success in this process.
And yes indeedy, this will help you: