This post first went up about a year and a half ago, and has been refreshed for reposting in Fall 2019. We wrote about this way back in 2014 but times have changed. The most important change is one that you probably haven’t given much thought to at all: The GMAT lets you cancel…
Simple question, eh?
It’s crazy how much BSers trip over it.
This is the type of question that often comes up towards the end of the MBA interview, when your interviewer is winding down from the hardcore “Why do you want an MBA and what do you bring to the table?” types of questions.
As with all things, we recommend that you tell the truth when asked this sort of thing. Please don’t go around making up lists of exotic hobbies that you’re going to trot out to impress your interviewer with.
Also don’t feel bad if you haven’t done much “for fun” in the past, oh, six months. Anyone applying for bschool tends to have a fairly limited amount of free time in the ramp-up to apps. You more likely than not have been consumed with GMAT prep, and the drinking, and then lots and lots of procrastination, and then a whirlwind of essay-writing up to the deadlines (and then more drinking once the deadlines were passed). And maybe somewhere along the way you may have done a road trip to visit some schools. In all of that hullaballoo it’s likely that any so-called “hobbies” and “interests” that you have nurtured over the years fell by the wayside.
However it’s also likely that you made up something-or-other to fill in the blanks in the school’s application when they asked you something similar. So go back to that and see what you wrote.
Whatever you tell your interviewer should not be radically opposed to that answer.
If you neglected to mention your interest in naked skydiving into volcanoes in your application, then we suggest you don’t bring this up in your MBA interview.
So that’s a start. Everything you say in the interview needs to add up to the picture you painted in your app. If there are disconnects – and this goes for more than simply a question about hobbies – then you’re likely going to shoot yourself in the foot.
Another possible stumbling block is simply what you might say about your interests. If you padded out your resume or your app dataset with some references to volunteer work that aren’t really so substantial (or recent) then you could be walking into a self-made trap if you bring that stuff out in the interview.
Expect that every answer you get may prompt a follow-up question from your interviewer.
If you tell the interviewer that you do all this charity work, then be prepared for them to say “OMG really? That’s my favorite organization! I was just there last night. Isn’t Mary the best? I just love working with her.”
And you’re sitting there going, “Mary??” Who’s Mary??” Because you had no idea that this interviewer-person who’s grinning across the desk from you was awarded the Volunteer of the Year from this organization and is responsible for single-handedly making them the charity that they are today.
Or even more basic: You tell your interviewer you’re training for a marathon, and the next question is, “Oh cool, which one?” – you’d better know which marathon you’re training for.
So the basic guidelines of “don’t make stuff up” and just as important, “don’t inflate the truth” apply in spades when you’re having an actual conversation with an actual person. Should be obvious but we’ve seen people get in real trouble on this.
The other advice is, talk about recent stuff. Not only stuff that you literally really in fact honestly do, but stuff that you’ve been doing lately. It’s OK if it took a backseat during your application efforts, but hopefully in the weeks since deadlines have swept through, you’ve reassembled your regular life again and have started to resume normal activities. Those are the things you need to be using in answer to this sort of question.
These types of questions are sincere attempts for the school to learn more about who you are.
If all you do in your spare time is read historical fiction, or watch zombie movies, or if you’ve never missed a home game for your favorite team, then that’s the answer to the question. If you’re training for a marathon, then that’s the answer to the question. If the answer is, you are into homebrewing, or you knit, or you collect comic books, then that’s the answer to the question. Whatever you do for fun is the answer to the question. Don’t think you have to manufacture some image of this ideal MBA applicant person in order to get in. The adcoms want to know about YOU.
Simple answers are totally legit. Don’t overthink this.
Our MBA interviewing guide contains many more tips and tricks on how to prepare for this all-important occasion. You may want to pick that up, and you can also check out a slew of other interviewing resources on this site. We are hearing of many interview invites being extended and we wish all of you great good luck on your interview!
We went into some detail the other day on the subject of “What major should I select on my MBA application?” and of course as soon as we published that, we realized that it could send some Brave Supplicants down a wrong path.
As we explained then, in choosing a major on your app, the stakes are highest for Wharton in one specific area: Their Healthcare Management MBA. If you apply to Wharton HCM, then you need to opt into that at time of application — and if they decide you’re not a fit to HCM then they’re not going to admit you to Wharton at all. This is apparently a change this year; in the past, you could say “Yeah, I’d love to do healthcare, but if you just want to accept me to the regular Wharton MBA then that’s fine too!” and they’d consider you for both, or then default you into the standard MBA applicant pool if they denied you to HCM. Now, if you say you want HCM, then it’s an all-or-nothing proposition. (They’ve made this change for Wharton/Lauder this year too, though that’s even more a different application than the Wharton HCM is.)
