Wharton’s Team-Based Discussion: What To Expect This Year

Wharton Team-Based Discussion

Since shaking up the MBA interview process in 2012 with its innovative group discussion, The Wharton School of UPENN shook things up even further this year by changing the questions and format for the group interview.

This year, applicants are put in groups and asked to answer the following question:

“The Anne and John McNulty Leadership Program at the Wharton School develops global leaders of diverse workforces. Through a distinctive, co-curricular blend of coursework, coaching, and experiential learning, students develop their personal leadership capacities, achieving tangible results with measurable, global impact. Among the program’s offerings are Leadership Ventures: experiences that invite participants to step out of their comfort zones, exceed their personal limitations, and immerse themselves in leadership development opportunities.          

For the purpose of this discussion, you’ve been invited to join a team tasked with developing a new Leadership Venture in one of three forms: expedition, intensive, or workshop. As a team, outline the purpose and structure of your venture and clearly define the measures of success.

Please come prepared to share your thoughts with the group in 1 minute or less before moving into the team discussion. You should plan to spend no more than one hour in preparation for this part of the process.”

The group discussion lasts roughly 35 minutes and is followed by a one-on-one interview with a Wharton admissions officer for about 10 minutes. Applicants are also given about a minute to express their thoughts before launching into the team discussion.

Steady your beating heart. We’ve got the scoop on how to ACE this new question and tips for how to prepare. First let’s breakdown what the Wharton admissions committee members (we call them Adcoms) are looking for by changing up the question.

What hasn’t changed since last year?

The Adcoms are still looking to learn about YOU, not your business vocabulary. In short, this year’s modified approach offers them a more real-life simulation of how you work in a group setting. Interacting in a team is a KEY component of the Wharton MBA curriculum.

So, what’s different this year?

Actually, from a content perspective, this year’s version is not that different from last year’s. This year, instead of having to create a “one-day seminar” like in the 2015 question, Wharton refocused the content around a leadership venture that you and your team will be taking on. The biggest difference is that by giving each team a choice of three forms of venture to create: expedition, intensive, or workshop, they are purposefully creating an atmosphere for debate, discussion and (potentially) disagreement. This added element of choice will allow the Adcoms to see how you interact as a team, not just to come up with an idea, but how you all come together to come up with this idea.

Now let’s discuss how to tackle each part of this question.

1. How to address the one minute thought before the team discussion:

This is your elevator pitch. Adcoms want to see how well you can pitch a well-thought out idea to a team. You want your pitch and ideas on this topic to have a “wow” factor to them.

In particular, the question asks candidates to draw upon the diversity of the programs and organizations represented at Wharton. Think of this as the “Why Wharton?” part of your essay.

At this point, each participant has already identified the groups and organizations you would want to join, and how you would contribute to the community. This is your chance to be creative… but not toooo out of box. For example, a high impact conference about Aliens may be too out there. And on the other hand, one on technology’s ability to create a more connected world is just plain boring.

You want to clearly state X club you would choose and Y impact that you would choose to present. The applicant who nails this section will come across as confident, but not practiced. It shouldn’t sound like you are reading a script; keep it natural.

2. The Team-Based Discussion

After the elevator pitch you are given 35 minutes to discuss a New Leadership Venture. The approach to this is actually VERY similar to the second abstract question Wharton previously asked about a societal challenge and how the business community could address it, and also similar to last year’s question about a high impact conference.

The name of the game here is the same: positivity. You want to convey yourself as someone who’s thoughtful, yet open, about what the organization should address. Overall, the school is going to be looking for a leader:

  • Someone with their own innovative thoughts.
  • Someone who knows how to persuade/convince others.
  • Someone who also knows how to LISTEN to others, and when to go with the consensus as to not hold up a decision.

The difficulty in this portion might come at the beginning of the interview when, potentially, each person steps forward with a different idea about which one of the three type of leadership ventures should be created. This is the critical moment where the Adcoms get to see how you fare when it comes to adjusting your ideas to the ideas of others. Are you able to compromise, build consensus, etc.?

It’s good practice to come in with a strong idea of your own, but at the same time, it’s equally important for you to be receptive to the ideas of others, and also, to be able to read the group well enough to make suggestions that aren’t going to negatively affect and/or impede the conversation.

The goal here is simple. You need to look as if you are really interacting with the other applicants and working on a team. You know, that thing you do all the time at work.

One way to succeed here is to let someone else present an idea first, even if it’s different than what you pitched or prepared for. The ability to go with the flow and build off of someone else’s idea showcases your ability to think on your feet and add value on the fly. And if you disagree with something, it IS okay say so! This is supposed to be an honest, real-life simulation. If you wouldn’t just blindly agree with an idea on a real-life group project, don’t do so here, either. So long as you back up your argument with smart reasoning (and avoid, you know, not stomping your feet and storming out of the room when you don’t get your way), you’ll be fine! Having an opinion is going to look a lot better than just being a “yes-man/woman”. So overall, there’s a happy medium here, like with anything else. Don’t destroy the flow of the convo, but don’t just agree to be agreeable either.

At the end of the day, the key to rocking the Wharton Team Based Discussion is to treat it the same way you’d treat any collaborative discussions you have a work, or in board meetings for that non-profit board you sit on, or when you’re planning a group trip with your college friends:

  • When you are presenting your viewpoint or trying to convince others, you should present some sort of a framework for the group to make their decisions.
  • Remind your teammates about the criteria/factors they need to meet. It’s hard for them to argue that way.
  • And don’t let yourself be thrown by what other applicants say! Remain calm, cool and cooperative. You want to make sure your voice is heard, but not step on anyone’s toes while doing so.

3. The One-On-One

This is part of the interview will essentially be the continuation of your pitch. There’s still only one reason for you to go to business school, and that is: to reach your professional goals.

This is also a good time to elaborate about why WHARTON is the best place for you to reach your goals. It’s your chance to show the Adcoms how well you’ve researched the school and why you think the program aligns so well with your proposed career path. It’s probably also a good idea to proactively reflect upon the Team-Based Discussion.

If you have any amazing achievements or aces up your sleeve that you would like the admissions committee to know about, this is the time to drop those in too. And finally make sure you come prepared with at least three very precise very unique questions about things you are actually curious about regarding attending Wharton. They want to see that you have done your research, that you know the school and that you are curious about it.

Do all this, and you are as good as gold. Learn more on Wharton’s website.

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