Thursday, March 13, 2014

What makes a "bad" interview?

I was recently chatting about what makes a "bad" admissions interview. For a place like Harvard, for example, how can the adcom narrow the field from the 1800 people invited to interview to the ~1100 people who will be offered a place in the class? After all, the people who receive an invite have theoretically already demonstrated their academic and professional merit through their applications. Additionally, I was able to interact with several of my fellow applicants during my interview day, and they all seemed highly accomplished and super friendly.

So with all of that greatness, how can 700 amazing people still get dinged after interviewing?

I have my own speculations, but I stumbled upon an interview with Dee Leopold (Managing Director of admissions for HBS), and I think the article sheds some interesting light on what makes a "bad" interview.

I recommend that you check out the full article, but I'll post a few key takeaways below:
  • Character Flaws: "The first thing is to screen out, to the extent that we can, hubris and character issues. If you cannot behave yourself for 30 minutes with a member of the admissions board at Harvard and we accept you, it would be like trying to bring a loaded gun on a plane. So to that extent, we’re baggage screeners, without any thought that we are going to catch every character flaw, but we are going to pay attention."
  • Disengaged Students: "We’re looking for your ability to fit into this learning model, which is not a classic academic model of you sit still and listen and take notes and write papers and spit back stuff. You come into a 90-person section and you are there to contribute. You are there not to be a bystander but are there and willing to put yourself on the line and take a risk and say that ‘I think that Sally Smith in this case should do this and here’s why.’ And you need to be able to accept pushback, to be interested, alert and engaged. I need to know you want to be there."
  • Boastfulness: “They talk about their substantial accomplishments and they think I could believe that at their entry level there is no one else in the organization,” she says. “They do billion-dollar deals and all the grown ups are somewhere else. They don’t realize that the goal of this application is really not to make yourself stand out but simply to tell your story.”
  • Lack of Diversity: "A superb, off-the-charts person in an interview may not get admitted because at the end of the day the interview isn’t meant to be the lightening round where how you perform in 30 minutes determines your fate. It’s not, you’re in or you’re out. You might say this person is a star in the interview but we have a lot of people with similar backgrounds who did well and we just can’t take them all. So the shaping of the class can become more of a driving factor than the evaluation."
Regarding the last point about diversity, Dee specifically notes that diversity is not simply about your race or gender, or even where you've spent the past few years working. Rather, there could be five different applicants with PE experience, yet they all would approach a case differently because they all have different life experiences. Life experiences are what makes someone diverse. 

So that's what makes a "bad" interview, according to the head of HBS admissions.

To all my fellow applicants, good luck! We will all know our fates in 13 more days!

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