For other schools, and other majors at Wharton, you don’t need to declare your interest upfront. You just apply, and yes, most schools want you to indicate what major or concentration you’re interested in within the app, but you’re not committing to it, and they’re not making admit decisions based on what you pick.
Or are they?
We know of some applicants who like to overthink things. They look at a list of concentrations spelled out in an MBA app and they go, “Hmm. There’s probably not many people choosing X from this list! Maybe I’ll pick that! That way, I’ll stand out and be different!!”
Welllll…… yeah sure OK, they may be curious to read more about you if you choose an atypical or less-popular major, but then they’re going to study the rest of the application. Does that major line up with what you’re saying you want to do with the MBA? Is there evidence of past exposure or interest or studies, at least tangentially, that backs up your choice of that in the application?
If not, then this ain’t gonna fly. It could even work against you. Don’t get too creative with this.
This type of overthinking happens even more often on career goals — and it’s even more of a risk if you do it there. It’s basically the opposite of authentic if you’re strategizing on how to get noticed, instead of reflecting on what’s the true answer to each question you’re being asked.
And as we warned you in that prior post, even if you’re not intentionally trying to game the system, you still need to step back and do a reality check against everything you enter. Is everything consistent? Does it line up?
We see weirdness happening in app datasets all the time. If the adcom has a Scooby Doo reaction to anything you say:
Then that’s kind of not so great.
Say on the student clubs page, you choose the PE/VC Association, but then for the major, you choose Supply Chain. We can see how maybe those things work together, but that’s a non-obvious set of choices. Is it somehow touched on or explained elsewhere? Is it logical in the big-picture view?
Validate. Verify. Confirm.
Go through everything one more time when you’re fresh. At the beginning of the day, not at 1:30am.
You all are making great progress right now. You want to prevent those “Doh!” experiences later, where you review the application after it’s been submitted and catch all the things you wish you’d taken just a wee bit more time on before. Now is your “before” opportunity. Slow down, be methodical, and you’re much more likely to find these things before it’s too late!
When they announced their Class of 2021 profile recently, Harvard made a point to say that they’ve updated the industry categories that they use in describing their incoming class. They said that this would be “easier for students” because it’s in line with what their Career Services office uses. We’re a little baffled on how…
These items are not necessarily going to get you rejected (though some of them might!). These points are designed to help you present a professional, polished image to your admissions reader, which makes it easier for them to like you. Remember, eliminating friction and making it simple for them to read your application and understand your profile is a high priority for everything you present to the adcom in your app.
In no particular order:
- Use correct capitalization throughout your application. This means capitalize the first letter – and only the first letter – of your first name, and your last name. Don’t enter data in ALL CAPS and don’t do the lazy textspeak thing of not using caps at all. “Surname” means last name or family name.
- If the application does not force you to enter data in a field, then it’s truly optional. Examples typically include such things as racial identity and ethnicity, gender identity, sexual preference, marital status. However, it’s usually in your own interest to answer such things. You don’t have to, but even if you’re a straight white cisgendered male, there’s nothing in that statement that is going to prevent you from an admit. And saying that you are LGBTQ*, or heck, that you’re a Republican… none of these attributes will ever result in an accept or deny decision unto themselves. It’s not how this stuff works. If you leave all the demographic fields blank, then the adcom reader going through your app simply is unable to visualize you as an individual human being and that’s the reason you don’t want to do that. The most important thing in constructing your app is you want to give enough details that your adcom reviewer can form an image of you in their mind when they go through. They don’t consciously know that they’re doing that or seek out to do it — but they do it. All of us do it. And when that image that’s constructed becomes more vivid and clear, it allows you to be more than “John” or “Javier” or “Jayaramthan” to them; it allows you to be a person. This is majorly advantageous to you when they are deciding your fate.
- International applicants: Do not convert your academic results to the 4.0 scale used in the U.S. if they are not naturally reported that way by your college or university. Just enter the data from your transcripts or diploma as it’s captured by your registrar. Include the front and the back of the transcripts when you scan them. Follow the schools’ directions carefully!
- Double-check your dates! One of the most common errors we see in applications when we do a post-mortem review after a poor BSer was rejected (which unfortunately is often the first time that long-term blahg readers come to us for actual one-on-one help on their apps — which is a little late, given all the resources we have available) is dates of employment on the application that don’t match dates presented on the resume. This isn’t something that you’d necessarily get rejected over, but it is an indication of sloppiness and poor attention to detail. If you can’t sweat the details on something as important as your application to bschool, then what do you really care about? It’s not a good look.
