Friday, November 19, 2004

The Wharton Interview

a warning before i start - this post is going to be mostly incoherent and all over the place. there are way too many thoughts running through my head. tread with caution.

i had my interview last evening with an alumni. the first person i talked to after was my sis' and i told her that i thought it went ok. told her a couple of my interviewer's comments and she said it sounded like a great interview. my roommates said the same thing, and i repeated the it-went-well mantra to some people i emailed. i went to bed feeling content and got a great night's sleep.

i did a detailed post-mortem this afternoon and, as I thought back to the things I did-not-have-a-chance-to-say, could-have-said, and should-have-said-better, realized to my horror that it was a complete disaster. i should probably mention that i was caught in some very bad traffic and showed up a few minutes late to start with.

the past hour or so i've put the good and the bad together and come to a very different conclusion - there is no way I can even begin to judge this interview on a up/down scale. this just wasn't that kind of chat. the only thing i am certain about at this point is that my interviewer was an absolute master of his art.

let me start with the questions i was ** NOT ** asked:

why MBA?
why Wharton?
why now?

yup, you read it right. i was NOT asked any of the questions that an interview is supposed to be all about. and you know what, i think it's bloody brilliant !

what is the purpose of an interview? what does it add to my candidacy that isn't in my application? what does being asked about and telling the same grand story that i've written about really achieve? nothing very substantial beyond validating my stated goals and career paths, or actually seeing some passion, or making sure my communication skills are a-ok. identifying Fit seems like the most obvious purpose.

so, what was this guy trying to do?

i really think he was trying to find the answers to the three golden questions without my telling him what I think they are. a seriously serious endeavor. like every other applicant, i have a 'story'. it is crafted from several individual events over the years. 'i' believe that they are all interconnected and lead from one to the other and to the future. ask me a straightforward question and i will tell you the story.

but what if i am only allowed to describe each event in isolation, and the Why's, How's and What's associated with the event. will, then, the glue that's supposed to connect them become evident to an independant observer? that, if it makes sense at all, was what I thought to be the essence of my interview.

the first question was simple. 'tell me about yourself'. i was soon telling him about a company i had tried to start that failed. he stopped me and drilled into the reasons why it failed. what did i learn. why am i talking about this event. then we skipped to my current job and spent, oh, 10 seconds talking about what i do. he said the progression was evident on my resume. i did tell him why i chose the job though, which i thought he thought was important, because he jotted something down in his notes.

the next set of questions were on leadership -
>how many people do you lead now?
>what has been the biggest team you have led?
>what is your leadership style?
>how has it evolved?
>give me an example of how you have empowered people?
>give me an example when you had to adapt your leadership style to a situation?
>what have you done to bring about a change in the way your company operates?

a few career related questions, this was one of the few times the MBA was mentioned -
>what kind of job do you want right after an MBA
>when do you think you will start your own company
>what kind of company will it be, and what technology area will it address
>if you were in a startup today and it got funded next week and the choice was that or wharton, what will you do?
>why?

the last set of questions were:
>if you could change two things about your current organization, what would they be? >if you could change one thing about the way you work, what would it be?
>how many hours do you work? if you had a weekend off, where would you go and what would you do?
>inside or out of work, what has been your proudest achievement?
>what do you think would be adcom's biggest concern when evaluating your file?
>do you have any questions for me

two times we had a, well, difference of opinion - when talking about the validity/importance of schmoozing as a criteria for advancement in the workplace, and the importance of a manager's ability to blindly meet deadlines versus a concern for the people who work for him/her. it was interesting to see this dynamic in an interview. i have no idea what to make of it.

i felt that this interview was very different from the others that i've had. every other time there was an argument made around which the interview was constructed - XYZ is the reason I want an MBA from school ABC. that is typically the first question asked and followed up on. here, that argument was left entirely unstated - seemed like the interviewer wanted to make up his own mind about it piece by piece. in the end, i have no way of knowing what he thought, and it is pointless to ponder on what i think he thought.

i'll leave it at that.
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