Tackling the Wharton Group Interview

Everyone’s been talking about the big shakeup at Wharton. Along with a 10-15 minute one-on-one interview session for each candidate, the majority of the admissions interview is now covered in a 45-minute team-based discussion. The adcom is looking at it as, “an opportunity to interact with fellow applicants in a lively and thoughtful discussion about an important, real-world business issue.” Wharton wants to see not just your general business insight and knowledge, but wants to see how you’ll work in the team setting, which is a BIG deal at U Penn.

At this point, you’re probably saying to yourself, “How do I prepare for THIS?” Well, we’re here to help out. We’re breaking down the interview premises and offering up sharp insight into how to be the dude who actually NAILS it, instead of the guy who THINKS he did… and doesn’t get accepted.

The team-based discussion is built around the idea that you’re answering two questions to the Dean and Vice Deans at Wharton, and the fact that they’re teeing up the questions you should be trying to answer tells you something. They’re not looking for tangential discussions of business theory or for you to show off how much you know about the future of green tech in Saudi Arabia. This is still an interview, so they are looking to learn about YOU. Let’s take each question individually…

1. The Wharton School is committed to supporting our stakeholders as they acquire and refine the knowledge and skills they need to be successful professionally. As potential Wharton students, what is one key business skill that you think post-business school professionals must have in order to be successful, long-term, in their career?

Kind of like the accomplishments essay, think of this in terms of looking for your greatest hits. Generate a list of, oh, about 5-7 AWESOME skills. Then ready the “coolest” ones… the least obvious ones. For example, some guy is gonna say, “You must have a global sense, of course, in this ever-increasing globalized world!” and will be TOTALLY convinced that he just aced it. Boooooooooring.

There are responses here that have more nuance, more surprise… more “wow” to them. Look long and hard into your “key business skills” that you think lead to long-term success. If you come up with a business skill that you can’t demonstrate that you actually HAVE, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Maybe you’ve got an eye for talent? Maybe the ability to manage failure? Look for things will not only surprise the adcom, but will get them thinking about you in a “real” way, like “Wow, this dude’s got an eye for the future that I didn’t see coming…”

2. The Wharton School’s mission is to enhance economic and social good around the world by turning knowledge into action and impact. What is the most important societal challenge that could be addressed more effectively by the business community today?

Now, is this the world’s most skillfully worded question? Not at all. The way it’s worded, answering which is the most important societal challenge would suffice. Obviously, that’s not all they’re REALLY looking for here. So, what’s the key here?

Someone, and it should be you, who makes a clear argument about how a business approach (in general, not even specifically) would be more effective in solving problem X than traditional approaches. We’re looking for the applicant who put his finger on some aspect of why the business community as opposed to someone else (government, for example) could mount a more robust solution. Define the “societal challenge” and then pitch a business approach that would be more effective than whatever’s happening today.

Generally, the name of the game is positivity. The applicants should always AGREE with one another. “Yes and…” should be your response, even if in fact your comment is quite different. Never disagree, then you can bury someone in a way that’s SUPER respectful. Also, the idea that “a comment” can have two parts is a surefire way to sound smart. Don’t just talk for 20 seconds to make one point… make TWO points in 45 seconds. That’s an easy way to seem thoughtful in a pinch.

Lastly, I would not want to “lead off” in this scenario. Rather than make it sound like you are delivering the info that you have prepared, make it seem like you are interacting. Even if the guy before you said nothing like what you had prepared, the only REAL thinking on your feet should be in making it SEEM like you’re thinking on your feet. Don’t just deliver your information, make it seem like the guy before you INSPIRED you. They say to only prepare for an hour. So…make it seem like you’re doing it as you go. Even if the guy before you plays right into your hand, you might say something like, “Yeah, you know I think that’s a really good point. Just thinking about it now, you know it’s almost like this…” So it seems like you’re inspired by THAT guy. Making HIM smarter, but in fact, you’re just delivering the info that YOU had prepared. Just…cleverly.

Just remember, when you’re seeking your moments to shine in these team-based discussions, be careful not to get ahead by stepping on the other guy. They’re looking for cooperation in the spirit of their classroom environment, and they’re not looking for cutthroats in that arena. Now you’re ready to hit the ground running when Wharton calls up about that interview. For more tips, check out our five things to know about Wharton as well as interview tips from our consultants.

MBA Essay Writing Tip #17: Getting Your Message Across