- If you qualify for an app fee waiver and you have not requested it yet for each of your schools – do that this week! Some schools have an approval process that takes a few days or a week. If you run out of time, and have to pay the fee in order to submit by your deadline, they won’t refund you even if you would have qualified for a waiver.
Remember that the app dataset is an application asset unto itself. It’s not just a tedious form you have to fill out. It’s part of your presentation. This seems to be an overlooked opportunity for many. Check out the category of posts we have here on the app dataset to learn more about how to leverage this element.
If you get our Sanity Check pre-submit app review, we’ll go through your application to make sure that you’re not committing any major foolish mistakes. And, Speedy Review is built in to that service – fast turnarounds!
*Kudos to Wharton for being the first school (that we know of) to publish the percent of LGBTQ in their incoming class — which for the Class of 2021, is 5%.
First tip: You should definitely be filling out your app dataset if you haven’t started that already! Second tip: Only do that for your FIRST SCHOOL — not all of them — else you’re likely going to set yourself up for a very muddy process. Why? Because you don’t currently know what your full strategy…
Have you seen any of these Fyre Festival documentaries? Pretty incredible, how all of it went down. The entrepreneur dude who tried to pull it off is called a pathological liar. The most incredible part of all is, even after he got prosecuted by the FBI, he launched a totally new swindling scheme. Apparently his moral compass is calibrated a bit differently than our own.
These tales tend to be rife with irony.
Take the case of a journalist or nonfiction author who plagiarized and fabricates. Every so often we hear of such a case. A big incident happened in 2012 when science writer Jonah Lehrer’s books were pulled. It was discovered that he even made up Dylan quotes for his articles. He admits that his acts “caused deep pain” and he says he did it out of “arrogance”, “a willingness to take shortcuts” and “carelessness” — all reasons why we detest plagiarism. (The big irony of course is that those candid comments came from him during a speech he was paid $20k to give talking about decision-making.)
It’s really easy to get a certain smugness when sitting outside of the circle where such a thing happened. It’s easy to look with an eye of disdain upon the participants in the Fyre Festival fiasco. How could someone do that? How could you be so naive? Why didn’t you say something? How come you didn’t blow the whistle?
The thing is, it’s easy to get sucked in. You get a charismatic enthusiastic charmer and you can get swept away with an idea that, if you stepped back and gave it some distance, or put on your thinking hat, you’d easily recognize it wasn’t so brilliant.
Like all the nonsense with that elite colleges admissions scandal.
So today’s post is a reminder to poke your head out of the morass that it’s mired in, and make sure you’re keeping things on the straight and narrow.
(You’d think we were some type of morals-and-philosophy blog, the amount of time we spend on this stuff. But honestly, in the modern era of The World is On Fire!! we feel that it’s important to be public about these, well, important things.)
So here goes:
When you fill out your MBA applications, telling the truth is important.
Seems obvious — too obvious to even have to say it. But that’s how poor decisions are made.
It’s not that we expect BSers who come to the EssaySnark blahg will be trying to bribe admissions officers or sports teams to get in.
It’s more insidious than that.
You get some idea that you need to show the adcoms that you’re a really impressive candidate so you start making up career goals that you think “sound good” — like, you want to be a some CEO at some big corporation some day.
That’s not exactly a lie, since anybody can say anything about what they want to do in the future, and who knows, maybe you legitimately are aiming high. That’s not going to keep you out of bschool if everything else lines up well and you convince the adcoms about what you’ve done in the past that sets you a part. (Most schools really don’t want such long-term and lofty visions for a career goals statement, but that’s not the main point we’re trying to make today.)
Where things can get slippery is where you get a little creative with the facts of your past.
Maybe you tried to start some type of do-gooder organization at some point. You got together with a few friends and put the basic sketch of a plan together where you would launch a non-profit to raise money for underprivileged kids to pay for their school fees. A noble cause for sure! You had the best of intentions. But after about six months there was some disagreements with your buddies, and one of them took a new job and suddenly had no free time to devote to the project any longer, and you hit some walls in trying to get started. Nobody wanted to give you more than a few bucks. It was harder than you expected. The shine of the fresh idea started to wear and it became work instead of fun, and then it languished by the wayside of your life, and suffered the slow demise of yet another abandoned initiative. It still exists for you in concept, and it was something you always intended to go back to and revive, and make real, but you know it’s not a real thing that actually went anywhere.
Yet in your MBA apps, you have a section of your resume about it with dates coming into the present day, and in an essay you talk about this NGO that you started. You kinda sorta fail to mention that it floundered and never got off the ground.
You really need to be telling the truth in your apps.
You realize that schools do background checks, right?
