MBA Admissions

MBA Admissions Interviews Gone Bad—Really Bad


Don't let your interview be the death of your MBA dreams.

Photograph by Klaus Tiedge/Corbis

Don't let your interview be the death of your MBA dreams.

The admissions interview is the business school’s opportunity to meet potential students face to face and go beyond the pages of their applications. “We are looking for qualities that you can’t necessarily assess on paper, such as communication skills, poise, charisma, and the right fit for the school,” writes Dawna Clarke, director of admissions, and Dia Draper, associate director of strategic intiatives for the admissions office at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business.

For applicants, the interview is a chance to show their true colors, all the while confirming the fabulousness they hopefully demonstrated in the application. The only problem is that sometimes one’s true colors are not as bright in person. Often, in those instances, the interview is the death of the applicant’s MBA dreams. Don’t want to be among the living dead? Here is a roundup of some of the worst admissions interviews—shining examples of what not to do:

Tears for Fears: Two applicants to Emory University’s Goizueta Business School cried during their respective admissions interviews. One of the candidates remained emotional for the whole interview, which did not bode well for the candidacy, whereas the other was able to recover quickly and move on, says Julie Barefoot, associate dean of MBA admissions at Goizueta. Preparing for the interview by anticipating obvious questions and practicing your answers, even if they bring up certain emotions, is an effective way to avoid the waterworks, she adds.

Too Close for Comfort: If applicants come into the interview overconfident—not bringing their A-game because the interview is being conducted by a second-year student instead of the admissions staff, for example—they might feel too comfortable. When this happens, they risk being too casual, warns Liz Riley Hargrove, associate dean for admissions at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, in an e-mail. Examples of such inappropriate behavior include asking out the interviewer, which happened at Tuck, or feeling compelled to interview the interviewer, which happened at New York University’s Stern School of Business.

Those examples are bad enough, but for goodness sake, never attempt physical contact. “We have a warm collaborative culture at Stern,” writes Isser Gallogly, assistant dean of MBA admissions and financial aid at the school. “But hugging the interviewer at the end or asking, ‘How did I do?’ goes too far.”

Drama Queens: The admissions interview is not theater. Applicants should be themselves, yet some feel as though they should be performing. At Tuck, for example, the admissions committee has seen someone bring an easel, flip chart, and markers to walk the interviewers through his résumé. Another applicant punctuated his points with a rimshot as if her were doing stand-up comedy. One even handed out a business card that had computer programmer on one side and male entertainer on the other. Moral of the story: Leave the props and special effects at home.

Bad Manners: Being on one’s best behavior— saying please and thank you and just being polite—is always a safe bet. Still, some people check their manners at the interview door. Someone interviewing at Tuck took a big gulp of water and then spit it back into the cup. Applicants at Stern subjected interviewers to the ringing of their unmuted cell phones. One interviewee took 20 minutes to answer the first question in a 30-minute interview at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management.

Learning the basics of both politeness and the admissions interview can help applicants avoid these kinds of faux pas. “Know how long your interview will last and plan for none of your responses to take longer than five minutes, as you can lose the attention of the interviewer with lengthy responses,” writes Consuela Knox, senior associate director of admissions at Owen, in an e-mail. “Make a reference to your knowledge of the interviewer’s academic or professional background if it fits nicely into one of your responses. This can demonstrate your ability to find common ground with others, a skill that is desired in candidates.”

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Francesca_dimeglio
Di Meglio is a reporter for Businessweek.com in Fort Lee, N.J.

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