Competition for a seat at a top business school has never been fiercer. With so many strong, polished applications coming across their desks, admissions committees at various MBA programs have turned to group or team interviews to help make crucial admit decisions.
On paper, you can wow your evaluator with interesting work experience, stellar GMAT orGRE scores and compelling MBA essays, but none of these criterion can demonstrate how well you work with others – a crucial component of the business school experience.
Each school conducts the group interview somewhat differently – including some being optional exercises – though the task is usually to have applicants work together and solve real-world business scenarios.
The exercise demonstrates how candidates approach and analyze specific situations and their interpersonal skills, two critical components of business schools that have a team-focused learning style. Observing how you interact with peers prior to admission gives the school important clues as to what kind of student you would be if admitted.
Here are some do's and don'ts for standing out in a group interview. While you can't predict the group's unique dynamic, you can prepare for the interview and increase your comfort level when the big day arrives.
• Do prepare in advance: When possible, find ways to speak out more in groups or meetings at work. Applicants to the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor's Ross School of Business receive no advance specifics on the team-based exercise, but if you're applying to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, you'll receive your discussion prompt prior to the interview.
Spend an hour in advance prepping for the discussion. If possible, gather a group of three or four other people and conduct a mock discussion.
Spend time studying up on the topic so you're ready to discuss the problem in detail during the interview but try not get too attached to your own ideas. Staying flexible is key.
• Don't dominate the conversation: During the group interview, remind yourself that this isn't a competition against others in your group – there's no need to try to prove you're the most brilliant mind in the room.
Encourage fellow participants to advance the conversation and help reach a solution. That said, don't get distressed if you find yourself in a group with weaker participants. This won't affect your admissions outcome since the observers focus solely on how you handle yourself with diverse players.
• Do show you're an active listener: A huge part of being an active listener is being open and flexible to different points of view, especially opposing viewpoints.
Even if you think you know what another person is trying to say, don't interrupt and try to finish the thought. This sends a subtle signal that you believe your ideas are better or more important than the speaker's.
If a group member has a good idea, acknowledge it. Also practice the "Yes, and …" rule from improvisation and build on what the other person has shared. During the interview, seize any opportunities to do this or refer to someone else's point.
• Don't let your body language trip you up: Effective listening also involves body language. If you roll your eyes, cross your arms or display any other kind of negative body language, you'll come across as hostile – that's not the type of person others want on their team.
Make eye contact with the other participants when they speak, face your body toward them and ask clarifying questions when helpful. If your preparation includes mock discussions with friends or colleagues, record the session and take note of your body language, how often you interrupt or any tendencies you have to try to control the discussion.
Often, we're unaware of these traits until we see them for ourselves. Once you know, you can actively avoid them during the interview.
• Do prioritize the group's goal: Groups that work well together impress the admissions committee, and your group is competing against other groups of applicants.
Forgo attempts to grab extra airtime for yourself, and put the team's goal front and center. Take notes, and help keep the group on track. You'll only have a short amount of time – 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the school – for the task.
Since many MBA applicants are born leaders and are used to taking charge, you'll need to be conscious of the fact that you might be surrounded by lots of Type A personalities and need to adjust your style accordingly. Encourage shy participants to speak up more, suggest different approaches if the group seems stuck in a dead end and offer to summarize if the conversation has reached a point where everyone would benefit from a quick recap.
Great leaders come in many forms, but they usually have one thing in common: the ability to listen and work well with others. Whether you are an introvert or the life of the party, you can succeed in a group interview. Remember these simple steps and embrace the uncertainties of the experience, keep a positive attitude and enjoy this opportunity to start building your MBA network before you've even been admitted.
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