You don’t need to inflate your history — and it could easily backfire on you if you do.
Same deal with massaging the dates of employment to try and cover up a gap, maybe because you were laid off and are embarrassed about it. Or that you feel you don’t make enough money, so you round up (significantly). Or you’ve heard that it’s possible to make too much money and you don’t want that to keep you out of school.
You don’t need to lie to get into bschool. Really truly you don’t.
Yes the process of constructing your messaging in the applications requires some careful planning, and there’s an art to choosing what to say and definitely also how to say it. That’s part of what we mean when we say that you need to construct a pitch — it’s messaging and it’s being selective in what you share and the way you present it. (Pro Tip: This is why a) you need to plan for multiple drafts of every single essay, and b) getting the help of a qualified reviewer who knows how to pitch to a top MBA adcom is critical.)
If you’re talking to an admissions consultant who advises you to go ahead and apply to Columbia Early Decision as an “insurance policy” even if Columbia isn’t your first choice, then please consider carefully the ethics that this person is demonstrating. Just because an admissions consultant tells you it’s OK does not make it OK. Don’t leave your own morals outside the door when you enter into an agreement with any type of coach or advisor.
We believe in karma — to the extent that each and every decision you make affects you. You are the only person who has to live in your skin, inhabiting your life experience. Every time you cut corners or fudge the truth even just a little it decays your core. It takes the shine off your being. Do this often enough and you’ll end up a nasty person without even realizing how you got there. Maybe all that matters to you is your own success in whatever external way you’re defining it. But we would suggest that that’s not the recipe for true happiness in this life.
If you’ve done even two seconds of research into applying to business school, you’ve encountered the assurance from the admissions teams that they do a “holistic review” of your application. What does that even mean, and what should you do about it? You’re probably well aware that “holistic” just means “whole,” as in, they look…
Several months back we called out some top bschools with their not-so-great resume templates. But not all of them are bad. There’s one school especially that has a good resume template: Yale SOM Now, it may not look like much to you in that preview. It is pretty basic. But basic is also totally appropriate…
We know a lot of you are wrapping up your Round 1 applications – congrats!! You should feel very proud of yourself if you’ve managed to submit even a single application. Each one (as you now appreciate!) is a tremendous amount of work, and you deserve to feel good about the effort you’ve made. You’re also likely wondering how things will turn out, and we can’t offer much on that except to be prepared for a whole rollercoaster ride of emotions in the coming weeks — many people on the other side of this process say that the waiting you’re about to go through is the hardest part of all!
We know it’s tempting to chill for awhile after you click ‘submit’ on that final application, and you should feel good about doing some well-deserved slacking for a week-ish after your last app is in.
But before you do! Two new tasks that we’re going to add to your to-do list today:
1. If you didn’t already: Please go sign in to each of your school’s app systems and download the PDF or export your version of the application that you submitted. If you don’t do this now, you may forget to ever go back and retrieve it, and this is information that we hope you’ll never need!! But, in case you end up as a reapplicant, you must have your current-season’s app available to do a good job in strategizing for your repeat attempt. Or, on the opposite side of the spectrum, if you end up getting admitted, then you may want to have a record of your fabulous submission to share with a friend who’s going through it themselves later on. (Not that it’ll provide much value to anyone else. But you never know when something like that will be useful.) The app you submitted will be available to you probably all the way through May 2019, but it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever think to go back and retrieve it — and if you don’t, and end up needing it, you will be SOL forever. The schools won’t be able to access it from any archive. It’ll be gone to you forever. So, take the time, log on to each one, and file it away (place it somewhere on your drive in your permanent records that are being backed up in case your computer crashes — you do have a backup system in place already, don’t you? If not, then today’s post contains three tasks for you to take care of!!).
2. If you haven’t already: Register to vote! Regardless of where you lean politically, your vote counts! This is obviously being directed to our American readers, but anyone living in a democracy anywhere in the world needs to vote. In America, a midterm elections is coming up in November through which important federal offices will be decided that will determine either Republican or Democratic control of one or both houses of Congress — but at least as important, many state and local governments have critical contests and initiatives on the ballot this Fall as well. Here’s some insight from college students who were interviewed about the importance of voting and why it matters . If you’ve just started your first term at bschool (and you’re American) make sure to register where you live now, or find out how to vote by mail through an absentee ballot submitted in your hometown. Do this now! These things take time to process, and while the election is not until Tuesday, November 6th, most county boards require that registration happen well in advance of that date.
These are things that are in the category of “being proactive” and “taking care of stuff” and they’re never fun to do, necessarily, but doing them prevents a lot of regret later on.
And then you can go back to your Netflix bingeing again.