Since shaking up the MBA interview process in 2012 with its innovative group discussion, The Wharton School at Penn has continued to further refine their process by tweaking the question and focus of the group interview. This year, applicants are put in groups and asked to answer the following question during the Wharton Team-Based Discussion:
Entrepreneurship and innovation are at the forefront of Wharton’s focus for the future of the school. Last year, the University of Pennsylvania announced a $25 million gift that will spearhead the construction of a transformative new building. Tangen Hall is the first-ever dedicated space for Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship and other student entrepreneurship programs across the University. Here students will incubate ideas to transform business. Completion of the new 70,000 square foot facility is set for fall 2020.
For the purpose of this discussion, you’ve been invited to be part of a team of students tasked with creating a one-day program that promotes the unveiling of Tangen Hall and Wharton’s focus on entrepreneurship and innovation. As a team, determine and define your target audience and invitation count. Identify and select a keynote speaker and programming for the day, including one interactive workshop and metrics for success. Provide unique experiential opportunities that highlight the depth and breadth of resources within Tangen Hall.
The Wharton Team-Based Discussion lasts roughly 35 minutes and is followed by a one-on-one interview with a Wharton admissions officer that lasts 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 (adcom) is looking for by changing up this year’s question.
What hasn’t changed since last year?
The adcom is still looking to learn about YOU, not your business vocabulary. It’s still a real-life simulation of how you work in a group setting. Interacting in a team is a KEY component of the Wharton MBA curriculum, and this exercise is all about testing those group discussion skills.
So, what’s different this year?
From a content perspective, this year’s version of the Wharton Team-Based Discussion follows the same pattern as prior years: you are asked to plan a Wharton-related event. The scope has been narrowed a bit, however—now instead of a global course or a more open-ended seminar, your focus is on a one-day event with a fixed and clearly articulated goal. It seems the adcom felt more structure was needed. They’ve even provided a series of pretty specific discussion points: target audience, invitation count, keynote speaker, programming including one interactive workshop, and metrics for success. That’s certainly more than enough for 35 minutes discussion!
Every candidate will have their own ideas for each of these points. Yet you all have to decide to go to ONE keynote speaker, ONE invitation count, etc., show why you chose it. This added element of choice will allow the adcom to see how you interact as a team, how you deal with potential conflict and how you advance your ideas.
Now let’s discuss how to tackle each part of this question.
1. ADDRESSING THE ONE MINUTE OPENING STATEMENT:
This is your elevator pitch. The adcom wants 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 certain “wow” factor.
This is your chance to be creative, but don’t go too out of box. For example, a 10,000 person event may be too far out there. On the other hand, a target audience of just “entrepreneurs” may be plain boring.
You want to clearly state your proposal and the impact/outcome you see it creating. 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 the rest of the 35 minutes to discuss and present your proposal. That is NOT a lot of time.
The Name of the Game is 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 who:
- Has their own innovative thoughts.
- Knows how to persuade/convince others.
- 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 for the event. 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, motivate or convince others?
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.
Just Be Natural!
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 meant 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.
(And the convo should have a flow—don’t monopolize the conversation, and discourage others from doing so. This should NOT be a series of five-minute speeches.)
What “Winning” Looks Like
Even if the team doesn’t go with YOUR idea, that’s cool. You’ve negotiated, compromised. They’ve learned more about you and your background, and you’ve learned about theirs. And as long as you have found a way to move together towards worthy goals, you can consider the TBD a success.
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 partake in. Picture yourself at work, in board meetings for that non-profit board you sit on, or planning an event with your college friends:
- When presenting your viewpoint/trying to convince others, suggest sort of a framework for the group to make decisions.
- Remind your teammates about the criteria/factors they need to meet. It’s much harder for criticism to turn into confrontation if it comes after a reminder of shared goals.
- Don’t be thrown off by what other applicants say! It’s a high-pressure situation and some of your peers are going to go a little crazy. Remain calm, cool and cooperative. Make sure your voice is heard, while taking care not step on anyone’s toes.
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 on why WHARTON is THE place for you to reach your goals. It’s your chance to show the adcom how well you’ve researched the school. Show them 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’re hiding any amazing achievements up your sleeve, this is the time to drop those in too. And finally, make sure to come prepared with at least three very precise and unique questions about attending Wharton. Adcoms want to see that you’ve done your research and are actually curious about their school.
Do all this, and you are as good as gold. Learn more on Wharton’s website.
Now, read up and get smart:
That’ll get you started. Still have questions? Reach out, and let’s gab.
Our only requirement is that you don’t prefer warm milk over cold milk. Everyone else, 100% welcome.